He had received the call he was waiting for. Now we were getting ours.
“Mom, Dad, I’m going to Miami tomorrow. They called me up.”
It was Labor Day, and on the line was our 22-year-old son, Matt, who had just been told that his lifelong dream would be realized.
The Florida Marlins were promoting him to the major leagues as part of the team’s September roster expansion. The next day, for the first time, he would be dressing in a major league uniform for a regular-season game.
We could tell our normally stoic son was thrilled. We were teary-eyed.
“We’ll see you there!” his mother, Cindy, and I yelled into the phone.
“You guys are coming?” he said.
What kind of question was that?
“There’s no way we would miss this,” we said.
We were there for Matt’s first T-ball at-bat, when he hit the ball and ran to third base instead of first. We were there when he picked dandelions in the outfield, his focus more on the postgame snacks than whatever happened on the field.
We were there when he smacked his first home run, when he made his first acrobatic catch, when he received his first little trophy and his face lighted up. We were there through good times and bad, on sweltering summer days and freezing winter nights.
If you’re a parent, you understand. Your child develops a passion and you want to share it. For some it’s dancing or singing or acting, young boys and girls with aspirations of becoming a movie or theater star or a Broadway headliner.
Our three boys — Matt is the youngest — all wanted to be ballplayers. And with that dream about to become reality, everything else would be put on hold.
Early the next morning, we caught a flight out of LAX that landed in Fort Lauderdale just in time for a downpour that delayed the start of the Marlins’ game against the New York Mets.
As if we weren’t nervous enough, that gave us an extra hour to get a little more frazzled.
Arriving at Sun Life Stadium, we immediately scanned the Marlins’ bench looking for Matt. And there he was, in pinstriped uniform No. 54, looking comfortable, as if he belonged.
Matt wasn’t in the starting lineup, so as the game went on we settled in, our nerves calming a little. But then, in the 10th inning with the score tied, 4-4, there he suddenly was, standing in the on-deck circle, stretching and taking some practice swings as he prepared to pinch-hit for the pitcher.
Cindy and I couldn’t have reacted more differently. She quickly scrambled out of her seat and took refuge in one of the tunnels down the left-field line, positioned where she could watch but still have some privacy. Me? I sat where I was, frozen.
Although he later admitted to being nervous, Matt looked confident and steady as he stepped into the batter’s box. His photograph and name appeared on the massive video board in right field as he was introduced.
The first pitch from Mets reliever Pedro Beato was a 93-mph fastball and Matt was ready for it, driving it high and long and . . . just on the wrong side of the left-field foul pole. Straighten that one out a little and it’s a home run in his first big league at-bat. Imagine!
Three pitches later, another fastball struck Matt on the left shoulder, leaving a bruise to mark the occasion. A similar pitch had fractured his left elbow at the end of spring training, putting him out of commission for more than a month. This time, fortunately, he simply flipped the bat away and jogged to first base, allowing us to breathe again.
That night, it was hard to fall asleep as images of Matt’s baseball journey raced through my mind: The countless hours spent on youth fields and in batting cages, the miles put on our cars driving to tournaments, the games played in dust bowls with insane early-morning or late-night start times.
Cindy, a pretty good high school softball player, used to catch Matt and his older brothers, Danny and Jason, when they practiced pitching in our backyard, a big stuffed toy animal serving as body armor until a fastball got through one day and that was the end of that.
I recalled the fielding competitions in our backyard, and how the boys tried to hit tennis balls over the house. How they played at Chatsworth High, then college, and I thought about Jason pitching in the minors and how hard Matt and all of us took it when the Houston Astros released him.
Jason graduated from Pepperdine and is now a retail store manager. Danny, the oldest, is a boatswain’s mate in the Coast Guard. We are immensely proud of both, but the baseball dream now rests with the youngest.
The next day, Matt’s girlfriend, Brittany, joined us in time to see Matt in the starting lineup, hitting seventh and playing third base.
Seeing Matt trot out to his position was a familiar image for us, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same. This being the highest level of professional baseball, Mom’s heart raced a little faster and Dad’s foot tapped furiously.
Soon, we experienced one of those special moments we came for. In his first at-bat, in the second inning, Matt sent a knuckleball from the Mets’ R.A. Dickey into center field for his first major league hit, and we were there to watch as the ball was retrieved and tossed to the Marlins’ bench for safekeeping.
Matt, who never gets too high or too low on the field or afterward, stood at first base smiling broadly while we burst with pride.
At dinner afterward, we talked, laughed — and let him pick up the check.
As we parted ways, I remembered calling Matt when he was in the minor leagues and asking him what he was up to. His reply then is truly befitting now.
“Living the dream,” he said.
Fernando Dominguez is a copy editor on The Times’ Sports desk.