The dry air had parched my lips. It’s a different kind of heat out here. Different from the wet Atlanta air I’m used to. Weatherman said we were in for a dust storm, mixed with some rain. Sounded kinda eerie if you ask me. Looking past the left center wall, the flags were stiff, blowing the wrong direction (if you’re a pitcher). Line ups were announced. It seemed as if every batter hit .35o with 25 homeruns this past season. Everyone was either a Top Prospect, just had the best season of their lives, or both. And there I was, standing on the bullpen mound awaiting my first Arizona Fall League game.
People warned me of the thin air. How the ball flies in the desert like nowhere else. People quoted statistics of how many of the hitters I would face make it to the bigs within a couple years. They read the characteristics of the Fall League like a resume. Bullet points of impressiveness that would “prepare” me to be out here, as if I were preparing for an exam. To some extent they were right. This is a test. I have never in my baseball career faced hitters consistently as good or polished as I will out here. I will be tested on all facets of the game, and stretched beyond my previous innings total for a season. Those facts are undeniable. However, I don’t look at my opportunity here as an exam. I look at this next 6 weeks as a privilege.
I have been given the privilege to play alongside and against some of the game’s best rising stars and the opportunity to count myself among them. Not everyone gets this chance. Very few, in fact. To be anything other than extraordinarily excited would be a tragedy. One thing I am looking forward to the most is meeting the other guys. Every organization is represented here, so I get a chance to, not only play against, but meet and become friends with guys from all over baseball. I’m sure those will be bonds I can carry for the rest of my playing days and beyond. I’m closer to my goal of pitching in the big leagues than ever before. It feels good.
So there I stood, chapped lips bent upwards in a smile. Who would have thought on April 1 that I would be pitching here on Oct. 4? Not many. But I’ve come to know that baseball has a way of bringing the unexpected to pass.
Strike one, first hit, first run, first walk, first game…in the books.