'Big Jon, pack your bags': Singleton completes long quest back to bigs

June 4th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Triple-A Nashville skipper Rick Sweet has been managing in the Minors since the 1980s and has told hundreds, maybe thousands of players they were going to The Show. But even he’d never seen a team react with such joy that it delayed a game. 

That’s what happened Friday night in Charlotte. Tie game, ninth inning. The Sounds’ athletic trainer, Jeff Paxson, got a text message to the effect of, “Pull Jon Singleton from the game, he’s going to the big leagues.” Paxson held up his phone to Sweet.

“I took two steps down the dugout,” Sweet said via telephone on Saturday, “and he was 30-40 feet away from me. I said, ‘Hey, Big Jon, pack your bags. You’re headed to the big leagues.’ The bench erupted. The game actually stopped for a second because the people on the field were wondering what the heck was going on in our dugout. 

“It’s an incredible story. If you could have seen the reaction from our team, you would have got goosebumps just like I did.”

The Brewers purchased Singleton’s contract on Saturday and saw him go 1-for-4 with a run scored while manning first base in a 10-8 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park. It’s a new chapter in a remarkable baseball story for the 31-year-old Singleton, once so promising a prospect that he was the first player ever to sign a multi-year extension before playing a single Major League game. But he struggled with the Astros and was slapped with multiple suspensions for marijuana use until, in 2018, following a third failed test, Houston released him. Singleton was out of organized baseball before he opened a gym in 2020 and lost weight. He had a promising stint in the Mexican League in 2021, signed a Minor League contract with the Brewers in ‘22 and endured a rollercoaster start to ‘23 that saw him on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster, then released when the club needed to free a spot, then re-signed to continue a quest to get back to the big leagues.

When Singleton made it on Saturday, it marked his first appearance in the big leagues in 2,801 days -- nearly eight years. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the longest gap between Major League games since Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson went nine years and four days between big league appearances from 2012 to 2021. 

“It’s been a long journey,” Singleton said. “Right now I can’t even describe my emotions. But I’m grateful to be here.” 

A slew of his former Nashville teammates were grateful to have him. They described Singleton’s oversized influence on the Sounds’ clubhouse and culture. Brewers infielder  learned of the call-up when he opened the app that alerts players to the daily lineup, and Singleton’s name was on it.

“It’s one more chance for him, one more opportunity,” Monasterio said. “Every opportunity you’ve got, you have to take advantage. And you have to have fun. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a game.”

Said infielder : “It’s dedication. It’s hard work. There’s sacrifices every player makes to chase their dreams, and he’s back. I couldn’t be any happier for him.”

In Nashville, said Sweet, “[Singleton is] a quiet young man, but he has been the focal point and the leader of our club for the last two years. We’ll have off-days when we’re on the road and I’ll go down for dinner, and he’s there with five, six, seven guys. And he goes around to different tables putting his arm around guys and talking to them. It’s the same thing in the clubhouse. He’s interacting with all of these groups. Never loudly. Always very quietly.”

Jon Singleton warms up with the Brewers ahead of their June 3 game against the Reds. (Milwaukee Brewers)

Singleton credited his wife, Linzy, with supporting him during his long road back. The couple just had a son in January, their second child.

Singleton was asked whether he could pinpoint the moment that he committed to getting back to the Majors.

“That moment really never left my mind,” Singleton said. “I may have been distracted or I may have been deterred, but it never really left my mind. Once I had time to step away and consider what life really was, and what it meant to me, then I was able to put things in perspective.”

Singleton is regarded for his big power and keen eye. He slashed .258/.384/.483 with Nashville this season with 10 home runs, second in Milwaukee’s Minor League system to the injured Keston Hiura, who is three weeks into recovery from a knee injury that is expected to sideline him 2-3 months, according to manager Craig Counsell. The Brewers just released Luke Voit on Friday before first baseman Darin Ruf collided with the tarp at Great American Ball Park and suffered a laceration to his right knee so deep it exposed tendons and ligaments.

When Ruf landed on the injured list Saturday, Singleton got the spot.

“The journey his career has taken is unique,” Counsell said. “It's been hard. And yeah, you're thrilled for people like that, that they can go on that journey, keep going through a lot of tough, tough times. He figured out a way to get through it, to continue to do what he loves, and that's play baseball.”

Sweet and the rest of the Sounds will be watching.

“I’m sure he could have gone to Japan or Korea and become a big deal, but he wanted to get back to the big leagues here,” Sweet said. “I think he wanted to rectify the years that he took off, that he was away from the game, and prove that he was back and ready.”