Every player remembers his first Major League game. Kevin Stocker's debut was a little more memorable than most, though.
Stocker was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, reported to Veterans Stadium on July 7, 1993, and he played that night against the Dodgers. In some ways, it was a risky decision by the organization. The 23-year-old shortstop had been drafted in the second round out of the University of Washington just two years earlier. Stocker was hitting only .233 for the Red Barons.
At the same time, the Phillies' lead in the National League East, which had been 11 1/2 games just over three weeks earlier, was down to six. Opening Day shortstop starter Juan Bell had been waived at the end of May. The position was unsettled. For a team that had finished last the previous season but now had its sights set high, something had to be done.
In Stocker's first game, the Phillies blew a 5-3 lead in the top of the ninth. The next run came when the Dodgers scored in the top of the 20th inning. And, of course, since this was a team whose unforgettable cast of throwbacks is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, the Phils came back to win it in the bottom of the inning.
But there's more.
Stocker played the entire game. He went 0-for-6 and made an error. Stocker also helped save the game with a terrific defensive play in the ninth, throwing out Jose Offerman at the plate, and he had a sacrifice bunt in the 20th that set up Lenny Dykstra's game-winning double. Stocker also walked a couple times and scored a run. To this day, the only longer extra-inning game in club history came against the Cubs in 1918.
But there's still more.
"Everybody's ecstatic. We're high-fiving,'" Stocker recalled with a laugh. "We go into the clubhouse and [hitting coach Denis Menke] comes out and says, '[Manager Jim] Fregosi wants you in his office. Now.' And I'm like, 'Oh, shoot, I'm in trouble already? I've only been here like five hours.'
"I kind of got chewed out. Not too bad, but they hadn't seen me since Spring Training. And in that time, something had changed in my approach, my stance and so forth. I just remember I had a bat. Here's Fregosi and Menke, and I'm sure Larry Bowa was in there putting his two cents in. We're going through all this stuff and it's 1:30 in the morning."
The next day, Stocker came out for early batting practice. In his next four games, he had nine hits. After his callup, Stocker batted .324 and was a vital cog in the Phillies going all the way to Game 6 of the World Series.
Today, Stocker is a baseball analyst for the Pac-12 Network. He made his last big league appearance in September 2000 and got his start in broadcasting shortly after with the College Sports Television (CSTV) Network, which was then bought out by CBS. Four years ago, he and his wife, Brooke, opened an Emerald City Smoothie franchise, which they sold about a year ago. Stocker also spent three summers coaching a college summer league team. The couple has three children, and Brooke is planning to go back to nursing school this fall.
At first glance, the clean-cut Stocker didn't appear to be a natural fit with the mostly older, scraggly-haired, unshaven bunch of rowdies he was joining.
"As a young player, I was a little bit like a deer in the headlights," Stocker said. "You go out and really just try to play your game, try to fit in, not do something stupid, you know? Try not to say the wrong thing."
But Stocker had been in big league camp that spring. The veterans, most of whom knew their time to play in a World Series was running out, recognized that he could help them win. And he hit.
"When I first got called up, nobody knew me. Nobody knew who this Stocker kid was," he said reflectively. "And I found that pitchers in the big leagues were much more around the plate, which made it easier as a [No.] 8 hitter. Because my whole role -- and they made it very clear and I had to learn it quickly -- was [to] make sure the pitcher didn't lead off the next inning.
"I'd either get on the plate and try to work a walk, or if there was a guy in scoring position, Fregosi just said, 'Hey, swing at everything. If you've got a runner in scoring position, swing at a ball over your head if you have to, because you still have a better chance than a pitcher.' Well, as a hitter, it was very freeing to know that I could be really aggressive. And I was. So I had quite a bit of success that year. Now, of course, the pitchers learned me over the course of a year and a half, and that changed, obviously."
In an eight-year career that also included stints with the Devil Rays and Angels, Stocker batted .254. And he never made it back to the postseason.
"[The 1993 season] was so much fun," Stocker said. "You don't realize when you're going through it that it's going to be so difficult to get back to the playoffs. Of course, the playoffs system has all changed now. But it was fun. The guys were great to me and they took care of me. I loved it."
For the next three years, Stocker was hampered by injuries. He stayed healthy in 1997 and had a solid season, then was traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bobby Abreu after the season. It didn't work out well for Stocker.
"Playing [with] Tampa [Bay] was just miserable," he said. "The growing pains of a new organization, that was a difficult situation. And the National League game suited me much more than the American League game, that's for sure."
Stocker describes the 1993 season as a "whirlwind" and a season unlike any other.
"I never played with a bigger group of, well, characters," said Stocker. "But everybody, when the game was on, everybody was intense and into the game. And they were able to turn it off immediately after a game and then on before the next game. They could do their antics and have fun and so forth. But when the game was on, it was game on. I've never played with a group of guys who could do that."
In other words, the rest of Stocker's rookie season was almost as memorable as that unforgettable debut.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.