You could hear Bobby Dalbec’s Red Sox teammates cheer with excitement once they saw the ball land 373 feet away, beyond the Pesky Pole. It didn’t quite look like he got all of it, but when you’re as strong as he is, all 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds of him, a perfect barrel isn’t always needed to park something in the seats.
The moment arrived emphatically Sunday afternoon against the Washington Nationals when Dalbec hit a solo shot in the third inning of his major league debut.
“First game in the big leagues and hitting a homer? Pretty cool,” manager Ron Roenicke said after the Red Sox’ 9-5 win. “I think you need that, when you come up.”
The often-stoic Dalbec kept a poker face as he rounded the bases, but inside it was just the opposite. Not only was it his first homer, but his first major league hit as well.
”I felt pretty weightless out there, honestly,” said Dalbec, reflecting on the emotions of that moment. “It was very surreal. Everything kind of happened so fast.”
Just hours before, he was at the team’s alternate site at Pawtucket, stretching before batting practice. But Triple A manager Billy McMillon called him in the office.
”Hurry up and pack,” Dalbec recalled McMillon telling him.
He was going to the big leagues.
So, Dalbec hopped in a rental that both he and Kyle Hart share at the alternate site and made the 41.9-mile drive from Pawtucket to Fenway. He used the hour drive to call his parents to tell them the news, as well as a few other people that were pretty close to him. He was sweating, he said, but the abruptness of it all aided him.
”I pretty much just showed up, got a couple of swings in the cage, threw, played catch with [Jose] Peraza for a few minutes and then I was in there,” Dalbec said.
The rushed day, however, was an outlier. It was a long road for Dalbec to get here. Not just 41.8 miles. He’s 25 years old, not necessarily a young player making his debut. In September of last year, when the Sox were out of contention, it was presumed Dalbec would be a part of that September call-up group. Nevertheless, the team declined to do so, electing to just have him shadow the big league club at Fenway during a part of that period. When 2020 rolled around, it was hard seeing where Dalbec could fit into the mix. He was seemingly blocked. He was optioned during spring training, then the pandemic hit, resulting in a lost minor league season, and possibly, a lost year of development.
But once the MLB season began in July, and the Sox made the decision to add Dalbec to their 60-man player pool, there was the sense that Dalbec would get a shot. And when Mitch Moreland was traded to the San Diego Padres on Sunday, that time arrived.
”I’ve thought about it a lot,” Dalbec said on waiting his turn. “But I really try to take it one day at a time, especially the last couple of months just with everything going on.”
Dalbec’s arrival and Moreland’s departure give a glimpse into the Sox’ future. Of the 28 players on the active big league roster, just eight remain from their 2018 World Series title team. As the Sox try to rebuild their farm system, they’ll attempt to retool their big league club.
Dalbec will swing and miss. He was 2 for 4 with two strikeouts Sunday. But the Red Sox are banking on his elite power and skillful approach at the plate making up for some of it, particularly the power.
”He’s in that top 1 percent, like a [Mark] McGwire, Frank Thomas or Albert Belle,” Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Greg Norton said during the team’s initial spring training. “He’s up there with the elite power hitters in the game as far as natural power. The ball gets small fast. When he clicks one it’s going to go like the biggest guys in the game.”
In what’s most likely a season without an October, Dalbec offers a glimmer of optimism for the Red Sox moving forward. His debut Sunday showed why.
“It’s a great opportunity to get some at-bats and get some playing time under my belt,” Dalbec said, “and show people what I can do.”