Baseball, it has long been said, is a game of failure. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been so fascinated by the idea of a player hitting a home run in his first-ever at-bat. No matter what happens from that point forward, no one can ever take away that debut. It’s a pretty exclusive club, even among the elite cadre of talented men who’ve laced ’em up at the MLB level. Only 117 men (0.74%) of the approximately 16,000 with a plate appearance have accomplished the feat.
If we pare that down to only those who’ve gone yard on their first swing, the list contains only 30 names (0.19%).
Sure, you’d rather end up like Kris Bryant, who went down on strikes in his first three appearances against the mighty James Shilelds, than Paul Gillespie, Frank Ernaga, Cuno Barragan, Carmelo Martinez, or Jim Bullinger (who also homered on his first career swing and is one of eight pitchers ever to do so). But when he blasted a home run to center on the first pitch he saw in the Majors, Willson Contreras joined the latter group* with hopes that he’ll not also join them in anonymity as his career progresses.
Contreras strode to the plate for his pinch-hit appearance in the 6th to the thrum of a standing ovation, then kept the fans on their feet with his 415-foot blast. The Wrigley faithful returned the favor, demanding that Contreras stand for a curtain call. He obliged, then strapped his catcher’s gear back on and headed to the bullpen from whence he’d come in order to warm up relievers once again.
I don’t think he really minded though. Just listen to the reaction when he makes contact and then when the ball goes out. Just awesome.
“I’m still high in the sky,” Contreras gushed after the game. “I can’t believe it. I don’t have the words to explain how happy I am right now.”
It was the fourth of five home runs the Cubs would hit on the night and, presumably, the first of many Contreras himself will hit over a very promising career. But going yard under the given circumstances certainly made this particular clout the most memorable. I’m really big on moments, on bearing witness to something you might never see again. It’s why I let my son stay up well past his bedtime to watch Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter earlier this year and why I was so happy to have him with me again to see this.
“Watch, Willson Contreras is gonna hit a homer in his first at-bat,” I told him. Just a few seconds later, we were yelling in tandem and Ryne was tearing up the stairs to deliver the news mommy and Addison had already discerned from our celebration. It probably sounds cheesy, but I now feel a bit of ancillary ownership in that first home run. Maybe not quite as much as Carter Clover, though.
The big hit felt like another shovel of dirt on the Pirates’ grave as Sunday’s 10-5 win capped a weekend sweep and pushed the division rivals to 33-36, 15 games behind the Cubs in the standings. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Cardinals blew a late lead Sunday and joined the Bucs with identical five-game losing streaks. And guess who’s in town now?
It’s de rigueur when seeing a team perform at heretofore unfamiliar levels to say, “These aren’t your father’s [insert team name].” The thing is, though, these are my father’s Cubs. And they’re mine. And my son’s, my daughter’s, my wife’s (even if she rolls her eyes sometimes). So here’s to making a few more memories this summer.
*Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler also homered in their first at-bats.