So when his phone started vibrating at around 9:30 AM on the morning of July 19, he didn’t think anything of it. But it wouldn’t stop. Garrison pried his eyes open to see that it was 10:15 AM, and his phone kept rattling around.
“Maybe I should check this out,” Garrison thought.
The popular Trenton native picked up his phone to see that trainer Tim Lentych was the one who’d awakened him from his peaceful slumber. So perhaps Garrison thought he was still dreaming when he called Lentych back and was told he was getting called up to the big leagues.
“You’re going to Tampa, pack your bags,” Lentych said.
The 24-year-old lefty couldn’t believe what he was hearing. No, seriously…he didn’t believe it. He thought someone was playing a prank on him.
“I’m serious,” Lentych said. “Get going, your flight’s at one.”
So Garrison quickly assembled his things, packed his bags and barely caught his flight out of Philadelphia down to Tampa, where the Yankees were playing the Rays that night.
It turns out it was a case of “hurry up and wait,” as the personable pitcher would have to wait six days until the Yankees were in the midst of a blowout win over the Seattle Mariners. Called up as a long man or someone to be used in a situation where the Bronx Bombers were either up or down big…his time had come. Steve Garrison was going to finally become a Major League baseball player.
Garrison recalls the events of that night in great detail…
“The game was kind of opening up, and we were winning. We were up a lot, actually,” Garrison said.
“I kind of got a feeling, so I started to get loose. But then when the ninth inning came around and I didn’t hear my name called, I was like OK. But I still kind of had a little bit of adrenaline pumping and was getting stretched and things like that. Then I heard the phone ring right before the inning started and I was like, ‘There’s nobody else.’ I mean we were winning by this much, there’s no one else. I had an idea, so I kind of hopped up and he was like, ‘You have the next batter.’ So I was like OK, and it felt like it took me two or three throws to get loose.
“The adrenaline was pumping right away, I was ready to go. Then, running into the stadium, it was a great feeling. Being there and wearing the pinstripes and walking out and seeing all the guys there, it was an awesome feeling, and then actually pitching. Of course, I was nervous, but then after my first warmup pitch, I was fine. I think I was more nervous about running out to the mound than actually pitching, I was more nervous about tripping and falling over than I was actually throwing strikes.”
Turns out, he didn’t have anything to worry about at all. After making the run from the bullpen — it felt longer than it looks, he said — Garrison came in and retired both batters he faced; Justin Smoak and Franklin Gutierrez.
That “wow” moment, where he stopped and soaked it all in? Never happened.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy about (getting the opportunity). But when I had that moment was the first game I was down there and I didn’t pitch, that first game where I was sitting in the bullpen by all the fans down in Tampa,” he said.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ That was where it hit me. But when I was pitching, it was moreso just getting guys out and worrying about the next guy. I want to be there to stay, I don’t want to be there in a blowout situation. I want to be there in a crucial situation where they pick me to go in and face the hitter. I want to be in there in a big time situation, I want to compete. And I feel like I’m just looking forward to getting another opportunity to get up there and get guys out.”
Even if he doesn’t get back this season, it’s a great story for a great guy. But in reality, this is a story that starts in spring training.
A relatively unheralded waiver claim from the San Diego Padres late last season, Garrison was slated to be sent to Trenton for the postseason, but was injured and instead would have to wait to make his first impression with the organization. That time was spring training, and the impression was a sensational one. Garrison went from afterthought to last man cut after a battle for the final roster spot with Luis Ayala. It certainly wasn’t the 3-6 record and ERA over six in Trenton that put him in position to be considered for this call-up. Basically, what he did in Tampa in March earned him a return trip in July.
“I’m definitely thankful for that opportunity, and I’m definitely thankful I came to spring training ready to pitch at that level and able to pitch at that level,” Garrison said.
“Whether it’s being in the bullpen, whether it’s getting lefthanders out, whether it’s starting, whatever they want me to do, I’m definitely willing to do that.”
There is a train of thought, however, that with Garrison finding little success in the Thunder’s starting rotation and profiling as a possible big league LOOGY, that it might be wise to start having him make the transition to the bullpen in Double-A. Not so fast, he says.
“I feel like I’m blessed to be able to be a starter so I can get more work and face more different kinds of hitters so if and when I do go to the bullpen or whatever plans they have for the future, I can do whatever they want me to do,” he said.
“Any situation, I can be ready to go and feel like I have my weapons and my arsenal and use it against any kind of hitter that walks up to the plate. If I’m in the pen and only facing lefties and I’m up in the big leagues and I have to face a right-handed hitter, I want to know that I’ll be able to attack him. I want to be able to cover all my bases.”
However, the big leagues seem just as far away for Garrison now as they did on the morning of July 19. He’s allowed six runs on 15 hits in eight innings of work since returning to the capital city, and his performance in Trenton has had more of an effect on him than the almost always smiling southpaw has let on.
“My numbers aren’t that good here, and it hurts me and bothers me more than anybody. It’s not who I am, I’m not happy with it to say the least. It bothers me more than you guys know,” he said.
“So it’s just one of those things where I really just want to get better and more consistent and get trust back in them that I’m good enough to be at this level and hopefully above. I don’t want to say anything, I don’t want to think anything. I just want to worry about my next start down here and worry about staying healthy and executing pitches and getting left-handed hitters out, just putting up zeroes.”
And, for now anyway, Garrison will get that opportunity every fifth day in the Thunder rotation. And Thunder pinstripes are the only kind on his mind.
“I figure that I’ve found from experience that when I start worrying about what other people are doing and what’s going on above me and stuff like that, I start struggling and lose focus on the task I have, which is to get guys out wherever I am and perform,” he said.
“The outing before I went up, I had one of my best outings of the year and I was really happy and trying to get into a groove. My confidence was up, but I was still more concerned about my next start and focusing on that. I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity, but at the same time I’m just looking forward to getting better and proving to them why they picked me up and why I deserve to be there.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com