For those who frequently espouse the coaching speak about the journey being better than the destination, they’ve probably never traversed the baseball path of Jose Marmolejos.
It’s a winding road of interminable bus trips and low-rent motels in the low levels of the minor leagues followed by an assortment of multi-stop commercial flights, layovers and delays, slightly better hotels at the upper levels. It was summers spent in places like Auburn N.Y., Harrisburg, Pa., Potomac, Md., and Fresno, Calif., and winters playing more baseball and getting more work in his native Dominican Republic.
And after spending nine seasons in the minor leagues, playing 840 games and tallying 3,440 plate appearances, the feeling of making his Major League Baseball debut and starting in left field in the Mariners’ opening-day lineup – well, that’s better than any journey.
“It’s been a long wait coming,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Signed as an international undrafted free agent in 2011 by the Nationals, Marmolejos put up solid if not spectacular numbers over the years. But he never got a call-up.
“I was thankful to have the opportunity to at least play every day throughout my minor-league years,” he said. “That’s a blessing. There was not a year where I didn’t play, so that helped me a lot to keep going and going. There’s a lot of things that are not in my control, but the things I have in my control, I try to do those things and just keep going forward.”
Marmolejos admitted to feeling his body shake when Mariners manager Scott Servais met with him last week to inform him he’d made the opening-day roster.
“But when he told me the words, it felt so amazing and I was so thankful,” he said. “I just told him thanks for the opportunity and let’s go get them.”
For Servais, getting to tell a career minor-leaguer such as Marmolejos he’s made the big leagues is one of the best parts of the job.
“He couldn’t be any happier,” Servais said. “It is a grind. A lot of these guys, you know, they’re not all first-round draft picks and they all don’t just fly through the minor leagues. But that’s the beauty of our game, it really is. Once you have an opportunity, some guys just have to grind through it, prove themselves at every level. Sometimes it takes going to a new organization to get an opportunity, and it’s a great spot for him here with us right now.”
Signed in the offseason as a minor-league free agent, Marmolejos hit his way onto the Mariners’ roster, showing an mature approach during the first spring training and in Cactus League play with seven of his eight hits going for extra bases. He carried that over to summer camp and onto the team, while showing he can handle left-field duties as well as first base.
“Honestly, as soon as I came to the Mariners, everybody was on the same page, just trying to get better, and I felt like there were a lot of opportunities,” he said. “They were throwing me in games, and giving me the confidence to show what I can do. I needed that, and everything clicked from there.”
Facing starter Justin Verlander and the Astros’ hard-throwing bullpen, Marmolejos went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts on opening night. Sunday, he notched his first big-league hit in his fifth and final at-bat. He hit what appeared to be a double to right field, but Josh Reddick threw him out at second base when Marmolejos didn’t slide as shortstop Carlos Correa faked as if a throw wasn’t coming in. He was credited with a single.
“Marmolejos will never forget his first hit in the big leagues,” Servais said. “He got deked pretty good.”
It wasn’t an ideal way to get that first hit, and a regrettable mistake. But it’s still his first big-league hit. There will be more to follow.
“I’m going to live the moment,” he said. “Don’t think about the past or the future — just live in the moment as of right now.”
The only thing that might have been better for Taylor Jones’ MLB debut would have been playing in T-Mobile Park instead of Minute Maid Park. Then again, with no fans being allowed, the kid from Kent wouldn’t have been able to have his family in attendance.
Jones was a two-sport standout at Kentwood High School, leading the Conquerors to state titles in baseball and basketball, and later finding success at Gonzaga as a two-way player. He had to settle for his first MLB game with the Astros being played against the team he spent summers cheering for as a kid, worshipping Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
After being called up before the game Saturday in Houston to replace Aledymas Diaz, who went on the injured list with a groin strain, Jones got the start at designated hitter Sunday, going 0 for 2 before being lifted for a pinch hitter. He was at his hotel in Corpus Christi, where the Astros are holding their alternative training site, when he got a knock on the door at just before midnight Friday. It was minor league coach Jason Bell, who told him, “You’re going to Houston.”
“It’s one of those things that you kind of replay in your head a bunch of times before it happens and it came out just as I had dreamt it,” Jones told the Houston Chronicle. “It was just Jason Bell, but it felt like it was a good majority of the organization was there telling me I was going.”
Jones, 26, was a 19th-round draft choice in 2016. He had a breakout season with Class AAA Round Rock last season, posting a .291/.388/.501 slash line with 28 doubles, 22 homers and 84 RBI.
With Yuli Gurriel eligible for free agency after this season, the 6-foot-7 Jones is considered Houston’s first baseman of the future.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to Houston for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.