For a little over a week, Jermaine Curtis got a taste of his dream. The former UCLA third baseman and All-Pac-10 honorable mention was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals on April 26, after the team placed Matt Adams on the 15-day disabled list.
The 25-year-old took just two at-bats until he was sent back down to Triple-A Memphis on Sunday, but expressed nothing but excitement during his first major-league stint. Curtis’ career hasn’t unfolded the way he imagined when he left UCLA early in 2008 as a fifth-round draft pick. He was ranked the No. 31 prospect in the organization, and was even demoted to Double-A a year ago.
I caught up with him over the weekend for a look at the life of a ballplayer on the edge of the majors and minors.
Q: What was it like finally getting called up?
It’s been amazing, seeing basically baseball heaven. Talking to future Hall of Famers such as Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. I haven’t been able to play much, but I’ve learned a lot. It’s something I take to heart a lot.
Q: What was the most surprising part about being in the majors?
The attention from the fans, the cameras, it’s a whole ‘nother level. … The fans yelling before batting practice for autographs, showing up at the hotel, running to your hotel, asking for your autographs, you’re on a different level. I’ve never had that before, before the game. Now, anytime is game time for them.
Q: How did you feel during your first at-bat?
My heart was beating at 150 miles per hour. Not to mention it was at our home field, and the whole field of 40,000 stood up for a standing ovation. At that moment, it was like time had stopped. I was pinch hitting, so I just wanted to bask in it as long as I could. My heart, my adrenaline was going out of the roof. I look at the video now and I could tell I had too much adrenaline. I was swinging a little too hard.
Q: How often do you come back home to Los Angeles?
After the season, I go play baseball in Mexico. This is a year-round game. I play in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa. I play there for about five months. Then I come back for about three weeks, and then I go to my regular season. Mexico is awesome too. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve seen different parts of the world. … Last offseason was my third season (in Mexico). I’m pretty much fluent in Spanish. I could have a conversation in Spanish for hours.
Q: What kind of career did you envision for yourself when you left UCLA in 2008?
I wanted to be in the big leagues by 23. But once you get into pro ball and you talk to guys, you talk to veteran guys, they all say everyone has their own journey. You’ve just got to deal with it and just keep moving forward. It’s taken me longer than I expected, but at the end of the day, I appreciate being here for sure. …
I knew before the (2008) season had started that I was pretty much going to leave. I was talking to a lot of scouts and they told me I was probably going to go within the first five rounds. My head coach, John Savage, he said if you get into those top five rounds, you definitely should go. If I was going in the sixth round, I would’ve gone back to school.
Q: How do you feel about your first major-league stint?
That’s the road for most players. They get a chance, they come up for a little. If an opportunity happens, they do well, they stay around. It’s good I got my feet into the door. At the same time, doing well if I can get that opportunity.
I’ve only had two at-bats. I would like to have more. But I’ve battled and I’ve shown I can have some good at-bats. I would like the results. I came to the field early, I worked hard. I think I made a good impression. The Cardinals organization, they love good teammates, good chemistry, good clubhouse guys.
You never know in this game. I didn’t expect my major league debut so quick. I thought it’d be September of this year.