This article appears in the July 2018 issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.
When did it hit you that you had really made the big leagues?
Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
“My debut was July 8, 2016. It was a weekend series at home against the Chicago Cubs. My family was there, my hitting coach from back home, a couple people from A to Z. My sister was there and my parents. I faced Jake Arrieta my first at bat and got a slider, down and away. I ended up getting a hit to right centerfield, and we ended up winning that game. It was pretty special. The next day, I hit a grand slam off Adam Warren in another pinch hit at bat. We ended up winning that game as well; it kind of put that game away. Both at bats were pretty surreal; both felt like I was almost on a cloud, where your body takes over and your mind quiets, and the game becomes that much easier.
Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
“My first at bat in the big leagues was one I will never forget. I was living out my dream, but I was also anxious. I thank God that I had my first at bat on June 19, 2016, and that I was able to hit the first pitch I ever saw out of the park. The most beautiful thing was that it happened on Father’s Day, and that was the best gift I could’ve given my family. At that point I also realized I was going to need to continue working hard and getting better to keep my spot with the Cubs. The ovation I received from the fans was so great and touching. And the reaction from my teammates in the dugout was the best anyone could ever expect.”
“I was in Triple A with the Rochester Red Wings, and we were in Louisville playing the Bats in June 2013. Two days after, I was supposed to start in Indianapolis, which is my hometown. A bunch of family members had already scheduled to go to Indianapolis and watch me pitch. [Manager Gene Glynn] called everybody up before the game and said, “Hey guys, Gibby’s going up to the big leagues.” I still get goose bumps thinking about it today. It was a cool moment getting to call my wife and my mom and dad. I did it on FaceTime and got to see them and share the news. Thankfully the Twins gave me four or five days before I was supposed to pitch, and everybody was able to make the trip up to Minnesota.”
“I was in Sacramento, in Triple A for the A’s, when I found out I was being called up in 2008. I was so excited. I called my mom and told her, ‘I finally got that phone call; I’m going to the big leagues. But there’s one problem: I don’t think I’m going to be able to go, because my passport is with you guys at home in Miami, and the game is in the one place you need a passport to go play—Toronto!’ Thankfully, I had a friend who was able to fly up and meet me in Chicago and give it to me. The stadium was beautiful, the roof was open, my mom and dad were there. But I’d have never made it to my own major league debut if my friend hadn’t brought me my passport.”
“When I was in high school, my buddies and I would always go to the Marlins games and sit right by the bullpen. Matt Treanor was the Marlins’ backup catcher. He would always be in the bullpen catching the guys who were warming up. He would never wear a chest protector. He would be dropping and blocking balls off his chest. We were like, Man, this guy’s the man. We would always be going crazy every time he was in the bullpen. When I got called up with the Royals in 2011, he was our backup catcher. I guess I’d told a couple guys the story. When I got there, I had a ball waiting at my locker from Matt (center). He wrote, ‘I remember the cheering section of you and your high school buddies.’ He signed it for me. It was crazy. I was in a section right above the bullpen, pulling for him. Next thing you know, he’s my teammate in the big leagues.”
“The first game at Fenway Park against the Red Sox last year I was just like, Wow. You watch games growing up, and Fenway’s just that iconic ballpark. I actually hit a home run there in one of the first couple games, and I was running around the bases going, I just hit a home run at Fenway Park! It’s something you dream about as a kid.”
“I started my career as a pitcher with the Cardinals, and my dream was to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher. I got released in 2009, and I was like, ‘OK, I don’t know what to do.’ I went back to Venezuela and talked with my family and decided to give it a try as an outfielder. In 2014, I was doing really well in Double A with the Mobile BayBears. That year, Tony La Russa got the job with the Diamondbacks in the front office. He was going through all the minor leagues, and I knew he was in Double A watching us. I had O.K. games, but I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to do too much to impress him. He came inside the clubhouse and went straight to my locker. I was looking down, and I just saw his hand with the three rings he always wears—the World Series rings the Cardinals won. He said, ‘Hey man, I’m Tony La Russa,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know who you are.’ He said, ‘Hey David, you hit the ball really well; I like the way you play.’ I was still silent and in shock, so then he told me, ‘Keep up the good work and keep doing well so I’ll see you soon.’ That really just made my night. Two weeks later, we played a night game, and I went 2 for 4, with an RBI. Around midnight, I got a call from our manager, Andy Green. He asked, ‘David, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m about to go to sleep, is everything O.K.? What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Oh, I need to talk to you.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh boy.’ I was really nervous. He came in and said, ‘You’re gonna go to the big leagues.’ Every time I say that, I get chills. I told him, ‘Hey, don’t play with that,’ and he was like, ‘I would never kid with you about that. You’re too good to go to Triple A; you’re going straight to the big leagues.’ I just started jumping, crying—I fell down. I was crying like a baby. I was screaming, ‘I made it! I made it!’”
“I made the Phillies out of spring training in 2003 only because one of our guys got hurt. He was going to be on the DL for a short amount of time, like a week until he got healthy, then I’d go back down to Triple A. I think I was up in the majors for three days. I got one pinch hit at bat, against the Pirates. I had good swings, worked a full count, and then Jeff Suppan throws a changeup. Swing and miss. I’m out. I’m walking back to the dugout, and the fans in Philadelphia are like, Boooooo! Go back to the minors! I came back up later that month and got a hit in my second at bat against the Rockies—a grand slam. I sprinted around the bases. The fans in Philly have treated me so well ever since.”
“When you walk in the locker room for the first time and see all the jerseys hanging up. I feel like it’s a scene you see in movies all the time, where everything’s perfect in everyone’s locker. I have a pretty vivid memory of that. It was on the road for me, when I was with the Marlins in 2013. It’s a cool feeling and something you’ve looked forward to for a really long time. It all happens pretty fast. You have friends and family there. You’re in a major league stadium for the first time; you have your first at bat, your first hit. One of my buddies, Jake Marisnick, got called up the same day. We were roommates in Double A. It was cool to be able to share it.”