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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Rays

Rays Beat: First day in bigs will never be forgotten

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— It was Thursday afternoon and the Rays were at Angel Stadium, but for a few minutes David Price found himself back at old Yankee Stadium and David DeJesus was suddenly sitting in front of a locker at the Ballpark at Arlington trying hard not to be noticed.

Cole Figueroa had just entered the visitor’s clubhouse with his duffel bag, fresh off a cross-country trip that began in Durham, N.C., and ended in the big leagues.

It was Figueroa’s first day in the major leagues, and he was asked if he could put his emotions into perspective.

“Perspective,” Figueroa said. “I think that’s the one thing most guys can’t do at this point in time.”

“He never will,” Price said.

It is hard to step back and assess the moment when your mind is trying to absorb the thrill of your first day as a major-league baseball player — Yes, I made it! — and the trepidation that comes with your first day as a major-league baseball player — gulp!

But, Price added, Figueroa will remember the day for the rest of his life.

And the neat thing about Figueroa’s first moments as a big-leaguer was it made everyone else on the team remember their first day in the big leagues.

For assistant hitting coach Jamie Nelson, the day was July 21, 1983.

“A long time ago,” he said.

Nelson was catching for the Mariners’ Triple-A team in Salt Lake City when he got the word he was needed in Seattle, where the Mariners were playing the Red Sox that night.

“I called my dad from the airport,” Nelson said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m on a flight.’ He thought I was going to Salt Lake City, which is where I was playing. I said, ‘No. I’m going to the big leagues.’

“The difference between Cole and I was I was in the lineup right out of the chute. I was so nervous. You don’t know if you belong. You think you do. You’re panicking because you don’t know if you’re going to fit in with a new set of guys.”

Being a catcher made it easier for Nelson’s nerves. He was involved in the game from the very first pitch.

“Fastball up. Strike,” he remembered.

And that first at-bat?

“I was so nervous my first at-bat my knees were knocking,” Nelson said. “It was something else.”

Nelson remembers the at-bat pitch-by-pitch.

“Fastball up. Fastball away. Fastball inside. I popped it up,” Nelson said. “Frank Funk was the pitching coach for the Mariners. He told me (Boston pitcher Bob Ojeda) was going to challenge me inside again.”

Nelson acted on that tip and homered in his next at-bat, driving in two runs in Seattle’s 14-13, 10-inning loss to Boston.

Nelson’s big-league career consisted of 40 games that summer. That was his lone home run. He remembered calling his mom after that first game. She cried.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.

Price debuted at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 14, 2008.

He came out of the bullpen and pitched 51⁄3 innings, retiring the side on seven pitches in his first big-league inning.

“I think it really hit me once I left the bullpen and got on the warning track,” Price said. “That’s when I was at the bottom of Yankee Stadium and I was looking up and around. The place went straight up. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. All right. Here we go. Let’s make the best of it.’ ”

DeJesus was called up Sept. 2, 2003. He entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Carlos Beltran, a move that went unnoticed.

“So I call home, ‘Hey guys, I played.’ They look at the box score and said, ‘No you didn’t.’ They didn’t put me in the box score,” DeJesus said.

DeJesus had his first big-league at-bat a few days later. He struck out looking against Arizona’s Jose Valverde.

“I remember walking back to the dugout, took my helmet off and I was shaking,” DeJesus said. “I was thinking, ‘OK, it’s over. Everything’s OK. You can breathe.’ It was a surreal moment. Who would have thought 10 years later I’d still be up here. I hope Cole has that opportunity as well.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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