Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson woke up on Saturday morning in Louisville, Kentucky, and the only thing on his mind was that he was about to play his first MLB game in a month.
Stephenson wrapped up his rehab assignment in Triple-A on Friday night after missing a month with a broken thumb. On Saturday, Stephenson had the logistics planned out for the 90-minute drive to Cincinnati, where he would return to the Reds’ active roster.
“I woke up and left around 10 o’clock (a.m.) to give me plenty of time to get here,” Stephenson said. “I was on the phone with my wife halfway. Then I realized. Oh my God.”
Stephenson had forgotten all of his gear in Louisville. He turned back around and got stuck in awful traffic, which made him worry that he wasn’t going to make it in time for Saturday’s Reds game versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
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“It was an eventful morning for me to say the least,” Stephenson said at the end of the day, after he picked up two hits, threw a runner out at third base and helped starting pitcher Hunter Greene with one of his best MLB starts.
Stephenson nearly wasn’t there for any of it.
On Friday night, Stephenson took four final at-bats on his rehab assignment. After the game, the Bats’ clubhouse assistant told Stephenson that they could wash his equipment overnight. He could pick it up in the morning on his way to Cincinnati, and Stephenson wouldn’t have to worry about that.
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Then on Saturday, Stephenson forgot to stop by the ballpark in Louisville. He was about 40 miles away from Cincinnati when he realized what happened.
“The heart sinks,” Stephenson said of the feeling of turning back around.
Stephenson could have kept driving to Cincinnati and had the Reds’ organize another way for Stephenson to get his gear back. The Bats could have sent a clubhouse assistant up the highway to Great American Ball Park, but Stephenson turned around so he could pick it up himself.
“That’s obviously my mistake,” Stephenson said. “I told them I’d come by in the morning. That’s on me.”
Stephenson still had plenty of time to go back to the ballpark in Louisville, drive to Cincinnati and go through his normal pregame routine. At least if everything went well.
But on his second drive of the day from Louisville to Cincinnati, Stephenson was stopped in traffic on the interstate caused when, according to Stephenson, two 18 wheelers collided.
“I’m very grateful that Louisville is close because (if not), it would have been, oof,” Stephenson said. “I don’t know.”
Stephenson actually got lucky at one point on Saturday morning. When he realized he had forgotten his gear, he easily turned around and got on the right track to Louisville. According to Stephenson, a few minutes after he had turned around, he saw the alert that the wreck had happened. Both sides of the highway were shut down.
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If he would have realized his mistake a few minutes later and then had tried to turn around, he would have been stuck on the way back to Louisville.
“Southbound going to Louisville was completely shut,” Stephenson said. “I’m very lucky… If I’d have realized (it) one or two more exits later, I’d have been stuck in traffic. Who knows if I’d have been able to turn around or what. It was perfect timing.”
On his way back to Cincinnati, knowing he had made a mistake, Stephenson called Reds manager David Bell to update him on the situation.
“I called David and told him I just need to stay in Louisville for a couple more weeks,” Stephenson joked.
Fortunately for Stephenson and the team, the wreck was cleared up with just enough time for him to make it to Saturday’s game. Stephenson arrived at 2:45 and was a part of Greene’s pregame warmup routine, but he didn’t see most of his other teammates before the game started.
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Without Stephenson, the Reds probably wouldn’t have won the game. He changed the game with a defensive play in the fifth inning. Greene threw a wild pitch that went all the way to the backstop. Stephenson fielded the ball off of the ricochet, saw the runner at third base creeping off of the bag and delivered a perfect throw to third base.
Equally important, Stephenson called the right pitches for Greene and he added two hits while hitting in the crucial No. 5 spot in the Reds order.
“It’s a great feeling having him back,” Greene said. “He’s a franchise player and just an outstanding teammate and performer. When I saw him come into the clubhouse, it was a great feeling that he was going to be back there.”
“When he’s going good, we’re working on all cylinders,” Reds right fielder Tyler Naquin said. “We’re really good. He evens us out, and he carries his weight.”
After the game, Stephenson said he felt like he couldn’t take a breath until the middle of the fourth inning due to the hectic nature of the day.
As he reflected after the Reds 5-4 win, Stephenson said he had learned a lesson.
“We won,” Stephenson said. “So it (ended up) alright.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism