Meanwhile, standing in front of his seat with his phone pointed toward the field, Wander Franco -- the top prospect’s father -- pounded his chest and cheered. It was a moment years in the making, one the young Franco had been waiting for his entire life. And one his father had been dreaming of, too.
“I'm happy for him. I'm just very happy for this opportunity,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro after a highlight-filled Major League debut. “I actually don't really have anything else to say. I'm just really happy.”
That would also accurately describe Franco’s father’s reaction to his son’s first big league hit, a three-run blast off Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez at Tropicana Field. The Rays captured his emotional response, shouting from the moment the ball left Franco’s bat until he was high-fiving Brett Phillips in front of the home dugout.
Franco’s father was a professional player. So, too, were his brothers, also named Wander. Why the abundance of Wanders in the Franco family? The 20-year-old explained that in a recent interview with MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, providing even more backstory on the outpouring of emotion that took place in the stands on Tuesday night.
"My father wanted one of us to follow in his footsteps as a professional,” Franco told MLB.com. “He never made it to the big leagues, but he wanted us to take the same road and represent the family with the same name as his.”
And it played out on Tuesday night, when Franco made his debut in front of his father and showcased the skills that earned him the title of top prospect. Franco said he knew he was going to go deep in that at-bat against Rodriguez, because the lefty threw him the low slider he was looking for.
He sent the ball into the left-field seats. Bally Sports Sun reporter Tricia Whitaker caught up with the fan who caught it, 15-year-old Roan Hoefling from Fort Myers, Fla. He gave the ball back to the Rays, so Wander could keep it, and received an autograph from Franco after the game in return.
Franco said he has a place for that ball. He should probably make room for more, too.
“At home, back in the Dominican, I have an area where I have a lot of things from the Major Leagues, like a memorabilia area,” Franco said. “So I plan on putting it there with all that stuff.”