TORONTO -- Amid a sea of debuts and firsts, what the Royals will remember most about this weekend in Canada is how natural it all felt.
Kansas City opened its big league doors to multiple Minor Leaguers after being forced to leave 10 regular players in the United States due to their vaccination status. What followed was a unique four-day stretch that has the potential to enter Royals lore forever.
“I think they represented themselves, they represented their families and they represented this organization really, really well,” said Royals manager Mike Matheny after Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Rogers Centre. “I’m extremely proud of them.”
After shocking the Blue Jays for a win in the first game of the four-day series, the Royals fell to the home team in all three subsequent games. But the upside of this experience was visible.
The youngsters who made it to Toronto may not immediately return to the Majors after the All-Star break, but they accomplished plenty in this short span.
Pratto was one of five Royals rookies to make his Major League debut in Toronto, joining Nate Eaton, Freddy Fermin, Michael Massey and Maikel Garcia. It was the first time that a team had five big league debuts in July since 2004 when the Mariners achieved the feat, though they needed more than four days to do so.
The nature of their callups could have added pressure to these players, but instead, they drew inspiration from their underdog status.
“I think this is the perfect way of coming up to the big leagues,” Matheny said. “Being with your friends, guys that you’re comfortable with and then to come in here as a world beater. Nobody thinks that we can play? Watch this. The whole thing has been a pleasure to be a part of.”
Eaton led the way for the new guys, squaring up a homer in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game to give the Royals some much-needed insurance in a close game.
The 25-year-old joined an elite list of Royals players who have homered for their first big league hit. The last three guys to do it before him? Vinnie Pasquantino, Ryan O’Hearn -- and Zack Greinke.
“Looking back in my entire baseball career, the littlest things are coming to mind,” Eaton said. “I’m really trying to cherish every little thing that made this goal possible.”
Pratto followed that with a single off Blue Jays All-Star starter Alek Manoah the next day for his first hit.
“It was exactly how I thought it would be,” he said. “It was awesome.”
But perhaps the most emotional first-hit story of this series belonged to Massey, who had two singles in a hard-fought 6-5 extra-inning loss on Saturday. The 24-year-old’s debut consisted of one at-bat the previous night, in which he struck out as the Royals took a lopsided defeat.
When Massey learned he’d be in the starting lineup the next day, it was tough to keep the adrenaline in check.
“I envisioned it about 100 times last night,” Massey said. “I woke up at 4 [a.m.], 5, 5:15, 6. I was just anxious to get out there.”
Massey, who had about 14 family members and friends rooting for him at Rogers Centre, gave his dad the bat he used in the game. There were no words when he handed it off, just a smile and a handshake. That was all they needed.
“There was a lot of nights growing up where it was just me and him in the batting cage,” said Massey. “... We looked into each other’s eyes and I think we both knew what we were saying without needing to say it.”
First home runs
While Eaton crossed two boxes at once with his first hit and homer, it took Pratto four games to go yard for the first time.
He’d had some opportunities to do so early on the weekend but failed to take advantage of a few mistakes by the Blue Jays pitching staff, fouling off some balls that could have turned into extra-base hits at the very least.
By Sunday, though, Pratto was more confident and at ease, driving a high fastball from José Berríos out of the ballpark in the second inning.
“Feels come and go in this game,” said Pratto. “Even when you feel good, sometimes you don’t get results and when you feel bad, sometimes you do. It’s a funky game we play. For me, it was just getting back into a rhythm. … I’ve been seeing the ball well, so just piecing everything together.”
It was far from a perfect series -- the win-loss column alone indicates as much. But no one in the Royals clubhouse was trying to downplay its significance.
“These games have been special on how [our players] have competed,” said Matheny. “I made sure they understood: You guys keep competing like that, you’re going to have fun in this game for many years to come.”