The fielding, that was easy. The hitting, well, it took four tries, but he succeeded at that, too. No, the toughest part of Royce Lewis’ first night as a big-leaguer was figuring out how to react to a standing ovation from the 17,509 at Target Field.
“It made me nervous. I didn’t know if I should take my helmet off or not,” Lewis said of the eighth-inning appreciation for his first career hit, a line-drive opposite-field single. “I was honestly thinking, ‘Are they going to get louder?’ And then I couldn’t hear [first-base coach] Hank [Conger], and I was trying to pick up signs. I was a little bit flustered. I was really excited.”
It was a pretty thrilling day all the way around for the 22-year-old Lewis, the Twins’ highest-rated prospect since fellow overall No. 1 draft pick Joe Mauer. Despite his solid start for the St. Paul Saints, Lewis said he never expected to play at Target Field this summer, and certainly not one month into the season.
“I truly thought it was going to take a few more years. To get the call and be so shocked and amazed, it’s truly a blessing,” Lewis said shortly before his first MLB game. “I can’t wait to show off my skills and have fun and hopefully get some wins for the team.”
He didn’t have to wait long — four pitches, to be exact. A’s leadoff hitter Sheldon Neuse slapped that pitch, an 0-2 slider, slowly toward shortstop, and Lewis made a running pickup and throw to first base, his first assist as a Minnesota Twin.
Lewis had plenty of witnesses to his debut in the crowd, at least 15 he said, after electrifying his family with a phone call to his parents’ Southern California home. “I think Mom was crying. Dad said he had to work tomorrow, so I said, ‘Maybe you should get out of work for one day, you own the restaurant,’ ” Lewis said with a laugh. “I think it was the first time my baseball [career] has pulled him out of work in years, so it was pretty cool.”
It might just be a temporary stay; the Twins decided to summon Lewis when they believed Carlos Correa would miss more than a month because of a broken finger. But Correa’s finger is not broken and he’ll reclaim his position in a day or two. Still, Falvey said the rookie’s first month for St. Paul — a .310 average and 15 extra-base hits in 24 games — gave them confidence that he’s ready for a promotion, even though the minor league cancellation in 2020 and a torn ligament in his right knee in 2021 cost him two entire seasons of development.
“He’s always been an exceptional athlete. He can do some things on the field that can open your eyes in the ways that Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa can open your eyes,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations. “Now he’s got to step up and go.”
Well, once he catches his breath. When Saints manager Toby Gardenhire called him Thursday night — “10:43 pm,” Lewis said, a moment he’ll never forget — the player thought he was being assigned to a community service appearance. “He said, ‘No, I’ve got better news,’ ” Lewis said. When he heard it, “It was almost like I ran a marathon — I ran out of breath immediately. Just in shock, in disbelief.”