Image credit: CJ Abrams (Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO—CJ Abrams insists he wasn’t nervous. His manager saw otherwise.
Whatever Abrams was feeling when he stepped to the plate for his first career at-bat at Petco Park on Thursday night, there was no doubting the emotion he was feeling by the end of it.
Joy. Pure, unadulterated joy.
Abrams, the No. 9 prospect on the BA Top 100, hit his first career home run in his first career at-bat at Petco Park in front of a sellout crowd for the Padres home opener, helping the Padres to a 12-1 win over the Braves.
Leading off the second inning against veteran Braves righthander Charlie Morton, Abrams drove an 0-1 fastball off the outside corner 360 feet the other way over the short wall in left field for his first career homer. It snapped a 1-for-14 slump and gave the Padres No. 1 prospect the first signature moment of his burgeoning major league career.
“Just running around the bases, I felt super light,” Abrams said. “Everybody was loud. I enjoyed it.”
Abrams, 21, was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster after playing just 76 career games in the minor leagues, including only 42 at Double-A and none at Triple-A. Fernando Tatis Jr.’s offseason wrist injury created an opportunity for Abrams to make the roster, and the 2019 first-round pick took advantage by batting .324/.359/.514 in spring training to win a spot.
He’s opened the season splitting starting shortstop duties with Ha-Seong Kim and got the nod for the home opener. With a crowd of 44,844 fans giving him a hearty ovation during pregame introductions and as he walked up to the plate for his first at-bat, he delivered a moment to remember.
Abrams fouled away a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone to start the at-bat. Morton came back with a 94 mph fastball off the outside corner, and this time, Abrams squared it up.
“I had a feeling,” he said. “I didn’t know if I hit it high enough, but I got it pretty good.”
The ball left his bat at 100.6 mph and landed three rows deep into a sea of outstretched hands rising up from the left-field bleachers. Abrams rounded the bases, soaking in the moment, while his parents watched from the stands.
“I promise you he was nervous out there when he took the field today,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “So to put together that kind of at-bat against that type of a pitcher, hit it the other way here at night, not easy to do. I mean it was a fantastic at-bat for a guy you expect to have some nerves playing at home in front of this type of crowd.”
When Abrams returned to the Padres dugout after rounding the bases, he received the silent treatment from his teammates before they collectively mobbed him. The sellout crowd was anything but silent, ringing out chants of “C-J! C-J!”, imploring him to come out for a curtain call.
After a few seconds, he emerged from the Padres dugout, raised his right arm, made a fist and pumped it in salute to the crowd.
“It felt amazing,” Abrams said. “That was a dream come true.”
Abrams had not gotten the ball back yet in the moments after the game’s conclusion. When he does get it back, he said he plans to give it to his dad.
In years past, the same swing on the same pitch might have resulted in a double in the left-field corner. A skinny teenager when he was drafted, Abrams has put in considerable work to add weight and strength to his frame.
While he still has room to grow, he’s beginning to see the results. After hitting five home runs in his 76 career minor league games, he has three home runs in 23 games between spring training and the regular season this year.
“I mean, I’m getting more physical,” Abrams said. “The power thing, I knew it was going to come getting more physical. Just kind of swinging at more strikes too is another part of it.”
If all goes according to plan, it will be the first of many memorable moments for the talented young shortstop. Even so, a home run in his first career at-bat in his home stadium in front of a sellout crowd will be hard to beat.
“It was a blessing,” Abrams said. “It feels good. Put all the work in and it pays off.”