PHILADELPHIA -- Keston Hiura walked out of his hotel bathroom late Monday night and saw he had missed a pair of calls from Rick Sweet, his manager at Triple-A San Antonio.
“Answer your phone,” Sweet texted him.
Hiura couldn’t believe the words Sweet said once he did. He was headed to the Majors.
“I was kind of speechless and at a loss for words,” Hiura said less than four hours before his debut, a 6-1 Brewers victory over the Phillies. “It was amazing. I didn’t get much sleep.”
The Brewers’ No. 1 prospect (No. 15 overall in MLB) according to MLB Pipeline, Hiura packed his bags, caught a few hours of sleep and headed to the airport, flying from New Orleans to Atlanta, then on to Philadelphia where he joined the Brewers for Tuesday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park.
The 22-year-old wasted no time getting his first big league hit, coming to bat in the second after Yasmani Grandal had cleared the bases with a three-run homer. Hiura laced a 103.6 mph single off right-hander Jerad Eickhoff -- the ball literally drilled the pitcher in his right hip -- for the first of what the Brewers hope will be many, many hits by the second baseman.
“It is nice to get it out [of the way] with the first at-bat,” Hiura said. “I wasn’t pressing to get a hit or anything. I was more scared that the ball was going to ricochet and I would get thrown out at first base. My feet felt so heavy running to first base. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so slow right now.’ Incredible feeling getting to first base.”
Hiura made his debut less than two years after being selected by Milwaukee with the No. 9 overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft. Many players his age might have been overwhelmed by the surroundings, but Hiura appeared calm and collected as he stepped into the batter’s box.
“It wasn’t nerves; it was more just soaking in the moment,” Hiura said. “The lights are brighter, grass is greener, dirt is nicer; everything just stands out to you. I was really just soaking it all in. It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m quite sure it will sometime soon.”
Hiura even experienced his first “Welcome to Philadelphia” moment, as the local fans booed him after the PA announcer mentioned that it was his Major League debut as he introduced him for his first at-bat.
“I don’t think I heard any of the boos until the second at-bat,” a smiling Hiura said. “I was kind of locked in. A little bit of a blackout at that moment.”
Grandal’s blast gave the Brewers a 3-0 lead before Hiura stepped to the plate. By the time he returned for his second at-bat, Hiura’s team had a 5-0 advantage thanks to Ryan Braun’s two-run home run in the third. The rookie also started a 4-6-3 double play to end the third inning after initially dropping J.T. Realmuto’s line drive up the middle.
“This team is so talented, everybody knows what this team is capable of doing,” Hiura said. “Just being able to be part of it, continue that success, build our momentum into the next game and the next game, it’s something I’m lucky to be a part of. I’ll help contribute in any way I can.”
For the immediate future, that likely means starting at second base while Travis Shaw is sidelined by a right wrist strain. Hiura had a .333/.408/.698 slash line in 37 games with Triple-A San Antonio this season, hitting 11 home runs with 26 RBIs, giving the Brewers the confidence that his steady offensive prowess would translate against big league pitching.
“That’s how he hits; very calm,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s always together, doesn’t look out of control, ever. That’s how he plays and that’s what you’re going to see in him as a player. I thought he handled the first day really well.”
Hiura walked in his second at-bat, flied out in his third plate appearance and hit a single to left in his final trip to the plate. He finished the night 2-for-3, becoming only the fourth Brewers player to reach base three times in his debut, the first since 1976.
“Looking around you see all the fans, all the players,” Hiura said. “Players you watch on TV are saying hi to you at second base, congratulating you. Those were all incredible moments of tonight.”
“It’s a special time,” said general manager David Stearns, who arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday and made it to the ballpark in time for the first pitch. “It’s been a crazy 24 hours for Keston and his family. It’s fun to see. It reminds you of the emotions that are associated with the game.”
Counsell believes the arrival of a heralded youngster can be a spark for the entire team, adding that as much as a rookie can learn from a veteran, the opposite can also be true.
“Welcoming a guy for his first day in the big leagues is one of the best parts of the job,” Counsell said. “It’s the realization of a dream come true. You’re really excited for him. It’s a good jolt of energy for everybody.”
Hiura’s parents, Kirk and Janice, flew in from Valencia, Calif., to watch their son make his debut. Hiura’s girlfriend, Jaclyn, and long-time hitting coach Sean Thompson, also made the trip. His sister, Lindsey, was unable to be at the game Tuesday, as she had a final to take Wednesday as she finishes up her freshman year at Long Beach State.
“I’m so glad that they’re here,” Hiura said. “They’ve been by my side supporting me my whole life; I wouldn’t want to spend this night with anybody else.”