There is nothing quite like watching a prospect’s Major League Debut. He’s been the subject of cursory articles you’ve read on the john for years. You’ve plugged him into your imaginary lineup that will be an everyday occurence when you become General Manager in a few years (waiting on the right time to quit the day job). Hell, you might have heard Mick Gillespie fawn over him in a split-squad Cactus League game not too long ago.
But now he’s arrived at the Show. After years and years of hard work, a prospect’s MLB debut is one-part celebration, one-part introduction. And this past weekend, one particular ballplayer turned his introduction into one hell of a celebration.
On a Sunday afternoon at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Nick Kingham debuted in fashion he will surely never forget. Friday morning he was an Indianapolis Indian. By Sunday evening he had thrown nearly seven perfect innings against a division rival. What a moment, what a debut.
The Cubs have had no shortages of memorable debuts of their own over the past decade, so I thought the occasion appropriate to take a look back at some of the best MLB debuts for the Cubs over the past 10 years. Off we go…
- The Shot Heard Across The Pacific: March 31, 2008: Kosuke Fukudome had an all-time MLB Debut. It was opening day at Wrigley Field, and expectations were sky high for the much-hyped Japanese outfielder and his defending NL Central Champion teammates. Disgusting spring weather in Chicago didn’t quiet the crowd when Fukudome took frumpy looking Eric Gagne deep in the bottom of the 9th to tie the ballgame against the Brew Crew. Ron Santo has an all-time call you can find linked above. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they ended up losing in 10. Unfortunately for Kosuke, this was by far the highlight of his career.
- The Prince Arrives: May 7, 2010: Starlin Castro showed up to the Great American Ballpark on a pretty May day. He looked considerably younger than the 20 years and 44 days he carried walking into the ballpark. But he went yard in his very first at-bat and ended up driving in 6 runs in his big-league debut. Starlin was supposed to be a piece that would help this franchise claw its way back into relevancy, and, on this day, he certainly seemed up to the task.
- If At First You Try and Fail, Try, Try Again: August 5, 2014: Javy Baez was the first truly celebrated call-up of the Theo Epstein era. Sure, he was a Jim Hendry draftee, but Cubs fans desperately wanted to believe that the arrival of Baez and his buddies in the farm system would signal and end to the subpar baseball the North Side faithful had been treated to for a number of years. Javy was Javy in his first game, albeit a little pudgier. He went 0 for his first 5 with three strikeouts before unleashing a monstrous home run to right-center to break a tie in extra innings. The Chicago Cubs were never the same.
- Maybe We Try This Again Tomorrow: April 17, 2017: Kris Bryant’s arrival in the Big Leagues was supposed to be the dawning of a new era in Cubs baseball. The Cubs had gotten smart, brought in the best executive team in baseball, and built the franchise from the ground up. And after warming up in Iowa for a few weeks (and maybe delaying his arbitration a little bit), the Golden Boy arrived at Wrigley Field. Kris was… underwhelming in his debut. He went 0-4 with three strikeouts, but the day and moment was still memorable for every Cub fan in the crowd who believed Kris’ arrival was the beginning of something special.
- Get It Out of the Way Early: June 19, 2017: Willson Contreras was welcomed to Wrigley Field with a thundering standing ovation, and he reciprocated the hospitality with a very loud noise of his own. A Father’s Day edition of Sunday Night Baseball was the scene when Willson Contreras took the first pitch he saw as a big leaguer into the seats in right-center. The Cubs had gotten off to a scorching start, and the love affair between the club and the fans sitting in the grandstand had never been hotter. Contreras’ arrival and instant impact had Wrigleyville at a level of excitement most big league ballparks only see in October.
There has never been a better time to be a Cub fan, and this list is pretty telling why. Our young core started somewhere, many of them with debuts that are ingrained in the hearts and minds of every Cub fan. There were other young studs who came to mind. Kyle Schwarber’s takeover in Cincinatti. Junior Lake out-playing Yasiel Puig in his early days. But the debuts listed aboved are, like Nick Kingham’s, truly unforgettable. Every fan base should be so lucky to have so many memories like these, especially in such short a time.
P.S. I really like Ron Coomer, and like him more every year. But if listening to Pat and Ron call the Starlin and Kosuke debuts doesn’t make you miss those days, you are not a Cubs fan.