Ok, I made the effort in the title to downplay Tara's father being in the CIA, but how can you?! That is so cool! But hey, I had to try....just to give the rest of us a fighting chance in writing something remotely as interesting. If most of you know me...Justin, Wendi's cousin, Robert and Mary's youngest, brother of "Josh", etc...then you probably know me as the pro baseball player. And although there's so much more to me than pitching in the pro's...oh, who am I trying to kid, it's the only interesting thing about me! Don't judge me! But seriously, how many of you really wanna know what being in the big leagues is like? Men, remember being a little boy growing up throwing a ball against a wall or garage, pretending to be Nolan Ryan or whomever the star pitcher for your home team was at the time. For me it was "Blackjack" McDowell. Or women, ever wonder what professional baseball players look like in the clubhouse/locker room? I'm just kidding....but do you? In this blog I'll try to give you a little taste of what my experience with the Kansas City Royals in '04 was like.
Setting...it was 1 in the morning in the New Orleans Hyatt hotel dowtown. The Omaha Royals had just beaten the New Orleans Zephyrs a few hours earlier and my roommate (Zach Greinke) had just turned off the tv to go to bed when the phone rang. It was my manager asking me to come to his room. After hanging up, we both looked at each other and were figuring out what this could mean. What did he want?! I had pitched 7 scoreless innings so far to start the season off, so we immediately ruled off getting sent down or released. Which really only left that I had to be getting called up! I ran down the hallway, forgetting to put some shoes on. As soon as I opened his door I saw my baseball bag full of all the stuff from my locker. He reached out to shake my hand and told me "Congratulations. You're going to the big leauges." In the room was also David DeJesus, the current center-fielder for the Royals. It was his second time going up. Early the next morning, DJ, Mike MacDougal (who was also going back up afte finishing his rehab assignment with us), and myself took the early flight to KC. I didn't know what to wear, and after seeing those two in t-shirts and jean, I immediately knew I waaaay overdressed. But who cared, I was going to the bigs!
We got in and had to take a half hour taxi ride from the airport to the field. No, there wasn't any limo waiting to pick us up. And Mac picked up the fare. Don't worry, they reimbursed him. (Now I will warn you that some of the things I'm about to tell about the bigs aren't going to be what your dreams make it out to be.) We walked in the clubhouse and immediately everybody's eyes on the team looked at us in shock and wonder! Two veterans, Jason Grimsley and Curtis Leskanic, walked up to us and asked who we're here for. They hadn't made the moves yet for who we were replacing!!! We didn't even have a locker set up for us! They told us to wait a second and just hang out. So that's what we did. We sat at the tables and watched as all the young players panicked and tried to figure out who it was going to be. Sure enough, they called in two guys, DJ Carrasco and Rich Thompson, and sent them down. Not the best way to walk into your first day as a big leaguer huh. I'll tell you what though, putting on that uniform was the best feeling I've ever had thus far in my life! It was the most comfortable jersey I'd ever worn. I didn't even mind stretching or shagging fly balls during batting practice...which most pitchers get so tired of doing.
We were playing the Minnesota Twins. I didn't pitch that night, but I got that call the next night. We were losing by five or so I believe and I had the last inning. So there really wasn't any added pressure. Amazingly, as nervous as I was waiting for the phone to ring in the bullpen, and warming up to go in. As soon as I ran onto the field and took the mound to throw my warm-up pitches, I felt so at ease. Everything else that surrounded me was different, the locker-room, the reporters everywhere, the stadium, the other team...but as soon as I got on the mound and looked at the catcher behind home plate, THAT was the same. What I did on the mound never changes, no matter what surrounds me or whomever is hitting against me. I ended up throwing a scoreless inning in my debut.
My next outing was probably the best outing of my life. Two scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers, only throwing 13 pitches...12 for strikes. I even struck out my first batter in the bigs, Alfonso Soriano. I zipped through that, cause I wanna tell you about where we went to on my first road trip....Yankee Stadium! And let me tell you, you don't get any better than that! Now on the road, they didn't tell us rookies this at first, but you don't ride the bus from the hotel to the field. It's one of the MANY unwritten rules of the big leagues. You pay for your own cab. I tried to hop in with a veteran whenever I could, cause they've made millions and don't mind picking up the fare for younger players! ha. I think I road with Tony Graffanino that time. Just walking into that stadium, the clubhouse, and onto the field was the most surreal experience I've ever had. Just imagine coming out of the walkway, into the dugout, and onto the field at Yankee Stadium. Seeing what you've seen on tv so many times, in so many big games, with so much history....Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, etc, etc, etc, etc. And to top it off, guess who was hitting when I walked out? Derek Jeter. And guess who was taking ground balls right in front of me? Alex Rodriguez. During our batting practice, all I could do was take it all in...stare at everything. Jason Grimsley saw this and walked up to me. He pitched for the Yankees a few years back. He said "It's amazing isn't it? No matter how many times I come here, I'm in awe every single time." I thought that was pretty cool of him to say, cause it'd be so true. You can just feel the history in the air. I didn't get to pitch there, but I did get to witness Mariano Rivera entering to Enter Sandman and closing out a game against us.
Sorry for rambling a bit, but I could write novels about each and every place I went those two months in '04. I hope I relayed just a fraction of the feelings I felt during those moments. And if I win this blog-off, maybe Wendi will invite me back to tell you about pitching at Oakland, Detroit, Texas, Baltimore, San Diego, or Minnesota! Or the time I finished my first inning of work against St. Louis, and while sitting on the bench realizing that the first three batters of my next inning were Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Edgar Renteria! You think that's bad! How about against Baltimore....Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Rafael Palmeiro, and Javier Lopez! How did I do? Maybe I'll tell ya later. Or you can google me! ha. I haven't even begun to mention my hotel rooms! The view I had from my own suite in San Diego...whew! I also haven't told you about the reporters. Vicious creatures! Or the coaches and office people, who freak out after each loss or bad outing you have...and want you to watch videos or throw bullpens to figure it out right away! Ok, enough exclamation points. But as you can see, there's so much to tell and so little time.
I hope you've enjoyed this little tidbit of my time in the bigs. Stay tuned for my bro, Josh. This is Justin, signing off. You stay classy San Diego!