- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There were 4,934 home runs hit in the big leagues last season. This one stands out, for the unabashed joy that swept Drew Sutton around the bases after he hit the first walk-off home run of his big league career.
And then you learn the backstory of the player who hit it.
About a player hanging on through seven big league organizations in the span of a decade, including two go-rounds with two different teams.
About a player traded twice on the same day last May, then let go on waivers a month later.
About the loneliness of a husband and pregnant wife separated all summer, haunted by the memories of the child they had lost.
About Karsyn, who lived a single day, her death leaving baffled doctors unable to provide an explanation to her grieving parents. And the subsequent birth of a healthy baby boy, Ryder, who this spring can be seen here in the stroller pushed by his mother, Staci, and a family reunited.
And the moment becomes far more special, and joyous, than you ever imagined.
"It was a rough year," Drew Sutton said.
Last May, Sutton was in Rochester, N.Y., with the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple-A team, when he was told that he had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He received the news at 4 in the afternoon. "The Pirates asked me if I could rent a car and drive the next morning to meet their Triple-A team," Sutton said.
At 10 o'clock, another call. It was the Pirates again, telling him to forget about the rental car. He was flying to Tampa instead. The Pirates had just traded him to the Rays, who had just lost infielder Jeff Keppinger that same day to a broken toe, and were scrambling for a replacement.
The upside was that Sutton was on his way back to the majors. And that one of his best friends, Ben Zobrist, played for the Rays. "We got drafted together with the Astros," Sutton said.
But a month later, after just 18 games for the Rays, Sutton was designated for assignment by the Rays, who placed him on waivers. Three days later, he was claimed. By the Pirates. Sutton flew to Philadelphia to join his new team.
A week later, the Pirates were back in Pittsburgh. At the time, they were one of the surprise teams in the National League, just a game out of the division lead in the National League Central. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was using Sutton, who had primarily been an infielder throughout his career, in right field.
The Pirates took a 7-6 lead into the ninth, but closer Joel Hanrahan blew the save, allowing the tying run to score. There was one out in the bottom of the ninth when Sutton came to the plate to face Astros left-hander Wesley Wright.
"I remember I was really upset when Drew came to bat," Hanrahan said. "I thought I blew the game. But I went from really ticked off to really happy real fast."
Hanrahan was on the bench when Sutton crushed a breaking ball to the deepest part of the ballpark, straightaway center field, the ball clearing the wall and landing to the left of the shrubbery behind it. Sutton raised both of his arms overhead, like a true believer seized by the spirit at a tent meeting, as he rounded first base, and followed that with a fist pump. The helmet came off as he rounded third base. Fireworks illuminated the sky. The welcoming committee of Pirates at home plate swarmed over him upon arrival, grown men dancing as giddily as schoolchildren, and in the stands, a Pirates fan waved the skull and crossbones.
"The new guy, Sutton," Pirates broadcaster Tim Neverett said. "Welcome to the 'burgh, Drew."
The Pirates were tied for first place. A kid born in Arkansas, raised in Tennessee, and educated in Texas [Baylor] had just eclipsed anything that had ever appeared on his personal highlight reel. The home run was his fourth in the big leagues, his first since the last day of the 2010 season.
"It just all came out," Sutton said. "When I watched it back, yeah, it surprised me a little. You'd think I'd won the playoffs or something.
"But it's just like, you play so much in the minors, it's such a struggle to get up here, you sign minor league contracts and try to get here, hope you have breaks go your way so you get an opportunity like that.
"I just want to enjoy the time I have in the big leagues."
The year before, Sutton had been with the Red Sox, who summoned him back and forth repeatedly from Pawtucket. In the time he did spend in Boston, he played well, as Terry Francona used him at all four infield positions and Sutton hit .315 in 31 games. But it was in Boston where Karsyn was born, with lung and heart defects that took her life away. "What made it even harder," Sutton said, "is doctors couldn't tell us why."
Red Sox teammates and officials did what they could to surround Drew and Staci Sutton with love. That winter, Sutton signed with the Braves. When Staci became pregnant again, the couple decided she should remain home in Texas, under the care of one doctor. Sutton was home, the season having ended, when Ryder was born. On Nov. 2, he signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox, for whom he hopes his versatility might win him a spot.
"I don't know if I'll get back this year," he said. "I'd like to, but I just don't know.
"But that night in Pittsburgh? Pretty sweet. Pretty cool."
21hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com
1dTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com
1dTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com