SARASOTA, Fla. -- Zach Britton wasn't on the Orioles' Opening Day roster in 2011, but when Brian Matusz was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left intercostal muscle, Britton joined the team three games into the regular season just in time to run out on the orange carpet for that season's home opener.
Britton, who is expected to make his first official Opening Day roster this year, took a look back at that spring on a recent morning inside the home clubhouse of Ed Smith Stadium.
"I was sitting in Sarasota, Fla., eating dinner with my brother, Buck, somewhere nearby the Minor League complex at Twin Lakes Park and watching Jeremy Guthrie pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays on TV," said Britton. "I had been sent down from camp maybe three days before the team broke, and I got a text message sort of out of the blue, earlier that day from then-pitching cache Mark Connor, asking how I felt in my bullpen session. I didn't read much into it.
"I had heard Brian had some pain when he had tried to throw. So we were sitting there watching Guthrie pitch when I got a phone call from John Stockstill, who was our Minor League director. He was like, 'Hey, we are going to need you to pack your stuff up and meet the team in Tampa.' I was like, 'What? What's going on?' He said they were going to DL Matusz and I was going to start the third game of the season. Me and my brother didn't know what to do. We were like, 'Wow, this is crazy.' I called my parents, called my fiancée at the time and the next day we drove to Tampa. It was pretty special.
"The last time I had gone to Tampa, Wade Boggs had gotten his 3,000th hit. When I was little, I had sat out in the outfield and remembered that moment. It was really special to be back in Tampa. I just kept thinking, 'The last time I was here I was a little kid watching these guys play. Now I get an opportunity to be on this field.' It was really special for me and my family, and also being with the guys. [Chris Tillman] was on the field, and I got to watch him throw the game before me. Guys that I played in the Minors with, so to share that experience was really cool."
Britton made his Major League debut April 3, 2011, holding the Rays to one run over six innings. He allowed three hits and struck out six and, after picking up his first career win, boarded the plane back to Baltimore in anticipation of the team's home opener.
"That was awesome," said Britton. "[Media relations manager] Jeff Lantz told me beforehand, 'Hey, you are probably going to get a nice little ovation because you made your debut yesterday.' So we got announced and came out of center field. My dad was in the stands. He came up from Tampa, and it was awesome when my name got called. I got a great reaction from the crowd and it was nice to already have pitched the day before and to be able to relax that day and soak it all in was really neat."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.