Backyard Dreams Come True
Growing up, kids of all ages in backyards across the World, we all dreamt of that magical moment – bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth, full count and you step up to the plate.
You toss the plastic whiffle ball up to yourself, swing that giant over-sized plastic bat…
“AHHHH!! THE CROWD GOES WILD!! LITTLE JOHNNY WINS THE GAME WITH A GRAND SLAM!!”
We’ve all done it. Hell, some of us still do it. And it’s not just baseball, it’s every sport – making that game winning three-pointer, catching the game winning touchdown, or scoring the game winning goal on a penalty shot or free kick.
The point is, is that no matter how old you get, you’re never too old to live your dream. Some get there faster than others and some are so gifted, so talented, that unless something derails them, they are destined for stardom.
Then there are the few that derailment happens but the fight, the intensity, the determination inside them never gives up. People around them support them and love them and encourage them and they claw their way back into relevancy – despite the naysayers. They get that rare second chance. They get that chance to live that backyard dream – again. And they do.
Josh Hamilton is that person.
Then there are the insanely talented and gifted. Gifted with size, power, speed and athleticism. They are gifted with determination and the will to succeed. They use that will to take their talents to the next level. They use that will to better their minds at their profession, they use that will to make themselves a better person, to make their dreams not only come true, but to make their dreams become Hall of Fame dreams.
Joey Gallo is that person.
Gallo grew up and played baseball with people of his same stature. He was a pitcher at one point, and his catcher was some kid named Bryce Harper. Gallo’s best friend back in his hometown of Las Vegas was some dude named Kris Bryant.
While at the time, Gallo probably had no idea he was surrounded by the right people, he probably suspected as he got older that something special was happening.
He was right.
All three of those guys were drafted out of High School. Although Bryant would choose to go to school, Gallo and Harper traded in The Strip lights for the stadium lights.
Gallo would immediately set the professional baseball world on fire, in a different way than Harper. Harper is a freak, an immortal. He is on his own planet.
Gallo came in and set the Arizona Fall League home run record with 18 long balls in 150 at bats. He had just graduated – from high school. That was good enough to earn him a late season promotion to Short Season Spokane for the final 16 games of their season.
His K rate spiked, his batting average plummeted to just above the Mendoza Line and his OPS was the lowest of his minor league career, and still is. But there were things that Gallo did well. He made adjustments on the fly. He continued to walk, get on base, and hit home runs. Gallo wasn’t going to let the strikeouts bother him or affect the rest of his game.
That would be the only 16 games he would spend in Spokane as Gallo began the 2013 season in Low A Hickory. If there were ever a prime example of a powerful, toolsy, raw talent filled team, it was the 2013 Hickory Crawdads.
At just 19 years old, Gallo, at more than 2.5 years younger than his average competition, hit 38 home runs (he had 40 total that year – two with the Rookie Ball Rangers) and became the first teenager to hit 40 home runs in the minor leagues since 1962.
As great as that all was, that’s not what scouts were talking about. They were talking about his astonishing 42% K-rate. He struck out 172 times in 411 official at bats. That was very alarming and had some scouts writing him off. One of his biggest comps, again, at the time, was Cody Johnson – a powerful but failed Atlanta Braves first round pick. More recently he’s drawing comps to Adam Dunn.
What Gallo did next was perhaps the biggest step in his entire career, and could have saved it as well. He reached out to longtime acquaintance, former MVP Jason Giambi. Giambi and Gallo worked all offseason on becoming a better hitter and Giambi taught the young grasshopper that walks are a good thing. But Giambi wasn’t the only major leaguer Gallo was working with. If he wasn’t hitting the cages with Giambi, he was hitting the dirt with Rockies Gold Glove shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
That next year, 2014, Gallo started off in High A Myrtle Beach and everything that he had worked on with Giambi was paying off. Gallo dropped his K rate from a paltry 37% to a more manageable 26% and upped his BB rate from 10.8% to nearly 21%! Gallo did all of this in just 58 games.
Gallo showed the willingness to listen, make the right adjustments, and better himself as a player and a teammate. That was good enough to earn himself an early season promotion to AA Frisco.
Oh man, what a debut that was.
I was at this game and Gallo, through his first four at bats, looked lost. Overmatched. He was flailing at curve balls down and away, getting caught looking on pitches on the corners – he looked nervous and wasn’t comfortable at all.
Until the bottom of the ninth inning. That’s when Joey Gallo let the Texas League know who he was and what he was really about.
Despite hitting 21 home runs for Frisco the rest of the way, he did struggle to adjust to Texas League pitching. Rightfully so, as Gallo was more than three years younger than his average competition. Gallo wasn’t even old enough to drink an adult beverage yet, but there he was, playing professional baseball , just two steps away from his Big League Dreams.
Seeing him in person often that summer, I noticed that pitchers were adjusting to him quickly. He was laying off the breaking pitches down and away, so pitchers starting bringing him high and inside heat. Gallo couldn’t lay off. His k rate again spiked to nearly 40% and his average plummeted to .232 and his OBP percentage, while still healthy, fell to .334 compared to his video game rate of .463 in Myrtle Beach.
Gallo would continue to work with Giambi and again would make the adjustments necessary to take his game to the next level.
The results have shown for Gallo in Frisco this season. He’s hitting .314/.425 with nine home runs in 146 plate appearances. This comes after missing the first two weeks of the season with a heel injury that needed minor surgery. Gallo has dropped his K rate to 33%, that still needs some work, but it’s showing improvement over the 40% it was the end last season.
His walk rate has gone up, his K rate has gone down but his average and OBP have gone up. That tells me that Gallo made the adjustments and is making more contact and finding more ways to get on base than just his power stroke. That is a huge turning point for Gallo. The home runs will come. His 80 grade power is extremely rare in today’s game. Don’t worry about the home runs.
But while Gallo was mashing the ball some 40 miles up 121, the unimaginable happened. Adrian Beltre got hurt and has to spend time on the DL.
Everyone immediately started clamoring for Gallo.
They got their wish.
Jon Daniels announced yesterday that Joey Gallo would get the call up to replace Beltre on the active roster while he is out. Daniels made it very clear that once Beltre comes back, Gallo will go back to the minors, this time to AAA.
Beltre is expected to miss at least two weeks and could miss more.
But for these next two plus weeks, Joey Gallo, the 21 year old power phenom will get to live out his backyard dreams. Joey Gallo will trade in the distracting between inning on-field entertainment of the minor leagues for the big lights and 40,000 screaming Rangers fans.
It makes no difference to Gallo. He will still take the time to sign autographs for as many fans as he can. Gallo will still soak in all the knowledge he can from Beltre, Prince Fielder and anyone else who gives him advice.
While Gallo may not get the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out backyard dream scenario, he will get to live his ultimate, all ball players, ultimate dream.
He will play baseball in a backyard – our backyard.
Welcome to The Show Joey.