TEMPE — Getting a hit in baseball is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. First off, the batter has absolutely zero idea where the pitcher is going to throw the ball, nor do they know what kind of pitch will be thrown.
Second, the pitcher can either throw a 90-plus mph fastball or a mid-70s ball that starts at your eyebrows and ends at your toes.
Third, this all happens in roughly a quarter of a second, making the entire process of hitting more proactive than reactive.
Frankly, it’s absolutely insane that major league hitters can not only make contact, but make contact hard enough to send the ball 400-plus feet into the stands, where fans can fall over each other to bring a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir home with them.
Every player remembers their first home run — the first time they felt and heard the crack of the bat. There’s no sound in sports quite like when a professional hitter hits a home run. Everyone in the stadium knows it — the batter knows it, the fans know it and acknowledge it with a cheer or silence, and pitchers know it but seldom turn around to watch the abuse their last pitch took.
Players on the Los Angeles Angels recalled their first professional home run, whether in minor league ball or once they made it to the show.
David Fletcher is a middle infielder in the Angels minor league system. He’s played second base and shortstop throughout his seasons in minor league ball and during spring training. He has yet to see an at-bat at the major league level, but has had a very strong spring and is one of a few players fighting for the last bench spot on the Angels Opening Day roster.
Fletcher said one of his favorite players growing up was David Eckstein. Eckstein embodied the cliche of the scrappy small guy who found success through sheer work ethic and heart. Like Eckstein, Fletcher doesn’t hit many home runs, but he does remember the first he hit in the minors.
“My first pro ball home run was with the Burlington Bees in the Midwest League,” Fletcher said. “I think we were in Wisconsin.”
“I don’t hit many home runs where I know they’re gone, and that one wasn’t one of those either. It was just a line drive to left field and I just snuck it over the left-field fence,” he added.
Fletcher said that every home run feels great for him, since it’s not one of the strengths of his game.
The home run is one of the strengths of second baseman Ian Kinsler’s game. Kinsler’s 46 career leadoff home runs routinely set the pace for the rest of the game. His power swing is an interesting wrinkle for a leadoff hitter to bring to the table.
Kinsler remembered almost every detail about his first career big league home run, and it was a microcosm of virtually every home run he has hit since.
“I remember it. You don’t forget it,” Kinsler said. “It was at the Ballpark in Arlington and against Nate Robertson. We were getting killed, I think it was an 8-2 game (it was 8-1 before the home run). I pulled it, naturally.”
Of Kinsler’s 234 career home runs, 223 have been to left or left-center field. With only 11 home runs to center or the opposite field, Kinsler is the very definition of a pull-hitter.
“It was a good shot and I knew it was gone, but I didn’t really have time to celebrate, cause we were losing quite handily.” Kinsler said. “It was just a trip around the bases, a couple high-fives and back to work. I’m not going to forget it, but it was nothing dramatic.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ first home run was almost dramatic. As a former member of the Atlanta Braves, Simmons hit his first home run against Drew Hutchison of the Toronto Blue Jays at Turner Field. But the home run almost wasn’t.
“I knew I got all of it,” Simmons said. “I didn’t pimp it, but i did start slow jogging. The left fielder jumped for it and almost caught it. I was slightly worried. It was either going to be a homer or an out. It didn’t go as far as I thought I hit it.”
Blue Jays left fielder Mike McCoy almost grabbed Simmons’ first home run, but thankfully for Simmons, his slow jog didn’t result in a hard-hit out.
Center fielder Eric Young Jr. has only 12 home runs throughout his nine-year MLB career. He didn’t even hit his first major league home run with his own bat; he borrowed it from a teammate and Rockies legend.
“My rookie year we were playing the Cincinnati Reds and I was using Todd Helton’s bat at the time,” Young said. “I was batting righty and I caught a whole one and it was a pretty cool moment.”
Several other members of the Angels might get an opportunity to hit the first home run of their major league career, including Fletcher and designated hitter and starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani. When they connect and send that ball over the outfield fence one thing is for sure, it’ll be a memory that sticks with them for the rest of their lives.