Monster Mookie: Betts notches first career homer
Red Sox prospect receives ball from former high school baseball opponent
BOSTON -- The first ball Mookie Betts launched out of a big league stadium Wednesday night will eventually go to his mom, like the ball he grounded up the middle against the Yankees for his first career hit Sunday night.
But for now, Betts joked that he has a little while to stare at it until he turns it over to his family and never sees it again.
Luckily, he didn't have to do much work to retrieve the home run ball from the fan who caught it.
"No, actually, I played against him in high school, the guy, I found out," Betts said after the Red Sox's 16-9 loss to the Cubs at Fenway. "So he said as soon as he got it, he wanted to find a way to get it to me, and I really appreciated that."
Betts ripped a two-run shot into the Green Monster seats in the bottom of the fifth inning against Cubs right-hander Carlos Villanueva for his first career dinger.
Chris Large, who caught Betts' homer, is from Cookeville, Tenn., just a few miles from where Betts grew up. Large pitched against the Red Sox outfielder in summer ball a few years ago. Betts gave him a pair of autographed baseballs and a took a picture with Large following the exchange.
Large said he and his sister, Lindsey, joked about Betts hitting a home run toward them, and added that she predicted it during the at-bat. When Betts took that swing, Large quickly reached for the glove he had under his seat. The ball sailed over his head, bounced off something --- a person, a seat, Large didn't know --- and landed right in his lap.
"We were kind of freaking out," said Large, who looked for stadium personnel to give the ball to. "We didn't really know how to react."
Large pitched against the young Red Sox outfielder in an under-18 tournament in Nashville three years ago --- Betts went 2-for-3, but Large threw a four-hit shutout and his team, the Franklin Mustangs, won 4-0, and went on to the win the tournament.
Large turned 22 at midnight Thursday. He just finished his third year at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn., earning NCCAA Mid-East conference Co-Pitcher of the Year Honors. He broke school records for innings, strikeouts and wins. Next year, he's headed to Samford to finish a degree in pharmaceutical science. He may try to walk on to the baseball team.
Lindsey is working in New York, and asked Chris what he wanted to do while in the Northeast. He said he wanted to see a game at Fenway. It was planned well before Betts got the callup Saturday, and the two former high school opponents don't know each other personally. It was a complete coincidence he happened to be in the park Wednesday night, and of course, in that seat.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Betts hit 23 home runs in 1021 Minor League plate appearances. He's considered more of a contact hitter with plate discipline, keen on splitting the gaps and getting on base any way he can.
The Brentwood, Tenn., native said he had no idea that ball would leave the yard off the bat.
"I don't think I'm a home run hitter, so anytime I hit it, I take off sprinting," Betts said. "When I touched home plate, I kind of startled A.J. [Pierzynski], because as soon as he turned around, I was right there. He was laughing."
The homer came on a 2-1 changeup on the inner half that Betts turned on, cutting Boston's deficit to 8-5.
The right-handed-hitting Betts, who was summoned to the Major Leagues on Saturday and is the club's No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, had been hitless in his previous 10 at-bats before going deep. He's 3-for-15 in his young career after adding a single in the ninth Wednesday.
"Yeah, there's a lot of athleticism there. He gets a pitch up in the strike zone. There's plenty of bat speed," Boston manager John Farrell said. "It was good to see it click for him here tonight. Couple of base hits, hopefully this gives him a little bit of a chance to take a little bit of a deep breath and recognize that he manages his at-bats very well."
It has been a quick ascension to the Major Leagues for Betts, who was drafted by the Red Sox out of high school in 2011. He started this season at Double-A Portland before moving on to Triple-A Pawtucket, and hit .345/.437/.520 between the two clubs this season.
After being drafted as an infielder, Betts has transitioned to the outfield this season, where the Red Sox are hoping he can provide them with a spark.
"I've put together some pretty good at-bats," said Betts. "Just nothing to show for it."
Betts is fortunate to have a home run ball to show for it thanks to the man who caught it, even if Betts' mother, Diana, takes it back to Tennessee and he rarely sees it again.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.