Fulfilling a dream, Polanco begins big league career
Top prospect excited to join talented Pirates squad at PNC Park
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates "P," you are reminded everywhere in PNC Park, stands for Pride and Passion.
Tuesday, it also stood for Polanco. The Next Coming arrived, as Gregory Polanco walked in wide-eyed at about 11 a.m., first ogled the No. 25 jersey hanging in his locker, then donned it, and met a roomful of media eager to get into the head of the Bucs' new right fielder, who batted second against the Cubs.
"It felt great. I've never been here before. It's something I've been waiting for all my life. I made it, and it made me feel proud of myself," said Polanco, looking around the crowded room. "I didn't think it would be like this. I appreciate it, and I'm very happy."
Polanco is 22. However, he has lived an extensive baseball life, the word from the Pirates coming in the midst of his sixth professional season.
The word blindsided Polanco during what turned out to be the best postgame meeting he'll ever experience. He had sat out the Indianapolis Indians' Monday night 3-1 victory in Lehigh Valley, so after sitting on his .347 average, he was sitting on a stool as manager Dean Treanor addressed the team "talking about the game," Polanco said.
At one point, Treanor pointed at Polanco and said, "You. You're going to Pittsburgh tomorrow."
"I was like a child," Polanco recalled. "I didn't know what to do."
Yes, he did. He called his mom in their native Dominican Republic; he tried to get some sleep; he rose with the sun and hit the road.
The warm farewell he got from his ex-Indians teammates was matched by the greetings he got from his new ones.
"They are happy to have me here. Everyone came up to me to tell me that," said Polanco, who, naturally, will gravitate most to his partners in the Pirates' Dream Outfield.
"[Starling] Marte is my closest friend here," he said of his Dominican compatriot, "but I'm sure everyone will help me out. And [Andrew] McCutchen -- he already talked a lot to me in Spring Training. He came to me, to introduce me to everything. He's gonna help me out a lot."
There is a difference between getting assistance from people and relying on them. Polanco will fall into the former category; his immense confidence, on and off the field, will carry him. As a small example, he faced that media throng Tuesday without the aid of an interpreter, and handled it impressively with his limited, yet growing grasp of the English language.
The first day of the rest of his baseball life would be tumultuous, and unforgettable. That was obvious to everyone. Manager Clint Hurdle confidently said Polanco would have no problem handling it.
"He's a very balanced young man. His upbringing has a lot to do with that," Hurdle said. "How much attention comes his way -- that's something he actually controls, and it's something he has been very good at keeping in moderation. I know this clubhouse will embrace him and, if need be, protect him."
The same ethic that got Polanco here will keep him here. There was no room in that ethic for impatience, even as his Triple-A numbers kept soaring, and Treanor kept pointing to other Indians in the locker room.
"They just said, 'Keep playing hard, do what you're doing, and your time will come.' I worked and played hard," Polanco said, "to be where I want to be. When you work hard, you show that you want it -- and, in your heart, you know you're going to make it."
And, now, here he was, about to make that first trot out of the third-base dugout, to the base of the right-field wall. The Clemente Wall.
"I feel proud to play where somebody like [Roberto] Clemente played. So happy," Polanco said.
The sound of applause was heard. It came from the next-door hall, where an unrelated meeting was taking place. Still, it was the first of the night's many ovations around Polanco.
"I have no idea how it's going to be," Polanco said of the anticipated reaction of fans.
He had to know it would be loud. Pittsburgh does not let major sporting moments transpire silently, or in privacy. Tuesday's crowd was expected to swell about 7,000 over Monday night's 24,075.
"First day," Polanco said, "I'll try to stay in control. Try to breathe, control the excitement."
And, Clint Hurdle reminded him, do what comes naturally.
"You've done the work. You've put in the time, the preparation, the focus. Now go play ball."
Those last two words launch every baseball game. Tuesday night, they also launched a career.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.