There’s no hope like the hope of a fan watching his very bad baseball team bring up its best prospect. The prospect is the trailer for a 10-year movie that’s been hyped for years, and that first game is when the lights go down in the theater. That prospect could lead to anything. All-Star Games ... division titles ... awards ... even, no, no, don’t jinx it. But anything.
Usually the prospect doesn’t lead to All-Star Games, postseason berths, and awards. The odds are against it. That’s what makes the debut so special. All of those rewards are still on the board, in game show speak. None of them haven’t happened yet. That reads like a double negative, but it isn’t. That they haven’t happened is a positive.
On May 1, 2007, Russ Ortiz allowed eight earned runs to the Rockies at AT&T Park. He was a combined 5-19 with a 7.33 ERA over the previous two seasons with the Diamondbacks and Orioles, but the Giants were awful, and they had nothing to lose, so he was hanging around the rotation.
Two days earlier, Tim Lincecum faced the Rockies’ Triple-A team. He faced 21 batters and struck out 14 of them in six innings, dropping his ERA to 0.25. The Giants could have waited just a little longer to bring him up — it would have saved them millions in a couple years — but the fans were restless. They wanted that Bad Baseball Team hope.
In a way, it was perfect that Ortiz was the one to leave the rotation. He was that hope in the past, the prospect with unfathomable numbers in the minors (0.25 ERA in San Jose) who carried that heavy burden. And you know what? He had a fine career. Better than most. He helped the Giants win a lot of games. And he almost ... he almost ... he was on the mound when ... and then Dusty came out and ... but he almost ...
Ortiz was a perfect segue because he wasn’t a failed prospect. He was a prospect who succeeded, for the most part. He didn’t check off every box on those bad-baseball-team hopes, but he got a lot closer that most prospects. His name was floating around Lincecum’s debut to temper expectations.
What if the Giants actually had a prospect who morphed into someone who checked all those boxes, though? What if they had someone who was excellent immediately, who didn’t need two or three years of what-if seasoning, who made All-Star teams, who won awards, who helped the Giants to the postseason? Who helped the Giants win a danged World Series for once?
That’s what you think about during the prospect’s debut. It’s your right as a fan. What if this guy is the one?
Normally, I would have to dig deep into the memory vaults to remember how excited I was for a player’s debut. The memories will be spotty because they always are. Except I remember just how excited I was for Lincecum because I stayed up to write about it.
`Twas the night before Lincecum, and all through Mays Field
Not a creature was stirring, not even Lou Seal
The pitcher's mound dirt was packed down with care
In preparation for our hero, who would soon be there
The fans were at home, all snug in their beds,
While visions of perfect games danced in their heads
And Lefty with his wit, and Steve S. with his stats
Had just settled down for a nervous spring nap
Then the next night, arose such a clatter
ESPN angled their cameras to see what was the matter
The crowd was gathering down at Third and King
Anticipating the heat our savior would bring
The sun kept fog away for the Sunday night show
And gave the luster of early evening for the field below
When what to our wondering eyes should appear?
But one miniature pitcher, and eight of his peers
With an overpowering fastball, so lively and quick
He then flashed a curveball that would make Phillies sick.
Like a wee Nolan Ryan, his pitches they came
And as he warmed up, he called them by name:
"Now four-seamer, now two-seamer, now changeup, now curve!
On slider, on palmball, on split-finger and slurve!
To the catcher's mitt; to sixty feet, six inches away!
You'll miss those bats, and in the rotation I'll stay!"
As he got loose before a national crowd
The pops from the catcher's mitt grew ever more loud
So to the corners of the strike zone, his pitches they flew
With an arsenal of pitches, St. Timothy threw.
And then, with an announcement, Rollins came up to bat
Adjusting his wristbands, he gave his cleats a pat.
As I grabbed my remote and adjusted my sound,
Lincecum's first-ever pitch was now plateward bound
He was dressed in French vanilla, and his shoes colored black
He had a huge "55" right on his back
An entire franchise perched on his right shoulder
As the once warm night grew ever colder
His eyes - how they focused! His hat bill, so bent!
His delivery was perfect; Bad hitters repent!
His right arm went back and stretched like a bow
And his beard would have been badass, if a beard he could grow
He pumped two by Rollins, and then dropped the hammer
Rollins, caught looking, left with a stammer
Chase Utley ended the inning, waving at a fastball superb
You deserve to be struck out, when your first name's a verb
Tim looked out of place; he looked like he was twelve
And the Phillies laughed when they saw him, in spite of themselves
But Tim spoke not a word, and went straight to his work
And mixed curves up with heaters, whiffing all with a smirk
And after the 27th strikeout, he lifted his cap,
Gave a wink and a nod, acknowledged the cheers and the claps
And I heard him exclaim, as he jogged out of sight
"I won this series right now, but I'll win a World Series some night!"
The last line was tongue-in-cheek, I remember, because the Giants were never going to win a World Series. It was put in the same stanza as the 27th strikeout because it was just as realistic.
And yet. And yet.
So happy 10th anniversary to the debut of Tim Lincecum. The actual outing was a spotty debut, but the trans-dimensional portal was open, and we bathed in the rays of success that shot through from the alternate universe. It might be closed now, but it all started with Lincecum. He was as incredible as we could have possibly hoped. He was better than we had seen before, and he was better than we’ll see for a long, long time. He will always be one of the very best parts of rooting for the Giants.