I always enjoy hearing baseball players talk about when they received “the call’ to come up to the Majors for the first time. Even as just a fan of baseball, it’s a thrill for me to watch a rookie play in his first game. As you are about to find out in this completely biased list, some of my favorite moments as a Braves fan occurred while a big time prospect made his debut. In honor of Bryce Harper making his much-anticipated debut for the Nationals last weekend, I present to you my Top 5 Most Memorable Prospect Debuts:
Ken Griffey Jr.: When “The Kid” blasted a double off of Oakland ace Dave Stewart on Opening Day in 1989, his reign as one of the best in baseball officially began.
Jeff Francoeur: When “Frenchy” stepped in the box for his first big league at-bat on July 7, 2005, home plate umpire Laz Diaz was a bit confused. Diaz had never heard of this Francoeur guy, yet he received a standing ovation when his name was announced. The veteran umpire looked at Francoeur and said, “Who the hell are you?” Once Cubs catcher Michael Barrett informed Diaz that Francoeur was a local high school sports legend making his MLB debut, Diaz brushed off an already clean home plate to allow the kid to soak in the moment. After coming up empty in his first couple at-bats, Frenchy blasted one over the center field fence sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy.
Juan Marichal: Marichal’s first game was nearly the most historic one of them all. He took a perfect game into the seventh inning until an error and later a hit derailed the perfecto/no-no bids. Marichal’s stat line for the game: 9 IP, 0 R, 12 K. Yup, not too bad for a guy’s first day on the job.
Stephen Strasburg: In what was one of the most-hyped debuts in the history of Major League Baseball, Strasburg did not disappoint as he pitched seven strong innings and picked up the win for the Nationals. While he allowed two runs, his 14 strikeouts gave the packed house in D.C. a night to remember.
Jason Heyward: While Heyward was not hyped quite as much as Strasburg, expectations were still near Ruthian levels when the Georgia native stepped up to the plate for the first time on Opening Day 2010. After working a 2-0 count against Carlos Zambrano, Heyward drilled the third pitch into the Braves' bullpen in right field. The crowd went absolutely berserk, as did I in my living room. The home run also provided what may end up being the signature call of Chip Caray’s career: “Swing and a drive! Belted deep to right!! WELCOME TO THE SHOW!!!”
So that’s my list. Now I want to see yours! Hit me up @RickyMast and let me know which debuts you think are the most memorable.