IMG alum gets short introduction to big leagues

jdill@bradenton.comOctober 11, 2011 

Imagine receiving the phone call you’ve worked your entire baseball career to get.

Now picture that ticket to “The Show” came from a club fighting to avoid a collapse on the final day of the major league’s regular season.

That’s precisely where Bradenton’s Tyler Pastornicky found himself.

“It was probably one of the better phone calls you ever get in your life,” the former IMG Academies standout said. “It’s something I’ll remember forever, that’s for sure.”

That phone call was from the Atlanta Braves, telling Pastornicky that they needed him.

The National League East club was missing shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who was done for the regular season due to an injury.

So Pastornicky, promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett in mid-July, suddenly found himself getting bumped to the big league roster.

Pastornicky was ready, even though his last game with the International League team was on Aug. 14.

“I was still in Orlando. They brought me there to just kind of stay in shape, just in case something did happen,” he said. “Just in case somebody did get hurt or there was an emergency, or something like that. I mean, I was still in shape. I was playing every day.”

Pastornicky began the year at Double-A Mississippi of the Southern League. The middle infielder cranked 24 extra-base hits in 355 at-bats.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder also flashed his speed during his Double-A stay, producing 20 stolen bases with a .345 on-base percentage and a .299 batting average.

After being named as a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star, Pastornicky was on a fast-track to Triple-A.

Once in Gwinnett, the 21-year-old continued to blossom with a .365 average in 27 games. He swiped an additional seven bases.

Pastornicky stole bases at a 71 percent clip between Mississippi and Gwinnett.

The former Toronto Blue Jays prospect then found himself taking batting practice in Atlanta on a historic final day of the regular season.

“It was intense. You know, I realized that when I got the call that it wasn’t just about me getting called up when I walked into that locker room,” said Pastornicky, who didn’t play in the final game. “It was about the bigger goal. Trying to get the team into the playoffs. ... Some guys can play 10 years in the league and not get an opportunity to be in a game like that.”

The game in question was the Braves’ finale against the Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta’s lights-out rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel, blew a save, and the Phillies earned an extra-inning victory.

Atlanta’s seemingly unassailable wild card lead went up in smoke as the Braves ended the regular season one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the last National League playoff berth.

“I’m not going to lie; it’s not an easy thing to take,” said Pastornicky about the locker room mood after the loss. “When we had that kind of lead, and it kind of fell out from under us, you know everyone was sad. It’s not an easy game to lose, and that’s not a good way to end your season, but that’s a part of it.”

It was ironic the player Pastornicky was called up to replace was Alex Gonzalez. The two were acquired by the Braves together in a trade with Toronto that sent Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes to the Great White North.

Pastornicky said Gonzalez is a player he looks up to.

“I never really thought about it like that,” Pastornicky said. “I was just kind of excited. I had so many emotions and stuff going on that I’m getting called up to the big leagues in one of the biggest games of the year, so I was just overwhelmed with that kind of feeling.”

The once-in-a-lifetime experience allowed Pastornicky the chance to call his dad, a scout with the Blue Jays.

“He was pretty excited,” Pastornicky said. “That’s a pretty cool phone call when you get to make to your dad. He’s been playing catch with me since I was 2 years old, so to give him that phone call at the same time as I’m getting called up to the big leagues is pretty special.”

Pastornicky is already hard at work during his offseason to prepare for the 2012 season as baseball’s postseason is in full swing.

“I had a good year,” he said. “I got to continue to work hard.”

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