Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area will air Alex Dickerson's Giants debut tonight at 8 p.m. PT
Alex Dickerson had two singles and an RBI for the Sacramento River Cats last June 20, but that certainly didn't stand out in the box score. The River Cats lost 11-10 that night in Las Vegas, with all nine starters getting at least one hit and Anthony Garcia and Henry Ramos going deep.
But as Dickerson headed back to the hotel that night, he knew he had turned a corner. He had been designated for assignment two weeks earlier and had just three hits in six games for his new organization's Triple-A affiliate. Dickerson, however, felt like something had clicked during his 2-for-5 performance.
"The swings felt good and I was like, 'Oh, I think tomorrow might be the day,'" Dickerson said. "The ball was coming off the bat hot. It felt like tomorrow was going to be the day."
The next day ended up being a historic one for Dickerson -- but not in the minors.
Dickerson was woken up early the next morning when River Cats manager Dave Brundage called his hotel room. A few hours later he walked into Chase Field, where a reliever asked if he was a minor league coach joining the staff for a few days. Dickerson was called into Bruce Bochy's office and told he might be activated.
Half an hour later, Bochy told Dickerson he would be starting in left field.
"I just kind of let it all come to me as it was coming to me," Dickerson recalled Monday. "Being older and knowing the ropes, I just went with it. I had an empty head the whole day. I was a little tired."
Perhaps that was a good thing. With a clear head and a red-hot Kevin Pillar on base ahead of him every time he looked up, Dickerson had a memorable debut in orange and black, one that will air on NBC Sports Bay Area tonight. He singled in his first at-bat, hit a grand slam the second time up, and added a two-run triple in the seventh.
Dickerson drove in six runs and became the first Giant in 22 years with eight total bases in his debut. He joined Bobby Bonds and Brandon Crawford as the only San Francisco Giants to hit a grand slam in their first game.
"You can't have a better debut than that," Bochy said that night.
As he looked back at the performance in a phone call Monday, Dickerson said it felt like everything slid into place. He hadn't played in the big leagues the previous two seasons but he was up with the Padres before that and much of his rehab was done in the Phoenix area, so he was very familiar with Chase Field. He didn't know many of the Giants, but hitting coach Alonzo Powell had been in San Diego earlier in his career and helped Dickerson settle in during BP. The opposing starter, Taylor Clarke, had pitched in the minors earlier in the year and Dickerson homered off him in Triple-A in April.
"The stars kind of aligned," Dickerson said. "It was an interesting scenario for me. The group was so laid-back and welcoming right away and I think that's where performances like that kind of come out, because it was a well-oiled machine. You could see how comfortable all the players were and I'd always gotten to see that from the other dugout. You could always see the way the Giants gelled.
"I could count a thousand times where you see them call someone up and you didn't think much of them in Triple-A and they would just kill it all the time. That's how the organization is run. It's laid-back but professional."
That started at the top, with a manager who wasn't afraid to throw a veteran into the mix on his first day. Dickerson, who lives not far from Bochy in the San Diego area, said one of the coolest parts of that memorable debut was heading back to the dugout after his grand slam.
"I still remember seeing Bochy's face as I came in from home plate," he said. "It was a weird moment. I grew up watching him. He was the manager of the Padres and I had seen that face on TV many times after guys had hit home runs.
"It was pretty cool seeing that during a game."