Evans' return to big leagues a triumphant tale
First baseman belts homer in first start with D-backs after bouncing back from Minors
DENVER -- Nick Evans is the feel-good story in baseball.
The Yasiel Puigs and Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world are exciting, and good for the game.
But it's the Nick Evanses who are good for life.
Evans got his first start in the big leagues in 615 days on Tuesday night for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He filled in at first base so Paul Goldschmidt could have a day off. And he did it in Goldschmidt style, keying a fourth-inning rally that provided Arizona a 4-1 win against the Rockies with a leadoff home run.
It was slightly more than 14 months ago that Evans was sitting at home in the Phoenix area, thinking that at the age of 26 his baseball career was over. He had broken three bones in his left hand trying to make a diving play in the Minor Leagues with Pittsburgh in April of 2011, missed the rest of that season, and then, after signing a Minor League deal with the Dodgers, was released in the final days of Spring Training 2012.
"Three days before I'm without a job," said Evans. "I'm not sure what's next."
The D-backs were next, for which a former teammate of his, Andy Green, is a Minor League manager, and Evans was offered a job at Double-A. This year, after opening at Triple-A Reno, he earned the reward of a big league callup.
And it's with Arizona. A team that he has followed since Day 1. At the age of 12, he was part of the sold-out crowd at Chase Field in that first game in franchise history back in 1998, and three years later he was a fan in the stands for one of the World Series games against the Yankees.
Now he's wearing the D-backs uniform.
Oh, he'd been in the big leagues before.
He spent parts of four seasons (2008-11) with the Mets, who signed him out of St. Mary's High School in Phoenix as a fifth-round pick in 2004.
But it's a different perspective for Evans this time around, and not just because it's his hometown team.
"I 100 percent don't take any day [in the big leagues] for granted," he said.
Not that he did before, but, "I was 22 when I first got called up. It was exciting, but at that age you are thinking, 'This is the way is going to be.' Now? I want to find a way to stay here as long as I can."
That way is going to be in a bench role. He'll get his occasional starts, like the one on Tuesday, and the fact he can play left field and third base as well as first base will be a positive. Most of the time though, his role is to be a right-handed bat off the bench.
He got that chance by putting together two impressive months at Triple-A Reno, where he was hitting .335 with 13 doubles, 11 home runs and a Pacific Coast League-leading 44 RBIs in 44 games at the time of his promotion.
He will keep the chance by performing in his new role.
It's not easy.
Evans was given a reminder of that in his first two at-bats after joining Arizona.
Friday night, with Cincinnati leading 6-4 and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Evans got the call to hit against Aroldis Chapman. Three pitches, including one that registered 103 miles per hour, and the game was over. Evans struck out.
"I'm here to be a right-handed bat off the bench," he said, echoing the manager. "I know [Cincinnati's] closer is left-handed. I'm preparing all day for that at-bat.
Two nights later, this time with Arizona down by a run and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Chapman again on the mound, Evans again got the call. And he again struck out, on four pitches this time.
"I'm looking at who to put up there and Nick had seen Chapman before," manager Kirk Gibson said of that at-bat two nights earlier. "He's here as a right-handed bat off the bench."
"Chapman was nasty," Gibson said. "He had that slider with that 100-plus fastball."
Evans wasn't fazed.
"He got me again, but I'm not going to the plate thinking I have to face this guy," he said. "I'm thinking, 'I have to have to get a good at-bat.'"
He got the good at-bat against De La Rosa, who had never lost in 10 Coors Field starts against Arizona before Tuesday night. After grounding out in the first, he fouled off a 1-1 pitch from De La Rosa that split Evans' bat. The next pitch, a fastball, Evans drove over the left-field fence and Arizona had a 1-0 lead.
"Getting the start was good, getting a chance to get a couple at-bats," he said.
But nothing was better than getting the big league chance again.
It's why he never hesitated at taking a Double-A deal with Arizona last season.
"I was so excited," he said. "I just wanted to get at-bats. My goal was to play well enough to get to Triple-A," he said.
And when he was sent to Triple-A Reno this spring, he welcomed the chance. He didn't have a self-pity party when others were called up to the big leagues ahead of him.
"I began the season at Triple-A not even knowing if I was going to play every day," he said. "My main focus was to get that chance."
The goal, however, was to at some point get back to the big leagues.
He made it.
Now the challenge is to stay.