On the bus home tonight, a thought popped into my head. It flitted in and out pretty quickly, but it was definitely there.
“What if Starling Marte homers in his first at-bat?”
I didn’t really have an answer, and I pushed the thought out pretty quickly. I always ask that when a player makes a debut, because it’s such a cool thing to have a player homer in his first at-bat. It came back, though.
“Really, what if he homers? It’s in Houston and Dallas Keuchel is a lefty and he’s pretty bad and the Crawford Boxes are there and I dunno, it just kind of feels right, doesn’t it?”
I got home and mostly put the thought out of my mind, though I was kind of restless in the leadup to 8:05. Around 7:40, I had a brief internet blip and was afraid I was going to have to hop in my car and drive to lab for Marte’s debut. Things got straightened out, though, and I got the game on in time and it turns out that it’s a good thing that I did, because Marte took Keuchel’s first pitch and absolutely hammered it to left-center for the ultimate in lead-off home runs.
I can’t even fathom how awesome it must be for someone like Starling Marte to hit a home run on the first pitch of his big league career; as I mentioned earlier today he started out as not even being signed in his first year of eligibility in the Dominican Republic and his career in America started late and was slowed down by an injury and suddenly he’s in a big league uniform in the middle of a pennant race, living out all of his wildest dreams and at the culmination of that very moment, he hits a home run. I get chills just thinking about what it must’ve been like in his shoes tonight.
What I can tell you is this: just seeing it happen was an incredibly rewarding moment for me as a Pirate fan. Grant Brisbee wrote a great piece at SB Nation today about how Marte being called up is such a very different thing for Pirate fans because he’s a reinforcement and not a dream ticket and it’s all very true. In the past, when players like Andrew McCutchen or Pedro Alvarez made their debuts for the Pirates, their first games were big events because we as Pirate fans needed big events so that we could break free from being Pirate fans. We’re all in a different place now; we know things are changing in Pittsburgh and Marte represents a different kind of hope. It’s different because unlike the hope that McCutchen and Alvarez represented, this hope is tangible. If Starling Marte comes up and does in Pittsburgh what he’s been doing in Indianapolis since June, the Pirates’ lineup could be an absolute force to be reckoned with down the stretch and for a team that’s already leading the wild card and within striking distance in the NL Central, that makes anything possible.
And so here this kid is, standing in the box with every minute of his life leading up to this very moment and all of Pittsburgh hanging on his at-bat because we all want to believe in this baseball team, and he hits a home run. I don’t know what will happen with the Pirates over the rest of this season and I don’t know how Starling Marte’s career is going to play out from this point on, but I do know that his home run tonight is one of those moments of absolute magic that only baseball can produce and that nothing is taking that away from any of us.
After the first pitch, it was all a relatively straightforward Pirate win. Garrett Jones and Clint Barmes hit two run homers, AJ Burnett mostly cruised except for a rough spot in the eight inning when he served up two solo homers, and Joel Hanrahan closed out a roller-coaster save.
The Pirates are 14 games above .500. Sometimes, I just want to throw my hands up run around and yell, “It’s all happening!” After nights like tonight, I can’t help but think that it really might be.