February 9, 2013 11:00:58 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Tyler Moore can say he has traveled from one end of the country to the other to make his Major League Baseball debut.
On April 29 after a road game in New York, Moore was sleeping when a phone call from his Triple A manager delivered the message every minor league baseball player wants to hear.
"I had to have him repeat I was going to the big club," Moore said.
The drama started when Moore realized what he had to do to get to his first game with the Washington Nationals.
"I asked him where they were and he says, 'Los Angeles', and then proceeds to tell me they've scheduled me for a 4 a.m. flight for a 12:30 p.m. game," Moore said. "I made every call back home I could and packed up a bag to get to the airport for a long flight."
The phone call up was the biggest moment in the life of the 25-year-old former Mississippi State University standout, who was back in Starkville on Saturday to be guest speaker at the MSU baseball team's First Pitch Banquet. It's why he didn't sleep on the direct flight from New York to Los Angeles and wondered what it was going to be like to play his first game in the Big Leagues.
"I don't sleep on planes because I don't do well with flying, but I wasn't going to get any sleep on that red eye flight," Moore said. "I could barely sit in my seat."
Moore took a cab and rushed to Dodger Stadium just in time to put on his jersey and watch the final stages of batting practice. That's when Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, who was in the second year of a seven-year, $126 million contract, walked over to Moore's locker with more news.
"He just casually walks by me and says, 'Hey kid, you're starting in left field today. Enjoy it,' " Moore said. "I immediately whip around and said, 'What?'"
It took a few more minutes for Moore to process he was going to hit sixth in front of 48,753 fans. "I remembered 1,000 things going through my mind and eventually one of them was, 'Wait a minute. I've never played left field in my life,' " Moore said.
Moore's start came two days after the debut of highly touted rookie Bryce Harper, the Nationals' former No. 1 overall selection, who had already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler.
"I thought that was fine with him," Moore said. "I'm a low profile guy and was happy to see Harper, (ace right-handed pitcher Stephen) Strasburg, and other veterans have the media crowds at their lockers."
Moore had his first Major League hit that day against the Dodgers. He played in 75 games last season, and had a two-run single against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National Divisional Series. Moore's debut with the parent club was a long time coming. The Nationals drafted Moore in the 41st round in the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft, in the 33rd round in 2006, and in the 16th round in 2008.
"If I had to choose a pick we got a little lower, I think this kid's got a good chance," Nationals scouting director Dana Brown said in 2008 when Moore was drafted. "He's got a good makeup, and we're really excited about him."
Moore stood on the podium at the Palmeiro Center on Saturday and related his story to several hundred MSU fans and 37 MSU players.
"Any time we can get a former player to come back and share his passion and love for not only the game but what he feels for Mississippi State, that's a special day," MSU coach John Cohen said.
Moore hit .299 in 2008 after spending two years at Meridian Community College. He played for the Bulldogs in record-setting coach Ron Polk's final season in Starkville.
Moore's little brother, Reid Humphreys, has signed with MSU out of Northwest Rankin High School. Humphreys, who will be a freshman in the 2014 season, is considered one of the top players in the nation. He hit .360 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs as a junior last year. He also was 6-3 with a 1.85 ERA.
Moore joins former MSU players like Paul Maholm and Mitch Moreland who have spoken at the MSU First Pitch banquet. Moreland is a first baseman with the Texas Rangers, while Maholm pitched last season for the Atlanta Braves.
Moore will leave for the Nationals' spring training home in Viera, Fla., next week. Pitchers and catchers already have reported to camp. He is expected to be a utility player for the defending National League Eastern Division champions in his first full season in MLB.
MSU will begin its season at 4 p.m. Friday against the University of Portland at Dudy Noble Field.
"I was telling everybody Mississippi State, this school, and this community just feels like home to me even though I was here a short time," Moore said.