OAKLAND ‘“ When Mark Kiger’s plane touched down at Oakland airport Tuesday morning, it was one of the most exciting days of his young life ‘“ and perhaps a piece of baseball history.
Kiger is the emergency postseason replacement on the A’s roster for the American League Championship Series; a minor leaguer who had never previously even appeared on a 40-man roster. But when second baseman Mark Ellis went down with a broken finger in the Divisional Series, Kiger would become a major leaguer.
“Awesome. Exciting. I’ve got a lot of adrenalin flowing,” Kiger said. “It’s a good feeling.”
If Kiger appears in a game, he will become the first player ever to make his major-league debut in the postseason, the Elias Bureau told A’s media relations official Mike Selleck. Baseball historians are still scouring records to determine whether any player has appeared on a postseason roster without actually entering a game who had not previously appeared in the major leagues.
Kiger had to arrange family tickets for the Oakland Coliseum, receiving eight player passes that he passed along to his aunt and some friends. His father Chuck Kiger will meet up with his son when the team moves on to Detroit on Friday.
As soon as Kiger learned the news on Monday afternoon that he would receive the promotion, he called his father, then his wife, then a number of friends.
Kiger had been working with a traveling baseball team in Temecula, Calif., when he received the call from the A’s Pamela Pitts assigning him to report to instructional league. “They called me an said to get to Phoenix,” Kiger said. “I worked out a couple of days and came here.”
The A’s major league staff has not had much opportunity to evaluate Kiger, but the initial report is solid.
“He’s a young kid that can catch the ball,” A’s infield coach Ron Washington said of Kiger, 26. “Wherever I hit the ball, he caught it. I haven’t had a chance to get a lot of looks at him. Our minor-league system said the kid can catch the ball, and that’s enough for me.”
D’Angelo Jimenez moved into Ellis’ second-base job, and blew a critical double play that cost the A’s two runs in a 5-1 loss to the Tigers Tuesday night in the opening game of the ALCS.
Kiger followed Ellis at the University of Florida, then was selected by the A’s in the fifth round in ’02. During his four-plus years in the system, he has shown himself to be a solid defensively player at second, short and third, the kind of player with the potential to become a backup infielder. His offensive numbers have never been striking. This year, he hit .233/.348/.330 in 61 games at Sacramento. However, with Jimenez and Ginter in the middle infield, Kiger was not getting much playing time, so he was sent back to Double-A Midland, where he hit .307/.370/.450 with six homers in 58 games and played primarily third base.
The infield shortage occurred because of a series of injuries and an unexpected loss. Starting shortstop Bobby Crosby has missed most of the second half with recurring back problems and has been replaced by Marco Scutaro, who had a pair of big hits against the Twins. Backup Antonio Perez broke a finger during the final series of the regular season, then Ellis went down with his broken finger. Jimenez, a former major league starter, was signed after being released by the Rangers, but had spent most of the year at Sacramento. Mike Rouse had been the top infielder in the system, but the A’s needed room on the 40-man roster late in the season and took him off, only to have the Indians claim him.
So that left the shortage in the infield and the sudden and shocking opportunity for Kiger. He is not expected to get much playing time–perhaps as a late-inning defensive replacement should the A’s hit for Jimenez, or as a pinch-runner, or if the plague of broken fingers continues. But Cinderella stories are made of such things. And for a 26-year-old minor leaguer who has never had a sniff of the majors, this will be one October to remember.