I was lucky enough to get an invite to early Spring training that year. This is where a few players get the opportunity to come out early and sharpen their skills before regular spring training starts. The best part about this opportunity is that these selected players get a chance to play in Big League games. The whole experience was a little overwhelming at first, but I got a chance to see that the game was the same no matter what level you play.
There are a few differences between Major League and minor league games Spring training games. The first thing that I noticed was the atmosphere at the game. There were thousands and thousands of fans at the Major League games, screaming and having a good time. Everyone was there to get a glimpse of their favorite stars. When you go to a minor league Spring training game there are 10 people tops who come to see the games.
Another difference was the speed of the games. I don't know if any of you have ever been to a minor league spring training game, but if you haven't, I'm here to tell you that they're very slow and boring from a fan's point of view. No one comes to these games and they seem to drag at times.
The big league games are faster and have a little bit more action and energy. I got the opportunity to play in a big league game on the 19th of March against the Milwaukee Brewers. Before the game I got selected to hit against Kerry Wood.
Let me tell you one thing: hitting against Kerry Wood at 9 a.m. isn't fun! I'd never seen a pitcher whose stuff was so nasty. I went 1-3 against Kerry, but he made me look foolish in two of my at bats. After hitting, the team took batting practice and got ready for the game.
This game just happened to be televised on ESPN and my whole family got a chance to see me play. I didn't think that I would get into the game, but, in the sixth inning I heard, "Walk, you're hitting after David Kelton." Mr. Kelton was on deck and by the time I got a helmet on my head, Kelton hit a line drive to left field. I ran up to the on deck circle and Dusty Baker said to me, "Let's see what you got Junior."
I walked to the plate and was a little nervous, but after the first pitch was thrown I calmed down and relaxed. My first hit in a big league game came courtesy of Brewers pitcher Wes Obermueller. He threw me a 0-1 hanging slider and I hit a line drive to centerfield.
This experience showed me that the game was the same no matter where you play it. I had a great spring training after that point and took the momentum into my season.