HOUSTON (AP) — Spenser Watkins was at a crossroads this winter.
The right-hander had toiled in the minors since 2014 without making it to the majors. And with spring training fast approaching and no job, he was prepared to quit baseball and accept a job coaching the freshman team at a Phoenix high school.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of pressure for me to figure out a way to provide for my family,” he said.
Then came the call that revived a career that was oh-so-close to ending.
The Baltimore Orioles signed the 28-year-old pitcher to a minor league deal, leaving those freshmen without a coach but giving Watkins one more chance to make it to the big leagues.
On Wednesday, that decision to give his lifelong dream another shot paid off big time. Baltimore selected his contract from Triple-A Norfolk, and he joined the Orioles in Houston, where he could make his major league debut.
“I’m still just on cloud nine and it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Watkins said. “My phone is lighting up every two seconds of people congratulating me and saying how thankful they are they were a part of the journey.”
One person on that winding journey that had stops in Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio among other outposts, was his wife, Brittany. Watkins choked back tears while expressing appreciation for her support through the years.
“That was a really special moment to tell my wife (after) all the times she sacrificed with me being gone … and being able to tell her and her be excited for me was an amazing feeling,” he said.
Watkins was called up after right-hander Travis Lakins was placed on the injured list with pain in his throwing elbow. Manager Brandon Hyde admitted that he didn’t know much about Watkins since he wasn’t in major league camp but noted that he’ll help provide reinforcements to a bullpen that has been taxed in recent days.
Watkins was 1-2 with a 3.58 ERA in seven games with six starts for Norfolk this season after sitting out all last year with the minor leagues shut down because of the pandemic.
“When I’m on my four-seam fastball, it’s the bread and butter and I can ride being on the top part of the strike zone with that and then use my curveball off of that,” he said. “And then the addition of the cutter and working on the changeup this year has helped a ton as well.”
After waiting so long and coming perilously close to abandoning the sport he’d loved for so long, Watkins was still in a state of shock hours after receiving the call he’d always hoped would come.
Now, he’s just trying to calm his nerves before he gets his first call to an MLB mound.
“I’ve been I think I’ve been shaking since I got the phone call … so I’d imagine here in the next 24 hours it’ll start really sinking in for me,” he said. “But right now it feels surreal.”
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