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WELCOME TO THE SHOW

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Each week, young players around the game are taking a momentous step when they make their MLB debuts. The MLBPA will be recognizing those special achievements throughout the 2021 season with our "Welcome to the Show'' series.

 

This week's highlighted player: Rays infielder Taylor Walls

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“IT’S HARD TO EXPLAIN ALL THE EMOTIONS YOU’RE GOING THROUGH’’

MARLINS PITCHER ANTHONY BENDER SAVORS HIS MLB DEBUT -- AND HIS FATHER’S NEW SOCIAL MEDIA FORAY

By Jerry Crasnick

Marlins pitcher Anthony Bender reached the big leagues the hard way. He was drafted out of Santa Rosa (Cal.) Junior College in the 20th round by Kansas City in 2016, only to be released by the Royals three years later. After a breakout season in the Brewers’ minor-league system in 2019, he logged a Covid-induced stint with the Milwaukee Milkmen in the independent American Association in 2020.  That led to a free-agent deal with Miami and several weeks on the team’s “taxi squad’’ this spring.

On May 5, Bender made his first MLB appearance with a scoreless inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He reflects on his first week in the majors in the latest installment of the MLBPA’s “Welcome to the Show’’ series.

On manager Don Mattingly telling him that he was being activated

“I went out to stretch and I was about to start throwing when he pulled me over and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ I said, “I’m feeling good,’ and he told me, ‘There’s a 99.9 percent chance we’re adding you to the active roster today.’ I was like, ‘Holy smokes, what does that even mean?’ Then I went in and it was him and (general manager) Kim Ng, and they told me, ‘Congratulations.’ I was getting activated that day.

“You hear it and you have to go in and fill out some paperwork, and it’s just surreal. You’re supposed to read over some stuff and you can’t even process what’s going on at the time. I remember going out to the pen and watching the game and trying to sit back and soak it in. I’m thinking, ‘I’m here and my name could be called on the phone at any minute and I’ll start warming up.’ It’s an unreal feeling. It’s hard to explain all the emotions you’re going through.’’

On calling his father with the news

 

“My dad runs his own construction business in California. He’s a concrete man, and he’s been super busy. He was driving his truck and had to pull over on the side of the road. He went berserk on the phone. That’s when it kind of sunk in for me -- hearing my dad’s reaction when I told him I made the team. That was really cool.

“He was my Little League baseball coach and he used to help out at all of my tournaments. All this stuff is posted on Twitter now, but it’s hard for my dad to find it. He doesn’t have a Twitter. He actually just made himself an Instagram, which is hilarious. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day of that.’’

On facing his first big-league hitter, Arizona’s Tim Locastro

“Just waiting for the phone to ring and hearing my name . . . I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous in my entire life. Once I heard my name and started throwing in the bullpen, I got to calming myself down. The first run out to the mound was pretty crazy. I thought I was going to have shaky legs at first, but I was fine. My first warmup pitch, I knew I needed to tone it down. I sailed the first one to the back of the backstop. Once the batter stepped in the box, I was ready to go out and compete.”

On Don Mattingly telling reporters that Bender has “off the charts’’ stuff

“Just hearing your manager say that about you makes you feel more confident in your stuff. You go more on attack mode when you’re on the mound. ‘Here’s my stuff. It’s me against you. Let’s see what you’ve got. You see what I’ve got. Let’s go to battle.’’’

On his baseball inspiration

“Johnny Gomes went to the same high school and junior college that I went to. That’s who I watched growing up. He was on the A’s, (who) were like a home team for us. I never got to meet him, but I played summer ball for a team called the Healdsburg Prune Packers and his brother Joey was the coach. Seeing Jonny on TV and hearing the stories about him, he was really extreme and intense and comes with a lot of passion. His brother was the same when it came to coaching. I got that same mindset from him."

On his first MLB souvenirs

“I have the ball from the first strike I threw, and my first and second strikeout balls.

“I saw a picture of Sandy Alcantara handing me my first strikeout ball, and I remember just grabbing them and looking at the balls and reflecting on what had just happened. Once I got to hold those balls, it all soaked in -- ‘I just pitched in my first major-league game.’ Every time I go back and hold that baseball, all of this is going to come back to me.’’

On sharing his experience with friends and family back home

“This is just as big for my dad and my whole family as it is for me. They’ve seen what it takes going through the minor leagues in the offseason -- having to get these little jobs just to help out and buy my own food. I got lucky because I lived with my parents in the offseason. They’ve been more supportive than I ever could have imagined. For them to see the rewards of this, they’re just speechless. I’m excited to see them when we get to LA. That’s when it’s going to hit for real -- when they see me in uniform.’’

LUCAS GILBREATH

From Broomfield to Blake Street

Lucas Gilbreath grew up watching games at Coors Field. Now he’s in the Rockies’ bullpen

By Jerry Crasnick

When Lucas Gilbreath was a first grader in the Denver suburbs, his father, Chris, treated him to a day off from school to attend the Colorado Rockies’ home opener. The father-son outings became an annual tradition that put a crimp in Lucas’ perfect attendance aspirations, but spurred his love for baseball and turned Coors Field into a surrogate summer home.

Over the next dozen years, Lucas attended more Rockies games than he could count. He cheered for Todd Helton, Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis and Troy Tulowitzki, among others, and saved the autographs that he collected on tickets, programs and baseballs from the other side of the railing.

So there was a natural sense of pride in the Gilbreath household when the Rockies chose Lucas out of Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colo., in the 36th round of the 2014 draft. He passed on pro ball for college, but the Rockies were undeterred and picked him again in the seventh round in 2017.

Lucas Gilbreath said yes to the proposal. And now he’s the one signing autographs.

Lucas made his big-league debut with an inning of relief in a 14-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 1. He needed only six pitches to complete the inning, but only after Arizona’s Josh Rojas launched his first pitch into the right field swimming pool at Chase Field for a home run.

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TAYLOR WALLS

TOMMY NANCE