ATLANTA -- If Travis Demeritte is going to continue granting wishes, then maybe he will prove to be the productive outfielder the Braves need over the next few months.
Demeritte’s feel-good story further took shape as he helped the Braves claim a 3-1 win over the Cubs on Tuesday night at Truist Park. The Atlanta-area native drilled a go-ahead home run that further endeared him to the hometown fans, especially one who requested the long ball just before it was hit.
“It’s been a long road, but I feel great,” Demeritte said. “To be able to put this uniform on and play in front of family and friends in a state I grew up in, it’s almost scripted. It felt almost too good to be true.”
Though most of his career has been anything but storybook, having the opportunity to spend this past week at the Major League level with his hometown team has been special. It might have even taken a magical turn as Demeritte exchanged pleasantries with a fan seated next to the on-deck circle in the fifth inning.
“She said it was her first game in Atlanta and she wanted me to hit a home run,” Demeritte said. “I told her I might need to wait on that one. She was like, 'Nah' and reassured me she had all the faith in me. I was like, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.' First pitch, sure enough.”
Moments later, Demeritte hit Marcus Stroman’s first-pitch fastball and watched it stay up long enough to land just beyond the right-field wall. The opposite-field shot was his first home run since he hit one for the Tigers on Sept. 12, 2019.
After crossing the plate, Demeritte found the woman who requested the home run and exchanged a high five with her through the protective screen.
“I had to tell her thank you,” Demeritte said. “She gave me faith and had all the confidence in me.”
There’s been plenty of reason for Demeritte’s confidence to be shaken over the past decade. The 27-year-old Winder, Ga., resident was taken by the Rangers with the 30th overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. But his path to the Majors has been anything but smooth.
The Braves acquired Demeritte after he hit 25 homers in 88 games for Texas’ High-A team during the 2016 season. But he’d hit just three more homers in the 35 games played for Atlanta’s High-A team that year.
Though Demeritte showed some power in both of the next two seasons at the Double-A level, he struck out too frequently and was traded to the Tigers in the deal that brought Shane Greene to Atlanta at the 2019 Trade Deadline. After two disappointing seasons with Detroit, Demeritte was claimed off waivers by the Braves.
“He’s been kicked around a little bit in his career,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “To see how he’s persevered and grown up is great. It’s good to have him up here.”
Demeritte produced a .938 OPS for Triple-A Gwinnett last year, but he still had a 33 percent strikeout rate. He had a 23 percent strikeout rate through the 52 plate appearances he tallied for Gwinnett before being called up last week to fill a roster spot while Austin Riley took paternity leave.
It seemed like Demeritte’s stay at the big league level might be a short one. But he may now be a long-term replacement for Eddie Rosario, who will miss at least two months while recovering from a laser procedure to correct blurred vision and swelling in his right eye.
Along with hitting the big home run, Demeritte aided Max Fried’s strong six-inning effort by making a sliding catch in foul territory to end the top of the fourth. He has gone 3-for-7 with a double and a homer while making his bid to follow the lead of Charles Thomas, the outfielder who came out of nowhere to help the Braves down the stretch in 2004.
“When somebody goes down like that, it gives somebody else a chance to do something really good,” Snitker said. “Hopefully, this is Travis’ time.”