Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I was a September Call-Up

wrote this tonight on a whim. please don't judge grammar or structure.  wrote one draft only

I was a September Call-Up

It was 10-years ago tonight that I was getting ready to go out in the stands and work the radar for my Triple A team the Tucson Sidewinders. As I was making my way to my seat our Player Development Director, the late Tommy Jones told me not to leave too quickly after the game. Even for the date, I remember not thinking nothing of it. I thought maybe I was going to be invited to play in winter ball or something like that. I was having a good year but did not get caught up in “am I going to get called up, who's going to get called up” like a lot of players I was playing with was going through. The Diamondbacks were on there way to a World Series championship and rumors in the clubhouse was that they weren't going to call up a lot of rookies and mess with the chemistry of the club. Basically, I was not even remotely expecting that to happen.

I performed my duties on the “gun” that night and made my way to the clubhouse. I was already dressed so I was ready to eat and go home. As I prepared my post-game spread Tommy Jones came up to me and said he needed to see me in the manager's office. Still, I was not expecting a promotion. I got into the office and the first the TJ said to me was “Knotter, where would you rather go tomorrow? Would you like to head with the rest of the team to Nashville or would you like to head to San Diego?” It took a few seconds for it to sink it what he was saying. I was going to the big leagues. On the inside, I was feeling pure joy and a extreme sense of accomplishment. I had achieved what I set out to do since I was 10-years old. I was going to be a big leaguer. I received congratulations from my manager and a big hug from Tommy Jones, my first professional manager and undoubtedly one of the men who influenced me the most in pro baseball. I will write sometime some TJ stories in the future. The man left this earth too soon and i'm sure was a big influence on many players' careers, not just mine. I left the clubhouse on cloud nine. Even though it was 2 o'clock in the morning on the East Coast, I called my parents. I'll never forget the reaction of my parents, who must have thought something was wrong when the phone rang that night.

The next day me and the other call-ups had an early afternoon flight to San Diego. That morning, I went to the mall and bought what I thought was the most “big-league” luggage I could find. I couldn't carry my nasty suitcases into a big-league hotel. That would be bush. I did pack my big-league suitcase with my Old Navy jeans, busted out T-shirts and worn-out collared shirts. I owned one Stafford sport coat and a gray suit that was issued to me the year before from my team in Japan. Later that month and went out and bought a very mid-level black suit. The first time I wore it on the plane I forgot to take off the white thread that holds the label on the suit coat. Mark Grace noticed and told me that I needed to clean up my look.. I was just thrilled Mark Grace was talking to me. I had a Mark Grace and Andre Dawson poster in my room as a kid and now I was bullshitting with him. A true dream come true.

We went to the best hotel I had ever been in, the Marriot in San Diego. My room overlooked the bay and I took a minute to soak it all in. I was in the big leagues and I couldn't believe it. We took a cab over to the ballpark. Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego is huge and remember watching big football and baseball games there as a kid and now I was going to play on it. I remember walking into the clubhouse and receiving congratulations from guys I barely knew and teammates that I had played with or wer re-habbing that year in Triple A. I remember thinking this clubhouse is bootleg, this place is a dump. I went to my locker and saw my jersey hanging in the old-metal locker and thought about whose jersey also hung in this locker, who also dressed here, who also showered here. I was now officially a part of “the show” and I couldn't believe it. The stands were full that night in San Diego. It was Saturday night and the weather was beautfiul.

I sat in the pen that night and was summoned early in the game to protect the catcher while one of our pitchers was warming up. I was terrified that someone was going to smoke the ball down the line and I was going to have to make a play.

As the game moved on, I was called to warm-up. Ryan Klesko was coming up in the order and I needed to be ready to face him. I did my best just not to uncork a wild pitch and send the ball down to the infield. I don't remember the details before but I was called in to face Klesko. I'll never forget this, I get to the mound and I look around at Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Jay Bell, and Tony Womack. These were guys I watched play while I was in high school and college and now I was competing with them. Grace had the ball, he threw it into my glove and said, “Let's go kid, you've been waiting your whole fucking life for this, have some fun.” Still gives me chills thinking about it. I don't remember my warm-up tosses. But I do remember Klesko stepping in, looking larger than ever. I watched the Braves almost everyday and now I'm facing him.

My leg was shaking uncontrollably. I've never seen a replay but I wonder if people could tell. I fell behind 2-0. I threw a nice 2-0 slider that he swung at and dribbled into the whole between first and second. Junior Spivey fielded the ball but he was too far into right field to get a good throw and throw him out. Single. I was promptly taken out. Erik Sabel came and walked Phil Nevin and then Byung-Hyun Kim came in and served up a grand slam to Ray Lankford. We lost the game. I gave up an earnie and the press ate Bob Brenly for bringing me in. I didn't walk anyone or give up the grand slam and made the pitch I needed to. Brenly took heat for bringing in a rookie and admitted he made a mistake and didn't back me up. I saved the paper from the next day. I didn't pitch again for 21 days. I hung with an infinite ERA until I threw a scoreless inning in Los Angeles, my favorite stadium I ever pitched in. I remember thinking that Vin Scully was up in the booth saying my name. It gave me chills thinking about it.

That whole month was incredible in many different ways. My fiance was in town during the week of September 11th. I was staying in a condo with Jack Cust and Mike Koplove while she wasn't there but we stayed at the Embassy Suites while she was in town. The morning of September 11th my phone kept ringing off the hook. We were both wondering why the hell was my phone ringing so much. I finally answered and turned on the TV. By that time both towers were down. I'll never forget looking out my window at Sky Harbor airport and noticing how silent it was. No activity. The National Guard was guarding the entrance near the hotel. Me and my wife drove around town that day and went to eat in Tempe. It was such a surreal feeling. One i'll never forget.

We practiced for a week. I remember us all working out at Bank One and then sticking around to watch the news. Such weird times. I remember those practices feeling like high school practices. I got to simulate a start to get the starters AB's. I threw the ball well. We headed to Colorado for the first game after 9/11. Lee Greenwood sand God Bless the USA. Both teams held a huge flag on the field. The country was united.

I never got the rookie treatment during that month. The veteran laden club was too focused on winning to make rookies dress up in outrageous costumes or carry candy to the bullpen. It was serious baseball and it was awesome. I had the ultimate front row seat. Veterans Mike Morgan and Greg Swindell held court every night in the bullpen. I could write another article on the “Mo Man”. Mike Morgan was a true classis. No wonder he stuck in the bigs for 24+ years. The guy was a great teamate. He and “Zeke” made me feel a part of the bullpen even though I wasn't pitching. Great memories from that one month from great guys.

I could continue to write about that month. Some of the highlights from that month

-Watching the Big Unit and Curt Schilling throw the team on their backs to  carry the Dbacks to the playoffs. Two great champions.

-Luis Gonzalez dropping bombs

-Staying in the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles

-Being invited up to Mark Grace's suite to talk baseball, drink beer, and imbibe. Mark Grace is baseball, that's the only way I can sum him up.

-Off day in LA visiting Santa Monica pier, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz in San Fran

-Low note-Curt Schilling spitting his dip in my coffe and making a rookie joke that no one at the table laughed at. Brian Anderson told him to shut the eff up.

-Champagne celebration for winning-division in Milwaukee. Had to do a dance on top of the table. Got ripped and started the next-day, the last game of the season. Gave up 8 unearned runs in 4+ innings. No one wanted to be there but me.

-Spending a month with Mike Morgan, I would love to hear or tell more stories about him. Guy was full of enormous amounts of energy

-Watching true pros like Matt Williams, Todd Stottlemyre, Jay Bell, Reggie Sanders, Mark Grace, and Greg Swindell conduct their business. True pros.

-My cousins, Cubs fans from Chicago came to Milwaukee. We went to breakfast, Grace was there and came and chatted with us for about 10 minutes. They still talk about it to this day

-Leaving my cousin with Luis Gonzalez and Gonzo taking care of him and sharing a cab with him back to the hotel. He still talks about it. Gonzo is another good guy.

-Going over Sunday NFL lines and odds with the Big Unit. He didn't say much to anyone but was a good dude.

-Seeing Barry Bonds hit number 60 in San Fran

-Protecting the pitcher in San Fran. Not an easy job

-Pitching in Dodger Stadium

-First big-league start

-All the security after 9/11.  Like I said truly strange times.

I'll never forget that month. Luckily I got back to the bigs with the Expos for another cup of coffee. If those were the only big league memories I ever had I would have been happy with that.

Thanks for letting me share this with all of you


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