He stayed in a five-star hotel and traveled first class on a charter flight, where he dined on shrimp and steak. He played in the biggest stadiums in front of big crowds. Fans begged for his autograph. His name was announced over the stadium PA, and his face looked back from the stadium scoreboard.
Ray Sadler was in the major leagues.
For four days.
“That was probably the best four days I’ve had,” Sadler said Monday as he changed into his Tampa Bay Rays uniform inside the visiting clubhouse at McKechnie Field.
The one-time Pirate leads the Rays this spring with four home runs. He’s batting .303.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I like the way he plays. He’s a good man. And he fits our culture real well.”
The 28-year-old Sadler is about to start his 10th season in professional baseball. Despite his power this spring, despite how well he fits in with the Rays’ culture, Sadler will begin the year with the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A club.
Sadler is headed back to the minor leagues, where he’s played 1,019 games.
He’s driven by those four days with the Pirates in May 2005.
“I wished I stayed longer,” Sadler said. “That’s my dream.”
Craig Wilson suffered a hand injury in 2005, and the Pirates needed someone to play left field. They reached all the way to Double-A Altoona and called for Sadler.
Altoona was playing in Trenton, N.J. Sadler went to visit family in the area after the game. His cell phone didn’t work, so he never received any of the calls from Tony Beasley, Altoona’s manager that year and now the Pirates’ third-base coach.
“I got back to the hotel, and everyone was looking for me,” Sadler said. “I thought somebody died.”
Sadler was told to pack his bags, that he was heading to the major leagues.
“I was like, ‘Tony, don’t play with me,’” Sadler said.
Beasley wasn’t playing. Sadler had to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight out of Philadelphia for Phoenix, where the Pirates were playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks that afternoon.
Sadler arrived at the ballpark dressed like anything but a major leaguer. He didn’t have a suit with him on Altoona’s road trip and didn’t have time to buy one before his flight. He showed up in Phoenix wearing a white hooded sweatshirt.
Lloyd McClendon, who managed the Pirates that season, thought Sadler was a construction worker.
“You ready to play?” McClendon asked.
“Yes, sir,” Sadler said.
“Good. You’re starting in left field,” McClendon said.
Sadler was 0-for-3 that night, grounding out each time.
He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout two nights later against the Giants in San Francisco.
His first hit came the following night — May 11.
It was a solo home run to left field off Noah Lowry in the third inning. Moises Alou, a former teammate of Sadler’s when they were minor leaguers in the Cubs’ farm system, got the ball for Sadler.
The ball is proudly displayed in the living of Sadler’s offseason home in Clifton, Texas.
“Of course,” Sadler said. “It’s one of the proudest moments in baseball.”
Sadler had a single in two more at-bats that night. Two days later, he was optioned back to Altoona.
His major league line reads: two hits in eight at-bats, with a homer, one RBI, a run scored and a .250 batting average.
But it is a major league line.
Three big league games in four days. That’s enough to make Sadler want to work hard this spring, want to accept his inevitable demotion to Triple A, where he will work just as hard to get back to the big leagues.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Sadler said.
“I like eating shrimp and steak on the plane. It’s better than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a bus.”
He was told that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may be healthier than shrimp and steak.
“It may be,” Sadler said. “But I’ll take shrimp and steak any day.”