Christian Garcia stood on the mound at Nationals Park and took in the scene. A scene he’d waited his entire life for. A scene there were times he never seemed farther from finding himself in.
Nationals catcher Jesus Flores met Garcia on the mound and asked him what he liked to throw, and what signs he preferred to use. Called up on Monday, Flores and Garcia hadn’t had much time to get acquainted.
“Without taking a breath, I talked for like a minute,” Garcia recalled of their brief meeting on the mound. “He was like, ‘Hey man, take a breath.’ I took a deep breath and had fun.”
For the 27-year-old former Yankees farmhand, Garcia’s path to that moment took him through three elbow surgeries — including two Tommy John procedures to rebuild his ulnar collateral ligament — and nine seasons in the minor leagues. His major league debut lasted one batter, three pitches to Welington Castillo before a pop out that landed in the glove of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche secured the ball for him, and things moved so quickly Garcia didn’t even notice that Flores had rolled his first pitch, a 96-mph ball, out of play for posterity.
It didn’t matter how long it lasted, though.
“It was awesome,” Garcia said. “I can’t even explain how awesome it was. … I told myself to enjoy it and have fun. After all the years and stuff, I’m not going to go up there and get nervous. I’m going to go up there and just enjoy it, have fun and put a smile on my face.”
Garcia’s parents, grandparents and siblings were on their way up from Florida, but they were driving so they didn’t make it in time to see his debut. He had over 100 calls and text messages waiting for him by the time he returned to the clubhouse Tuesday night.
“It’s still not real to me,” Garcia said. “I was talking to my best friend, who’s in town, and I talked to my parents and was just like, ‘I still can’t believe it.’ You grow up as a kid, when you’re sitting in the stands watching all those baseball players playing, and you never picture yourself actually being one of those guys. Now it’s reality. I’m not just sitting and watching. I’m actually playing.”
The fact that Garcia did his job seamlessly also shouldn’t go overlooked. Nationals manager Davey Johnson was reluctant to bring him in with the bases loaded but once he saw him pitch, he kicked himself.
“The way he threw the ball,” Johnson said. “I should’ve brought him in.
“I like the way the ball comes out of his hand. He’s got a live arm. I’m sure it was a big thrill for him after all he’s been through to get back and get in a big league game, even if it was just for one out.”
A hard-throwing right-hander, Garcia opened a lot of eyes this season as he posted a 0.86 ERA in 52 1/3 innings of work in the minor leagues. Scouts raved about him and the Nationals are optimistic about his future.
That’s good, because Garcia is optimistic about it, too.
“I dream big,” Garcia said, asked if he thought this day would ever come. “When I do things, I try to put all my effort into it and do it to the best of my abilities. I always thought one day it would happen. I didn’t think it would take this long, but it did and I appreciate it. I’m very humble and very excited to be here and I thank the Nationals for giving me the opportunity.”
As Garcia spoke, his phone buzzed again. Another well-wisher calling to congratulate him. Garcia could only smile.