A Bite of Turner Field
In honor of the September call-ups, Crawford, Belt and I are remembering our first day in the Major Leagues – and offering advice to the rookies in their first week here.
I made the Opening Day roster of the Atlanta Braves in 2008. When the manager told me the good news, I went out by myself onto the empty infield at Turner Field. I grabbed a small piece of grass, and I ate it.
“This is the Major Leagues,’’ I said to myself. “Now it is a part of me.’’ (I still pick up a pinch of dirt before my at-bats as a thank-you to the field for letting me there.)
After I ate the piece of grass, I whispered to my mom, who had passed away several years earlier: “We made it to the Major Leagues, Mom. I wish you were here with me.’’
That moment when you make the Major Leagues is something you remember forever. You’ve been dreaming about it since you started playing baseball as a little kid. To be honest, though, I was so nervous I could barely function. I saw the other players as so big and so famous that I couldn’t talk to anyone. I sat by myself at the end of the bench during games. I didn’t move, not even to get a cup of water. I didn’t speak, not even to say “Nice job’’ to a teammate after a big hit.
One of my teammates, Martin Prado, finally took my aside and told me to just be myself. Cheerfor you teammates the way you’ve done all your life. Help them out in any way. Be there for them. Always be ready for whatever the manager needsyou to do.
Now I’m saying the same things to Adrianza, who’s also from Venezuela. He reminds me of myself back in 2008: quiet and shy with good tools to play the game. I’m telling him to be humble but also play the way you’ve always played. Act the way you’ve always acted. Be yourself. Be comfortable. Be part of the team because you are.
It’s awesome to see so many guys in the clubhouse helping out the young guys. Last year we were super focused getting in the playoffs that we didn’t take as much time helping the rookies. This year we’re really cheering for them and building them up and making them feel at home. I didn’t have that when I came up, but this team supports everybody – the managers, coaches, players, the young kids. The chemistry here is so good.
Adrianza and the other young guys already seem to know a lot of the unwritten rules of the Major Leagues. They were prepared well by the guys in the minors who had spent time up here. They already knew to sit at the front of the plane and to double up. When I was a rookie, I didn’t know anything. I made so many mistakes. My first road trip I sat down on the plane and here comes Chipper Jones.
“That’s been my seat for ten years,’’ he said. “Get out of there!’’
He was joking about being mad. But I moved pretty fast. Another time I was in the back of the plane talking to the guys. Another player came back there and kicked me out.
“Sorry,’’ I said. “I didn’t know!’’
I was so happy to see Adrianza get in as a pinch runner – which was my first appearance in a Major League game, too. He’s been itching for his first at-bat and his first hit. “That will come,’’ I tell him. “But you already will be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you played in the Major Leagues.’’ That’s a huge deal for any of us.
On another topic, we were all so happy for Petit getting his first complete-game shutout –and soooo close to a perfect game. We were all waiting for him inside the clubhouse to toast him. When he came in, we clapped and cheered and told him he better have a speech ready for the toast. We gathered around and gave him the microphone. He was just staring. He didn’t know what to do or say. I think he was still so focused from the game that he was in a bit of a daze.
Finally he said, “Toast!’’
Everybody broke up laughing.
Thanks for reading. We’re looking forward to these last few weeks of the season. We want to climb up the division ladder. Get as far as we can.
That’s the other thing I love about this team. Everybody has so much pride. We’ll be fighting until the final game.