It’s not discouraging, it’s motivating. There’s a reason those guys are where they are. And there’s a lot I can learn. —Shawn O’Malley
Usually rookie ballplayers get called up to the big leagues at the end of the season “for a cup of coffee.” This year, however, members of the Salt Lake Bees have been to the majors so often they’ve had coffee, a Danish, and a slice of pie to go.
Efren Navarro made the shuttle run between Utah and Los Angeles four different times in 2014. C.J. Cron commuted three times. In fact, when September call-ups were announced, every Bee summoned to Anaheim had already been there.
Except for one: Shawn O’Malley.
O’Malley donned Angel red on Sept. 2 for the first time in his life.
Like a dark horse at the derby, he came from nowhere in 2014 to win at the wire. In fact, he rose through the Angel ranks so quickly he didn’t even have time to buy a new pair of cleats. When he got to the big leagues, writer Alden Gonzalez reports, his shoes were so full of holes Angels star Mike Trout gave him a couple of pairs.
For O’Malley, it was living the dream.
It was also the end of a nightmare.
The best and worst of times.
It has been a Dickens of a year.
In July 2013, O’Malley’s father died of a heart attack as the shortstop was preparing for a game.
“His whole life, when a celebrity or someone else would pass away, my dad would say, ‘Somebody dies every day,’” O’Malley recalls. “Then, suddenly, the somebody was him.”
As if to add an extra level of pain, soon after Tampa Bay cut the young infielder from its farm system after he’d played eight years in the minors. He told his fiancee Samantha, a basketball coach, it was time to reel in the dream and get real.
It was time to get a nine-to-five job.
According to Gonzalez, she wouldn’t hear of it.
With his Samantha’s blessing and encouragement, O’Malley made one more lunge for the brass ring. The only organization mildly interested in him was the Angel franchise. The team invited him to spring training.
The rest has been a rocket ride.
O’Malley was first farmed out to the Arizona League, then quickly bumped up to Double-A Arkansas, where he sparkled at the plate and in the field. He was bumped up again to the Salt Lake Bees. In Salt Lake City he played 89 games, got a concussion, batted well over .300 and became a fan favorite.
In early September, O’Malley and his tattered shoes made their major league debut for the Angels. His first two at-bats he got two hits. In fact, for about a week he had a lifetime major league batting average of 1.000.
“People kept telling me I needed to retire,” O’Malley said after a Sept. 21 game against the Rangers. “But that’s just baseball. Hits, strikeouts, walks can come in bunches.”
As a rookie among rookies, O’Malley has been saddled with a lot of humbling tasks and duties. But he doesn’t mind. He knows nothing can compare to the down days of the previous 12 months.
“Everybody has been helpful,” he says. “This is really an awesome team. Johnny Mac (John McDonald) has told me things to look for and showed me how to get ready for certain situations. Efren (Navarro) makes sure I do all the rookie things I need to do.”
As an infielder for the Angels, O’Malley does have a mountain to climb. The Angels sport perhaps the finest infield in the major leagues. For such reasons manager Mike Scioscia has given him a chance to try his hand in left field. Still, O'Malley says, playing behind people like Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick has been a pleasure.
“It’s not discouraging, it’s motivating,” he says. “There’s a reason those guys are where they are. And there’s a lot I can learn.”
The first couple of weeks were a whirlwind as things came at him fast and furious. The new schedule and fresh routines took time to master. But now, he says, he’s feeling more at home.
“Even playing left field feels comfortable,” he says.
As the Angels trim their roster down to 25 for the playoffs, O’Malley will likely be cut. Still, if one purpose of bringing minor leaguers up at season’s end is to give them a taste of what awaits, the move has piqued O’Malley’s appetite. He was with the Angels when they clinched the division. And he has seen — and played in — some of the most memorable ballgames of the 2014 season.
Next spring, he may well earn a spot in Los Angeles, though chances are he and his new wife Samantha will be sent back to Salt Lake City for more seasoning.
Whatever comes, he’s game.
“I know one thing,” O’Malley says. “I will work hard. I will continue to work hard.”
Bee coaches and fans will welcome him back.
In fact, they like him so much that — after 2015 — they hope they never see him again.