Tellez's 'surreal' 100th HR highlights Bucs' night of big blasts

July 10th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- When was still amid his slump in early June, the Pirates’ first baseman saw some new faces by the team's dugout. The usual season-ticket holders for that spot gave their tickets away to two kids from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh that day, and Tellez took some time to say hi and sign a bat for them.

When the season-ticket holders returned, they were touched by Tellez’s generosity and made some gifts as a thank you: T-shirts of Tellez firing finger guns with bold lettering that read “Big Sexy” for Tellez and also a couple more for the team.

Sitting in the visiting manager’s office at American Family Field Tuesday night, Derek Shelton had the “Big Sexy” shirt on, ready to share its glory with the viewers at home.

Derek Shelton shows off his Rowdy Tellez T-shirt alongside the man himself. (Photo via Patrick Kurish, Pittsburgh Pirates)

“A little big sexy today for Rowdy, for his 100th homer," Shelton said with a smile.

Tellez’s seventh-inning home run was No. 100 for his career and one of five on the night for the Pirates, who piled on to beat the Brewers handily, 12-2. But for Tellez, who has long since shrugged off that slump and has been on an absolute tear over the past five weeks, being part of that fraternity of triple-digit home run hitters meant something.

"It's just special,” Tellez said. “Kind of surreal, doing something where I hit the most [home runs]. It's just an honor to play long enough to hit 100.”

Tellez is admittedly not a huge fan of the “Big Sexy” nickname -- he thinks Bartolo Colon wears it better, and hey, it’s hard to beat “Rowdy” as a nickname -- but the shirts were a thank you to a player who made a couple of kids’ day, even at a time when Tellez wasn’t the most popular guy in Pittsburgh.

Nowadays, he’s become the big middle-of-the-order bat the Pirates envisioned when they signed him this winter, especially during his past 13 games in which he's batted .366 with six home runs and 12 RBIs. And nobody is happier for his success than his teammates, who saw the work he put in when he was slumping, and now get to share in his success.

“He's a great teammate,” said Jack Suwinski, who also homered Tuesday. “Obviously we all love him, so we're all real happy for him."

Tellez’s homer also came at a place he called home from 2021-23, where he emerged as a legitimate power threat in 2022 after hitting 35 home runs. But there’s something about focusing on the journey and not just the destination.

"I think there's a lot of stuff off the field that makes it special for me,” Tellez said. “Everything I went through to get to the big leagues, that kind of stuff.”

Then, as he often does, Tellez shifted his focus to the team’s performance.

“It was a good win today,” he continued. “A lot of guys hit homers. Let's keep that momentum rolling."

Tellez’s home run was not the only milestone shot of the night. Bryan Reynolds would also go deep for the 115th time of his career, passing Bobby Bonilla for the most homers by a switch-hitter in club history. Joey Bart hit a sixth-inning grand slam, the Pirates’ seventh grand salami of the season, tying them with the Brewers for the most in baseball.

"I wish I had a better answer for that,” Shelton answered when asked why the Pirates are going deep with the bases juiced so often. “But if we're going to lead in a stat, I like that one, because that's four runs."

The long ball has carried the Pirates’ offense of late, as the team has hit 15 over their past five games. It may not be the most sustainable model for consistent offensive success, but it’s produced runs in bunches quickly. It’s also given a sign of optimism that this offense has another gear.

“We've got a lot of talented guys,” Reynolds said. “We've showed up in spurts here and there. We've just got to try to be a little more consistent and build off today."