CLEARWATER, Fla. — Brock Stassi apologized Thursday afternoon as the tears began to run. His quest to reach the major leagues started in 2011 as the longest of long shots when the Phillies drafted him in the 33rd round. The quest was now complete.
"A dream come true," Stassi said, his emotions overcoming him.
The Phillies told Stassi a few minutes earlier that he had captured one of the final spots on the 25-man roster. The 27-year-old spent six seasons in the minor leagues. He started his career with a $1,000 bonus and a plane ticket to baseball's lowest rung. Nothing else was guaranteed.
Stassi was called into Pete Mackanin's office Thursday after a 14-1 loss to the Yankees. The manager simply asked him what number he wanted to wear. Stassi knew then that he was a big-leaguer. Mackanin has been in professional baseball for 49 seasons. This day, he said, was special.
"I got a little choked up, to be honest with you," Mackanin said.
Stassi earned his way onto the roster by hitting .333 with six homers and 17 RBIs this spring. The first baseman proved he could also play the outfield, adding necessary versatility to his role as a reserve. The other remaining bench job was claimed by Daniel Nava. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin, the last cut of spring, will report to triple A. Tyler Goeddel was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Nava, like Stassi, had to defy the odds to reach the majors in 2010. Nava, 34, was cut by his college baseball team, spent two years as the team manager, transferred schools, returned on a scholarship, went undrafted, and latched on with an independent team before finally signing with Boston.
"We have unique stories. Neither one of us were big prospects or big signs, so when he started sharing his story I was happy for him that he was doing so well, and to make the team, it's special," Nava said. "It's special, your first one. He earned it. Nothing was given to him. Everyone was pulling for him and now we're all pumped for him."
Joey Davis, the Phillies area scout who signed Stassi, learned that his former 33rd-round pick was headed to the majors after receiving a slew of congratulatory text messages from other scouts. Unbeknownst to Davis, word traveled quickly after a video of Stassi thanking Davis for giving him a chance had spread on social media. "Pretty cool that he mentioned my name," an emotional Davis said by phone. "Kind of neat. That doesn't really happen."
Davis scouted Stassi during his senior year at the University of Nevada. He knew Stassi could hit and loved his character, which he thought could sway a minor-league manager into giving Stassi a chance. The scout followed Stassi's journey each night for the last six years, checking box scores and following games on his phone. Davis said he "lives and dies" with the players he signs.
"It's an unbelievable story," Davis said. "But obviously, Brock gets 99.9 percent of the credit."
Stassi did not receive a college scholarship until his senior year of high school. His late-round draft selection was so anonymous that it mistakenly listed him as a pitcher, the position he played in his first two years of college because the team believed he was not good enough to hit. Stassi spent his minor-league offseasons as a substitute teacher, driving 50 miles each way, and giving hitting lessons at night.
"My brother is a prime example to everyone: chase your dream, prove the doubters wrong, and grind," his younger brother Max, a catcher in the Astros system, posted on Twitter.
Brock Stassi's first professional season ended with a .200 average in 50 games at short-season, Class-A Williamsport. Stassi failed to crack a minor-league team at the end of the following spring training and had to stay in Florida for the first three months of the 2012 season. His quest could have ended there. But Stassi refused to quit.
He won the double-A Eastern League's MVP Award in 2015 and spent last season in triple A. He did not have an answer for Mackanin on Thursday when the manager asked what number he wished to wear. But Stassi has time to decide. The long shot's major-league career begins Monday in Cincinnati.
"I always believed in myself," Stassi said. "Even though Williamsport didn't go well, I always had confidence that I would work hard. When I was in high school, I wasn't recruited to go to college, a late pick. It was always my end goal and I never doubted myself. Ever.