MIAMI, FL — The tense geometry of baseball warm ups, for a game set to be nationally televised, is really something to behold. Over 100 reporters, camera operators, security guards, and media personnel are corralled into a relatively small area in the foul ground of Marlins Park. There is not a lot of foul ground in Marlins Park, and this makes the whole “sardine effect” so much more pronounced.
The whole thing is beautifully, chaotically asymmetrical, and not just in numbers. In the Media Pen, everyone is an adult. They are older, rather than not. Older than me, mostly.
Grizzled sportswriters and seasoned TV personalities perch just on the edge of a bright orange line in the dirt, reporting live just-off-the-field.
But in the Futures Game, everyone is young. Younger than me, mostly. Younger than you. Not you, per se, but the Statistical You: the average baseball fan. You might be 7 years old, you might be 77 years old. No matter what through, we can compute the average of you, just as we can compute Aaron Judge’s batting average and Aaron Judge’s average home run distance and Aaron Judge’s height and weight (More on him tomorrow).
This difference in age is easy to quantify, especially in an exhibition match where the explicit goal is to showcase the future of the sport.
Most of these players will make the majors. Some will become regular, effective starters. A couple may become All-Stars. But all that mystery, compounded by the sheer youth of these outstanding players, makes the whole stadium sort of shimmer with expectation. The asymmetry of all of these reporters, camera operators, security guards, and media personnel, outside looking in to the future, makes the Futures Game an exhibition of expectation.
Maybe this is projecting a little bit. On the field, the lights seem a whole lot brighter. I had two jobs as press: Get some pictures of players, and for the love of God do not stand in front of a camera. These simple tasks alone were already too much. Three minutes in, I was barked at by a balding MLB employee for wandering aimlessly in front of the shot of another, slightly less balding employee. For my first All-Star Game, let alone my first time on the field during one, I myself felt a little overwhelmed by it all.
This is what makes Lucius Fox, who I caught for a very, very brief interview, all the more impressive.
Rays prospect Lucius Fox
Lucius Fox came over to the Rays in the Matt Moore trade, along with Matt Duffy and Michael Santos. All three were injured when they arrived, but only Duffy (the major league piece) remains so.
Which leads me to the incredible dualism of Lucius Fox: although he has just turned 20, Fox has the charm and quiet confidence of a guy who has been in the league a long time. After joining the Giants, after signing at age 18 out of the Bahamas, transitioning franchises appears to not have fazed him.
“Moving from the Giants to the Rays the coaches were just like one . . . I dunno, I think there’s something about me that works well together with them. We gel.”
This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as the transition from Augusta GA, to Bowling Green, KY couldn’t have been just a walk in the park.
It turns out, Fox didn’t have a problem acclimating, and maybe that comes from a quiet confidence. Standing just outside the batting cages before the game, I saw Fox chatting it up with 6-foot-5 mountain of a man Yordan Alvarez, himself a few days older than Fox.
In that pic, Fox looks almost as tall as Alvarez, but trust me, he is standing about 6 feet closer. Here’s more proof: I asked him when he thought he’d be in the majors. He told me flat out:
That was it. Sure, every player thinks he can make it there faster than anyone else ever has or will. But the bluntness of it was still surprising. Like it was a supernova that had already happened, and we’re still waiting on the light to get here.
Heralding from the Bahamas
What’s also really impressive about Fox’s story is where he came from. Fox hails from the Bahamas, where, surprisingly, the most popular sport is cricket: baseball’s stranger, older brother.
Only six major leaguers have ever come from the Bahamas, and to hear Fox tell it, baseball almost didn’t happen for him.
“So in physical education in school, my physical education teacher was a big baseball fan, and he was putting together a baseball team. And I had never heard of baseball! And I just went out one day and I remember the first position I went to was third base and after that I fell in love with the game . . . and that was it. Once I stepped foot on the field, it’s like it was always meant to be.”
I’m a sucker for “meant to be.” Especially in a place like this, where it’s overwhelmingly clear that nothing is “meant to be” despite the great expectations. You want it to be, and you want it so badly that you’ll fight for it, leaving your home behind and dedicating your life to perfecting a singular craft. To snagging a hard-hit grounder. To shooting a curveball the other way.
I already said that most of these players will make the majors. But you can’t ignore the hard fact that, probably, not everyone here will end up in the Show. It’s almost sacrilege to think about, when hopes are the highest and dreams are so real you can almost taste them. But not everyone steps on the other side of the thick orange line.
This is what makes the guys like Lucius Fox special. He’s easy to like, and his intangibles rule. He has smooth hands, and will inevitably develop more pop as he ages and fills out. He is an ideal Futures Game player.
Lucius Fox waits his turn. He's from the Bahamas and part of a new crop of talent from the country. #FuturesGame @MLBPipeline pic.twitter.com/pTLpJtad8Z— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) July 9, 2017
Lucius Fox would drive in a run on an groundout for Team World as a mid-game replacement at shortstop. In his second at bat he grounded out again, but hustled down the line fast enough to make Mallex Smith sweat. Imagining his future, it’s impossible not to root for him.
Although Fox is one of the youngest guys on the World roster, he acts like he’s been here before.
As if, for him, it’s already happened.