CHICAGO – It was worth the wait, according to Sean Kazmar Jr., infielder of Atlanta Braves.
The 36-year-old Kazmar played his first major league in more than 12 years on Saturday.
The outcome of the play meant very little compared to the resilience Kazmar showed when he ground it out among the minors over the years.
“What a good feeling,” said Kazmar. “Having that opportunity early in the game was fantastic. Firstly, it was fantastic to wear it with an Atlanta Braves uniform and, secondly, to do it at Wrigley Field.”
Kazmar was a 2004 amateur drafting round five election and eventually appeared in 19 games for the 2008 San Diego Padres. It’s been a life in the minors ever since, including the last seven seasons in the uniform of Atlanta’s triple-A partner, the Gwinnett Stripers.
The gap between appearances in the big leagues was the largest since right-handed Ralph Winegarner, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Winegarner played for the Cleveland Indians on June 23, 1936 and did not return to the majors with the St. Louis Browns until July 7, 1949 – a period of 13 years and 14 days.
Last year was perhaps the most difficult for Kazmar, considering that there was no baseball in a minor league due to the pandemic. Like all teams, the Braves had a 60-man roster, but Kazmar wasn’t part of it.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “At that time I was at home a year ago because of unemployment. It was quite difficult to get a job if you weren’t sure if you would be a part of it (roster).”
But when 2021 arrived, Kazmar was right back in uniform, and Braves manager Brian Snitker called him their MVP for the third year in a row.
“It’s like a man’s debut,” said Snitker. “A second debut for him.”
Before Saturday’s game, Snitker called it a career highlight to inform Kazmar that he was called up. When Ozzie Albies left the game on Friday, Kazmar knew he could be back on the show after being hit by a bad luck.
“I tell the boys all the time, you never know in this game,” said Kazmar with a smile. “It never really left me, especially in the last few years when I played at Gwinnett. I still felt like I could play at that level.”
Kazmar’s wife dropped everything on Friday and took a Redeye flight from Arizona to Chicago to be in attendance. His parents watched too.
“That’s the stuff you love about baseball,” said Cubs executive and former Brave, David Ross. “I love hearing these stories and seeing these things happen in baseball. It’s great for our game.”
Kazmar is confident of staying with the Braves for a while but was unsure of his future after his first attack on Saturday. If that’s all, he doesn’t complain. Not going back after a 12 year trip.
“I would do it all again for just one day like today,” said Kazmar. “It was worth the wait to get in and take another punch.”