Sherman's Gittens makes his Major League debut

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Sherman native Chris Gittens made his major-league debut on Saturday night, playing first base for the New York Yankees. The former Bearcat and Grayson College Vikings was called up after eight years in the minors.

It was a long-awaited call for Chris Gittens but even when it came, the former Sherman Bearcat and Grayson College Viking couldn’t believe it.

The voice on the other end of the phone late Friday night was Yankees senior director of player development Kevin Reese and he was about to deliver the news the 27-year-old Gittens has been hoping for during his near decade in the minor leagues.

“I got it last night after the game, 11:30 p.m., 12,” Gittens recounted to reporters early Saturday afternoon. “He was like, they need you and I was like kinda confused and he’s like, ‘You’re playing first base for the New York Yankees tomorrow.’ I was shocked. Absolutely shocked.”

Gittens was about to make his major league debut. Yankees-Red Sox on national television in Yankee Stadium. Welcome to The Show.

“You get to this point, you’ve gone through a lot in your baseball life to get to this point and that rings true for Chris,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said during his pregame Zoom conference. “This is a guy who knows the strike zone, has big-time power, big-time power to all fields, is more athletic than you would think at first glance and plays a good first base.”

Gittens, filling out the famous pinstripes at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and wearing No. 92, got the start at first base and hit sixth in the lineup on Saturday night. He went 0-3 with a pair of groundouts and a strikeout before walking in his final plate appearance of the 7-3 loss to Boston.

“Literally everything I dreamed off,” Gittens told reporters after the game. “The stakes — Red Sox versus Yankees, growing up watching that my whole life. It was incredible to have my family here, have all my friends and everybody watching me back home in Texas, it was great.”

He was still searching for his first hit after going 0-4 with the start at first base on Sunday. The Yankees were off Monday before opening a series in Minnesota on Tuesday.

Gittens’ debut gives Sherman a pair of Bearcats currently in the major leagues; pitcher Kyle Crick is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and in the middle of his fifth big-league season as a reliever. The two were teammates a decade ago before Crick was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2011 after his senior season. Gittens graduated the following year and played at Grayson for two seasons before his eight-year journey to make the majors came to an end.

His parents, Gary and Patrice, were in the stands and as with most debuts, got plenty of face time. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal interviewed Gary after Chris’ third at-bat because it was the first time in his professional career that his father watched him play in person.

“My dad told me in 2014 right when I got drafted, he said that — I’m a little emotional when he says it — but he was like ‘I’m not coming to see you play until you make it to the big leagues’ so just being here today is incredible,” said Gittens, whose grandfather is Don Campbell — the quarterback of the 1964 Fred Douglass Class 2A Prairie View Interscholastic League state champions. “It is incredible. Every time I just think back to that so it’s a blessing that he will be able to see me play.”

Gittens was a 12th-round draft pick by the Yankees (362nd overall) in 2014 and decided to turn pro, signing for $125,000 instead of going on to play at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. In his final season at Grayson, Gittens batted .422 with 12 homers and 71 RBI, finishing second in the conference in all three categories for the NTJCAC regular-season champion Vikings.

Gittens is the 17th Grayson player to make it to the majors and his debut comes just weeks after pitcher Tyer Ivey was No. 16 in a start for Houston against the Texas Rangers in Arlington on May 21.

He is now the eighth major leaguer who was born in Sherman, joining Jeff Darwin (1994 debut), Red Durrett (1944), Lee Grissom (1934), Milt Shoffner (1929), George Cox (1928), Guy Sturdy (1927) and Ray Francis (1922).

During this past Spring Training, Gittens hit .316 (6-for-19) with three homers and seven RBI in an effort to try and make the roster.

Playing in Triple-A for the first time after there was no minor league season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gittens was hitting .283 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 53 at-bats across 18 games before being called up.

“He’s earned the opportunity to be here with what he’s done throughout his minor league career but even more recently to continue to put up good numbers,” Boone said. “Came into Spring Training ready to go, had a good spring with us, has carried that into the season. He’s earned this opportunity and he can continue to earn more.”

In 2019, his last full season in the minors, Gittens was named the Eastern League Most Valuable Player with a .281 average, 23 homers and 77 RBI at the Double-A level.