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Spate of rookies emphasize importance of the Major League debut for the Colorado Rockies

Patrick Lyons Avatar
June 21, 2022

Nothing in life is ever guaranteed, not even for professional athletes.

It stands to reason that when a player makes their Major League debut, it’s a culmination of a life-long pursuit, a moment in time seared into the mind forever.

For 4,714 ballplayers – or 20.8% percent of 22,718 players in the history of the game – that first base hit never came. Of that group, 3,156 had the opportunity in the batter’s box, but couldn’t connect.

So, the debut, that singular game where they went from minor leaguer to big leaguer, is everything.

The most recent player to appear for the first time with the Colorado Rockies was outfielder Sean Bouchard on Sunday.

“Once I went out to stretch, I had a little bit of nerves, little jitters,” Bouchard said of his first game since being promoted on June 16. “Once the anthem hit and we ran out to the field, I took a look around to all the fans. And a calm wave came over me. It really was just another baseball game I’ve played.”

Bouchard walked in his first plate appearance during the bottom of the second of an 8-3 win over the Padres that cemented a three-game sweep for the Rockies to put them at 30-37 on the year.

With rosters being held to a 13-pitcher limit beginning June 20, the Rockies will need one more bat off their bench after keeping 14 arms throughout parts of this season. As such, Bouchard should have more opportunities to join Elehuris Montero and Brian Serven in notching his first big league hit in 2022.

May 1, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies first baseman Elehuris Montero (44) reacts after his first MLB single in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s very exciting, very emotional, to get it in my first at-bat in the big leagues,” Montero said following his 2-for-4 debut on May 1. “Honestly I wasn’t really nervous. (After) Spring Training, I kind of feel like I belong here.”

Pitchers deserve love, too, and Colorado has given a chance to a pair of relievers who have posted impressive numbers down in Triple-A at a ballpark with even higher elevation than Coors Field.

Chad Smith and Jake Bird each put up a scoreless inning in their debut and, with the probable loss of Tyler Kinley for the rest of the season, both rookies will be counted upon by manager Bud Black.

Smith’s first outing came in Washington, D.C. His parents nearly missed it because of the incredibly quick nature with which a promotion and first in-game appearance can come together. 

Mar 1, 2021; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies Chad Smith #70 poses during media day at at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: MLB photos via USA TODAY Sports

Though the 27-year-old sat in the Nationals Park ‘pen for two games of a doubleheader on May 28, that time spent waiting allowed for his folks to make the trek from Alabama to D.C.

“It worked out where they could get there to watch my first outing, my Major League debut, and it’s been everything I could have dreamed of,” Smith said of his one-two-three inning.

Bird’s big day was met with similar success and also with his parents in attendance. A separate crowd was in attendance consisting of teammates back in Albuquerque watching his debut on the oversized screen at Isotopes Park.

“I don’t really understand why the bullpen was more nerve wracking than the game,
Bird said of his experience. “I think it’s just not knowing if you’re getting in or not. Once I got in the game, it was back to normal.”

While each debut is different, one thing that has been consistent in recent years has been the way teammates respond to this special moment. 

In the past, it may have been a handshake, a kind word and a slap on the behind. Now, the occasion is celebrated in a much more impassioned and fun style: jumping in a laundry cart and going through the showers before being covered in suds. 

“I think now it seems harder and harder to get to the big leagues,” 14-year veteran Jhoulys Chacín explained. “The rookies appreciate us doing the little stuff to show them congratulations for making it here. I think that change is something that’s really cool.”

Jun 17, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jake Bird (59) pitches in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the five Rockies’ debuts came during a down period that saw Colorado go 11-26 between May 8 and June 16. Despite this fact, the clubhouse has been well aware of the bigger picture for their new teammates.

“I think no matter how the game’s going and anything like that, you have to try to make it special for those guys because it’s a moment they’re gonna remember for the rest of their life,” 27-year-old Ryan McMahon shared. 

For a quartet of current Rockies, the quality of their Major League debut varied. Regardless of results, it was their big day, one that will never be forgotten. 

Jhoulys Chacín – July 25, 2009

“Yeah, I remember for sure. It was against the Giants here at home. I came out of the bullpen. That night we were winning 8-2. I’ll always remember that my first pitch was a fastball that bounced on the plate and Benji Molina swung at it. He knew that I was gonna throw a fastball. I was so hyped up, bounced it and he swung at it. I think that helped me because that moment made me realize that they’re not gonna be nice to you just because you’re a rookie or that you’re making your MLB debut. I got the outs after that and we won the game. Everybody said congratulations and all that, but they didn’t make it like now. which is awesome.

Chad Kuhl – June 26, 2016

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl delivers in the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 26, 2016. It is Kuhl’s major league debut. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

“Mine was super memorable (with the Pirates). Sunday Night Baseball against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. It was during the time when PNC Park (in Pittsburgh) was selling out and it was just unbelievable. We end up winning that game, too. I think Kershaw only had one less at that point and the second one was my debut. It’s just like one of those things where all the stars aligned. My family was there, my best friend was there. My girlfriend, now my wife, was there. It just couldn’t have happened any better.”

Germán Márquez – September 8, 2016

“It was 2016. Against the Padres. It feels like it was yesterday, man. Seven years ago and it was an amazing experience. Made it to the big leagues at 21 years old. (Came) out of the bullpen. and struck out the pitcher. (Ha Ha) My first strikeout was a pitcher. It was amazing. Everyone (congratulated me). It was Nolan, CarGo, Parra and Charlie. Everyone.”

Ryan McMahon – August 12, 2017

For me, I look back to mine and I pinched-hit it in a loss in Miami and it honestly wasn’t very fun. It just kind of was that way. I remember my first bat and I don’t remember who was against (Brian Ellington) but I know he threw 100mph because he threw me a first-pitch changeup and I was like, ‘Damn, this guy throws 100 and he threw me first pitch changeup.’’

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