It’s been 342 professional appearances and nearly eight calendar years since Ryan Dennick was selected by the Royals out of Tennessee Technological University in 2009. We’re happy to welcome Ryan as the latest author to join our Player’s Perspective series here at MLBTR.
This latest post is a continuation of Ryan’s first on MLBTR, entitled “You Only Get One MLB Debut.” If you haven’t read that, check it out before reading the second part of his story.
Once the initial excitement and celebration of my call-up wore off, reality set in. We were set to play the Orioles that night, and I had a job to do. The morning of Sept. 2 began around 5:00am from me, and I was greeted by pouring rain. The torrential downpour led to not only a delayed flight to Chicago, but a missed connection to Baltimore for myself and fellow September call-ups J.J. Hoover, Tucker Barnhart, David Holmberg and Donald Lutz. J.J. got the last seat on a new flight to Baltimore, while the rest of us hopped a flight to Washington, D.C. — an hour drive from Camden Yards. All of our bags wound up in Baltimore with J.J. The traveling secretary arranged a car rental, and we met J.J. at the airport to collect our bags an hour later.
Finally, after all the travel mishaps, we arrived at Camden Yards. Pulling into the parking lot of the ballpark, the realness of the situation was in full effect. We entered on the first base side of the field. To my right, I saw the long, brown weathered building known as the B&O Warehouse. It was this building that Ken Griffey Jr. homered off in the 1993 Home Run Derby and where the team hung the numbers 2, 1, 3 and 1 in celebration of Cal Ripken Jr. becoming baseball’s Iron Man. Those were iconic moments in the history of Camden Yards, and I was about to be on the same field on which those legends had played.
We grabbed our equipment bags and headed toward the security gate by the service entrance. The three other guys all pulled out their player ID cards issued to them in Major League Spring Training. This card is required to be shown to security officers to be granted access to the stadium. I was in minor league camp so I didn’t have an ID card. Thankfully, the guard understood the situation and let me through without an ID. After a series of bad breaks throughout the day, it was a relief to catch a good one. Once past the security check point, the four of us made the long trek underneath the stadium around to the third base side where the visitors’ clubhouse is located.
“Get excited man, you’re here!” Tucker said in an attempt to pump me up. After 13 hours of travel, we had arrived in front of the visitors’ clubhouse doors. The security guard in front of our clubhouse swung the doors open, and I followed in behind the other three guys.
Inside was a lively environment full of players, staff and media moving every which way. Batting practice had ended about 10 minutes before we arrived. Players were beginning to go into their pre-game routines. The media was trying to get in some interviews to use for the night’s broadcast and the clubhouse staff was hard at work gathering up all the laundry that had to be done during the game. I managed to flag down one of the clubhouse attendants to ask him where my locker was located.
“What’s your name?” he asked with a load of laundry in his hands. “Dennick,” I said. “Yeah, I think you’re in the back corner.”
The visitors’ clubhouse in Baltimore is quite expansive. The travel roster for the Reds included over 30 players, the Major League coaching staff, a few members of the minor league coaching staff, the training staff, and the administrative staff. Even with all those people, there were still some open lockers.
I walked further into the clubhouse to see how much of an upgrade the Majors were over the minors. To my right, hitters were reviewing film on Bud Norris, the Orioles’ starting pitcher that night, with Reds hitting coach Don Long. A few monitors and laptops were set up and available to anyone who wanted to look up any at-bat on any pitcher or hitter right there in the clubhouse. Beyond that was the kitchen. A chef was employed to provide us with incredible food. Steak, chicken, all the sides. Anything you wanted, it was available. I moved toward the middle of the room, which was filled in with two leather sectional couches. In the middle of those was a wide coffee table where guys enjoyed playing card games before game time. The walls of the clubhouse were all lined with flat screen TVs playing the MLB Network. All the lockers had nice leather swivel chairs in front of them. There was plenty of space between lockers, something I wasn’t used to in the minors.
And then there it was, in the back corner of the clubhouse in front of the tunnel that led to the playing field. I saw my locker.
I stood there for a second to take in the view. Inside were two game jerseys, a batting practice top, two pairs of pants, hats, undershirts and sweatshirts. There was so much gear, I felt like I’d robbed the Reds’ team store. I reached in and grabbed one of my game jerseys. We were wearing the typical road grays that night. Red stitched lettering that spelled “Cincinnati” on the front, my last name and the number 41 stitched on the back. The Majestic Cool Base material was so much more breathable and lighter than any of the minor league jerseys I’d ever worn. Years of hard work was represented by what I held in my hands. I set the jersey back in my locker and placed my equipment bag at its base. Unpacking would have to wait — it was time to see the manager.
Whenever a player gets assigned to a new level, it’s an unwritten rule he should go see the manager before getting settled in. Most of the time it begins with a little small talk, like making sure your travel went OK, and then it transitions into baseball talk. It doesn’t take long, maybe 5-10 minutes at the most, but it’s a sign of respect for the manager to see him first.
I navigated my way back to the front of the busy clubhouse to Bryan Price’s office. As I said before, I wasn’t in Major League camp in spring training so this was the first time I had ever met him. I knocked on the open door and poked my head into his office.
“Hey Ryan, come on in!” he said. “I heard about how your travel went today. You good to go tonight?” I waited my whole life to get here, no chance I was saying I wasn’t ready. “Absolutely,” I told him. “Well, you had a great season in Triple-A and we are excited to have you here. So go get settled in and be ready to go.”
It was a little less than an hour before the start of the game so I had a little bit of time to decompress. I returned to my locker to find all my equipment hung up and placed neatly inside. A teammate I had in Louisville who had been called up a few months back came over to greet me.
“Hey Buddy! Good to see you here!” “Good to be here! Did the clubbie hang up all my stuff?” I responded. “Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Get used to it.” He went on to fill me in on the ins and outs of what to do and what not to do in a Major League clubhouse. Just like the law, ignorance isn’t an excuse for doing something wrong. If you do something you shouldn’t in a clubhouse, a veteran player is going to let you hear about it.
Players were beginning to make their way down the tunnel toward the playing field. I put on my uniform and got ready to do the same. Before I could leave the clubhouse, one of the veteran relievers stopped by my locker.
“Welcome to the team, you got the candy bag.”
It’s the duty of the rookie reliever with the least amount of service time to take care of the candy bag. Gum, seeds, energy bars and drinks, chewing tobacco and anything else anybody wanted in the bullpen to get ready to pitch. I had to make sure it was stocked full before every game and carry it down to the ‘pen. With a full candy bag ready to go, the rest of the relief corps and I emerged from the visitors’ dugout and made the walk across the outfield grass to the stacked bullpens in left center field.
I made the ascent up the stone stairs leading up to our bullpen. Mat Latos was just finishing up his warm-up pitches, as he was our starting pitcher on this night. The view from our ‘pen was incredible. You could see everything. From foul pole to foul pole, your vision was filled up with all Camden Yards had to offer. Perfectly manicured field below and the thousands of seats filled with people that stretched from the playing field all the way up to the upper deck. It’s what I thought baseball was always supposed to look like. After the national anthem was sung and warm-up pitches were done, it was game time. A few guys in the bullpen grabbed some chairs and set up shop in front of the railing that overlooked the Orioles bullpen to get a better view of the action.
The game wasn’t going well on our end. After two innings of play, we were already down 5-0. But it was about to get worse. The rain that delayed our flight out of Cincinnati had followed us. The heavens opened up, and the tarp was put on the field. We were in a rain delay. The day just kept getting longer and longer. I felt like a kicker in the NFL getting iced before attempting the game-winning field goal. Anticipation and nervousness were kicking in. The way the score currently stood, I had a pretty good chance to see some game action. Managers typically like to put guys in a lower leverage situation for their big league debut.
A little over two hours went by before the announcement was made that the grounds crew was pulling the tarp off the field. Normally for a rain delay that long, the starting pitcher will be taken out of the game, but Latos insisted on staying in the ballgame. Once the field was ready for play, the relievers and I made our way back out to the bullpen. While he had a relatively uneventful third and fourth inning, Latos ran into some trouble in the fifth. Back-to-back singles prompted a call down to the bullpen to get someone warming up.
“Denny, be ready for [Chris] Davis,” our bullpen coach hollered. Price wasn’t kidding when he said be ready. He was going to use me right away. However, two outs made on the basepaths by the Orioles allowed Latos to strike out Davis to end the inning without a run scoring. Still standing on the mound in the bullpen waiting for instructions, I heard the phone rang again.
“Denny, you got next inning.”
When the final out of the top of the sixth was recorded, I was in. I was overcome with a combination of excitement, focus, and nerves. It was like I drank a six-pack of Red Bull. I finished my warm-up pitches and headed toward the stone staircase leading to the field. I was walking down as carefully as I could. The last thing I needed was to catch a spike and trip coming down the stairs for my Major League debut.
One piece of advice given to me before I went into the game was to not look up when running in from the outfield. That would have been great advice — if I had listened. The bullpen gate swung open and I immediately looked up. The triple-decker stadium towered over me. I began to jog in from the left center field warning track to see the stadium grow larger and larger in my eyes. I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t beating a lot faster than any other time I’ve run in from the bullpen.
Once I reached the dirt and the cut of the infield grass, I slowed my jog into a walk. I was met on top of the pitcher’s mound by Devin Mesoraco. We had never worked together before so we had a brief discussion about my pitching repertoire. “One: Fast, Three: Slider, Wiggle: Change.” I said with my glove over my mouth. I’m not sure why I do that. I don’t know anyone who reads lips in baseball. Must just be habit.
“OK, let’s have some fun!” he said before heading back to his spot behind the plate. Once I completed my warm-up tosses, I took a lap around to the back of the pitcher’s mound where I routinely receive the ball back from the third baseman after it’s thrown around the horn.
Right as the ball was getting thrown back to me, it was intercepted by Todd Frazier, who was playing first base for us that night. He turned into Roger Dorn straight out of the movie Major League. He looked me right in the eyes and said “I only have one thing to say to you: strike this [expletive] out!” It made me laugh. Any nerves I had before pitching were suddenly calmed. I was as ready as I would ever be.
From there, I went on autopilot. Whatever sign Devin put down, I threw. Whatever spot he wanted, I threw it there. It was one of those rare innings where you just knew you were going to get the batter out. Then, when the ball hit from the third batter of the inning settled into Billy Hamilton’s glove in center, it was over. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the moment came and went. 11 pitches, 9 for strikes. I had a 1-2-3 inning, including my first MLB strikeout. I returned to the dugout and was met by all my teammates and coaching staff to give me handshakes and high fives for a job well done in my debut. I took a seat on the bench to finally relax and reflect on the past 48 hours. Finally getting called up, travel issues, warming up in the pen. They all led up to a moment that lasted only a few minutes. But you only get one MLB debut. And mine was perfect in every way.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.