The 2014 Oakland Athletics played 104 games without a rookie appearing in a game, the longest mark since Earl Weaver's 1971 Baltimore Orioles played the first 152 games with veterans. Billy Burns broke the seal last year in the midst of an injury crisis that left the A's without Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp, and just before the team traded for Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld.
This year's rookies arrived in Game #3, and this time the sight of new players did not introduce questions of how in the world the team would survive the stretch drive, but rather whether these players had what they seemed to show in spring training.
Mark Canha's night got off to an unfair start, really. Leonys Martin hit a perfect bunt past Scott Kazmir on the first pitch of the game, and Kazmir did not have a prayer of covering first base in time. Instead, Canha was left to field it himself but fell down. He also popped out in the second inning.
Tyler Ladendorf was the first rookie to draw blood, facing a lefty and finally free from whatever had been holding him back in the minor leagues. He hit a line drive RBI triple into the gap to score the game's first run, and his career's first major league hit. After seven seasons in minor league baseball, including three years stalled out at Double-A, including a 50-game suspension last year for a second positive test for a drug of abuse, Tyler Ladendorf had reached that pinnacle. He is 27.
Dang. That's it right there, isn't it? He made it. Here's what he told MLB.com's Jane Lee after the game:
It's everything you thought it would be as a little kid. It's unbelievable. It's hard to put into words right now. I'm glad we got a win more than anything. I waited a long time for this day, and just to be able to contribute is great, and it's fun to be around these guys.
That sort of joy is infectious. I was grinning as much as he was. When he moved to left field later in the game, he became part of history too:
Mark Canha returned to the plate facing a variation of the backyard baseball scenario: bases loaded and looking for his first major league hit. He found it at the tippy top of the right field wall:
Imagine what Mark Canha must be thinking about as the ball powers off his bat towards the gap.
Bob Melvin was your proud dad:
He even came out to argue for a crew chief review of the ball, hoping it had hit a pillar behind the wall and rebounded back onto field for a grand slam. Alas, replays showed it was merely a bases clearing double.
Canha had two more base hits on the night, including another hard hit ball to left that also just missed clearing the fence, but was good enough for an RBI double. According to A's Baseball Information manager Mike Selleck, Canha hit a number of rookie debut milestones tonight:
The two throwing partners combined for something special as well:
After the game, I stuck around to watch Mark Canha and Tyler Ladendorf do their television interview with Ray Fosse and Glen Kuiper and from there either head off to the clubhouse in Tyler's case or watch Mark get interviewed for the A's raido post-game. Canha was signing autographs on everything thrown at him. He was signing autographs as he was being interviewed!
I waited for after the interview to ask Canha to sign my scorecard:
As he was signing, someone next to me asked him, "Are you excited?" He replied, "Yeah, it's awesome!"
It is awesome.