Despite a long and storied history on the diamond and many close calls, the Seward County Baseball program had never had a player reach the pinnacle of the sport. That changed on Monday as 2010 Saint All-American Kelby Tomlinson got the call that every player waits for, the call to join the big league, Tomlinson with the San Francisco Giants.
Tomlinson broke in with the Saints in 2009, hitting .274 with six extra base hits as a utility man for Seward. After an offseason full of hard work, Tomlinson turned himself into a star in 2010 for the Saints, earning NJCAA All-American honors as he hit .352 with 13 doubles, six triples, and six home runs while stealing 28 bases.
Following his standout sophomore season Tomlinson signed at Texas Tech University. With the Raiders as a junior Tomlinson shined with the glove, earning the Big 12 Conference's first ever ABCA Rawlings Gold Glove Award while also hitting .307 and swiping 21 bags.
Major League scouts saw enough in Tomlinson's three collegiate seasons to put him high on their 2011 draft boards where he eventually went in the 12th round to the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.
After an abbreviated 2011 season with the Giants Rookie Ball affiliate in Arizona, Tomlinson made the jump to single A in 2012, stealing 36 bases and driving in 36 for Augusta. Tomlinson lived out of a suitcase during his third professional season, making stops at three different levels including rising to AA Richmond. He returned to play for the Flying Squirrels in 2014, spending the entire season in AA with the Giants, hitting .268 and showing off one of his best tools, stealing 49 bases on the year. He began the 2015 season with the Squirrels once again, but wouldn't be there long as he hit .324 with 18 doubles and 16 stolen bases in 64 games with Richmond before getting the call to move up to AAA Sacramento in June. Tomlinson didn't slow down there, hitting .316 with the River Cats, driving in 15 runs in just 33 games with the Giants AAA club.
Sunday started as any other Sunday had over the past few years for Tomlinson, at Baseball Chapel, but this Sunday would end far different for the 25 year old. After driving in three runs for Sacramento in a 15-6 blowout win over the Salt Lake Bees, Tomlinson's dreams came true as his phone rang and on the other end was Giants General Manager Bobby Evans who told the former Saint to pack his bags and jump on a plane to Atlanta to join the big club Monday as they opened a three game series against the Braves. When asked what was going through his head when it happened, Tomlinson struggled for words saying "it was hard to process at the time. It is something you have hoped for your whole career and for it to happen is almost an emotional overload."
Tomlinson arrived at historic Turner Field Monday afternoon, the same stadium that watched the careers of Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and soon to be Cooperstown member Chipper Jones, with a #37 jersey in his locker that read ever so perfectly 'Tomlinson' on the back. He met his new teammates and he said he tried to keep it just like his introduction days on his other two stops this year. "Being in big league camp for Spring Training this year definitely helped limit the 'star factor' when shaking hands again with Buster (Posey) and (Madison) Bumgarner, etc." Tomlinson said. "Those guys want to make it comfortable for you and that makes it much easier even when some of them have been in the big league for a decade and you have been there for an hour" he continued.
Tomlinson wouldn't start Monday night's series opener for the Giants, but he would most certainly have an impact as three time World Series Champion manager Bruce Bochy called upon him in a 7-7 tie in the top half of the 12th inning against former 1st round draft pick Ross Detwiler. Tomlinson said when asked what his approach was as he stepped into the on deck circle and then to the perfectly groomed batter's box "I just wanted to get a good pitch to hit and try to get something going for the team". That he did, as on a 1-1, one out delivery from the southpaw, Tomlinson did the same thing that he had been doing for the past three months in far smaller stadiums with many fewer fans, driving a single to center field for a single to bring his career Major League Baseball batting average to a shiny 1.000. Cracking as much of a smile as you will see from the normally stone faced Tomlinson on the baseball field, he watched as Braves infielders threw the ball into the visitors' dugout for his first big league souvenir, his first Major League hit.
His dream story didn't end with his first Major League hit in his first Major League at bat though as later in the inning Tomlinson came around to score the go ahead run on a single from 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey to give the Giants an 8-7 lead. On that experience, the mostly subdued Tomlinson said "once I got back to the hotel and started thinking about the game, I think the thing even cooler than getting my first hit was, Buster Posey drove me in!" The Giants bullpen wasn't able to hold the lead as the Braves stormed back for the second time in the game to come back to win 9-8, but even that couldn't ruin a historical night for Seward County Baseball and a night that the 25 year old Tomlinson will most certainly never forget.
When asked how being a part of the Saints program helped him reach the biggest stage, Tomlinson said "Coming out of high school, Seward was the only place that gave me a chance. The coaches put in extra hours to help me develop my game, my teammates were always there to help and drive me to become a better player."
Tomlinson and the Giants will continue their three game set with the Braves on Tuesday in Atlanta before traveling to iconic Wrigley Field in Chicago for a date with the Cubs over the weekend.