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Big Call-up to the Majors

Steve Ranson
sranson@lahontanvalleynews.com
Matt Capps first call-up to the majors resulted in a delayed plane trip to Pittsburgh.
STEVE RANSON / LVN |

Most young boys who don a baseball uniform dream about playing in the big leagues. As these ballplayers become older, their hunger grows more intense to reach the ultimate level, especially when they receive “the call” to report to a major league team.

Major league teams expanded their rosters in early September with players from the development leagues, and while some minor leaguers arrived to a new setting, others, though, remembered the first time their manager informed them of their first call-up.

THE FIRST TIME

After playing in the minor leagues since 2010, former Aces second baseman Mike Freeman reported to the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 17, the first time he competed on the major league level. Before the game on the previous day against Oklahoma City, Reno manager Phil Nevin gave Freeman, who had spent almost two years with the Aces, news about flying to Phoenix.

“My first call was to my wife, and I called her from Nevin’s office,” recalled Freeman, who now plays for the Seattle Mariners. “Nevin spent some time with her because he knows her and had her on speaker phone. He then played a joke on her about playing golf. “

Freeman said Nevin told his wife he needed a replacement for their golfing group because her husband was going to the major leagues.

“She let out a shriek,” Freeman said.

The former Clemson University player then called his parents.

“My dad and brothers were in their car on way to the (Florida) Keys for a fishing trip. They took a left toward Miami, and my dad took a flight from there. My brothers went onto the Keys, but my dad was able to fly to Phoenix in time to see my debut.”

Freeman didn’t play the day he was called up. In fact, the Diamondbacks wanted him in Phoenix that night, but Freeman couldn’t make the flight arrangements work out. Instead, he stayed for the game, trying to digest the news. Nevin had his second baseman present the lineup card.

“They didn’t want to me go out in the field and risk any type of freak injury,” Freeman said.

In looking back at his major league debut, Freeman said he worked hard and has advice for others who receive their first call-up.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” he advised minor leaguers waiting for their big chance.

Likewise, Aces pitcher Matt Buschmann waited years before he made his first major league appearance earlier this spring. For the 33-year-old Buschmann, he felt his initial reaction was more guarded because of his years of experience. The Reno right-hander said during a player’s career, he already receives different call-ups, such as moving up from one minor league level to a higher one.

“Having played as long as I have, I imagine my feelings are different that the younger kids getting called up,” he pointed out. “It’s more of a story. You have been kind of knocked down a little more with the game.”

Nevertheless, when Nevin told Buschmann, he felt relieved.

“I had a little bit of relief, some excitement,” he said. “I first called my wife (in Connecticut) at 3 in the morning her time, woke her up and told here. She was obviously excited. She began to arrange a flight. I called my parents … and they were very exited.”

Buschmann said friends and teammates were happy to see Buschmann play in the major leagues, especially Nevin.

“Phil is so awesome. He felt like he knew of the situation and didn’t want to tell me over the phone.”

Buschmann said Nevin needed to talk to him but not over the phone. One thing led to another, and Nevin and Buschmann met at a bar.

Nevin said each call up is special, and he remembered how special it was for him, especially when and where it happened. The third-year Reno skipper said he remembers every notification he has relayed to his players from his first one in 2009 when he coached in Erie, Pa.

“My idea depends on where we are sometimes before a game, sometimes after a game, sometimes during a game. I really don’t like to do it on the phone especially with the first time,” Nevin said.

“Different players react differently. They all get on their phones to their wives, moms, dads, girlfriend. It’s the first thing they want to do and rightfully so. These are people who have been on their journey this whole time.

“It’s nice to relay the message. It’s an emotional time, and I try to make it special for them. Each first time is a first time for me and it’s really neat.”

Outfielder Mitch Haniger, who started the 2016 season with Mobile in the Double-A and moved up to Reno in May, said Nevin made it personal for him. Nevin informed Haniger in the middle of the game in August when Reno played at Nashville.

“He said you’re going up tomorrow, shook my hand, and then I hung out for the rest of the game in the dugout and soaked it in,” Haniger said, who made his debut with the Diamondbacks on Aug. 16.

Haniger called his fiancée first, then his parents. He said his fiancée was happy and said this is something the Reno player had worked for his entire life.

“I was shocked at the moment to see myself up there,” Haniger said of his time at Arizona. “I know I can play up there and know what it takes to be up there. I was very fortunate and excited.”

In his first game with Arizona, Haniger hit a triple in his first at bat and eventually drove in three runs.

In late August, though, Haniger returned to Reno when A.J. Pollock, who had been on a rehabilitation assignment with the Aces, was recalled to the Diamondbacks. Haniger said he understood the decision, but when the major league teams expanded their rosters, Haniger was on the plane again to Arizona.

EXCITEMENT NEVER FADES

Two Reno players who have tasted the major league life saw their season end after the Aces’ game at Tacoma earlier this month, but they each vividly remember their big-league debuts.

Pitcher Adam Loewen was sitting on the bench in Altoona, Pa., in 2006 when his pitching coach slid next to him and told the left-hander he was called up.

“When I found out, I just went numb, starting thinking about it,” Loewen recollected. “Ever since the draft, I was dreaming about it. I felt some nervousness, and a lot things were running through my mind. “

Loewen then reported to Baltimore, which was playing at Seattle. Lucky for Loewen, his family lived north of Seattle.

“The hardest part was scrounging all the tickets together,” he said. “ I called my parents, my brother and sister and called my best friend.

Since that first time, Loewen has experienced subsequent trips to the major leagues. Although he feels differently when called up, he said the excitement still remains.

“I called my parents, brother and sister, called my best friend, so long ago can’t remember who else I called in my family.

“I knew what I was getting into and what to expect there. That part makes you feel a little more comfortable to know what‘s going on,” he added.

Loewen offered this advice to his teammates and other players going to the major leagues for the first time.

“Keep everything the same, keep the routine the same or otherwise your body will react to it,” he said. “Go through the same routine you always do. Play the same game as you did down here. That’s what got you to the big leagues.”

Fellow pitcher Matt Capps, who was playing for Indianapolis in 2005, had an interesting journey to the major leagues that began after his team lost their playoff series.

“Our manager came to cafeteria, walked around, shook hands and left. Then, he came back to the door, waved me out, shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to the big leagues.’ It’s definitely a memory you’ll never forget.”

The trip from Indianapolis to Pittsburg took most of the day because of flight delays.

“I arrived in Pittsburgh at 7:30 (p.m.) but the game started at 7:05. I went to the dugout dressed and went to the bullpen. I then pitched the seventh inning, and it happened quick,” Capps said of his debut on Sept. 16.

Capps said players called the first time or the second and third times should savor the experience:

“Don’t take it so seriously, enjoy the time and you’ll make memories you’ll hold onto for the rest of your life.”