Sunday, August 14, 2011
Sellers a good buy for Dodgers fans
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- A lot of things had to come together in order for Justin Sellers to find himself where he did on Sunday, in front of a television camera with a face full of greenish shaving gel. A lot of neatly aligned stars, a lot of perfect storms. A lot of fortuitous timing. A lot of luck. And yeah, a lot of perseverance.
But there he was, his first major league homer having put the finishing touch on the Los Angeles Dodgers' 7-0 victory over the Houston Astros before 36,339 at Dodger Stadium, and teammate Dioner Navarro couldn't possibly let Sellers' postgame interview go off without the ever-original shaving-cream pie, could he?
"I think I got some in my mouth," Sellers said when he finally got to the clubhouse, where most of the rest of the Dodgers already were showering, dressing and preparing to embark on a daunting 10-game road trip.
A little personal grooming product isn't the bitterest thing Sellers has had to taste in his career. Try being told you're needed in the majors, then called back and told you're not. That happened to him late last season, when the Dodgers tabbed him as a September call-up but abruptly changed their mind the same day when they learned he had left the previous night's game at Triple-A Albuquerque, officially with a groin injury.
Justin Sellers waves to fans after hitting his first career home run in the Dodgers' 7-0 shutout of the D-backs.
In an odd way, that experience served to make his first three days in the majors a little sweeter, especially with his fiancee, his brother and some friends he grew up with in Huntington Beach there to see him hit that three-run shot off Astros rookie Jordan Lyles -- isn't every Astro a rookie? -- that in an instant gave Hiroki Kuroda as many runs of support as he had gotten in his previous four starts combined and the most he has had in any single start since April 24.
"It was the most incredible feeling I have ever had in my life," Sellers said. "You dream of something like that. Playing ball with your brother in the backyard growing up, you might hit it over the fence into someone else's backyard. But this was actually hitting one in the big leagues."
And this is a player who once faced the longest odds of ever doing it.
Sellers, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Oakland A's in 2005, was traded to the Chicago Cubs just before spring training two years ago in a deal that sent veteran reliever Michael Wuertz to Oakland. Two months later, he was traded again, this time to the Dodgers for cash, and that is just the sort of quick turnaround that tends to raise a red flag on a player's resume. There are whispers from multiple corners of the organization about a checkered past, a too-cool-for-school attitude that often grated on teammates and coaches. By all accounts, though, the heavily tattooed Sellers has become a different guy over the past year or so, a more mature, more professional player who was deemed not only ready for his first big league promotion on Friday, but also fully deserving of it.
It was DeJon Watson, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for player development, who made the trade that brought Sellers to the organization in April 2009, and it was Watson whose pride resonated even over the telephone when I called him after the game.
"We needed somebody who could play shortstop at Double-A," Watson said of the trade. "At the time, we just had some utility guys, and we needed somebody who could catch the ball consistently. A couple of our guys [had] seen him, and they liked his hands."
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Watson said he found it curious that the Cubs were so willing to part with a young shortstop, but they already had identified Starlin Castro as their shortstop of the future. Mike Brumley, the Dodgers' minor league field coordinator at the time, knew Sellers' father, Jeff, who had pitched parts of four seasons with the Boston Red Sox in the 1980s. And so, the move was made.
A year and a half later, Sellers came tantalizingly close to being called up, which served to set up what had to have been a bitter pill when he wasn't.
"I just had to persevere," he said. "I had to keep my head up and know they were interested in me because they had given me a call. So I kept my head up and just continued to play harder and work harder. It wasn't too emotional."
The call-up, though, that was emotional. And the thing is, it wouldn't have happened if Dee Gordon, the highly touted rookie who basically has been auditioning for the everyday shortstop job since Rafael Furcal was traded two weeks ago, hadn't suffered a shoulder injury that isn't expected to keep him on the disabled list past his eligibility date, which is Aug. 25. And Sellers also wouldn't have gotten the call if Ivan De Jesus, a longtime prospect who already was on the 40-man roster and was drafted five years ago as a shortstop, hadn't broken his leg in a spring-training "B" game back in 2009, an injury that resulted in De Jesus being made a permanent second baseman, because the Dodgers had to have a shortstop to replace Gordon. Sellers, even though he wasn't on the 40-man, was the only option.
After arriving on Friday afternoon, Sellers started all three games of the Dodgers' series sweep of the Astros. He went 0-for-3 with three flyball outs in his debut, a consequence of the fact he has just enough power -- he hit 14 homers in each of the past two seasons in the minors -- that team officials say he sometimes gets homer happy and swings for the fences. But he got his first big league hit on Saturday night, a clean single through the left side against veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez, and scored his first run.
And then, on Sunday, he took Lyles deep, a no-doubter that landed about five rows deep in left field, near the foul pole. Moments later, a live shot of Sellers drinking water in the dugout was shown on the video board, resulting in a loud ovation and, at the urging of several teammates, a curtain call.
It was the perfect culmination of a seven-year journey to the majors for a player who at times has taken a circuitous route to get here. But he did get here. And while Gordon is due back in a few days, there are other players on the roster (Eugenio Velez) who are more likely to be moved to make room for him, so Sellers may stay here for a while, especially with active rosters due to expand in about two weeks.
In the end, then, it doesn't really matter how Sellers got here, how long it took him to get here or how many detours he might have taken along the way. All that matters is that he is here. And if that means he has to taste a little shaving cream, well, it has never tasted so sweet.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.