CINCINNATI — Donald Lutz arrived in the major leagues last Monday, but he really arrived nearly a week later, a windy Sunday afternoon in Wrigley Field where he was patrolling left field with about a dozen sea gulls.
After going 0 for 6 after his call-up from Class AA Pensacola, Lutz banged his first major-league hit, drove in his first major-league run and stole his first major-league base — the baseball trifecta.
And it all helped the Cincinnati Reds score a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs, which made the day even better for the guy Reds manager Dusty Baker calles, “Big Lutz.” It’s never Donald Lutz or Donnie Lutz or Don Lutz. It’s always Big Lutz.
That’s because the 24-year-old outfielder stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 250 pounds.
He stands bigger than that in Germany, where Lutz grew up. He was born in New York, but when his parents divorced he went to Germany to live with his mother when he was a year old.
And, so, of course German-born NBA star Dirk Nowitzki is a hero to Lutz and after he got the hit and the RBI, Lutz tweeted: “Felt good getting the W and that first knock.”
To Lutz’s amazement, Nowitzki tweeted, “First hit in the big leagues? Star mein junge. (translation: great, my boy). Congratulations.”
Said Lutz,” When he heard I was from Germany, he began following me a little bit and we’ve been talking a little bit. He is huge in Germany, gets a lot of attention.”
Amazingly, Lutz never played baseball until he was 15, “Never touched a ball,” he said. “I played hockey and soccer, not baseball.”
But his older brother talked him into going to a baseball camp and he learned the game rapidly, so rapidly that he attended a training academy supported by major league baseball in Regensburg, Germany. From there he went to the MLB International European Academy in Tirrenia, Italy.
And that’s where the Reds found him in July, 2007.
When Lutz made the majors Monday, he was the second player to make the majors from the European Academy, the first German-developed.
Of his first hit, Lutz said, “That felt good to get that monkey off my back. I was pushing too hard my first couple of at bats, trying to show what I can do. So on Sunday I went back to my game plan — just relax.”
And that’s exactly what manager Dusty Baker told him, “Just be yourself. You’re out of synch. That’s only natural that he tried too hard. And being yourself is easier said than done. I mean, how many people have reached their lifelong goal at age 24? It’s like, ‘Now what?’”
Amazingly, before Lutz’s first hit he thought he was hit by a pitch and replays showed a pitch struck him on the ankle. He started to toss his bat away and run to first base, but umpire Greg Gibson said, “Where you going kid? That didn’t hit you. No way that hit you.”
Lutz said, “Of course it hit me,” but being a brash rookie isn’t a good way to start with major league umpires and he quietly put himself back in the batter’s box. And singled up the middle.
Asked if he is glad the umpire missed the call, Lutz said, “Oh, yeah. After the umpire told me, ‘Now you gotta hit,’ I looked up in the sky and thought something good better happen. It did. That’s all right, I’ll take it.”
Lutz’s goal now, other than stay in the majors, is to push the game in soccer-nuts Germany, a daunting task.
“I’m getting more attention from the media, every newspaper over there,” said Lutz. “So many people are hitting me up for interviews. And that’s good, to get more attention to baseball. That’s my goal. Now I need to get some TV time over there to get even more attention to baseball.”
There is another German-trained player from the MLB European Academy in the Minnesota Twins system, Max Kepler.
“We’re good friends and we had a friendly competition and it was something I wanted to do — be the first,” said Lutz. “And when I was Max sent congrats my way and today he tweeted me and said, ‘Damn, I missed being the first German in the major leagues.’ He is all kinds of jealous.”
Lutz feels fortunate to be playing for Cincinnati, a city known for its German heritage that includes Oktoberfest.
“I heard a lot about the Cincinnati German background,” he said. “I heard about all the good German food here and I can’t wait to check those places out and get some good German food.”
There is a writer from Germany-based Sports I, an internet web-site, who flew over for the current homestand, along with Lutz’s girl friend from German, a brother, his best friend, “And even a friend from Australia.”
“None of them got to see my first hit in Chicago, just my girl friend,” said Lutz. “That’s OK, though. I plan to get a few more.”