My personal athletic accomplishments can best be described as relatively limited. One of the first things I wanted to be when I grew up was a basketball player (after I moved on from hoping to be a sewer worker, so I could meet the ninja turtles). While I was quite good at stealing the ball and would eventually develop into an extremely effective trick shooter, I quickly realized my genetic disposition to being short as hell and inability to dribble probably meant NBA fans would be forever deprived of the next Muggsy Bogues.
My foray into the world of basketball may have ended prematurely, but there was even worse hope that my Cuban blood would somehow make me naturally good at baseball. I like to think I was rather acceptable at tee-ball, but come 2nd grade, I was demoted to right-fielder, the position reserved for the most athletically inept person on the team since no 7 year-old can hit the ball to the opposite field yet. After a season mumbling the two curse words I knew at the time toward my coach while stuck in the middle of nowhere, I was ready for a fresh start in third grade. By a cruel miracle, the coach put me at shortstop the first day. Instead of finally proving myself once I had the chance, I took several grounders to the ribs and then accepted a $50 bribe from my dad not to play that year. If I couldn’t meet the ninja turtles, I could at least buy a bunch of their toys with my payoff.
Eventually, my mathematically inclined nerd-brain became super into the sport I had once walked away from due to the the abundance of stats to pour over. I was magnetically drawn to the Big 3 in Oakland, highlighted by my ultimate man-crush, Barry Zito. That 12-6 curve of his defied everything physics had taught me, and I was mesmerized. I’d practice throwing baseballs into a bush in my back yard and got super into wiffleball with my high school best friend, Steffan. In the hot Louisiana summers, we would routinely have 1-0 pitcher duels while all the other kids were off getting drunk. As time moved on, I took my newfound pitching prowess to the softball diamond, enjoying a successful career as a starting pitcher including 3 championship appearances and one title for my dorm’s team in our Harry Potter-esque intramural system. All good things must come to an end, however, and one day in my mid-twenties, my beer league softball career came to an abrupt conclusion when I tore my ACL rounding third base.
Following a second ACL tear, it was clear that the only way I would live out my big league dreams was in the virtual world. Almost every year since 2006, I have enjoyed taking my virtual self through the minor leagues to superstardom in the majors in the MLB the Show series. After several years away from the diamond, I decided to return to my beloved baseball sim and track what I will consider the canonical version of my imaginary baseball career.
The basics are always the same. First, I laugh at the fact that my actual height (5’5″… ok 5’4″ and a half!) and weight (160 lbs) are essentially the minimum values you can enter for a player. Then I get to crafting a player that resembles my bearded, glasses wearing self. There are only three pitches that matter when making my virtual flamethrower – the standard bearing four-seam fastball that sets everything else up, a circle change that deceptively drops out at the last second, and a 12-6 curve that would make my imaginary husband, Mr. Zito, beam with pride. From there, I pick the number 57 (the lefty Zito’s 75 flipped to match my right handedness) and the nickname Wolverine. Lastly, there was a new addition I hadn’t seen before in the series – the ability to pick your top three personality traits. I selected Heart and Soul, the Captain, and the Maverick (knowing I’d never use that one). With all the formalities out of the way, it was time to prove myself in the prospect’s showcase.
Working on My Draft Stock
As a proud Louisianan, I was placed on the Central team and given the opportunity to show my stuff in two 3-inning starts. After giving up just 4 hits and no runs while striking out 12 in six innings, I knew I had given it my all and was ready to hear my name called early at the draft. But, it appeared the universe wanted to put a giant chip on my shoulder. What was to be my coming out party instead turned into the longest fake night of my life, as player after player was selected until finally the Atlanta Braves mercifully called my name with the 21st pick in the 15th round. At least my career would be starting close to home with their AA Affiliate in Mississippi.
Life Riding the Bus in AA
All that resentment at being passed over repeatedly in the draft was immediately channeled into pitching domination, as my first start resulted in 7 1/3 innings of 3 hit shutout ball and my first professional win. The wins and strikeouts continued piling up until my hubris caught up to me.
One day, my manager called me into his office and asked me to switch to the closer’s role. I was a starter, dammit, and nothing was getting in the way of my journey to Cooperstown, so I scoffed and turned him down. He, however, saw my snot-nosed 18 year-old self as petulant and decided spending some time on the bench would do me some good. Despondent, I eventually admitted I was in the wrong and excelled with 7 consecutive saves until being restored as the team Ace.
At this point, my skills were far outpacing those of my virtual contemporaries, and every game was featuring a deep no-hitter bid and 13+ strikeouts. Finally, everything came together, and I delivered my first ever perfect game while mowing down 16 batters with my circle change at its absolute peak.
I was rewarded handsomely for my efforts by being named the starting pitcher for the AA All-Star Game and then being called up to the AAA affiliate in Gwinnett, Georgia. Overall, my AA career ended with a 9-1 record, 7 saves, a 0.39 ERA, and 161 K’s in 92 innings pitched.
One Step Away from the Bigs
On June 22, 2019, I made my first AAA start and quickly learned that things wouldn’t be as easy up here. Sure, I managed to strike out 13 and only give up 2 hits and 1 run, but the batters here were a lot more selective. They made me work for those strikeouts, leading to a lot more pitches and stress than I was used to resulting in a no decision after I was replaced following a career-low 5 innings. Yet another 5 inning outing followed before I finally adjusted and racked up 3 quick wins going deeper into games.
Just as I was beginning to think I had uncovered the secrets to success in the highest level of the minors, my manager called me into his office for a familiar conversation. He wanted to know if I’d be willing to see how I could help the team in the closer’s role. My much more athletic avatar had matured quite a bit in the previous 3 months and decided he would do whatever the team needs and whatever would help him make it to the show. The baseball gods would even reward me for my newfound humbleness with help from an invisible wall as seen in the video below.
The pressure of coming in to put the finishing touches on a win in a close game was almost intoxicating. The stress was ratcheted up to previously unexperienced levels, but yet again, I refused to back down. Once the dust settled and the season was over, I had amassed 15 saves to go along with a 3-0 record, 0.68 ERA and an otherworldly 81 K’s in 40 innings pitched. My emergence was a little too late for my squad, however, as they failed to reach the playoffs, and the offseason unceremoniously began without a September call-up to the bigs I had been hoping for.
After failing to make an unheard of first year debut, I was convinced I had another year of toiling in the minors ahead of me, when I received an invite to participate in Spring Training with the Braves as a middle relief pitcher. I knew I would have to give it my all to ensure I never returned back to the land of buses. If I could just make an impression, it’d be nothing but chartered planes and hotels with room service from here on out.
In my first appearance, I thought fate was about to deliver another cruel blow to me as fellow Rice-alum Anthony Rendon walked up to the plate in a one-run game with two men on for my first ever “boss challenge”. Instead, I took things into my own right hand. You see, when my create-a-player was a baby, the gods reached down and turned his right arm into a thunderbolt. And that arm threw a high and inside heater right past a stunned Rendon and guaranteed me a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Four games came and went with me passing my time by shooting the shit in the bullpen until finally I was called in to action in the 8th inning of an 8-6 game against the Washington Nationals on March 30, 2020.
Perhaps the moment was a little too big for me at first, as my timing was off leading to being down 2-0 in the count before I even had time to process the magnitude of the moment. I took a deep breath and settled down, but yet again the baseball gods decided to keep me on my toes with a comebacker right at me. Somehow, I gathered myself enough to complete a perfect throw to first and followed it up with a quick ground out and pop-up to end the inning and my perfect debut.
My first major league win would only have to wait one more day, as the team called on me to shut things down in extra innings. Two innings of scoreless work were highlighted by my first two major league strikeouts beginning with a filthy low circle change that made the poor Nationals batter look silly and signaled to the rest of the league that my time was now.
As my first year in the majors nears the All-Star break, I find myself with a 6-1 record, a 1.35 ERA, and 47 K’s in 33 1/3 innings pitched, but my road to the show was just the beginning. If this is finally going to be the time that I see a career through to the Hall-of-Fame I have a lot of work ahead of me to earn my way into a major league rotation and the yearly Cy Young debate.