In debut, O's prospect Westburg tallies one MLB first after another

June 27th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The dark, overcast sky broke open and a torrential downpour fell to the ground. The crowd of orange-clad fans toughed through it, producing chants of “Wes-ty! Wes-ty!” that stormed down as equally hard as the rain.

almost couldn’t believe it. Here he was, standing in the batter’s box at a big league ballpark during an MLB game, with everybody cheering him on through adverse weather conditions. It wasn’t anything like the scenarios he envisioned in his mind.

“Pretty crazy,” Westburg said. “It felt like something out of like a movie, or something that you dream, honestly.”

There were plenty of moments like that for the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect (and MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 overall prospect) on Monday at Camden Yards.

It was a night of many firsts for Westburg, who did just about everything a player can do in his first Major League game. The 24-year-old infielder, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk earlier in the day, left his mark all over Baltimore’s 10-3 win vs. Cincinnati, a victory that moved the O’s (48-29) a season-high 19 games above .500.

Let’s relive each of Westburg’s firsts along with him and his new club.

The first jog onto the field
Westburg had a ton of support in Baltimore for his debut. His parents, Paul and Christine, his wife, Anna Claire, and a group of loud former coworkers sitting directly behind home plate all made sure to get the rest of the crowd backing the newest member of the Orioles.

As Westburg jogged out to second base to open the game, he wanted to “lock in and focus.” That became too difficult to do.

“At the same time, I just wanted to look around, take in the atmosphere, the environment, the people,” Westburg said. “This is something I’ve never been a part of before, so it’s just really special.”

The first plate appearance, first walk and first run
When Westburg stood on deck in the second inning, he first noticed how much faster the game seemed than those he experienced in the Minors. With two outs and nobody on base, he got his turn to face Reds starter Brandon Williamson.

“I just kept telling myself, ‘Man, just breathe, just breathe,’” Westburg said.

Westburg fell behind in the count, 0-2, before taking three consecutive balls. He fouled off a 3-2 fastball. Then, he laid off a changeup well below the strike zone, drawing a seven-pitch walk.

“That takes a tremendous amount of patience,” O’s teammate Austin Hays said. “Especially with the rain coming down, to be able to [come back from] 0-2, when you know you want that first hit.”

Three batters later, Hays knocked a single to center field that brought around Westburg for his first big league run scored.

The first RBI
It wasn’t flashy, but Westburg drove in his first run in the third by hitting into a fielder’s choice groundout to third. It was a key part of a Baltimore rally that occurred after action resumed following a rain delay (the second of the night), which lasted one hour and 44 minutes.

It also showed Westburg’s hustle, as he prevented Cincinnati from turning a double play and helped force an error that allowed a second run to score, pushing the Orioles’ lead to 4-1.

“It’s a young player in his debut, so you’re just trying to hope he feels as comfortable as possible,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “There’s a lot of people watching him and I just want him to relax and play, and I thought he did that.”

The first defensive gem
Westburg mostly gained attention in the Minors for his bat, but he’s no slouch on defense. He showed that with a great defensive play in the fifth at second base, one of the five positions he played at Triple-A this year (along with third, shortstop and both corner-outfield spots).

With a runner on first and one out, Westburg fielded a grounder hit up the middle by Kevin Newman, flipping the ball to Jorge Mateo, stationed on the bag, using only the glove to record the out.

“I’m sure he’s done it quite a few times. He nailed it right there,” Hays said. “Shows he’s comfortable and confident in himself.”

The first hit
All of the above had happened, but Westburg still hadn’t recorded the most important first for any debuting player -- the first hit. Nobody wants to begin his MLB career with a long 0-fer.

That’s why Westburg felt a sense of relief when he blooped a singled into left field in the fifth, having turned around on a 3-2 slider well inside. It wasn’t the best example of his tremendous power (which allowed him to hit 18 homers in 67 Triple-A games this year), but that didn’t matter.

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Westburg, who finished 1-for-4. “Any hit, I’m going to take, and to knock the first one off in the first game is pretty cool.”

Westburg’s family cheered and hugged in the stands. The crowd again chanted his name. The ball was retrieved and thrown into the Orioles’ dugout for safe keeping.

Eventually, that ball made its way to Westburg, who also received the game’s lineup sheet as a memento. He plans to turn both into framed memorabilia.

After all, he’s always going to want to remember this night, one he said vastly exceeded his own lofty expectations.

“That was special,” Westburg remarked.