MINNEAPOLIS -- Flash back to the summer of 1996. A 4-year-old Eric Stamets is picking up a baseball bat for the first time, wondering what it'd be like to be like Omar Vizquel at Jacobs Field. A few years later, Roberto Alomar became another one of Stamets’ Tribe idols, and the dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player was born.
“My dad’s from Cleveland, so I’ve been all Cleveland everything since I was growing up,” Stamets said. "... When I started playing baseball and watching baseball on TV, I was like, ‘That looks like so much fun.’ All the projects you do when you’re in elementary school, like, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was nothing but ‘I want to be a baseball player.’"
Fast forward nearly 23 years, and Stamets’ dream was finally coming true as he donned an Indians uniform with his last name sewn on the back and heard his name boom over the sound system at Target Field, announcing him as the starting shortstop in Thursday’s season opener against the Twins.
“Those are the things you try not to lose sight of because you get so consumed with winning the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You only get one first Opening Day. I’m sure his feet probably won’t feel like they’re touching the ground.”
During Spring Training, Stamets was in the running to earn the team’s utility spot, but the Indians needed to keep a close eye on All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor as he recovered from a calf strain. The Tribe used nearly every day in Goodyear, Ariz., to make the final call of whether Lindor would be able to break camp with the team. When it decided to place him on the injured list to start the year, it was then a guarantee that Stamets would at least get a roster spot to fill-in at short until Lindor was back to full strength. That’s when he could make the phone call home to break the news.
“A little emotional,” Stamets said, describing the phone call. “Once you say it out loud -- obviously, I’ve been in big league Spring Training for a couple years. To be on this end of it is a little different. But again, it’s a dream come true. It’s a lot of emotions, a lot of different emotions. It’s just exciting.”
Because the decision was made so late, not everyone from Stamets’ family could get to Minnesota in time to watch his big league debut, but he did have some family members in attendance. The rest are waiting for his return home on Monday, just 140 miles from his birthplace of Dublin, Ohio, but that didn’t stop the support from rolling in all day leading up to first pitch on Thursday.
“I’ve been trying to keep it down, and it just keeps buzzing nonstop,” Stamets said. “I’m trying to just let it go for a little bit, and I’ll respond to everyone after it’s all over.”
Stamets may not have recorded his first hit in the Indians’ 2-0 loss to the Twins, but the 27-year-old is thankful to have finally been given the opportunity to make his first big league start.
“Just knowing how many of my friends have retired or weren’t able to make it, college teammates and stuff like that, it’s just a blessing that I’ve been able to, one, play this long and, two, get to the next level,” Stamets said. “It’s just been an amazing ride, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”