Dream never faded for minor-league vet
As of Wednesday, Sept. 7, John Lindsey is a big leaguer.
He got called up to the big leagues a few days ago, but on this day he became official ... sort of.
It shouldn’t be a big deal. There have been well over 10,000 players that have played in the major leagues. Guys get called up all the time and nobody blinks. Sometimes the only person that really notices is that kid’s mother.
But this time it was different. And Lindsey’s appearance was different.
John Lindsey was a high school stud out of Hattiesburg, Miss. He led his team to the state title in his junior year and then got drafted by the Colorado Rockies the following year in 1995. He was big and talented, had a smile that you only read about and could hit a baseball a country mile. He was one of those guys that you just knew was gonna be a big leaguer.
By 1998 he had hit 14 homers and drove in 73 for his Ashville club and things were beginning to come together. Four years later he went deep 22 times and knocked in 93. Surely somebody would notice.
After a few injuries that slowed his progress, and more than a few more minor-league cities, Lindsey’s surefire dream of a big-league career began to flicker.
He’d seen the country — played in Portland and San Bernadino, Salem and New Jersey, Jacksonville and Jupiter. He lit it up a few different years in Vegas and found himself in New Orleans, too. Just never in a city with a major-league name on it. He even made spring training trips to Taiwan and China with the Dodgers.
He certainly thought about quitting, and frankly the game would have quit him if he wasn‘t such a great guy. He is every bit the southern gentleman, complete with a frequent, “Yes, sir,” and an uncommon grace that only comes from somebody that was raised right.
But now he had a wife and a young son to think about and provide for, and his stops in independent league ball weren’t paying the bills.
But John Lindsey could hit, and he knew it, and he thought if he just kept throwing up numbers, someone else would figure it out too.
30 homers in ’07.
.316 with 26 homers and 100 RBI in ’08.
.353 and a batting title in Albuquerque this season.
Then, the darndest thing happened. Ned Colletti, the GM of the Dodgers did something no other GM in baseball was willing to do. He made the phone call that John Lindsey was waiting for his whole life — certainly for 16 years. He made the call that made Lindsey a big leaguer.
Lindsey isn’t one to try to get noticed, but you just can’t help it. Other than the fact that he’s 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he could slip past you if it weren’t for one thing. That smile. All toothy and genuine — the kind of smile that makes you think you know him even if you’ve just met. And boy, does he use it.
Which brings us to his first major-league appearance.
No big-league player — and I mean, not one — ever forgets his first major-league at-bat. Most guys would tell you they could have died after that day and all would be well.
On Wednesday night, against the division-leading Padres, Lindsey was gonna get to tell that story. He had waited 16 years and more than 5,000 minor-league at-bats to finally have a story to tell.
Joe Torre called his name to pinch-hit for Scott Podsednik in the eighth inning with the Dodgers trailing. Imagine the emotion he must have been feeling. The adrenaline. The pride of a man who had never stopped believing that he was exactly what Torre was asking him to be right then — simply, a major-league hitter.
And the smile got even bigger.
But then something happened. Bud Black, the Padres manager decided to counter Torre’s move with one of his own. He made a pitching change and brought in a right-hander. Torre still had Andre Ethier on the bench and it was a no-brainer to lift Lindsey from the game in favor of Ethier. For a manager, winning baseball games will always be more important than the fate of one man’s career.
So after Lindsey’s name was announced and he was officially in the game, and in the record books as a major-league baseball player, he got pinch hit for.
Strangely fitting, don’t you think?
You know what he did?
He smiled that irrepressible smile that none of us will soon forget, as he walked back to the Dodgers dugout. He got a few fist pumps from the guys, including Torre.
"I just gave him the lineup card,'' Torre said, according to the Associated Press. ''I told him that he didn't get an at-bat, but he was in the game.''
And don't think his teammates didn't know it.
As Lindsey sat there on that bench, probably wondering what might have been and hoping that this would not be his only chance, another Dodger came over to share the moment with him and give him another high five, welcoming him to the club.
At that moment, I couldn’t help but think, “Who deserved one more?”