BRADENTON -- It may have been the quickest breakfast the Fryer family ever had.
It was a June morning in Indianapolis. Eric Fryer, a catcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, sat with his family at Panera Bread during just another start to another day in the life of a Triple-A baseball player.
Then the call came.
The Pirates were promoting Fryer to the major leagues.
“I wasn’t going to make the flight, so I was like, ‘We’ve got to throw stuff in the car and get out of here,’” he said. “We just packed up our whole house in like, under an hour, and hit the road and just started driving. It was a wild time, but a really, really neat experience.”
On June 26, Fryer made his big-league debut against the Boston Red Sox in front of 39,511 fans at PNC Park. He made some history, too: Fryer became the first Bradenton Marauder to crack the Pirates’ roster.
Pitcher Nathan Adcock, another player who cut his teeth in Bradenton during the Marauders’ inaugural season in 2010, made last year’s Opening Day roster with the Kansas City Royals.
But it was Fryer, who hit .300 in 83 games with the Marauders in ’10, who became the first guy to go from the Friendly City to the Steel City after catchers Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder went down win injuries.
Not long after that came pitcher Jeff Locke, another maiden Marauder, who was called up to Pittsburgh in September.
“I just really remember the group of guys that we had there,” Fryer, 26, said of his Marauders days. “It was a lot of fun. It was the first time for this team being in the city, and I really think it was important for us to make the (Florida State League) playoffs. Bradenton was really behind us, so that was really, really cool.”
Not nearly as cool as what happened in June, when Fryer, who made his professional debut in 2007 with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Rookie League team in Helena, got his first taste of major-league baseball.
“Right when the national anthem hit, it was like, ‘Oh, man, this is happening,’” Fryer said Thursday at Pirate City. “You actually stop and look around…After that, I just really wanted to catch the first pitch. After that first pitch, I was OK. That was really my focus, ‘Don’t miss the first ball that comes in here.’”
Prior to his first start last September against the Florida Marlins, Locke received some calming words of wisdom from veteran first baseman Derrek Lee.
“He told me, ‘You know how many debuts I’ve sat through? You’re going to be just fine,’” said Locke, who allowed three earned runs in five innings against the Marlins. “It was a little bit more of a reassurance to know that everyone was on your side.”
Locke, 24, went 9-3 in 17 starts with the Marauders in ’10 before he was promoted to Double-A Altoona. After making 23 starts with the Curve over the last two seasons, Locke had a quick five-start cameo with the Pirates’ Triple-A team in Indianapolis before making his way to Pittsburgh, where he was 0-3 in four starts.
“It started to kind of click last year,” Locke said. “A lot frustrations and a lot of things 23-year-old kids deal with. A lot of my friends who I played with the previous seasons were a level above (Double-A)…I just started getting in a funk, and before you know it, it was really two weeks’ worth of work, and I’m on my way to Triple-A. And from Triple-A to Pittsburgh – it happened so fast that I don’t even really remember much about Indianapolis.”
This spring marks Locke’s second in a big-league camp. And while he’s on the Pirates 40-man roster, he knows the rotation will be harder to crack since Pittsburgh brought in starting pitchers A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.
“The pitching’s added some phenomenal depth,” Locke said. “Getting that opportunity to go up there and help those guys at any point during the year, that’s going to be the goal. I’ll do the best job I possibly can to fit in and make those guys want me around even more.”
Fryer, a non-roster invitee at Pirates camp, feels the same way – go out and play your best, and who knows?
You just may get a phone call one morning over breakfast.
“During spring the past few years, I always tried to get better every day,” he said. “That way, whenever your season starts…no matter where you are, you’re ready to go.
“That’s the key – be ready to go.”