Baseball Firsts

When it comes to sports, no other embraces statistics like baseball.  One stat that I find interesting is “firsts”.  Baseball seems to produce them on a daily basis, in all shapes and sizes.  Here’s a few to ponder.

• The first game.

Every major league player has one.  It’s a day they will never forget.  Sergio Santos, a converted outfielder turned relief pitcher for the White Sox appeared in his first major league game on April 8.  He also recorded his first strikeout on the second batter he faced.

Sergio Santos walks off the mound after completing his first inning of work in the major leagues.

Nice.  A pair of firsts taken care of in short order.

• The first hit.

Some players get their first hit quickly, sometimes even in their first big league at-bat. For others, it might take longer than they would like.  But often the wait is just part of the journey.

Gordon Beckham is congratulated by first base coach Harold Baines after Beckham recorded his first major league hit off of Dontrelle Willis.

I imagine for many young players, nothing is more cherished than getting that first hit.  And bringing home the actual game ball.  It’s a great scene that’s fun to watch, because you know what just happened.  The umpires call time, the ball tossed out of play, and another memento is set aside for display somewhere, someday.

• The first out.

Funny thing about this stat, some days it may never happen.  Chicago Cubs pitcher Randy Wells knows all to well about this one.  On May 28th, Randy gave up 5 earned runs on 6 hits, retired nobody and was removed from the game from the game after only 16 pitches.  With the line score showing that he didn’t even pitch 1/3 of an inning, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen.  Or so he hopes.

• The first award.

I have a fun memory working with Tom Glavine on the day he won the first of his two Cy Young awards.  We spent the afternoon together at a rented ice rink in suburban Atlanta, Tom firing slap shots past my head while dressed in his Atlanta Braves home white jersey as I  photographed him for his Score Dream Team baseball card.  It was very cool working with such a classy guy, and thankfully for me, he was a hell of a hockey player too!

Tom Glavine Hockey Portrait.TIF

Tom was drafted by the L.A. Kings (ahead of  future NHL Hall of Famers Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille), but chose to pursue baseball instead.  Smart move.  After earning 305 major league wins, I fully expect he will enter the Hall of Fame along with Frank Thomas in 2014.

• The first save.

For some pitchers, the first save can come along at unusual times.  Such was the case for White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle during the 2005 World Series.

Pressed into emergency service when Game 3 entered the 14th inning, Buehrle recorded his first, and to date, only save, to preserve the 7-5 White Sox 14 inning victory over the Astros.

• The first step.

Technically not a statistic, it’s an important part of every successful base stealer’s repertoire.

Recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ricky Henderson had an explosive first step that helped make him the major leagues all-time base stealing champion.  Boom.  Gone.  End of story.

• The first Mr. November.

Of course, Reggie Jackson has been known as “Mr. October” for his clutch postseason hitting, highlighted by his 3 home run performance against the Dodgers during Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

Photos © Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

But when the 9/11 tragedy pushed the baseball schedule back one week, Derek Jeter’s walk-off home run to defeat the Diamondbacks during Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, hit during the wee hours of November 1, earned him the nickname “Mr. November”, as this was the first major league baseball game ever played during that month.

• The first World Series ring.

Can anything be sweeter than earning one of these for the first time?

Earning a World Series ring is what baseball is all about.  It’s the ultimate.  Period.

I think this image of Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand and A.J. Pierzynski celebrating after winning their first World Series says it all.

• The first pitch.

For me, photographing the first pitch of the 2005 World Series stands out as one of my most memorable career moments.  It signified reaching the final step toward achieving the ultimate goal, which is of course winning the World Series and earning a World Championship ring.  What a rush that moment was and will always be to me.  As I was concentrating on making the picture (remember, there is no “second” first pitch), I heard the crowd roar as I pressed the shutter.  Strike one.

White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras delivers the first pitch of the 2005 World Series to Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros.

It was the beginning of the final chapter in what turned out to be the ultimate story, complete with a fairytale ending for all White Sox fans.

• First base.

OK, that’s a bit obvious and not a statistic, but every game features one.  Along with at least two first baseman to patrol the adjacent area.

• The first run of the game.

Obviously an important objective to achieve if you plan on winning.

• First impressions.

Another non-statistical entry, but another one I consider important.  When you’ve been around baseball for a long time, certain players stand out.  They leave a first impression that is hard to ignore.  I’ve had a chance to see a few players that opened my eyes right away.  Players who then went on to live up to the hype that surrounded them as big league prospects.

1990 Thomas 04.TIF

Frank Thomas was one of those players.  I’ll never forget watching him for the first time during spring training in Sarasota, Florida.  I couldn’t believe such a big guy with enormous power potential could be so patient at the plate.  Most sluggers are free swingers.  Not Frank.  Ever.  Not even as a rookie trying to make the club in 1990.  He knew the pitch he wanted, and patiently waited for the pitcher to make a mistake.  He went on to hit 521 mistakes out of the park over 19 big league seasons.  Impressive.

Then there was Wade Boggs.  I can still remember watching a young Boggs hit.  And hit, and hit and hit some more.  Everything.

When I returned from spring training that year, I made sure to tell friends to watch this kid named Boggs, he’s going to be a good one.  3,000 plus hits later he’s in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve got to say, it’s easy to be a scout when the talent is that evident!

Well, that’s it for this week.  Time to head to the ballpark.

I love being the first one there.

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