KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The moment that young right-hander Brady Singer steps onto the mound for the Kansas City Royals on Saturday in Cleveland will no doubt be surreal, the culmination of a lifelong dream hatched as a boy growing up in Florida and fostered by family and friends along the way.
Too bad they won’t get to see it in person.
When the decision was made to play an abbreviated 60-game major league season without fans, it meant that anybody making their debut would do so without their support system there to enjoy it. Not mom and dad, who may have gotten them started in the game. Or little league and high school coaches that taught them to throw a curveball or turn a double play. Or the college coaches that may have turned their turned natural talent into the makings of a pro.
Instead, like all baseball fans, they will be forced to watch on television the realization of a goal years in the making.
“We’ve had this conversation internally,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said, “and it’s been so hard just asking guys to have those conversations with their parents, or putting ourselves in their shoes. If my son was called up to the majors, there is no place I’d rather be than in that stadium. It takes a village for these guys to get where they are.”
Perhaps more so than any other sport.
Someone had to teach a kid to catch and throw. To dig in at the plate and choke up on the bat. The time and energy that parents, grandparents and friends put into nurturing the seeds of a ballplayer are almost impossible to count, never mind the financial toll the game can take on a family with a prospect that has big league talent.
So it’s no wonder that one of baseball’s time-honored traditions is for family and friends to be sitting in the stands when a youngster debuts. They are usually interviewed by the television broadcasters between innings, or brought into the radio booth. Afterwards, they’re almost always there to meet their new major leaguer outside the clubhouse.
Well, those interviews may have to take place in their homes. Those tearful greetings at the hotel — if that’s even allowed.
“With Brady, it means the world to have them there. We understand this is not ideal,” Matheny said, “and it’s very hard, but we also asking them, if they’re going to be there and at the hotel, just run them through the different extents were going through as a club to be safe and be healthy. It’s a difficult spot for them but we hope they can make the most of it.”
The 23-year-old Singer (University of Florida) was a long-shot to make the Royals’ roster out of spring training, partly because he had pitched just one full season in the minors, topping out at the Double-A level. But he spent the quarantine period refining his craft and he showed up to summer camp throwing as well as ever, opening the eyes of the entire Kansas City staff.
And when fellow starters Brad Keller and Jakob Junis tested positive for COVID-19 — both are now back with the team but not yet ready to pitch in games — it created an opening for Singer in the starting rotation.
“It’s incredible and I’m ready to go,” said Singer, the 18th overall pick in the 2018 draft. “I feel good. I got to do a lot of things here and got to show what I have. I feel like I’ve done really well. I feel strong and I feel better than I ever have.”
He won’t be the only player to make his big league debut this season.
Hard-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson made the Blue Jays taxi squad and will likely be in the rotation come August. The Angels’ top prospect, outfielder Jo Adell, could arrive before the end of September. Right-hander Casey Mize was sent to the Tigers’ alternate training site but is still expected to debut this fall. Young outfielder Luis Robert has designs on not only debuting this season but playing a big part in the White Sox making a playoff run.
“First and foremost, the goal is just win and win the World Series with this team,” Robert told reporters on a Zoom call through interpreter Billy Russo. “That’s the main goal for everybody on this team. Just try to help this team win. I know if the team does well, I’ll be good, too, because I’m going to be part of that success.”
That certainly would be a reason for all those friends and family who helped along the way to celebrate.
Even if they won’t be there to celebrate his debut.
Florida has six former players on MLB Opening Day 30-man rosters. It has 19 on the initial 60-man pools of MLB teams announced earlier this summer.
Gators on MLB 30-Man Rosters: Pete Alonso, New York Mets; Shaun Anderson, San Francisco Giants; Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals; Darren O’Day, Atlanta Braves; Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals and Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays