Nice Debut, Ugly Strat Card
It was about that time in the game when the wave almost might have been interesting. (Calm down, I said almost. The only use I’ve found for the wave is to disrupt tomahawk chopping.)
A 10-1 lead for the home team in the fifth inning. Pennant race or not, folks in Baltimore were already plotting how many innings they’d watch. ESPN was hoping they could keep viewers from switching to the Raiders-Seahawks game, as if that could be exciting under any circumstances.
And I was absent-mindedly noting a pitching change on my scorecard, realizing this was going to be one of those nights I’d swear rosters had been expanded to 112.
Ok, let’s get on with the bottom of the fifth. First pitch, called strike. Uh-huh. And four guys about 20 rows directly behind home plate leap into the air, pumping fists. Huh? When Chris Hoiles pops up, they go wild, high fives, thumping each other’s shoulders. Double-huh?
The whole inning — single, lineout to center, groundout to short — goes like that. Best I can tell, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill rowdy drunks and, hopefully, it’s not another “see bits and pieces of 55 games in 39 days” tour.
Actually, they seem genuinely excited and the only word I can make out is “Miguel.”
Well, the clever reporter in me realizes 1) that the last scorecard entry I made was Miguel Jimenez, Oakland pitcher, major league debut; 2) maybe I should go talk to these guys.
It turned out what we had was a group including four of Jimenez’s fellow ’91 Fordham grads, Miguel’s cousin and another friend. Miguel’s pitching at Fordham earned him Oakland’s 12th-round pick in ’91, but his continuing bond with his friends was created over hours of not-quite-real games with Strat-O-Matic cards. (For the record, Jimenez was their Strat champ three of his four college years.)
His buddies made the drive from New York just hoping to see his major league debut.
One of them, Jerry Milani, lives in Baltimore and was designated host. And that was expecially important to Joe Rizzo, who came straight from his all-night shift at Sportsticker in Jersey City.
These folks — the others were Mike Cerra, Alex Lopez, Eileen Reges and Ron Monticore — had to be just a trifle confusing to the denizens of season-ticket land at Camden Yards. For several innings, they rooted heartily for the Orioles. That wasn’t easy, either, because they’re Yankee fans.
But they realized the one shot they had at seeing Miguel pitch was if the A’s starter was hit hard, early and often. “Ron Darling was very nice to us,” said Cerra.
On to the sixth goes Miguel. He gets two strikes on each of the first four batters of the inning. And he gets rhythmic clapping as the guys on his first major league pass list anticipate the strikeout each time:
- Mark McLemore grounds out to first. No strikeout, but it’ll do;
- Next is Mike Devereaux, who has five RBI in three plate appearances. He provides Miguel’s first major league strikeout;
- Then Harold Baines. He provides Miguel’s first major league 423-foot home run. Hey, nobody said this was a fairy tale;
- And Cal Ripken, who walks on a 3-2 pitch
After another walk, Jimenez gets out of the sixth, then cruises through the seventh with another walk and another strikeout.
Later he challenges Ripken, recipient of that first walk. Three-run homer in the eighth. Another lesson.
A bloop single later, Oakland manager Tony La Russa decides the major league debut is over.
“He came out and told me a lot of positive things came out of it,” Miguel said. “That made me feel good. I used (appearance No. 1) to learn. I learned that you don’t throw a 3-2 pitch down the middle to Harold Baines.
Was the result unnerving?
“I’ve given up home runs before. But I’m going to challenge them. You can’t always challenge but you have to sooner or later.”
“I hadn’t pitched in 11 days. I didn’t have accuracy. That’s OK. I’ll be back. Let them hit it now when I’m young. It’ll be different later.”
MIguel was a starter in 56 of his 65 pro appearances; so, the relief role was a bit foreign. “Hey, if there’s a job in the pen, if it means being in the show, give it to me. I’ll learn how to throw in the pen.”
Give me the ball so I can challenge some major league hitters. Yeah, he’s a bit brash, but with a healthy dose of reality. “I’m a 12th-round pick. It’s not like they have to bring me up here. I bust my butt and work hard an prove I belong.” Ah, more of those positive things La Russa saw.
Maybe Miguel isn’t quite in awe of “the show,” but being there is important. “Yeah, it’s a big deal. I think being around six or seven days (before his first appearance) prepared me.”
“The only time i felt in awe, felt jitters, was when we were down 6-1 in Toronto (a few days earlier). I looked around and said, ‘Who’s expendable?’ When the bullpen phone rang, my heart started racing.” Wrong number.
Five days later, it rang for No. 47.
Now, he can look to the future and entertain visions of facing Cleveland rookie Manny Ramirez, from Miguel’s arch-rival high school in New York City (“I never got to face him. I’m looking forward to it.”) and his first game at Yankee Stadium (“Wait till you see that party.”)
For his pals, the dreams are simpler. Says Rizzo, “We just want him to get enough innings so he has a Strat card next year.”