Column: Gavin Lux lives up to the hype in his opening act with the Dodgers
Talk about a wake-up call.
The Dodgers’ newest arrival was in the lobby of a local hotel Monday morning buying a coffee when he was approached by a man who spotted him while exiting an elevator.
“Are you Gavin Lux?” the guy asked.
Understand, Gavin Lux is a 21-year-old infielder who had been in Los Angeles barely 12 hours. He had spent the summer playing for two teams in Oklahoma. He had never worn a Dodgers uniform in a regular-season game.
Yet a complete stranger quickly recognized him at a distant coffee stand, a development so startling, Lux answered the identity question as if he weren’t sure of himself.
Joc Pederson hits two home runs before a collision with the right field wall ends his night early in the Dodgers’ 16-9 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
The man asked Lux to pose for a photo. Lux complied and was still amazed Monday afternoon when talking about the incident before his celebrated debut.
“That was the first time that’s ever happened to me like that,” he said. “It was kind of weird but cool at the same time.”
Get used to it, kid. This is where you’ve landed. This is where your amazing bat has brought you. This is what it looks like in the heart of Dodgers hope.
“Now we get a chance to put our eyes on Gavin Lux,” manager David Roberts announced before the Dodgers’ 16-9 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night, and those eyes have since been officially opened.
The most hyped Dodgers prospect in recent memory lived up to every bit of it in an opening act that contained a little bit of everything.
He banged a single off the first pitch he saw. In his next plate appearance, he doubled into the gap on a full count. He nearly homered on a long fly ball to center. He hustled to first on a grounder that was botched by second baseman Ryan McMahon. He broke his bat on a popup to the shortstop.
All this, and he ran the base paths well and threw three runners out from second base while showing none of the yips that have occasionally plagued him.
“He showed well tonight,” Roberts said, later adding, “He just looks like a big league ballplayer.”
The crowd loved him, roaring for him from the moment he was announced during pregame introductions, cheering his every move. Dodgers fans have clearly been waiting for this. So has Lux, who, with his blond hair and sharp features, looks a bit like Roy Hobbs in “The Natural.”
“The Dodger fans, they showed me a little bit of love. ... It was kind of emotional, to be honest with you,” Lux said.
That emotion was shared by his family, who flew in from his hometown of Kenosha, Wis., earlier Monday and sat in the loge-level seats behind home plate. After Lux’s first hit, his father, Tom Lux Jr., broke down in tears.
Said the father: “The whole thing was surreal.”
Said the son: “My dad started crying, and I thought, ‘Oh man, I thought he was a tough guy. Out of all of them, I thought he was going to be the one to not do that.’ ”
There is ample reason for all this buzz. First, Lux was the hottest hitter in the minor leagues, finishing 49 games at triple-A Oklahoma City with 13 homers, 39 runs batted in and a 1.197 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Also, the Dodgers’ refusal to trade him in July is the main reason they did not acquire the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Felipe Vazquez to fortify their balky bullpen.
He thus represents both the promise of their future and their predicament in the present, which also makes him perhaps the most pressure-cooked rookie in recent Dodgers history.
“Obviously there’s pressure, like you guys keep saying,” he said, drawing a laugh from the media crowd around him before the game. “Obviously the stage is a little bigger, but at the end of the day you’ve got to catch it, you’ve got to run, you’ve got to throw, you got to hit it. ... Same game.”
The Dodgers refused to trade Gavin Lux, even for a much-needed reliever, because he has blossomed as a prospect with a lethal bat and stellar work ethic.
He did all of that on a night that seemed unimaginable to him barely 24 hours earlier. Lux, who heard the Dodgers might stash him until next season, was surprised when he walked into the clubhouse at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City on Sunday morning and was summoned into the office of manager Travis Barbary.
“Hey man, you have an off day today,” Barbary said, in a conversation recounted by Lux.
“Off? I had an off day two days ago!” Lux said.
“Well, you’ve got to catch a 4:30 flight to L.A., man. You just got called up,” Barbary said.
Despite his minor league exploits, the Dodgers weren’t planning on using him regularly until next season. There was some thought he wouldn’t get recalled at all. It appears the wrist injury to second baseman Max Muncy might have helped changed that timetable.
“He earned his way here. He knocked the door down,” Roberts said. “It’s really good to see young players do it that way.”
Lux immediately called his parents, they cried together, and soon they were on that plane, flying here as if in a dream. They were joined at the game by his aunt and uncle, a family friend and two agents.
Said his mother, Heather: “I keep pinching myself.”
Said his father: “I woke up this morning. We’re on the plane, and I’m thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ ”
His father believed it when, before leaving Monday afternoon for the game, he noticed a hotel bartender showing his credit card to other patrons. Like his son, he was about to have his first Hollywood moment.
“The guy looks back and says, ‘Are you related to Gavin Lux?’ ” Tom Jr. said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m his dad,’ and suddenly all these people are coming over to me. It was kind of weird.”
His childhood pals wanted to join the Lux contingent here, but, well, they’re still in college and couldn’t afford it.
Julio Urias will be limited to about three innings and 45 pitches when he starts for the Dodgers on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.
“A lot of my buddies wanted to come out, but they couldn’t hop on that last-second flight. A little expensive for a couple of college kids,” Lux said.
That shows you how young he is, right? What would be even more surreal is if Lux can play his way onto the postseason roster, which would certainly be a bonus that would also serve to quiet the critics — including this one — who felt the Dodgers should have acquired Vazquez at all costs.
When asked whether he could envision a postseason scenario for Lux, Roberts paused and said: “Yeah. You’re trying to find the best 12 to 13 position players to formulate your roster. To say that’s impossible, that’s not the case.”
When the night ended, Lux posed for a photo with the ball from his first hit, but he didn’t keep it for long. He walked out of the clubhouse and handed the plastic-encased souvenir to his family.
“Every kid’s dream,” Gavin Lux had said earlier, and it could be just beginning.
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