During the Atlanta Braves’ 13-4 Infielder Sean Kazmar Jr., who lost to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday, hit the fifth inning as a pinch hitter, saw four pitches and ended up in a double. The three-minute gig doesn’t seem like much, but it meant the world to Kazmar and his family. It was Kazmar’s first major league game since September 23, 2008 – a period of 4,589 days.
“Definitely everything and much more,” said a beaming Kazmar after the game. “What an incredible feeling.”
Kazmar’s story is about intransigence and optimism and, as Brian Snitker, manager of Braves, said, perhaps fitting a movie or book. Kazmar first fulfilled his dream at the age of 24 in 2008 when he was called up by the Padres to replace injured shortstop Khalil Greene. He played 19 games, starting in 11 and hitting .205.
Like any professional baseball player, Kazmar hoped to stay there. But instead he was back in the minors where in 2009 The journey and payment are far away from the charter planes and millionaires of the big leagues. He spent two seasons with the AAA Padres class team. He was with the Seattle Mariners AAA team in 2011, was on the Mets system, and joined the Atlanta AAA team in Gwinnett in 2013.
In total, Kazmar played 1,106 minor league games between his major league appearances. During this time he heard comparisons with Crash Davis, the player who inspired the main character in the movie “Bull Durham”. But even when Kazmar was stuck in the minors, he said this month and a half in the majors were the greatest days of his life and part of why he was still in his 30s.
“There could have been obvious times when I doubted the opportunity would ever arise,” he said on Saturday. “But to be honest, it never really left me and, especially in recent years, I still felt that I could play at this level.”
In 2019, 34-year-old Kazmar had one of his best seasons after signing a new minor league deal with Atlanta. He scored 0.270 with 12 home runs and 61 runs in the entire infield.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. Kazmar said he couldn’t get a job outside of baseball because he wasn’t sure he would end up on an expanded major league list and began taking out unemployment insurance like so many minor league players. (The minor league season was canceled.) Instead of playing, Kazmar was with his wife and two boys in their home in Arizona – time he would otherwise not have had while pursuing his dream.
“I know he was crazy about not being on holy ground last year, and he was probably the spring training MVP for the third year in a row,” said Snitker, who led Kazmar for several years at AAA.
But when Atlanta suffered a string of injuries on Friday – second baseman Ozzie Albies was unlucky in the leg and outfielder Ender Inciarte was knocked out with a thigh strain – Kazmar finally had a way back to the big leagues. Kazmar, who was on Atlanta’s pandemic reserve plan, said he was in his hotel room watching the Braves play. He received a call a few hours after the game.
“That was probably one of the greatest moments I’ve had as a manager at all levels, honestly,” said Snitker.
When Snitker was promoted to Major League Manager from the Braves’ AAA team during the 2016 season, he said one of the biggest things that could happen to him is having Kazmar by his side. Although Snitker said he wasn’t sure how long it would take Kazmar at the big league club, he was thrilled that their goal came true on Saturday.
The last player with a longer gap between major league games loudly the Elias Sports Bureauwas Ralph Winegarner, who spent 13 years 14 days between pitching performances for Cleveland in 1936 and the St. Louis Browns in 1949.
“It was definitely worth the wait to come back and get in there for another one,” said Kazmar of his lone blow on Saturday.
Although Kazmar said it felt like time had passed, he was blurry in some of his own stories. When Kazmar was asked on Saturday if he remembered the previous time at the majors, he confused it for the previous game. “It’s been that long,” he admitted with a laugh.
Only one other player from Kazmar’s previous appearance in the big league is still in the majors: Wade LeBlanc (36), who started for the Padres that day and is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles bullpen. The starters of the opposing Los Angeles Dodgers that day included Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra.
“You go in between ’08 and ’21, you have to kid me,” Snitker said of Kazmar. “To have the stamina and the commitment and the drive – and he’ll get better as a player.”
Although playing minor league baseball wasn’t particularly lucrative or stable, Kazmar said he was also driven because he had loved baseball since he was 4. He was born a Braves fan in Valdosta, Ga. It was the first jersey he ever wore so it was special for him to wear it in a major league game.
Kazmar said his wife and mother dropped everything to do a roach flight on Friday night and get to Chicago in time to watch his lone bat. And during the game, Kazmar said he was nervous and emotional.
“Obviously, at the beginning of my career, I didn’t try to play triple-A my entire career,” he said. “It just happened that way. At the same time, I would do it again for a day like today. “