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John Lindsey's trip to 'the show' is a bright spot in Dodgers' bleak season

His first taste of big league baseball after 16 years in the minors inspires and thrills his teammates even as the team deals with on- and off-field disappointments.

September 13, 2010|By Jim Peltz

Reporting from Houston -- When the Dodgers called up John Lindsey from triple-A Albuquerque to finish out the season — Lindsey's first taste of big league baseball after 16 years in the minors — he figured he finally was ready for prime time.

After all, Lindsey had won the Pacific Coast League batting title this year, proving at age 33 he had offensive skills.

But the native of Hattiesburg, Miss., soon learned he needed one finishing touch to be a Dodger: a new suit.

After the team landed in Houston last week to play four games with the Astros, veterans Jamey Carroll and Ryan Theriot took their new teammate shopping, helped him pick out a charcoal-gray suit with pinstripes, along with a new shirt and shoes — and they picked up the bill.

"It's a gesture of welcoming them to the big leagues," Carroll said, and in Lindsey's case, "you're happy for a guy who's gone through what he's gone through and finally had this moment."

Lindsey's moment of reaching "the show," long past the point at which others might have given up on the dream, is the feel-good story for the Dodgers late in a season otherwise spoiled by the club's subpar play, no apparent trip to the playoffs and its owners' messy divorce.

"I've been waiting all my life for this," Lindsey said. "It was an awesome feeling."

It's a story filled with emotional moments for Lindsey, his teammates and coaches, and his extended family, many of whom traveled from Hattiesburg to Houston to see him play at Minute Maid Park, including his parents, his wife, Christa, and their 3-year-old son, John III.

"Letting him know that he was going to the big leagues is the best thing I've gotten to do in the two years I've been here," said Tim Wallach, Lindsey's manager at Albuquerque. "There's not many guys who would even consider staying in the game that long. It's just his love of the game."

Lindsey capped off his family's celebration by making his first Dodgers start Saturday and getting his first major league hit, as a pinch-hitter, in the series' finale Sunday.

He was one of several triple-A players the Dodgers called up in September, when teams can expand their active rosters for the final month of the regular season. For some it can be the first step on a fast track to the majors; for others, it might be their only brush with the limelight before they return to the minors or fall out of baseball.

But this was Lindsey's first call-up, and to say his tale is one of perseverance is an understatement. Consider: the Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton started in the minors the same year as Lindsey, 1995, and now Helton's big league career is winding down after 2,221 hits and 331 home runs.

Lindsey's saga is simply one of "follow your dream, never give up," said his father, also named John. "If you believe in and have a passion or a love for something, don't quit. Play until they take the uniform off."

Xavier Paul, Lindsey's close friend and teammate at Albuquerque who already has spent time with the Dodgers, said "this will be a very inspiring story for a lot of players for years to come."

The story's big league chapter began last week in Round Rock, Texas, where Lindsey and his Albuquerque teammates were playing. Wallach called Lindsey into his office and said: "I've got the best news that I can possibly give somebody. You're going to the big leagues."

When Lindsey came out, "you could see it on his face right away," said pitcher John Ely, who was among those called up.

The Dodgers put them on a flight from Austin to San Diego, where the Dodgers were playing the Padres, and the beefy, 6-foot-2 Lindsey flew in first class for the first time in his life.

Then, in a moment that seemed tortuous for Lindsey and his fans, the right-hander was announced as a pinch-hitter in Wednesday's game at the Padres' Petco Park — officially his first at-bat in the big leagues. But then San Diego changed pitchers and before Lindsey could reach the batter's box, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre replaced him with the left-handed Andre Ethier.

"I told Lindsey, 'Something to live with: They'd rather pitch to Ethier than you,' " Torre quipped. "But [Lindsey] never lost his smile anyway." The manager also gave Lindsey the lineup card with his name on it as a memento, which Lindsey said he planned to frame.

Back in Hattiesburg, where it was about midnight, the game was on television and "when John came up to bat, we started receiving phone calls," his mother, Mattie, said. "People were apologizing, but they said, 'We just had to call because we're so proud of him.' "

After the game, the Dodgers dressed for the flight to Houston, and it's customary for players to tip the clubhouse attendants as they leave. Lindsey didn't know what tip was suitable, so another Dodgers veteran, third baseman Casey Blake, stepped in and paid the tip on Lindsey's behalf. "It's just something to make their time here a little more enjoyable, something they can remember," Blake said.

Meanwhile, Mattie Lindsey was to fly the next day from Hattiesburg to Houston to join her family at the opening Dodgers-Astros game that night, but her flight was canceled. "I couldn't stand to not be there for the first game," she said, so relatives drove her the 433 miles to Houston.

Now, after an off day, the team is in San Francisco to play the Giants on Tuesday, and the Dodgers have only 18 games left in the regular season. After waiting so long to reach the big leagues, could it all be over for Lindsey after the next 18 games, or might he impress enough to return next season?

"I couldn't answer that question right now," Wallach said. "They say it's tough to get here but it's tougher to stay. We'll see. But he's here right now."

james.peltz@laitmes.com

Times staff writers Dylan Hernandez and Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.

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