Scales' perseverance pays off
Longtime Minor Leaguer relishes first Major League start
CHICAGO -- A champagne bottle was in Bobby Scales' locker Tuesday to help him toast his first callup to the Major Leagues after 10 years in the Minors.
The gift was from Brian Sweeney, a pitcher who was Scales' teammate in 2004 at Triple-A Portland. Sweeney began playing professional baseball in 1996 and didn't get called up to the big leagues until 2003 with Seattle.
Scales hasn't spoken to the pitcher in two or three years, but Sweeney, who appeared in a total of 49 Major League games with the Padres and Mariners, didn't forget his friend. The bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne was a reminder of their perseverance.
The note attached said: "All the hard work paid off."
Scales, called up to the big leagues for the first time Monday, made his first Major League start Tuesday for the Cubs, got his first Major League hit, scored his first Major League run and whiffed for his first Major League strikeout. He made a few putouts as well. A Chicago win would've capped the day, but the San Francisco Giants beat the Cubs, 6-2.
Scales will still treasure the game ball and lineup card from his first game, well deserved after more than 1,000 Minor League at-bats.
"Nobody can ever take it from you," said Scales, a 14th-round pick by the Padres in 1999. "I got it, I earned it. I'm just fortunate to have it."
The game started perfectly as Giants leadoff man Fred Lewis hit a grounder to Scales, starting at second, and he made the throw to first. Getting that out of the way helped him relax.
"You don't want to get a hot shot in the eighth," Scales said. "You want to get the first ball and get it out of the way."
He struck out on four pitches in his first at-bat in the second inning, but he delivered a single to left with two outs in the fifth. As he got to first base, he could exhale.
"He threw me a fastball and I was able to get on top of it," Scales said of San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. "There's no rocket science behind it. It found some grass.
"I don't know how long I'm going to be here, but you want to get one -- get one mark on the board. I was able to do that and go from there."
The ball was tossed back to the Cubs dugout, a memorable souvenir, but it bounced into the seats and a fan grabbed it. It was quickly retrieved and put in a safe place.
Koyie Hill then walked, and Scales scored on Sean Marshall's single to center. When he got to the dugout, Scales received high fives and hugs from his teammates.
"I told him to get that first one out of the way," Micah Hoffpauir said. "I gave him a big hug after the first strikeout, too. Get that one out of the way, too. He's put in the time and worked hard. He deserves everything he's got."
Hoffpauir would've bought Scales some champagne.
"He's the reason I got here last year because he got on base for me," Hoffpauir said.
Scales didn't disappoint in the field, either. He dove to stop Bengie Molina's grounder leading off the sixth and threw him out.
"That was nice, too," Scales said. "I knew that the thing I had to work the most on, I had to work on my defense."
He credited two coaches -- Tony Franklin, who was with San Diego at the time, and Bobby Dickerson, now the Triple-A Iowa manager -- with polishing his field work.
"Early on, Tony had a lot of work to do and he did the heavy lifting," Scales said. "It was one of those things where you think you're good and you're not."
The Padres apparently wanted to move Scales to the outfield, but Franklin lobbied to keep Scales in the infield.
"His belief in me, I can't tell you what it means," Scales said. "I don't have words for it."
Scales nearly had another hit in the seventh but Giants right fielder Randy Winn robbed him with a sliding catch.
No one from Scales' family was able to make it to the game. However, two of his college roommates from Michigan were there. One flew in from Philadelphia, another who lived in Chicago was sitting in the front row.
"Congratulations on his first Major League hit," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Hopefully, he gets a lot more."
Scales' time in the big leagues may be limited. He was added to the 25-man roster when Carlos Zambrano was placed on the disabled list. The Cubs will have to make another transaction Friday when Minor League pitcher Randy Wells is added to start against the Milwaukee Brewers, subbing in Zambrano's spot.
Scales knows his role.
"I just have to do what Skip asks me to do," Scales said. "He called for me, so however he sees fit to use me, that's what I have to do."
He's come a long way. In the offseason, Scales is a teacher in the Alpharetta, Ga., area, and this past winter, he handled a physical education class and four health classes. Playing in front of 39,497 at Wrigley Field is a lot different than being in front of high schoolers.
"I knew for a fact I could play here and I could contribute to a big league team," Scales said. "That never wavered. Whether guys get opportunities, that's not up to me. There are guys at home, good players I know, who had better numbers than me and never had a chance. You wonder if that day will come but there was never a doubt I could play."
Piniella keeps calling Scales a "kid." In baseball terms, 31 is not considered young.
"Maybe we can hoodwink him and make him think I'm about 26," Scales said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.