By David Krueger Herald Writer
At first, Steven Souza Jr. couldn’t fall asleep.
Then he couldn’t wake up.
A call from his manager at 1 a.m. on April 12 informed Souza that he had been promoted from Triple-A Syracuse to the Washington Nationals. Between the adrenaline rush and the phone calls he had to make to family and friends, Souza didn’t get much sleep.
But just to be safe, the Cascade High School alum set two alarms and arranged a wake-up call from the front desk of his hotel. He finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning.
He then proceeded to snooze through all three alarms, missing his 6:40 a.m. flight to Atlanta.
Fortunately, he was able to get a flight in the afternoon and join the Washington players just in time to stretch for his first major-league game.
“I woke up in sheer panic mode,” Souza said. “Luckily, they got me on a later flight. (Nationals pitcher) Jordan Zimmerman was the first one to wear me out asking how could I sleep through an alarm on the biggest day of my life. (Infielder Ian) Desmond asked, ‘How could you sleep through the alarm? How could you even go to sleep?’”
Souza didn’t get in the game, but less than 24 hours later made his major-league debut, taking over in left field in the seventh inning. He had his first major-league at bat in the eighth, striking out against Atlanta pitcher Jordan Walden.
“I tried to convince myself it was the same game, same ball, everything’s the same,” Souza said. “But to be honest with you, if I had started that game I don’t even know what would have happened at the plate. For the first few innings, I was just full of excitement. I was on cloud nine. It was such a great moment.”
Souza was one of the last players cut from the Nationals’ big-league camp in spring training. He hit .273 with two home runs and seven RBI in his first seven games at Syracuse. When Washington outfielder Denard Span suffered a concussion, the Nationals placed Span on the seven-day disabled list, freeing up a roster spot for Souza.
By Sunday, a group of 16 family and friends were in the stands in Atlanta when Souza trotted out to left field.
“The whole family just erupted when they said, ‘Now out in left field, Steven Souza Jr.,’” said his father, Steven Souza Sr. “His picture was up there. Seeing his dream come true to finally be in the bigs was awesome. This is the start of it all. … I was just the proudest dad. You see your son work so hard and then getting to see him in a Washington Nationals uniform out there is just incredible.”
Harinder Singh, one of Souza’s best friends from his Cascade days, also was at the game.
“He called me on a Friday night and asked, ‘What are your plans for the weekend?’” Singh said. “I thought I would just be hanging out with friends. He said, ‘I want you to come to Georgia. I got called up.’ My first thought was I just wanted to scream, but I was in the car with four other people. … I was just really, really happy for him.”
It was the culmination of a lot of hard work for Souza, a third-round pick by Washington in the 2007 MLB draft.
“For him to be able to go through that six-to-seven-year process and make it and not give up on his dreams is just incredible,” Singh said. “A lot of players might give up, but he didn’t.”
Souza, who turns 25 Thursday, came close to giving up. He left the game three years ago and considered playing college football. In the end, he rededicated himself to baseball.
Now, he’s glad he did.
“I was just in shock,” Souza said of being called up. “To come from a point where I spent so many years in the minor leagues struggling, trying to grow up, trying to figure a lot of things out. I went through some hard times. It was just a relief and excitement.”
The excitement escalated Tuesday night. In his third major-league at-bat, Souza got his first hit, a hard single past Miami Marlins pitcher Dan Jennings. Souza was stranded at first base at the end of the inning and went straight to his position in the outfield.
When he returned to the Nats’ dugout three outs later, his teammates were waiting with open arms.
“I actually got a hug from every single player. That was special,” Souza said. “That was one of the coolest moments ever. Ian Desmond was the first one to give me a hug. Doug Fister, who played in Seattle, he was awesome and gave me a hug. We were down something like 11-1 at the time, but everyone took the time to come in and give me a hug …
“Getting that hit was an awesome opportunity. Showing I can play up here. I thank God. The first thing that came to my mind was God is so good.”
Souza knew his time in the majors would be short. Span was activated from the disabled list Saturday and Souza was optioned back to Triple-A. He went 1-for-4 with a walk in his stint with Washington.
“The coaches just said, ‘You did a great job with everything you did. You didn’t get sent down because you (stink), you got sent down because Denard’s back,’” Souza said. “It’s not like I’m going back, thinking, ‘I can’t get back to this level.’ I was here, I did my job, and I can help this team win. It’s very honoring.
“The whole experience was honestly just awesome.”