When you’re a minor league prospect two days before the trade deadline, and your cell phone rings at midnight with your manager calling, it’s not always a good thing.
So outfielder Todd Cunningham got a little jolt when Randy Ready called him late Monday night, while he was hanging out with some Gwinnett teammates on a dock at pitcher David Hale’s dad’s house at Lake Lanier.
The team had just gotten back from playing in Charlotte Monday and had an off day Tuesday.
“(Cody) Rasmus had just been traded yesterday,” Cunningham said. “So I got the call at about midnight and my first thought was, ‘Where am I going now?’ like I was involved in some kind of trade. So it was a pleasant surprise to find out I was coming to Atlanta, as opposed to some other ball club.”
The news was good – the first major league call-up for Cunningham, a second round pick out of Jacksonville (Ala.) State in 2010.
“It was kind of that awkward silence when I re-approached the group, (like) ‘Which side of the news is it?’” Cunningham said. “Lot of hugs and celebrations. So it was a fun time.”
The good times continued right on into Tuesday night, when Cunningham collected a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat in the seventh inning against the Rockies. He lined a 1-1 change-up from lefty reliever Jeff Francis into left field.
“Heart’s beating fast, palms are sweaty, all the clichés,” Cunningham said. “But it’s all about controlling that. I guess I did well enough to get the knock, so it was a good one.”
Congratulating him at first base was 39-year-old Rockies veteran Todd Helton, who has 2,481 hits where that one came from.
“I asked him about his first hit,” said Cunningham, who was trying not to crack much of a smile, standing at first base. “He said it felt like a long time ago.”
Cunningham advanced to second base on a Jason Heyward single and then during a pitching change, got a bear hug and some encouragement from Heyward.
“He said ‘congratulations,’ then gave me a spiel about how I need to keep working hard, don’t get complacent basically,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham stayed in the game in the eighth inning for his first action in the field. He was greeted by some rowdy fans yelling his name in left field.
“They were out of control, weren’t they?” Cunningham said, smiling. “They were wild out there. I’m not sure if I know them or not. I tried not to look.”
Waiting for him in the clubhouse were some rowdy teammates as well. They had a rap video Cunningham made a year or so ago, which he and posted on YouTube called “Rock Yo Jock,” blaring on the clubhouse TVs.
“You hear all the horror stories and you know it’s coming, but if you kind of own it, it’s not so bad,” Cunningham said.
All the attention comes in part from Cunningham’s outgoing personality, but also from the precedent he established in the minors. Cunningham was named the Braves organizational player of the year in 2012 after hitting .309 in Double-A Mississippi.
He entered this season rated the 12th best Braves prospect by Baseball America and lived up to the billing by hitting .279 in 99 games for Triple-A Gwinnett.
The switch-hitting Cunningham built his reputation on hitting for average and his outfield defense. He can play all three outfield positions and played a majority of his games in Gwinnett in center field.
“Talking with some of our scouts, he’s one of those guys who’s not going to light you up,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who planned to give one signed lineup card from Tuesday’s game to Cunningham and one to first-time winner Alex Wood. “If you walked into the ballpark today and watched him play you’re going to say ‘OK,’ but if you follow him for four or five days you’re going to say ‘This guy is pretty good.’ He’s one of those guys who is a solid baseball player. The more you watch, the more you appreciate.”
Cunningham might have a little easier time getting past security into Turner Field on Wednesday. The baby-faced Cunningham, 24, got stopped trying to get into the Braves players’ lot when he arrived about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
“I had to wait a couple minutes while they called up and checked my ID and all that good stuff,” Cunningham said with a smile. “I’ve got a parking pass now, so I should be good.”
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