Tonight is the first chance for Dodger fans to see 21-year-old Nathan Eovaldi pitch at home, following his first big league victory this week in Arizona. Fittingly, it comes on the same day that the Dodgers signed their first-round pick, Chris Reed, out of Stanford University.
It’s amazing how quickly these things happen. Nathan signed just three short years ago in 2008 and already he’s here and having an impact. Dee Gordon, selected just seven rounds ahead of Eovaldi, is also making his mark in the big leagues already. And then there’s Clayton Kershaw, who is already an All-Star and Cy Young candidate at age 23.
We meet many of these kids on their first visits to Dodger Stadium shortly after they sign, and it’s really cool to watch them progress through the minors. I can still remember Chad Billingsley showing up here in 2003, wide-eyed and ready to start a pro career and he’s already been in the big leagues now for six seasons.
Of course, some of our youngest players are here now because of injuries or other circumstances, but it’s still incredible to see how quickly they turn into Major League players. That obviously comes with hard work from the player development staff, which is responsible for getting them ready once the scouts go out and identify their talent level as amateurs.
It’s a unique process that you don’t really see in football or basketball because there aren’t really minor leagues the way we have it. But for those who see Chris Reed at tonight’s game, be sure to track his progress through the minors. Hopefully he’ll get here as quickly as some of his recent fellow draftees.
There’s something really cool about big league debuts. Presumably, for those of us not on the field, it’s the idea that someone has realized a lifelong dream that really makes these occurrences special. Most teams get to see somewhere between five and 10 a year, so they’re not so rare that they’re like a no-hitter and yet, they’re rare enough that quite often fans remember being at a big league debut for a long time to come.
From a front office perspective, it’s always a unique experience, too. Of course you have the scout who signed the player with the ultimate pride and the coaches and managers and staff who helped him develop. Last night, Ned Colletti, Logan White and De Jon Watson were in the Stadium to watch, as was roving pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves, all of whom have had a hand in getting Nathan Eovaldi here by the young age of 21.
There’s the historical part of it – we always try to get ticket stubs from the game, perhaps the lineup card and if there’s a victory or a hit involved, a baseball signed and dated. All of these items go into the team archives in the event the player goes on to have an All-Star or Hall of Fame career. So, while we have some really amazing artifacts of that nature from great Dodgers in the past, we also have some from guys who might have only played 10 games in the Majors before retiring.
The media aspect of it always drives part of the day, too. As a starting pitcher, the media is not supposed to talk to the guy until after the game. For a position player, that doesn’t ever seem to be an issue, which is always an interesting dichotomy but just one of the unwritten rules the game. The pitcher has so much he has to think about, the last thing we want to do is bog him down with other questions and people to meet, so we let him go about his business quietly.
In this case, it meant that we didn’t find out until postgame that the ‘o’ in his last name is silent. His name is simply pronounced E-Valdee. At least we got the Nathan part right, as he prefers that to Nate.
With Nathan already in the clubhouse late in the game, I had to go downstairs in the top of the ninth to see if we could coax him out on the field postgame for a live interview with PRIME Ticket. Of course, you don’t want to jinx anything by saying, “Hey, if we win can you go out on the field?” and yet you have to still do it or you miss a big opportunity.
After realizing that it wasn’t an interview on the big screen board, Nathan agreed to do it and as you can imagine, when the D-backs started to threaten in the ninth, I thought I had jinxed it and blown this poor kid’s first big league victory.
Fortunately, Elbert came through and the team held on so after the last out, we got Nathan to head out to the field, just in time for Blake Hawksworth to give him a shaving cream pie in the face. Hopefully, it’ll be a moment to remember for him and 20 years from now, having it all on video will be well worth it.
Now he gets to spend four days watching big league baseball, taking it all in, and yet working hard for his next start, whenever that comes. But for those who were on hand to see it, it’s likely something they’ll remember for many years to come.