Billy Burns was almost out the hotel door, heading to the ballpark in Frisco, Texas, where he’d be the center fielder Monday night for the Midland Rockhounds, the same as the day before and the day before that.
His manager, Aaron Nieckula, changed everything with one phone call. Pack your bags and come to the park, Nieckula said. An explanation would be awaiting.
It was, but Burns didn’t need it. Shortly after the first call he got another, this one from A’s traveling secretary Mickey Morabito, on the line to arranging a quick flight to Houston, where Burns would be joining the A’s. Oakland was down two center fielders, Coco Crisp out for at least a few days with a neck injury and Craig Gentry out possibly a couple of weeks or more with a broken right hand.
Before the night was over, Burns would go from being a .250 hitter at Double-A unhappy with the level of offense he was putting out, to being up two levels and getting his first big league at-bat. He flew out to right as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a 7-3 loss to Houston.
“Everything was kind of a fog to me with all the lights and the dome and it being my first AB,’’ Burns said of the at-bat, something the 24-year-old had been dreaming about since Little League. “It was very surprising (to get the call). I was pretty shock with what was going on.’’
The A’s traded Jerry Blevins to Washington during the off-season, getting Burns, a defensive specialist and a fleet base runner, in return. They like him a lot in spring training, so much so that manager Bob Melvin gave him as much playing time as anyone on the A’s roster.
So when Burns faced lefty Tony Sipp for his first big league at-bat, it wasn’t a completely new experience.
“That was huge for me,’’ Burns said of spring training. “Just to know the guys on the team and what the competition is like. That kept me calm up there tonight.’’
Melvin said that was the whole point of spring training when Burns faced front-line pitchers much of the time and led the A’s in at-bats and stolen bases.
“It was good to get him in there, get him the experience,’’ Melvin said. “So he’ll have that when we (start) him.’’