For Players, Futures Game Goes By All Too Quickly

MINNEAPOLIS--When he saw Micah Johnson ground out to end the fifth inning, Nationals righthander Lucas Giolito knew it was his time to pitch.

Lucas Giolito (Courtesy Washington Nationals).

Lucas Giolito (Courtesy Washington Nationals).

His fastball felt good in the bullpen. So did his curveball. The changeup was a little iffy, but that’s OK, with only one inning to pitch, he might not even need to throw one. The jog to the mound is something Giolito has already done too many times to count. Just go out to the mound, throw your eight, watch the catcher throw down to second and then start carving up hitters.

But as he broke into his jog, Giolito quickly realized he'd never done this before. It's one thing to run onto the field in a minor league stadium. It's not even that nerve-jarring to run onto the field in a nearly-empty big league ballpark. But to jog out in front of 37,000+ fans? No one participating in Sunday's Future Game is used to that.

"It's definitely a cool experience. I've never pitched in front of this many people," Giolito said. "It's adrenaline on a whole different level. People watching on TV, it's something I've never done and I have to get used to."

Giolito's night didn't start great. With a fastball that suddenly wasn't behaving like it did in the bullpen (thanks, adrenaline), he gave up a single to Dalton Pompey and then an opposite-field home run to Javier Baez.

Watching a player crush a home run on a pitch most hitters would be fortunate to hit for a single can flush the adrenaline and focus things pretty quickly. Giolito turned to his change to settle down, then retired the last two batters he faced before being relieved by Jake Thompson (Tigers). But his experience of nerves and too much energy was something every Futures Game pitcher and every hitter had to overcome. Adrenaline may help focus a player, but in a situation like this, it can also be overwhelming.

"It's something to work on. Control the adrenaline a little bit," Giolito said.

Royals righthander Christian Binford agreed.

"It was unreal. Running in from the bullpen I didn't look up because I would freak myself out," Binford said. “When I finished pitching, then I was able to look up and take it all in. We were trying to figure out in the dugout, how many people are here. When they announced it was 37,000? Wow. That's the most you may play in front of your whole life. It's incredible."

The experience is one that will serve as a useful memory for players. Nothing can truly prepare a player for his first appearance as a big leaguer, but Sunday's Futures Game is about as close as it gets.

Big league ballpark. Big league-sized crowd. A big day none of these players will forget.

It was the day none of the players wanted to see end. Instead it ended all too quickly. They showed up at noon and were on their way back to the hotel before 8 p.m. Normally when games wrap up, players quickly shower and head for the door. Sunday night? Many had to be pried out of the Twins’ big league clubhouse with a crowbar.

"We don't want to leave. We're sitting in our lockers right now saying, 'Man, this is what (major leaguers) experience every day?' ” Binford said. "It makes you want to get here extremely fast. This is incredible."