Jason Coats has had an unremarkable career thus far. In eight games with the White Sox, the rookie outfielder has one hit in 15 at-bats. He’s basically a spare part. An unheralded former 29th-round pick, he’s ridden the pine since getting his lone base knock a week ago today.
Of course, everything in life is relative. What qualifies as unremarkable to some could be unforgettable to another. Coats has had a pair of those moments in his short time with Chicago. The more recent of them came at Fenway Park.
Hitless in his first 12 big-league at-bats, Coats stepped up to the plate against Boston southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez and smoked a pitch to deep right field. Soaring beyond the reach of Mookie Betts, the ball one-hopped the short fence into the bleachers, not far from the visiting bullpen.
As the ball was caroming, Coats was motoring.
“I hit it and then started running as fast as I could,” Coats told me the following day. “I had my head down, so I didn’t see (the ball). When I was rounding first base on my way to second — I was still on a dead sprint — the umpires and the shortstop were like, ‘Hey, hey, slow down, slow down; ground-rule double.’”
Meanwhile, his teammates were springing into action.
“They told me a fan got it and everybody in the bullpen was like, ‘Hey! We need that ball, we need that ball,’” explained Coats. “The guy was like, ‘What?’ They told him, ‘We need that ball; it was his first hit.’ I guess it was easy. They just traded him a couple of balls from the bullpen for mine. I’m going to hold onto it for a long time.”
Standing on second base, Coats couldn’t help but feel relieved. Having made his big-league debut 18 days earlier, he was beginning to wonder if the moment would ever come. Staying within himself had been an issue.
“I was stressing early on,” admitted Coats, who was hitting .335/.399/.567 in Triple-A when he was called up. “I was pressing, trying to do too much instead of sticking with the approach that got me here. But the nerves have finally started calming down. The coaches have worked with me on relaxing, so I can get back into my groove and just let things come.”
Coats’s other memorable moment resulted in him having to come out of the game. Seven innings into his big-league debut, he was involved in an outfield collision that left him bloodied.
“It was a ball in the gap, in Detroit, kind of in no-man’s land between me and (J.B.) Shuck,” explained Coats. “It was do-or-die. We were both running full speed and we collided pretty good. I got my bell rung a little bit. Fortunately, I was able to hang onto the ball, which is the most important thing.”
Coats ended up with five stitches in his mouth — “I was bleeding petty good” — as well as a goose egg on his chin and “a little bit of lockjaw.”
“My chin went right into his shoulder,” said Coats. “Shuck was maybe a little dinged up, too, but I definitely took the brunt of it. But like I’ve joked with a few people, I played football back in high school, so I’ve been hit harder than that. The difference is that I didn’t have a helmet on this time.”
The rookie’s sense of humor extends to pregame rituals.
“There’s a handshake a bunch of the guys do, and (Shuck) and I do it in a way where we reenact the collision,” said Coats. “We bump hands and then I run into his shoulder like I’m getting knocked out again. I kind of stumble back, putting my hand up to my chin. We have fun with it.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.