After 10 years of waiting, Kyle Higashioka's major-league dreams finally came true
NEW YORK - Kyle Higashioka waited 10 years, so what was six more hours?
That was one of the thoughts the Yankees' newest major-league catcher had over the weekend, as he and wife Alyse made the six-hour drive from Buffalo - where Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre opened their 2017 season on Saturday - to Baltimore, where he joined the Yankees in time for Sunday afternoon's series finale with the Orioles.
Because he had played for the RailRiders on Saturday, "Higgy" had technically spent 10 seasons in the Minors before he finally got the first call to The Show, but It would only take 17 innings for him to go from rostered to active; once the Yankees turned a 3-1 lead into an 8-1 edge in the eighth inning Monday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had just two words for his 26-year-old rookie: "get ready."
"I knew it wasn't a situation where they could possibly bring me in as a pinch hitter in a close game, but then we kind of ran up the score a little bit in the eighth," Higashioka said. "I was like, 'oh, I still have to still get ready because maybe they'll try to throw me in there,' and Joe ended up telling me during the bottom of the eighth I might go in."
And, when the Yankees took the field for the ninth, Austin Romine moved to first base and Higashioka put the gear on, making his major-league debut as the catcher for Chasen Shreve. Almost a full decade of waiting was over, but there was only one word for Higgy to describe the moment.
"Incredible," he said. "I don't think in my wildest dreams I could have imagined debuting at Yankee Stadium, especially on a day like today. That was pretty sweet."
It was indeed a long time coming for the Yankees' seventh-round pick in 2008, and although he didn't bat - he was technically the cleanup hitter, because Romine's move to first meant Higashioka replaced Chris Carter on the lineup card - he did set a record: Higgy is now tied with infielder George Zeber, who was drafted in 1968 and made his MLB debut in 1977, for the longest gap from draft to debut by a player both drafted by, and debuting with, the Yankees.
That decade was filled with a lot of lows - including Tommy John surgery, a broken thumb, and other assorted injuries that limited him to just 68 games between 2012-14 - but also a lot of highs, including a breakout 2016 that saw him hit .276 with 21 home runs (nearly half of his career minor-league total of 51) and 81 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A. That performance earned him a spot on the 40-man roster this winter, and less than a week into the season, the Yankees needed to tap into that depth.
Alyse was there with him - although Kyle admitted that he couldn't find her in the crowd, because the sellout crowd of 46,955 at Yankee Stadium was "significantly more people than I'm used to" - and after the game, he found out a good friend, lefty Jordan Montgomery, was coming to join him on Wednesday.
That just made the day even better for Higashioka, who has caught Montgomery at three different levels and was set to catch him on Triple-A Opening Day this year before weather intervened.
"He deserves it; I knew he had great stuff, and he was working on his consistency, especially the slider," Higashioka said. "Starting last year, progressively it was better and better and better, and it evolved to the point to where when he was taking the mound, you knew it was a shutout."
Perhaps, then, the only thing that could make Higgy's week even better is if, come Wednesday, he is behind the plate for Montgomery's MLB debut, making it four levels of success for the two.