Tuesday, February 4, 2014


By Rob Goldman, AngelsWin.com Historical Writer -

Yankee Stadium, August 20, 1992

Traveling in the minor leagues can be tough. As a player you endure long all-night bus rides and early-morning wakeup calls when you finally get to fly. It can be even tougher on the wives. In Edmonton,  we flew to most of the cities we played in but our wives would have to pile in a car and make the trips on their own. It was on one such trip to Calgary on where Marci arrived just before game time only to find that I wasn’t in the lineup. I had some good news and bad news for her. Our manager Max Oliveras had informed me just before game time that I would not be playing that night because the big club purchased my contract. I got the call! I was headed for the big leagues. It was very exciting news for Marci and me but I was disappointed to tell her she would not be going with me. Marci had followed my career from the early days at Grand Canyon College. Brought up in baseball, she had been in the stands for the majority of those contests. Getting to the big leagues was a call-up for both of us, really, but she wouldn’t be going.  She had to make her way back to Edmonton and pack up our things. So with our new puppy in tow, Marci had to move our things back to the States and I went to New York.

After an early wake-up call the next morning, I boarded a jet headed for New York via Toronto. My stomach was tied up in knots with anxiety. Would I make it in time for the game? Would I be in the lineup? Typically, if you were called up, you were slotted to play that night. I couldn’t get over the fact that by the time I lay my head on my pillow that night, I would have played in the big leagues. It was so amazing to be realizing my childhood dream.

My instructions were to grab a cab at the airport and head straight to Yankee Stadium. My flight arrived at about 4:30 PM, just in time for the afternoon rush hour. After a day of flying across the country, being stuck in traffic was the last place I wanted to be. Sitting in a cab in rush hour, so close to realizing my dream was excruciating. When I finally arrived, the taxi dropped me off right in front of the stadium entrance. There I stood with two big equipment bags and no idea where to go next. When fans streaming into the stadium realized that I was a new player, they began to shout, “Who are you? “You somebody special? Sign this for me?” Getting into the clubhouse was quickly becoming difficult. Then out of nowhere some burly cop came over and asked me suspiciously, “Are you a new player? Follow me.” I was passed off to another cop who escorted me downstairs to the clubhouse.

The first person I saw was equipment manager Leonard Garcia. He shook my hand, said congratulations and handed me a uniform. “Hurry up and get dressed,” he said. “Maybe you can get some swings in before batting practice is over.” I tossed my stuff in my locker and started putting on my gear when interim manager John Wathan came by and told me to meet him in his office as soon as I was dressed. John became the manager late in the year after the Angels team had a terrible bus accident. On an East Coast swing, the team was en route from New York to Baltimore when the bus driver fell asleep. Manager Buck Rodgers and a few of the players suffered injuries that shortened the season for them. John was serving as the bench coach at the time, so when Buck couldn’t get back on the field, John took over as interim manager. The ship was already sunk for that season and the team was trying to finish it out on any positive note when I joined them.

I stood in front of John’s desk. “Great year, Tim. Congratulations,” he said. “I know you were hitting clean-up all year and that’s great. You did what you needed to do down there, and I have you hitting cleanup tonight.” He quickly added, “No need to put any pressure on yourself. Our clean-up hitters are batting a combined .160 this year, so anything you can do will improve upon that. Now get on the field there and get in some swings.”

Thanks to my friend, rookie Chad Curtis, I managed to get in five or six batting practice swings before the game. Chad knew I was called up and was waiting for the word of my arrival. Waiting at my locker when I came out of John’s office, Chad quickly ushered me down to the field. After batting practice, I was reintroduced to Tim Mead, the team’s public relations person.

“Congratulations and welcome to the club. If you have a couple minutes, could you address our media? They’ve been expecting you all year and would like to talk to you.” All of a sudden I had about 15 reporters surrounding me.

Probably only half of them really knew who I was, but in New York, the media travel in a herd. In the minors I occasionally gave interviews, but never to a crowd like this. As they fired questions to me about my background and expectations, my head swam. I can only cringe thinking about what might have come out of my mouth. After 20 minutes of “meet the press,” I hustled my way back to the clubhouse to change out of my practice uniform and get a quick bite to eat before returning to the field for the 6:40 pre-game stretch. My stomach was churning like a garbage disposal when the game started but as soon as I stepped into the on-deck circle to await my first major league at-bat, all my nerves instantly disappeared. When I put the weighted donut on my bat and started taking some swings to get loose, a sense of peace came over me. I had done this before. Sure, the venues were much different, but the game was the same. It made me think of the movie Hoosiers, when Gene Hackman’s character takes his team onto the court before the state championship game. He takes out a tape measure and has his boys measure the court and rim.

It was a great moment in the movie, teaching the valuable lesson that the only thing that changes is the people in the crowd. The game is still the same.

So as I walked to the plate for my first big league at-bat, it was no different than in Calgary the night before. My emotions in check, I approached it like any other at-bat during that season. My first big league pitch from Shawn Hillegas was a fastball right down the middle for a strike. Under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, the pitch looked as fat as a pumpkin. I can hit that all day, I thought to myself. The next pitch was another fastball just off the plate outside.

“Strike two,” exclaimed the umpire. I was a little surprised by the call, but I didn’t show any reaction. I automatically kicked into my two-strike approach. Calm and collected, I went from being down 0–2 to laying off four straight balls to work a walk. Making my way down the first base line, I caught sight of the Yankees’ first baseman. Holy Cow! There’s Don Mattingly! After brief congratulations, it was back to the game. But there I was, standing next “Donnie Baseball”. I’ll admit, it was a thrill.

In the bottom of the first inning, Mattingly hit a long fly ball in my direction. I thought I had a good bead on it, but as I reached the right field warning track and leaped, my shoulder hit the wall. I got my glove up barely over the fence, but because I got caught on the wall, the ball glanced off the tip of my glove and over the fence for a home run. The crowed erupted as the Yankees star rounded the bases.

All I could think to myself was, I almost stole a home run away from Don Mattingly. Those thoughts were quickly interrupted when the famous “Bleacher Creatures” rudely brought me back to earth. In New York, the fans in the cheap seats beyond the right field fence are notorious for their lack of etiquette. Much like the student section of a college football game, they are the most inebriated and boisterous fans in the stadium. Throughout entire game they cheer for the Yankees and say every rotten thing they could think of to the right fielder. That happened to be me that night. I was barely in the outfield five minutes before they were screaming at me, “Hey, skinny, you can’t play with these men!” I think that was the only printable line they gave me. They also had a chant they’d yell over and over to the annoying cowbell drumbeat: “Yankee baseball! Mets suck! Angels suck! Salmon sucks! Marci sucks! Everybody sucks!” I was so impressed that they already knew my wife’s name. The media had nothing on the Bleacher Creatures. They came prepared.

We ended up winning the game 9–5. After my first at-bat walk, I struck out twice, lined out to left, and grounded out to short. Soaking in the win from the clubhouse afterwards, Chad Curtis informed me we wouldn’t be taking the team bus back to the hotel. Instead we were going to take advantage of our celebrity status and make some money. We were going to meet and sign autographs for a bunch of people in George Steinbrenner’s luxury box along with two other players, Greg Myers and Rob Ducey. We’d get paid $1,000 apiece for the first hour and $500 for every 30 minutes after that. Two hours later, Chad and I left Yankee Stadium each with $2,000 in cash. At the hotel, I tossed the money on my bed along with my meal allowance from the Angels and it came to about $2,500. So long, Skippy peanut butter! The first thing I did was call room service. It isn’t cheap in New York; just a cheeseburger and Coke set me back $25. But I didn’t have to worry about that anymore.

It was quite a day. I had fulfilled my childhood dream to play in the big leagues and already had more cash in my hand than I’d ever had in my life.

The next night I got a clean single up the middle off Melido Perez for my first big league hit. As is customary when a rookie gets his first hit, time was called and the ball was tossed into the dugout for me to keep. At first trainer Rick Smith nabbed it, but I knew I was in trouble when I saw Bert Blyleven heading towards Smitty with a sly grin on his face. I knew about Bert’s reputation for mischief, and sure enough, when I looked at the ball later he had scrawled on it, “A 60-hopper that barely trickled through the infield.” I still laugh every time I see it in my trophy case.

The next day I hit my first major-league home run. Facing Scott Sanderson, I hit an inside fastball that hooked around the left-field foul pole. I have that ball, too, thanks to pitcher Mike Butcher, who negotiated a deal with the fan who caught it. I think it cost me a couple of bats.

All in all, it was not a bad first weekend in the Bronx.

Looking back, I am proud of the fact that it all began in Yankee Stadium. To get your first at bat, base hit, and home run in the same batters box where Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle stood is pretty special.

(c) 2010 Always An Angel, Playing the Game With Fire and Faith by Tim Salmon and Rob Goldman
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