ST. PETERSBURG — This game gives you plenty of opportunities to walk away.
Maybe before you leave for the Dominican Republican to earn a few extra bucks playing winter ball, or maybe when you return home to Nebraska and spend the rest of the winter as an Uber driver.
Maybe it’s when the big-league club keeps calling up other catchers, or maybe it’s when you realize you’re staring down 30 and still ruefully chasing a little boy’s dream.
These are the dark chapters that rarely make the storybook highlights. The ones where perseverance isn’t always rewarded and good guys aren’t always handed a major-league uniform.
This is one of those stories that defies both logic and odds.
Meet Anthony Bemboom, MLB’s most unlikely rookie of 2019.
“He’s had so many friends who have been called up, and every single time he says, ‘I’m so happy for them,’ ” his wife, Amy, said, as tears ran down her cheek at Tropicana Field on Saturday evening.
“He’s never once been angry about someone else getting a chance. It’s not part of his character to be bitter. He always told me this game will get to you if you worry about too many things.’’
Bemboom, 29, could see his first big-league action Sunday afternoon as the Rays catcher in the series finale against the Yankees. He would be the oldest position player to make his major-league debut in four years.
A 22nd-round draft pick who has spent parts of eight years in the minors for three organizations, Bemboom was perhaps months away from finally closing the door on his dream.
He and Amy married in November after seven years of living mostly 1,000 miles apart while he played minor-league ball. Bemboom had been offered a couple of jobs in the real world — including a sales job in medical supplies — and had asked if he could give his prospective employers an answer in January.
He had filed for free agency in early November and was unsure what to expect after two years of part-time service for Colorado’s Triple-A team in Albuquerque.
“It was hard on him,’’ said his mother, Debbie, who made it to the Trop from Minnesota with Anthony’s father and sister in time for Friday’s game. “When you’re getting older, you don’t want to depend on your parents, but we were not going to let him give up. I remember telling him, ‘If you don’t want to play baseball anymore, if it’s not your passion anymore, then be done with it. But if you feel like you just haven’t gotten the right opportunity, then give it another year. At least then you will have no regrets, you won’t worry about what might have been.’ ”
One minute after midnight on the first day that offers could be extended, his father, Greg, said the Rays called. By the end of the next day, eight other teams had offered him minor-league deals.
“He called me right away and said, ‘I’ve got this going on,’ ” Greg said. “I told him, ‘Okay, you’re not done with baseball yet. Clearly, they see something in you.’ ”
Still, there is a world of difference between a Triple-A offer and a big-league callup. To put in perspective the miles Bemboom has had to traverse, consider he was the 687th player chosen in the 2012 draft. In the 54-year history of the draft, he’s the first 687th pick to reach the majors.
How long he remains with the Rays is still an open question. He’s only here because Michael Perez and Mike Zunino both suffered muscle strains within days of each other, forcing Tampa Bay to find a whole new catching corps with Travis d’Arnaud coming in a trade from the Dodgers.
But for now, he is here. Bemboom says the past few days have been such a whirlwind, and he has been so focused on learning more about Tampa Bay’s pitchers, that he hasn’t taken the time to appreciate the journey he has taken.
Even if he has not, the rest of us should. It is a story that is often told in baseball’s minor leagues but rarely with a happy spin. Whether Sunday is the culmination or just the beginning for Anthony Bemboom, it’s a moment worth watching.
“A minor-league salary is no way to make a living, by any means,’’ said Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. “So these guys who grind it out for years and years and never give up, it’s just hard not to root for them. For Bemboom being a rookie, making his debut at 29? That’s awesome.
“I can’t speak for him, but all those road trips and all those doubts he may have had, it’s all worth it in this moment. I can’t wait to see him take the field. It’s fun living vicariously through guys like that. It’s cool for all of us; it lights up a clubhouse.’’