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After paying their dues, some players finally get their big league reward

John Lindsey spent 16 years in the minor leagues, or 1,571 games, before getting called up by the Dodgers last week.

Like a few other long-time minor league players who are getting their first shot at the big leagues this year, Lindsey is a beneficiary of a rule that allows major league rosters to expand from 25 players to 40 in September.

Often, a team in the hunt for the playoffs will grab an extra catcher or another arm for the bullpen. But if the team is out of it, September is used to give a prized prospect a glimpse of the major leagues, or to reward a player who has had a solid minor league season.

Lindsey, a first baseman who was one of five players the Dodgers plucked from triple-A Albuquerque, is the latter, having spent the longest time in the minors for any current player without a major league call-up.

He led the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.356) and slugging percentage (.663) to earn his first trip to the majors. Lindsey isn’t alone, as some other long-time minor league players are making their major league debuts this month:

J.C. Boscan, catcher, Atlanta Braves / 976 minor league games

The 30-year-old, who signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela, played 14 minor league seasons, including 12 with the Braves. He batted .250 (55 for 220) this season with 21 runs batted in for the Braves’ triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves. In eight seasons at the triple-A level, he batted .247.

“Tears came out of my eyes, I put my head down,” Boscan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the day he heard he got called up. “I didn’t know whether to cry, or laugh. It was a feeling I’ve been hoping, waiting for so long.”

Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia told Mark Bowman of MLB.com that Boscan’s work ethic and attitude helped get him the call-up.

“He’s everybody’s favorite,” Cadahia said. “He’s one of those kids that got along with everybody. He never caused any problems. He just played and he could always catch. It’s a very gratifying day. It’s great to see him here.”

Brian Esposito, catcher, Houston Astros / 669 minor league games

The 31-year-old, who signed at 21, played 11 minor league seasons with six teams. A fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2000, the former University of Connecticut star was released in the middle of the 2003 season and picked up by the Angels.

In 2004, the Texas Rangers signed him and the next year he was with the Memphis Redbirds, the triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent a week with St. Louis in 2007, playing half an inning in one game but never batted. By 2008, he was with the Astros organization.

This season he batted .225 (34 for 151) with 18 RBIs for the Astros’ triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express.

“At the end of the day, I put all the work in and to get an opportunity like this makes you feel like all the hard work you’ve put into it has paid off,” Esposito told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com.

Max St. Pierre, catcher, Detroit Tigers / 978 minor league games

The 30-year-old, who signed at 17, played in 14 minor league seasons. He spent one year in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the rest with the Tigers. He batted .300 (39 for 130) with 22 RBIs this season with the Tigers’ triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens.

“I’m still dreaming,” he told the Detroit Free Press of his first day with the team.

When reporters mentioned Lindsey, St. Pierre replied, “Really? Sixteen years down there? Any time you get past 10 years in the minors and get called up, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ ”

St. Pierre, a native of Quebec, Canada, was a little luckier than Lindsey in that on the day he was called up he not only got his first major league hit, but started the game-winning rally to help the Tigers get past the Kansas City Royals, 6-4.

Perhaps the most famous long-time minor league player to get called up, though, was former Dodgers infielder Maury Wills, who spent nine seasons in the minors before making his debut in 1959.

He would go on to play 14 years in the big leagues, was on five All-Star teams, was the National League most valuable player in 1962 and was a member of three World Series winning teams.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com


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