ANAHEIM -- Thursday night, Keynan Middleton was in Reno, Nevada. Though he didn't pitch that night, his team had just suffered a 22-3 loss to the local club. Usually a situation where the clubhouse remains quiet after a game.
However, Middleton was called into the manager's office, and Keith Johnson was awaiting. The conversation was likely brief, and ended with a hug. Keynan Middleton was headed to Anaheim, California, and he was going to become a Major League Baseball player.
The 23-year-old called his wife, mother, father and other friends to declare the news. It was quite a contrast from any calls that would have been made a year prior.
On May 5th, 2017, Middleton made his way to the mound at Angel Stadium to become the 18,972nd player to play in a Major League game in front of over 30,000 fans. On May 5th, 2016, he was sitting in a bullpen in Single-A, with only 1,400 people in the stands.
A promising third-round pick by the Angels in 2013 didn't have immediate success as a professional pitcher in the minors. When you took a gander at the stat sheet for those first three years in the minors, Middleton was allowing nearly 14 base runners per nine innings, with a 5.97 earned run average. A starter who was throwing 89-92, a change had to be made.
In 2016, the Oregon-native became a full-time reliever for the first time in his career, and the changes were drastic. His fastball jumped to the high 90's, his slider tightened, and the results altered in a bold way. From that day in May 2016 to the day he took the mound at Angel Stadium, the baserunners per nine went from nearly 14, down to nine. The ERA of almost six dropped to 3.32.
A text from his then manager, Chad Tracy, on Friday morning said it all with one word to describe the whole journey - "crazy."
"Everybody dreams of this, what happened today, but I got to live it," Middleton said after his Major League debut. "It's something nobody can prepare for. I was in High-A last year struggling for the beginning of the season and now I'm here. Nobody can anticipate that jump."
The road to the show had reached it's newest stage on Friday night. Middleton had a locker in the Angels clubhouse, his wife and two-year-old daughter were in the stands, and Middleton was on his way to the mound.
"I didn't know what was going on. Making the first pitch a strike and that's it," Middleton said of his emotions prior to his first pitch. "I was able to slow it down in my head. That was pretty much the only thing I was worrying about going into it."
The first pitch was a strike, but not the kind a pitcher likes to see.
In his Major League debut, the first batter was 20-year-veteran with 2,485 games under his belt, Carlos Beltran. The perennial Hall of Famer hit Middleton's first offering off the wall in right field for a double.
"The last thing on my mind is worrying about him swinging first pitch right there," Middleton said. "Just something I have to learn from. I can't groove one in."
Middleton worked his fastball 95-96 miles-per-hour and mixed in good sliders to left-handed hitters to work his way out of the inning with just one run allowed, ending the inning with a strikeout on an 88 MPH slider.
Down by four runs, the Angels rallied in the ninth to tie the game and send it into extra-innings, where they eventually fell to the Houston Astros, 7-6. But, in that ninth inning, Alex Meyer walked over to Middleton and told him he might pick up the win.
"Almost the ugliest win I've ever seen," Middleton laughed about the event.
The final result wasn't what the Angels wanted to see, but at the end of the game, there were multiple smiling faces. Keynan went to see his wife, Nicole, and two-year-old daughter, who could not be more ecstatic about the night's events.
"They were freaking out and they were happy," Middleton said. "I could have given up 20 runs today and they would have been happy. Dream come true for them just as much as me."
Friday is now over, and the Angels and Middleton have more games to play. The comparison of May 5th, 2017 and May 5th, 2016 are things of the past, and Keynan Middleton is ready for his journey to continue. The journey now, is as a Major League Baseball player.
"The last 24 hours have been a roller coaster in my head, everything has been spinning." Middleton exclaimed. "Got the first one out of the way and now we can just go out and play."