LOS ANGELES – Mitch Walding ignored the first 14 calls, slamming the end button to send the annoying rings straight to his voicemail.
It was near 3 a.m. and Walding did not recognize the number that kept calling every few minutes as he tried to sleep in Allentown. Walding answered the 15th call, just to make the caller stop. He's glad he did.
"It was Gary Jones, our manager at triple A, letting me know that I was going to the show," said Walding a few hours before he would make his major-league debut with the Phillies. "He said 'Let this be a lesson learned to always answer your phone.' It was really cool and very surreal."
The call from Jones was a long time coming. Walding, 25, was drafted in the fifth round in 2011. He struggled through his first few minor-league seasons and finally reached triple A this year, starting the season a step away from the majors after hitting 25 homers last year at double-A Reading. He will play third base and some outfield with the Phillies.
"I think in everyone's career, at some point, you tend to doubt yourself," Walding said. "You go through skids where you're like, 'Do you have it in you?' I always took a step back after going through my slumps and said, 'You have the ability. It's going to come eventually.' Mine was a little longer than I would've liked, but I think it all works out for certain reasons. I just continued to put my head down and work and it panned out."
Walding called his parents back home in Northern California after he hung up with Jones. His parents flew to Los Angeles to see him bat seventh and play third base for the Phillies. They'll be there this weekend when the Phillies play the Giants at AT&T Park, the stadium Walding would go to with friends after those challenging minor-league seasons ended, allowing himself to dream of what it would be like to reach the majors.
The excitement from that phone call finally settled as Walding boarded the flight to L.A., allowing him to sleep before landing here in the afternoon. There was a text message waiting for him when he landed from Gabe Kapler, who asked Walding if he was ready.
"He said 'I've been waiting for this moment my whole life,' " Kapler said. "That as a baseball guy and a baseball fan kind of perks me up."