Wander Franco’s big league debut has been long-awaited by Rays fans and baseball’s number one prospect did not disappoint the team or fans.
Tropicana Field. The dumpster of all baseball fields. Most consider this field to be a complete joke and not an enjoyable place to watch a ballgame. However, I have always loved the big, dull dome. Growing up as a huge baseball fan, living not too far from the Trop meant lots of visits throughout my lifetime. I’ve seen countless empty stadiums, opening days, and even a handful of full houses, but nothing, besides possibly the playoffs, compares to the energy and environment Tropicana Field had Tuesday night for Wander Franco’s debut.
Who is Wander Franco?
Almost four years ago, Tampa Bay made a splash in the international signing portal by inking in the number one ranked foreign prospect. Wander Franco, sixteen years old at the time, was considered to be a five-tool player. His flashes on both sides of the game, as well as both sides of the plate, are a lethal combination rarely seen at such young ages. Furthermore, when the small market, cheap Tampa Bay Rays are willing to sign a teenager who can barely even drive to a multi-million dollar deal, the kid must have some incredible talent.
Wander Franco reigns from the Dominican Republic and has made a rapid rise in the highly-touted Rays’ farm system. Despite not even being in his 20s yet, Franco had been awarded baseball’s highest-ranked pipeline prospect for two years in a row. Even more impressive, Franco was a Vegas favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year even though he was not assigned to the major league roster to begin the season. However, after months and months of waiting, the Rays announced a week ago that he’d be making his major league debut in the series opener against the AL East leading Boston Red Sox.
Immediately following this announcement, I made it my mission to get a group to go to the game with. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could not be missed, especially in such an important homestand. And wow, what a great decision that was. Yes, Tampa Bay walked away from the night with a frustrating extra-inning loss, but the bigger story was Wander Franco’s first appearances at Tropicana Field.
The stadium certainly was not sold out nor that close to it, but it would blow the average attendance out of the water. Finding a place to sit in the Trop is never an issue, as it is quite common to find people not sitting in their ticketed seats. Tuesday night was not one of those nights, especially with my tickets being in left-field. With Wander expected to hit righty against the left-handed Eduardo Rodriguez, left field was the place to be.
Before the game even began, Wander’s appearance from the clubhouse spurred an uproar from fans. Wander may be the biggest prospect the Rays have ever had and he could end up playing a huge part in their postseason run. The top half of the first could not have gone by any slower, with two runners reaching base and Kevin Cash making a very typical pitching change. Then, after they finally escaped the frame, Yandy Diaz was set to lead off, and I am unsure if I’ve ever wanted an at-bat to finish any quicker. Finally, the moment had come and the entire stadium rose to their feet to witness history.
A very long standing ovation, accompanied by loud chants of “WANDER FRANCO” was unfortunately a let down when the heavy hitter only drew a walk. The walk was vital as he eventually scored later on, but it was a mundane result for such a dramatic build-up. After getting out in his second appearance, fans had begun to settle a little and the elated environment had diminished. However, in his third attempt, fans did not even get a chance to appreciate him before him ripping a clutch, game-tying three-run homerun to… left field.
The ball ended up landing around seventy feet from my seat, but it was irrelevant as the entire stadium imploded with excitement. Being a part of this historical first hit, homerun, and RBI was incomparable. Fans would not sit back down. Fans would not stop cheering. Tropicana Field had truly become the place to be in all of America. After rounding the bases and receiving an abundance of hugs from his teammates, Wander made a curtain call which doubled the noise and chaos in the stadium.
The game as a whole was a very interesting, close game to watch. Fans excitement was out of this world. It could be argued it was even too hectic as at one point in the game a ball thrown into the stands by Randy Arozarena was immediately fired back at him and only missed by a couple of feet. This fan would then be ejected, which was just as hype as when security escorted the lucky fan who caught Wander’s first homerun.
Despite the eventual heart-wrenching loss, Tropicana Field and the Tampa Bay Rays had been more than pleased with the game. That stadium had not felt like that for me in many years. Wander Franco not only lived up to his expectations but surpassed them as in just his first game he was responsible for four of the five runs scored. This kid, who is somehow two months younger than me, is the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. I hope he can be the reason this team can build up a greater fanbase and remain in the Bay area. His importance to this team is so immense, something no twenty-year-old may ever experience, but so far Wander has shown the hype is real and the league should be worried for what is yet to come.
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