By Jake Crouse @JakeCrouseMLB
July 4, 2019
PITTSBURGH — Lightning struck beyond left field at PNC Park on Thursday, drawing a gasp from the crowd in the sixth inning. Then thunder struck off the bat of Robel Garcia on the next pitch for his first Major League homer.
The Cubs’ 26-year-old sensation, who had struck for 21 homers in 72 Minor League games this year across Double-A and Triple-A, drove a pitch from Pirates reliever Clay Holmes a projected 416 feet to left-center field to continue a surge of offense by Chicago and push its lead to 11-3, the game’s final margin in an emotional series finale.
“I don’t have the words to describe how big it is,” Garcia said through Cubs pitcher Pedro Strop, “but it does feel really good, and I’m still thinking about it.”
Garcia returned to the dugout and received a couple of celebratory mock kisses on the cheek from teammate Anthony Rizzo, who greeted him earlier in the day with a friendly Italian “buongiorno.”
The rookie infielder, who spent five years overseas playing for UnipolSai Bologna in the Italian Baseball League, made his first Major League start after he was called up on Wednesday and struck out as a pinch-hitter in Chicago’s loss later that evening.
He tripled for his first big league hit in his second at-bat Thursday, then followed with a single before the homer, making him a double shy of the cycle — a feat he admitted he was trying to pull off in his last at-bat in the ninth, when he struck out trying to check his swing.
But the story of the game pales in comparison to the story of the player.
Garcia grew up in Las Matas De Farfan, a town in the western part of the Dominican Republic and home to a number of Major Leaguers, including Phillies infielder Jean Segura. Garcia was signed by the Indians to a Minor League contract on June 20, 2010, but he never rose above Class A in their organization during his four-year tenure.
So Garcia decided to take the interesting route of moving to Italy to play baseball, still hoping for a shot in the Majors.
“I always had that desire to find opportunity to come back to the United States first, and then try to make it to the big leagues, which is every baseball player’s dream,” Garcia said.
“I always thought there was a really good chance, because I was playing for the [Italian] national team, and we were playing around the world everywhere. And there were a lot of scouts scouting those kind of games. And I always thought, ‘OK, there are scouts watching, so that means I’ve got a huge opportunity to do good to make it again.’”
Garcia made a big impression on the Cubs’ scouting department, and the organization decided to take a chance on him by signing him on Oct. 31, 2018, around the time Team Italy traveled to Arizona to take on instructional league teams.
Whatever he showed the Cubs that fall, it’s paid dividends early this year in Double-A and Triple-A, where he’s slashed .285/.364/.594. So it was a long road of work, but Chicago needed only the baseball equivalent of a glance to make the call for Garcia.
“I was a little surprised to get the opportunity that quick,” Garcia said, “but I also was expecting something like that the way I was working. I was working really hard to make this thing possible.”
Much like those who have kept eyes on his fast rise, his new teammates are in awe of what they’ve seen and heard so far.
“What a journey he’s had in the last five years or so,” third baseman David Bote said, “and then raking in the Minor Leagues and then coming here and doing the same thing. What a cool story that is.”
“That makes me feel really, really, really proud of who he is,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “… He [fought] his way back to the United States, and now fulfilling his dream. That means a lot to me, to life, to all the kids that are seeing this guy playing. He never gives up.”