ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wil Myers jogged with an expressionless stare in the second inning, as if 422-foot home runs are supposed to happen often. He glanced twice toward center field after he rounded first base. He never broke his stride.
The Tampa Bay Rays envisioned moments like this when they promoted the outfield prospect June 16, these “did he just do that?” displays that serve as proof that perhaps the hype around this uncommon 22-year-old is deserved. Among most, it was thought Myers would appear at Tropicana Field sometime this season, his promotion a formality after he became the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Royals last December that made Tampa Bay part ways with valued right-hander James Shields.
Yet Myers’ call-up came with some caution. Some wondered if it happened too early, after only 64 games with Triple-A Durham. Some wondered if more seasoning might be appropriate, particularly with his defensive skills in right field. Some wondered if a pre-All-Star Break arrival could be premature to start the Wil Watch within a franchise searching to keep pace in the American League East.
Eight games into this experiment, the end point of Myers’ first Rays summer remains unknown. But certainly, the opening steps have included delicious potential. On Monday, that trend continued when he went 2 for 4 in the Rays’ 4-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, highlighted by a monster home run, the second of his season.
“It’s the same game I’ve been playing all my life,” Myers said. “It’s not really any different. The only big differences are the stuff off the field, to be honest, and a little more fans in the stands. I just want to treat it like the game I’ve played all my life.”
Myers’ reaction to the home run is worth revisiting because he does treat it like something he has done his whole life. Nineteen seconds passed from the time a 95-mph fastball from right-hander Esmil Rogers hit Myers’ bat to when the young slugger crossed home plate. His trot is remarkable because it is so unremarkable.
Myers slapped hands with third-base coach Tom Foley and teammates Sam Fuld and Jose Lobaton near the batter’s box. But little else stood out. Like in other moments last week in Boston and New York, Myers carried himself with confidence. Like he belonged.
Of course, a larger celebration came in time. Luke Scott was the first to greet Myers at the top of the dugout. David Price was next. Then others such as Joe Maddon, Evan Longoria, Dave Martinez, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Yunel Escobar followed. They offered high-fives, slaps, a stew of atta-man greetings.
In time, parts of the announced crowd of 11,407 stood. They held signs such as “I * heart * WIL” and “#WilVille” and “Hit it HERE Wil!” About 30 seconds after he entered the dugout — “I really wasn’t sure what to do,” Myers said — he stepped out and waved with his left hand. He smiled for his first major league curtain call.
His brown hair looked matted. He looked young, boyish. But at that moment, he also looked much older. He looked like someone who fit in.
“I do believe he has the makeup to withstand any kind of tough moment that may occur in the future,” Maddon said. “He has done everything proper and well to this point.”
Said Rays first baseman James Loney: “He’s fun to watch. He’s young, but he plays with a maturity. “
Added Fuld: “We all got to see him play in spring training, so we know what he’s capable of.”
And more will be learned. Monday’s moment was another first after a week of many, and it continued Myers’ visible baptism by fire. His first time wearing No. 9 in a Rays uniform. His first visit to Fenway Park. His first visit to Yankee Stadium. His first grand slam. His first home run at Tropicana Field . . . in his first at-bat here.
He has hit .294 (8 for 34) with two home runs and seven RBI. He has hit safely in seven of his eight games, including two multiple-hit contests.
There is no telling where Myers’ story will lead. He is still a project, still developing. It is tempting to compare him to another Rays star who made his major-league debut at age 22 (Longoria in 2008), but there is no knowing if Myers will become a three-time All-Star in five seasons, if he will become a franchise face like he has the potential to be.
But there is something about watching unrefined potential that piques the imagination. The bursts come in jolts, like lightning strikes in a storm gathering strength. That is what watching Myers feels like now. His power is sure to grow stronger, his eye at the plate sure to become more trained, his skill-set sure to become more rounded.
“I didn’t really put expectations on myself,” Myers said. “Getting here, Joe told me just to go out and have fun. Really what I want to do here is just help the team win, because obviously, that’s the most important thing.”
He acts the part of a big leaguer with large possibility.