Scott Kingery said he had to take a second during batting practice Monday afternoon to simply enjoy a moment he had dreamed of.
The lights were bright at Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, the team that Kingery grew up rooting for. And there was Kingery in the batting cage, in a Major League Baseball uniform -- but not in Sedona red. He was in the first-base dugout with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Just being here, actually playing here where I used to come watch games, is pretty special,” Kingery said. “I got to hit a little bit, and as a kid coming to these games, you don’t think it’s ever going to be something you’re going to be able to do.”
Two-thirds of the way through his rookie season, after signing a six-year, $24 million guaranteed contract with the Phillies in March, Kingery already has gotten a solid dose of life in the big leagues.
It’s a long way from his days as an Ahwatukee youth hero, helping his Little League All-Stars to the World Series in Pennsylvania, then helping Mountain Pointe High win a state championship before walking on at the University of Arizona and becoming Pac-12 Player of the Year.
His world changed in a hurry in March after three seasons in the minors. He was invited to Phillies training camp, a long shot to make the roster. After leading the team in hitting, the Phillies couldn’t leave him off. In the snap of the fingers, the 24-year-old was in the big leagues and had more money than he could imagine.
He continued his torrid pace through opening month in April. Before the season was 10 games old, Kingery had not only his first Major League home run but also his first grand slam. He’d been a second baseman most of his career but he was in the lineup at shortstop. The Phillies capitalized on his versatility, playing the rookie at six positions during the first half of the season.
The date at Chase Field for his homecoming was looming, and life was going well.
Then reality happened. Still solid in the field, Kingery suddenly couldn’t buy a hit. His batting average began to plummet as the Phillies continued to win and suddenly found themselves in the National League East pennant race. They had to have another bat in the lineup.
On July 27, 10 days before the series with the Diamondbacks, Philadelphia traded for veteran New York Mets shortstop Astrubal Cabrera, 32, who hits not only for average (.271) but also power (20 home runs). He is not as good with the glove as Kingery, though.
So Kingery is on the bench, likely relegated to late-game, tag-team defensive replacement. That was the case Monday. He finally entered the game in the eighth inning. He handled a hot line drive. As the game stretched into a marathon, Kingery came to the plate twice, hitting a hot grounder to third with a runner in scoring position, ending the Phillies’ 10th, and then flied out to right field in the 13th, before they lost, 3-2, in 14 innings.
His father, Tom Kingery, coached both Scott and his twin brother, Sam, since they were 5 until their last season of Little League and the trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He has kept a close eye on each at-bat, and though Scott is entering his fifth month as a Major Leaguer, the new pro still looks to his first coach for advice.
“It’s his first time through seeing pitchers, just getting used to pitchers, how they’re throwing to him, just learning how to slow the game down. And he’s playing mostly shortstop, where he hasn’t played since high school. That’s all tough on him, but he’s loving it,” Tom Kingery said.
Scott regularly calls his parents after games and on the road to discuss his performance, and to receive parental advice about handling life’s ups and downs.
“At times he wants to talk about baseball, and at times he doesn’t want to bring it up. He knows I know his swing very well. To this day I still analyze everything he does. He’ll call and ask me what I saw. We’ll send videos back and forth. When he’s struggling and doesn’t feel right, we have a conversation. When he’s going OK, I just let him go,” Tom Kingery said.
His two hitless at bats Monday extended Kingery’s skid to 0-for-17.
However, he said he is using these emotional swings in every experience as a learning opportunity that he believes will help him down the road.
“It’s a grind, like it is every year, even through the minors,” Kingery said. “But for me, it’s just about handling position changes, coming off the bench and a bunch of different things happening. It’s a lot of experience that I’m getting my rookie season when I haven’t done any of this before.
“It’s been tough, but it’s a learning experience that will help me get better in the future.”
Not only is Kingery coming face-to-face with life in the bigs, but so is his family.
Kingery’s mother, Patti Kingery, said both Scott and the family have received hundreds of messages and calls from well-wishers, plus those wanting tickets to see him play in his first game against the Diamondbacks and others just wanting a piece of the new celebrity.
She said that more than 100 Ahwatukee friends, neighbors and Scott’s former teammates bought tickets Monday in a block at Chase Field to watch his debut against the Diamondbacks.
“We went to dinner with Scott in Philadelphia when we went to watch him play, and just in that time he’d gotten about 50 messages in a few hours,” Patti Kingery said. “It’s kind of been a combination of overwhelming and exciting, but it’s just a one-time thing. It’s his first time playing here and it’s a lot, but we all are just ready for the game to come.”
Scott is happy to let his family handle the off-the-field details.
“I just have to deal with my friends and some close family. Until the game, it’s pretty much just practice, but I’m sure it will get a bit crazy with people wanting to get dinner and stuff,” Scott said.
Regardless of how Scott and the Phillies perform in the series, Patti Kingery said it is a unique experience to see him play against the team he grew up rooting for.
“It’s surreal, but in some ways it’s just my kid out there playing. I’ve watched him play so many baseball games since he was five,” she said. “So, it really is just that same kid out there, but it really has been an amazing run so far.”