PITTSBURGH – It is easy to get jaded when you do something for five decades.
That is how it is with me when it comes to baseball writing. I still love doing it, but I’ve pretty much seen it all considering I started covering the Pittsburgh Pirates and Major League Baseball in 1988.
All the games, stories and deadlines tend to run together after a while.
However, there are certain things that happen in baseball that still bring a smile to my face. Occasionally, something occurs that brings a tear to my eye.
That happened Wednesday night in the late stages of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
Drew Maggi made his major-league debut for the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth inning when he pinch-hit for Andrew McCutchen. The 33-year-old utility man had played 13 seasons and 1,154 games in the minor leagues before finally getting his chance in the big leagues.
I’ve always believed that baseball is about moments more than any other sport. This was a moment to remember.
Maggi got a standing ovation when he stepped into the batter’s box even though only serious Pirates fans knew his name before he was called up from Double-A Altoona on Sunday.
In a perfect world, Maggi would have hit a home run. Or at least got a hit.
Instead, Maggi struck out against left-hander Alex Vesia. It didn’t help that Maggi got dinged by home plate umpire Jeff Nelson for a pitch clock violation after fouling off Vesia’s first pitch.
This marked the first time that I haven’t loved the pitch clock, which was instituted by Major League Baseball at the start of the season and has made the pace of play so much better.
However, it wasn’t the result of the at-bat that will be remembered by Maggi, his teammates, his family or the fans in the stands.
The takeaway will be that Maggi persevered through 13 minor-league seasons. He has not made much money in his professional baseball career but has made a lot of long bus trips and stayed in some sketchy hotels.
It would have been easy for Maggi to walk away from the game many times since being selected by the Pirates in the 15th round of the 2010 amateur draft from Arizona State. He was stuck in Double-A for five seasons from 2012-16 before finally spending a full season in Triple-A. The big leagues had to seem to be a million miles away at that point.
I asked Maggi after the game if that pinch-hit at-bat made his 13 years of minor-league ball all worthwhile.
“One hundred percent, because I love baseball,” he said. “I was grinding for 13 years, but I was doing what I loved. Getting here, my name’s in history. I put on a big-league uniform. I shared the field with the world’s greatest. I can finally sleep at night, hopefully.”
Just becoming a professional baseball player is exceptionally difficult. The percentage of players who graduate from the minor leagues to the major leagues is even smaller.
When I got back to the press box after talking to Maggi in the clubhouse, I got to thinking about my career.
When I started covering baseball in 1988, I had major aspirations just like most other people in my field. I hoped to someday to land a full-time job at a major newspaper or a national magazine. There were no websites back then.
It still hasn’t happened for me and, at age 59, the time for reaching my dream has likely expired. However, when Maggi stepped into the batter’s box Wednesday night, I felt like there was a tiny piece of me in there with him.
That is why it brought a tear to my eye and reminded me that maybe you’re never too old to give up on your dreams.