Shortstop Royce Clayton never imagined he would be home alone when the news came about his promotion.
Despite being selected as the top prospect in the minor leagues this season by The Sporting News, the former St. Bernard High standout was convinced he would have to wait another season before the San Francisco Giants would promote him.
Clayton, who had a stellar season at double-A Shreveport, had returned to his parents’ Inglewood home after his fourth season in the minors. He thought his 1991 season had ended with the Captains winning the Texas League championship.
Then the news came.
Clayton had just walked through the door and rushed to check the answering machine.
He heard the voice of Giant President and General Manager Al Rosen.
“Royce . . . we’re recalling your contract and we want you to meet us in San Diego. Please call us immediately so we make travel arrangements.”
Clayton, 21, said he had been dreaming about this moment since the Giants made him their top selection in the 1988 draft. And on Sept. 19 his dream became reality.
“I played the message back four or five times,” Clayton said. “I have a lot of friends who like to play practical jokes. Not me, but a couple of my friends used to call and impersonate scouts. One guy told my best friend . . . that he was drafted by the Cubs and he bought it. That was cold, real cold.”
But the Giants weren’t going to keep Clayton waiting any longer. The most talked-about player on sports call-in shows in San Francisco was going to make his major league debut in San Diego. Clayton called and finally reached Rosen at Candlestick Park.
“I wasn’t in shock,” Clayton said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
But Clayton had no one to celebrate with.
“No one was there,” he said. “I ran out back and celebrated with the dogs. I paced up and down saying to myself, ‘I’m going to the show, I’m going to the show.’ ”
The Giants don’t have to worry about Clayton dogging it on the field when they start a three-game series today against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
“I’m going to do everything I can not to go back to the minor leagues,” Clayton said. “I understand what other players mean. Once you get a taste of the majors, you’ll never want to go back. Now that I’ve been here, I have more incentive to work harder.”
Clayton last played at Dodger Stadium for St. Bernard in the 1987 Southern Section 1-A Division championship game. The Vikings lost to Whittier Christian, 8-6, but Clayton knew he would return.
The biggest question was when.
Despite indifference from the Giant front office, Manager Roger Craig couldn’t wait to see Clayton play.
“We’ve heard so much about this kid,” Craig told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s done a lot of things in this organization that have impressed a lot of people.
“They said, ‘Get a look at him,’ I don’t want to get a look at him wearing a uniform. I want to see him play. That way I can get an idea of what he looks like.”
Clayton gave up a baseball scholarship to USC to sign a contract with the Giants because he thought it would be a faster route to the majors. This season Clayton batted .280 with five home runs, 68 runs batted in and 29 errors. He walked 61 times, stole 36 bases and had 102 strikeouts.
Clayton appears to be the Giant shortstop of the future, but the front office didn’t want to rush him through the farm system. The Giants made that mistake when they tried to promote catcher Steve Decker from the double-A level to a starting job this season.
According to published reports, Rosen told reporters that he didn’t want Clayton to feel pressure when he arrived with the club. “I don’t want (reporters) to read into this. I don’t know how much he’ll play. Don’t expect to see his name in the lineup tomorrow. We just want to recognize the outstanding year he’s had.”
But after a week in the majors, Clayton already feels at home. No more bus rides, no budget hotels, no inexpensive restaurants.
The Giants have given red-carpet treatment to their Rolls Royce shortstop.
After making travel arrangements to San Diego--a first-class plane ticket from L.A.--Clayton went on a shopping spree the day of his promotion.
“I love clothes and I needed to release some tension,” Clayton said.
After flying to San Diego, Clayton took a cab to the hotel where the team was staying and nearly made his first mistake. Clayton started to carry his bags to his room--a no-no in the major leagues. If caught, first-time offenders must pay a fine in the players’ kangaroo court.
Clayton received expense money from the traveling secretary: $575 for meal money, $500 for expenses and $200 for a return flight to Los Angeles.
“I made more money in that five minutes than playing two weeks in Shreveport,” said Clayton, who received a two-week net paycheck of $630.
Next came a cab ride to the game. Clayton wanted to arrive early.
At the stadium, Clayton was greeted by slugger Kevin Mitchell.
“He gave me a hug and told me it was about time I got here,” Clayton said.
Clayton said he never was more excited and nervous than when he walked into a players’ clubhouse for the first time. Inside were two long rows of dressing stalls, each containing neatly pressed uniforms. Clayton saw the names of Mitchell, (Will) Clark, (Matt) Williams and (Willie) McGee embossed on the back of uniforms. Stuck in a corner, next to the equipment manager’s locker, was a stall containing Clayton’s uniform and some of his equipment.
Clayton didn’t bring a jockstrap, sliding pants or--worst of all--bats. The Giant equipment manager provided underwear, but Clayton had to borrow bats from another player.
“Mitchell offered to lend me a few of his bats, but I can’t swing one of those things,” Clayton said. “They’re too heavy. Will (Clark) came over and gave me two of his bats.
“I call them pearls. They’re beautifully shellacked and made of major league wood, not some cheap compound. I’ve never seen anything like them.”
In his first at-bat, Clayton took a ball high, fouled off a pitch, then crushed one to right-center field that San Diego Padre outfielder Thomas Howard caught. Clayton did get his first major league hit in the seventh, a double down the left-field line.
Clayton, as is a baseball custom, received the game ball after getting his first hit, but his teammates played a practical joke before he got his memento.
“Will tossed me what I thought was the game ball,” Clayton said. “They had misspelled my last name three different times and wrote the wrong uniform number on it. The ball was a mess.
“I wondered how I was going to put it with my other trophies. Then someone told me ‘Don’t worry, that’s not your ball.’ ”
In 13 plate appearances, Clayton is batting only .077. He has walked once and struck out twice. Clayton, however, is not worried.
“I’m swinging the bat pretty well,” he said. “I’m not disappointed. They’ll start falling in.”
Clayton doesn’t expect any dog-day afternoons when he plays this weekend before family and friends at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s going to be sweet,” Clayton said. “There’s no pressure. I had a dream that I made some great defensive plays and had a double and a triple. And when I got home, we had a big celebration.”
But this time, he won’t be home alone.