Starkey: Bucs' d'Arnaud Chasing dream
By Joe Starkey
Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011
Time will tell whether Chase d'Arnaud, the Pirates' new third baseman, makes it in the major leagues. Just know this: If he fails, it won't be for a lack of talent.
D'Arnaud's d'facto fan club testified to his d'termination by telling a wonderful tale before Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox. The group included his father, Lance, four of his old teammates from Los Alamitos (Calif.) High, a few of his high school coaches and his girlfriend, Niki Lisenko.
They'd flown in from Los Angeles — Lance took the red-eye Thursday night — for Chase's debut Friday and were snapping cell phone shots yesterday as he took pregame grounders before another pulsating win over the Boston Red Sox, this one before a PNC Park record crowd of 39,483.
When I asked for a story that would best reflect Chase's personality, ex-teammate Matt Yonaki didn't hesitate. Los Alamitos was playing in Las Vegas in 2005 when the kids spotted baseball legend Pete Rose at a hotel autograph show.
"Chase didn't ask for an autograph or anything," Yonaki recalled. "He just walked up to Pete Rose, calm as can be, and said, 'I'm going to have more hits than you.' "
Going into today's series finale, d'Arnaud still needs 4,254 hits to catch Rose, but who cares• The Pirates are three games out of first place, and d'Arnaud's debut was one for the memory banks. He and younger brother Travis — a catcher in the Blue Jays organization — had been chasing the big league dream since they were old enough to tie their shoes.
"Once I put that Wiffle ball bat in (Chase's) hands, he never let go," Lance said. "I remember carrying him in my backpack mowing the lawn, and he'd have a bat in his hands, swinging as we went along."
Chase kept swinging, all the way to Pepperdine University, to the fourth round of the 2008 draft, through the Pirates' system and finally to Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon. Given the uncertainty surrounding Pedro Alvarez, he might be here for a while, too.
The enormity of the moment hit d'Arnaud upon his arrival at PNC Park on Friday.
"When I saw my locker with my name on it," he said, "I just kind of stared at it in disbelief, like, 'I'm here.' "
Not long after that, d'Arnaud, 24, turned to locker-mate Neil Walker and said, "How did you calm your nerves?"
Mind you, this was no September call-up for a nothing game. This was as big as any home game the Pirates had played in, what, 14 years• And for good measure, d'Arnaud had played all of eight games at third base in the minors. He is a shortstop by trade, though he played third for much of his college career.
Walker was a good choice for counsel, as he didn't find his position (second base) until he reached the majors. He's also a great teammate.
"I told him, 'Try not to look at the upper deck, and don't worry about the names on the backs of the jerseys,' " Walker recounted yesterday. "He was definitely baptized in fire."
By game time, the nerves had eased. D'Arnaud's first chance was a slow roller. He specializes in those. He charged the ball and threw a dart to first ("I like that play," he said last night, after making a few more just like it). Later, he cracked his first major league hit, a triple to deep left off Red Sox ace Jon Lester. He finished 1 for 3 in a 3-1 victory.
D'Arnaud's teammates then threw him a mini clubhouse celebration — "Yelling and hollering," he said — and presented him with the game ball; the balls from his first at-bat, his first hit and his first defensive play; and the official scorecard.
In the family waiting room, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle greeted Lance d'Arnaud.
"He let me know I should enjoy the good moments, really embrace them, because there will be a lot of not-so-good moments," Lance said, laughing. "I thought that was great advice because this is a game of failure."
The d'Arnaud party then headed out for a quiet meal. Chase was, by all accounts, his usual calm, cool and collected self. Inside, however, he was bubbling with the barely containable excitement of a man who had just realized his boyhood dream.
"He probably didn't tell you guys this," said Lisenko, d'Arnaud's girlfriend of six months, as the other men listened in. "But (back at the hotel), he was like, 'Oh my God, I made it! I made it!' He just let it all out."
Most d'finitely a night to remember, in what is beginning to shape up as a season filled with them.
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