It was May 30, and Mitch Walding, after six long years in the minor leagues, was in Los Angeles, making his Phillies debut.
His family was in Dodger Stadium. Walding had texted Gabe Kabler on the flight from Pennsylvania, saying that he'd "been waiting for this moment [his] whole life." The 25-year-old third baseman first walked up to the plate in the second inning, then three more times throughout the night.
He struck out all four times.
That proved to be emblematic of Walding's first three stints in the majors— May 30-June 6, June 20-25, and July 20-25 — in which the former 2011 fifth-round pick went 0-for-14, with 10 strikeouts and two walks. That's a K rate of 63 percent.
"Obviously, it's not exactly how you draw it up when you first get called up," said Walding, who grew up in north-central California. "I wish I got my first hit or I'd gone up there and killed it, but it didn't play out that way. But I think that, in due time, it will, and I plan to have a long big-league career at some point."
Since his last demotion to triple A, though, Walding has played extremely well. He has batted .318, with an impressive .464 on-base percentage, in 14 games with Lehigh Valley. In a July 28 doubleheader, Walding erupted for three homers and 10 RBIs.
For the season, his batting average is a solid but unremarkable .269, but he ranks second in the International League in slugging percentage (.513), OPS (.907), and home runs (19). Walding does strike out a lot (30.1 percent), but he also walks at a high clip (15.6 percent).
IronPigs hitting coach Sal Rende said he tells Walding to "try and stay in the middle of the field and work from there. He's had a real good stretch. He's hitting for average, hitting for some power, getting walks, doing all the things he's going to have to do."
With the Phillies, his eagerness to impress overcame his typical batting approach.
"When I first got up there, I was just so anxious and wanting to get things going that instead of being calm and relaxed out there, I was trying to hunt a fastball and not miss it," Walding said. "You stop seeing the other pitches, and you're kind of just swinging."
>> READ MORE: Walding looks 'like a major-league player"
Walding will likely get another chance to redeem himself with the Phillies this season, once rosters expand on Sept. 1, although those chances will probably be as a pinch hitter — something that has confounded Walding. He said he has virtually no experience pinch-hitting and has struggled to develop a routine for when his "day is weighed in on one at-bat."
He knows, however, that the coming weeks in triple A will be crucial in preparing for the next call-up.
"I feel like I've done pretty well in triple A, so you're hoping that shows in 'The Show,' " he said. "While I was disappointed, you know what you need to work on to be successful at that level, so you go and work on your craft a little bit."
— First baseman Joey Meneses continues to improve on his spectacular season. The 26-year-old has batted .385 with five home runs in his last 10 games and is the only International League player to top Walding in slugging percentage (.549), OPS (.918), and home runs (22).
— Aaron Altherr, after his late-July demotion, is batting .245 and slugging only .283 with Lehigh Valley. He was 0 for 4 in Indianapolis on Wednesday.