'I did it!': Pagés' atypical ride to debut

April 8th, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- Like hundreds, if not thousands, of kids each spring and summer who make the trek to Busch Stadium from outside of St. Louis, came over a hill and around a corner, saw the Gateway Arch and immediately felt his heart beating faster than a Ryan Helsley fastball.

However, unlike those kids excited to simply attend a baseball game at Busch, the 25-year-old Pagés was en route to the stadium after getting the callup that he’s been waiting for his whole life. The only thing that could have possibly made the moment better, Pagés thought to himself at the time, was if his father, Edgar, was in the Uber with him.

“I came over the [Poplar Street] bridge and I was like, ‘Wow, we made it!’ And that’s when I got even more emotional,” Pagés said. “I called my dad right away as we were crossing the bridge and talked to him. I was like, ‘Dad, we made it!’ Then, we just cried together again, and I went straight to the game.”

Yep, you read that right: Pagés rode in an Uber to get to the ballpark for his first game as a big leaguer. It wasn’t exactly how he would have drawn up the scenario he’s dreamt about for years, but the 2019 MLB Draft sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University wasn’t about to quibble about his path to the bigs.

When starting catcher Willson Contreras had to be scratched from Thursday’s starting lineup because of a badly bruised left hand, the Cardinals needed insurance behind rookie backstop Iván Herrera. The problem? Pagés, the Cards’ No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was in Indianapolis, Ind., with Triple-A Memphis, and there were no flights that could have gotten him to St. Louis in time for the Cardinals’ home opener that afternoon.

Within minutes of Memphis manager Ben Johnson throwing his arm around Pagés’ neck for a hug and telling the catcher he was headed to the big leagues, Pagés was hurriedly packing for the 3 1/2-hour ride that was filled with a wide range of emotions.

“I was shocked and happy, and I didn’t have words, really,” Pagés said. “There were a lot of phone calls being made on that drive and thank God that I had a charger on me. I was talking with my dad a lot and we shed some tears together.

“This was always the dream for me and my family. I called my dad, my brother and my sister and, honestly, I couldn’t even say words to them. I just told them, ‘I did it!’ and they were all crying.”

Before Thursday’s callup, Pagés biggest moment as a Cardinal came on March 9 when he hit a Spring Training homer in the ninth inning just minutes after manager Oliver Marmol challenged him to do so. At that time, Marmol was aware that Pagés was planning to propose to longtime girlfriend Kori Varney later that night, and the skipper knew a homer would cap the day for the catcher.

As it turns out, Pagés got a big long ball and a big “yes” on the same day.

On Thursday, when Pagés arrived at Busch Stadium in the seventh inning, Marmol got to see the catcher -- who had spent the previous six years in the Minor Leagues -- smiling for a completely different reason.

“It's a cool day for him, obviously,” Marmol said. “He has really switched his work ethic from being a guy that [thought], 'Hey, I'm kind of a backup and I'm not sure if I'm ever going get to the big leagues,' to, 'I'm going to make it tough for you guys not to see me as someone that could help at the big league level.'”

As for that Indy-to-St. Louis Uber ride, Pagés said he had no clue as to the cost because he wasn’t paying, and he noted that his driver had no clue about the occasion until they pulled up to Busch Stadium.

Pagés made his debut on Sunday, pinch-hitting (he struck out) and catching one inning vs. the Marlins, but he could be headed back to Triple-A as early as Monday with Lars Nootbaar returning soon and Contreras nearly healed. Regardless, Pagés said he won’t soon forget the wild ride to Busch, seeing the breathtaking Gateway Arch and knowing he had finally made it. By Friday, his family arrived in St. Louis and got to revel in Pagés' success.

“My dad was always there, carrying me everywhere [to games and practices], and was my hitting coach,” Pagés said. “So, this has been such a great moment for all of us.”