Kelly Shoppach had always vowed if he ever stole a base, he was going to take the bag.
After going his whole career - 463 games, to be precise - without even so much as an attempt, why not commemorate the moment with a little souvenir?
The Red Sox reserve catcher followed through on that promise when he highlighted a 12-2 trouncing of his former Tampa Bay Rays teammates Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, going 3 for 4 with two doubles, three runs, and a pair of RBIs.
But Shoppach’s showstopper was his first career steal on his first attempt. It came on a delayed steal in the sixth inning and it snapped the longest active streak of consecutive games to start a major league career without a stolen base attempt.
To add a little levity to his feat, Shoppach even stuck the landing with an awkward slide into second.
“I think the Russian judge gave him a 9.0 on that,’’ mused Rays manager Joe Maddon, taking a crack at Shoppach’s less-than-graceful slide, which could have been best described as a successful crash landing after missing the runway.
“Shoppach had an amazing game, and one of the best slides I’ve ever seen in my entire career,’’ said Sox outfielder Cody Ross, tongue in cheek. “Definitely, for me, it was the play of the game. He slid a little early - Willie Mays Hayes-ish - and proceeded to go forward and smash his head on the bag, it looked like.
“It was one of the only few things we didn’t practice in spring training, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sliding practice for Shops sooner or later. We were all over him, but he was smiling and having a good time with it.’’
Afterward, when he walked to his locker in the Sox clubhouse, where a throng of media awaited him, Shoppach was beaming as he carried his prized second base souvenir under his right arm like a school textbook, even though the manner in which he claimed it was anything but textbook.
“It was awesome,’’ Shoppach said. “Actually, I’ve already got great ideas of how I’m going hang it up. I’m going to have still photos of me sliding . . . jumping . . . kissing the dirt . . . and then getting the bag up.
“What a day for all of us. It was a lot of fun.’’
When he arrived at Fenway Park Friday morning, Shoppach said he was pleasantly surprised to find his name on the lineup card as the catcher for Josh Beckett, batting in the No. 9 hole. When he found out he was playing, Shoppach said his first order of business was to call his wife Jennifer.
“I wanted to make sure that she’d be here on time,’’ he said.
Perhaps it was because Shoppach sensed she might be in store for a special day in the Fens.
From the ceremonial first pitches by Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield to the flyover by four F-16s, to Johnny Pesky’s command to “Play ball!’’ and, of course, to his stolen base and comical slide into second.
None of it was to be missed.
Shoppach reached base the first four times he went to the plate, getting hit by a David Price pitch in his first at-bat in the third to start a three-run rally that helped the Sox erase a 1-0 deficit.
“Kelly Shoppach did a great job,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “Working with Josh, first, was a really good job behind the plate. His offense came through. Getting hit by a pitch started a rally, his double started a rally. He stole a base for the first time in his career. Nice Opening Day at home for Kelly Shoppach.’’
That it came against his former Tampa Bay teammates, with whom he played the previous two seasons, made it even better.
“I know those guys are happy for me any time you have a big day,’’ Shoppach said. “It’s a good group of guys. I know they didn’t want it to happen against them, but I made some good relationships over there. I’m sure I’ll get some text messages - I already have - about some of the stuff that went on out on the field.
“I’ve been saying for years that if I ever stole a base, I’m taking the bag,’’ Shoppach said, breaking into a laugh. “I’m making light of it, but I’m really excited. It’s a column I haven’t filled as a professional. But, no, I couldn’t ever imagine it.’’
So, after bagging his first steal in his first attempt in his 464th game, what could possibly be next on Shoppach’s bucket list?
“I haven’t got a triple,’’ he said.Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.