Pirates

Colin Dunlap: Polanco Debut Culminates Whirlwind Day

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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Gregory Polanco anticipation turned into The Gregory Polanco Era at precisely 7:22 p.m. on Tuesday at PNC Park.

That’s when the much-ballyhooed prospect stepped out from being a prospect, stepped into a Major League Baseball batters’ box and faced his first pitch.

Strike One on the outside corner.

The at-bat became pretty much innocuous; a one-out harmless pop out on the infield.

Maybe it was then that Polanco was able to breathe a little bit.

Maybe it was then that Polanco was able to pinch himself.

Maybe it was then that the 22-year-old anticipated megastar came back down to Earth after a 20 hours or so wherein this all seemed like a trance.

Imagine what the kid was going through. I know I couldn’t even begin to.

When Polanco stepped in with a bat in his hand for the initial time at PNC Park, the Pirates were already trailing 2-0 and people were still filing across the Clemente Bridge. It felt, however, like all of Pittsburgh Standard Time stopped to watch that first Polanco at-bat.

Before the right fielder who many Pirates fans have pinned their hopes to dug into the box, he received a standing ovation from many in the crowd. His face widened with a big smile, the enormity of this moment not apparent — but there’s no way in the world he didn’t have some tensions.

Again, try imaging what Polanco was thinking, as this is a kid who spent a portion of last season in Class A, rocketed through the system and found himself against a backdrop of skyscrapers on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs — not some team like Clearwater or Brevard County.

This was what the fans all waited for, what they all wanted and their Polancopalooza had arrived at PNC Park.

But this was something that, in the run-up to start time at 7:05 p.m., Polanco’s new teammates here in Pittsburgh tried to help him through. After all, this was going to be some sort of circus when Polanco was promoted — and it was.

Enter veteran Gaby Sanchez, who is 30 and made his debut in 2008 with the Marlins.
What advice did he have for Polanco when the standout arrived in Pittsburgh prior to the game?

“More than anything else, he’s going to have nerves,” Sanchez said of Polanco. “He’s going to be excited, he’s going to have the butterflies in his stomach. It happens, everybody goes through it. Everybody who has been in this locker room has had that, at one point in time, when they got called up … so for him it’s just going out there and trying to have fun.”

Polanco did just that the second time up — lacing a single the other way for his first big league hit.

A few pitches later, Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen hit his ninth home run of the season. The ball traveled into the bullpen beyond the centerfield wall as Polanco took off on a dead sprint from first base.

Even as McCutchen’s homer had cleared the wall a few seconds prior, there was Polanco, still in a full sprint as he rounded third when he could have broken into a jog.

It was a show of heartfelt and impassioned youthful enthusiasm.

Maybe it was then that Polanco was able to breathe a little bit.

Maybe it was then that Polanco was able to pinch himself.

But probably not. You only make your Major League debut once.

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