CHICAGO -- It’s a moment that all baseball players dream of from the moment they first pick up a bat or a glove as a child. Indians outfield prospect Oscar Mercado walked through the clubhouse doors at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday and stood in front of his first Major League locker that read “Mercado, 35.”
The smile never left Mercado's face.
Mercado's teammates came over to say hello. His coaches popped over to talk. The media asked him a handful of questions. Mercado had to ask reliever Nick Wittgren where to go to leave the clubhouse and take batting practice. Through it all, the grin grew wider and wider.
“Well, putting yourself in his shoes, I mean this is one of the most exciting days of his life,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know having a baby is huge. But you only have one first time in the Major Leagues. I mean, there’s a lot of probably nerves, maybe a tiny bit of like terror, a little bit of anxiety, but a lot of excitement. You just hope that that part actually helps him as opposed to maybe getting in the way.”
Monday was an off-day for the Columbus Clippers. Mercado joined some of his teammates for a round of golf, assuming he’d have a quiet day. He didn’t carry his phone on him through each hole, causing him to miss one of the biggest calls of his life.
“When I got back [to my phone], they started calling me again,” Mercado said. “I’m like, ‘Man, this must be important.’ So I answered the phone and it was our manager. He was like, ‘Hey, I wish I could do this a different way, but you have to get on a flight here, so I need you to head back to your apartment now to pack everything up and just head out on a flight at 8 o’clock to Chicago.’”
Mercado had to quickly figure out his next step. He was stuck at the golf course with no car and didn’t want to ask his friends to end their rounds early, so he quickly called for an Uber to get him back to his place. At that moment, Mercado called his parents, brother and sister, all of whom booked flights (his brother from Dallas and the rest of his family from Tampa) to get to Chicago in time for a 1 p.m. first pitch in the following day as he boarded a flight of his own.
“It didn’t really hit me for a while, because everything was so hectic,” Mercado said. “And then once I was on the plane, I was like, ‘Maybe I can fall asleep.’ But that wasn’t going to happen. I just looked out the window and thought about it. It was awesome, though. It hits you and you realize that moment you worked for your whole career is finally here, and it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Mercado is a center fielder, but he has experience in all three outfield positions and will be used in all of them while he’s up with the Tribe. The Indians penciled him in Tuesday’s lineup batting sixth and starting in left field. The message to Mercado was clear from the second he arrived at the ballpark.
“We kind of made sure they told him that this could be short-term,” Francona said. “But I think even if it is, it’s a good way to get a lot of the firsts out of the way. The nerves, the whatever, the jitters … because I think we feel like this kid’s part of our future and maybe in the meantime, he helps us win a couple games. That’d be great. But it’s a chance to get him up here just to let him kind of familiarize himself with Major League Baseball.”
“I told them, ‘Thanks for having me,’” Mercado said. “I’ll just go out there and try to help them win a ballgame.”
In 30 games with the Clippers, the Indians' No. 19 prospect (as ranked by MLB Pipeline) hit .294/.396/.496 with 10 doubles, four homers, 15 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
“I think I’ve just been able to stick to the things that have helped me succeed throughout the years,” Mercado said. “… The only thing that’s changed is more consistency. That was the biggest thing and something I was trying to improve on and something I felt got better this year in Columbus.”
Naquin to injured list
Outfielder Tyler Naquin had battled tightness in his calf since Saturday and was placed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday with a left calf strain, making room for Mercado. The Indians sent him to Cleveland to receive an MRI.
“I mean once we decided to [IL] him, there’s no reason not to get it looked at just to see if there’s any bleeding or swelling,” Francona said.