Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Major League Debuts

Okay, folks, today's Sunday Memory Drawer is baseball-centric.   If you don't care, come back again next week.    But these weekly pieces are about what is stirred by memories and the photo above did it.

This funny looking 19-year-old with the high school shop glasses is Julio Urias.   He's one of the best young pitching prospects in all of baseball and now has been elevated to the Dodgers.  I just happened to be in New York for the very first pitch he ever threw in the Major Leagues.    Okay, he lasted just past two innings and really didn't pitch well.  But he's supposedly a can't miss baseball star.   And I can say that I was there.

It got me to thinking about other MLB debuts that I was there in attendance for. Some turned out very well.   Others less so.
Take, for instance, this guy.   One of the earliest memories I have of being a young and new baseball fan.   I had just, as they say, met the Mets.   Or, in those days, the Mess.   But I didn't care.   This was my first and chosen baseball team and I loved them.  When I was really young, I had to depend upon the kindness of friends...well, my see the Flushing crew in person.    My dad would take one or two summer nights off to take his son to a baseball game at Shea Stadium.  Usually, when I knew I was going in advance, I would start mapping out the pitching rotation to see who I would get to see throw in person.   But, this time around, it kept showing us as a TBD.  Until my father heard something on the radio.

"We're getting some new guy starting in the major leagues for the very first time."

That would be 24-year-old Dick Rusteck.   I don't think Dad was crazy about the prospect of seeing a future somebody or nobody.   As for me, I felt like we were getting a great deal on a brand new car.

I will never forget the warmth of that Friday evening on the yellow field level down the third base line.   Because this kid Rusteck was unhittable.   Well, he gave up just four base hits to the Cincinnati Reds.  And it was my very first time being in a stadium that had an actual buzz.    Rusteck pitched a complete game shutout and both my father and I couldn't wait to see how great a career he was going to have.   

Well, he pitched probably another six or seven games and then arm injuries killed his career.

So much for that brand new car.

Flash forward to some more adult years in my life.    My dad was making very few appearances at Shea Stadium any more.   Hell, I was already driving there myself in my first car, a brown Toyota Corolla.   Well, Met fans kept hearing about this guy like he was the second coming...
Darryl Strawberry had hit his way through the minor leagues and there was no way the Mets could keep him down on the farm.   He was scheduled to show up in the majors on a pleasant Friday night in May.   This time, it was my idea to present to Dad.

"You know, if this Strawberry guy is going to be something, maybe we should be there for his first game ever."

Surprisingly, my dad agreed.  And we wound up in almost the same location of seats as we had for Dick Rusteck.

Well, Darryl didn't do much in his first game but the promise was still there.   And, while Strawberry did bring on some victories over the years, I think that, ultimately, he underachieved a bit.   But it was great to share the moment again.  With Dad.
Right now, there is no better pitcher on this planet than Clayton Kershaw. Indeed, he might turn out to be one of the best pitchers baseball has ever witnessed.  His season in 2016 just might be his best yet and it's no wonder that Vin Scully often slips and calls him Koufax.   As a Dodger fan, I am so lucky to get to watch him on television or in person when you just know that something special could potentially happen.

We had heard great things about him during his minor league career.   And I am pleased to say that his first major league start was on a partly cloudy Sunday afternoon in May of 2008.  May 25, to be exact and I was in my season seats.   Kershaw gave up a run to the Cardinals in the first inning, even though he struck out the very first batter he faced.  The run scored on a double by Albert Pujols so there's no shame in that.   Kershaw went six innings, gave up two runs, and struck out seven.   There was promise.

As it turned out, he did struggle with command in his very first season and actually got sent down to the minors for a spell.  But he was always earmarked for greatness.   These days, his jersey is the best selling one in Dodger Stadium. Well, I bought mine in the winter of 2008-2009 before anybody else.   I had a feeling.
We don't know what we are going to get with young Corey Seager.   He has all the earmarks of being a terrific player.   Again, as fate would have it last September 3, I would be in San Diego for his first major league appearance against the Padres.  On that night, Seager would go 2 for 4 with two runs batted-in.

Maybe I was there for the start of something great.   Or, like Dick Rusteck, maybe not.   But it is fun to be in on the first day of baseball history either way. Because it becomes part of your history as well.

Dinner last night:  Sweet and sour pork at Wokcano.

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