There were times when Yermin Mercedes could have given up on his Major League dream.
And to be honest, who could have blamed him.
Mercedes had 617 Minor League games played and 2,128 Minor League at-bats entering the 2021 season in the White Sox organization -- not to mention he was playing for independent unaffiliated teams known as the White Sands Pupfish, Douglas Diablos and San Angelo Colts as recently as 2014. Even as a strong Spring Training played out in Arizona, the 28-year-old looked as if he would start at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill.
But manager Tony La Russa took on Mercedes as a third catcher -- more as an insurance policy or roster protection than any sort of planned regular playing time. That thought might change, though, after Mercedes' 5-for-5 effort with four RBIs in a 12-8 victory over the Angels Friday night at Angel Stadium.
The catcher DH'd and batted eighth in his inaugural Major League start and singled in his first four at-bats before doubling home two runs during a five-run ninth. When asked to describe Mercedes’ efforts, after he had one previous career at-bat in total in 2020, La Russa smiled and said, “Historic.”
“I just want to cry every time when I see I'm in the Majors right now. I just want to cry because it's a long time,” Mercedes said. “I've got a big history.
“It's about time, but it's hard for me because just looking around, I'm like, ‘It's real. I'm here.’ I know when it was a couple years ago, I said, ‘What am I going to do? What's going to happen with me?’ I just said, ‘God, when am I going to be in the Majors? What do I need to do?' Because all the time, all my years, I put up my numbers, do the best of myself.”
That answer came Friday, with a twist. Three of Mercedes five hits came with two strikes.
“That actually is his reputation,” La Russa said. “When I came here, everybody in the organization talked about it. They all talked about he’s a different hitter with two strikes and he can make the adjustments and it’s obvious he can.”
Perseverance paid off for Mercedes, who joined Washington's Cecil Travis (May 16, 1933) as the only MLB players in the Modern Era to have five hits in their first career start, per STATS. It was quite a jump for the gregarious Mercedes, from a time where he thought of walking away. He seemed one part ecstatic, one part relieved and one part grateful during his postgame Zoom.
“At some points I just wanted to give up. I just wanted to say, ‘I don't want to play anymore. I don't know what I need to do, but yes, I want to give up,’” Mercedes said. “But my family, my father, my mom, said, 'Hey, you can do it, keep working. You can do it. We trust in you because we know who you are.’
“A lot of times, I say, ‘Hey, I don't want to play anymore,’ or, ‘I'll go home,’ or, ‘I don't want to do this.’ Every time they're with me and they say, ‘You're the best. You're the best.' So I say, 'All right, I'm going to keep doing that.' I'm happy with that, because my mom, my father, my brother, they're happy right now because they say, 'You do it. You do it,' and, 'You're the best.' I say, 'Yes, it's for you all, family.”
Prior to Friday’s game, Mercedes told his father to take video every time he was at home plate because he felt as if it was going to be a big day. And when he reached first after his first hit in the third, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols told him it was going to be the first of many.
Pujols probably didn’t realize "many" would translate into a 5-for-5 performance on this evening. Although La Russa wanted to get everyone on the roster at least one start during this four-game series in California, Mercedes clearly earned back-to-back spots in the lineup.
“I told Tim [Anderson], ‘You tell him he's not playing tomorrow,’” said La Russa with a laugh. “He said, ‘No, you better play him.’ I said, 'Yes, I will.’”
“My time is now, the opportunity is now,” Mercedes said. “Just keep working hard, keep the head up, trust in God. Because God knows what is going to happen.”