NEW YORK -- Scott Rice's 14-year slog through the lower levels of baseball officially ended Monday, when the left-hander slipped on a uniform in a big league clubhouse and, for the first time, stood as a player on a big league field. He finally fulfilled his childhood dream in the ninth, striking out a pair of Padres in a scoreless inning.
It was mop-up duty in an 11-2 win, the pitching equivalent of grunt labor. It was also one of the most significant moments of Rice's life.
"I just hope he absorbed the whole thing," manager Terry Collins said. "I hope he stood for a second on the mound in that wind and just took a deep breath and said, 'OK. I'm here now. Let's have some fun with it.'"
Fourteen previous professional seasons saw Rice make stops in Bluefield, W.V.; Ottawa, Ontario; Frisco, Texas, and many others, coming close to the Majors several times but never quite making it. That changed Friday, when the Mets announced they would carry Rice as a second left-hander in their bullpen.
Over the weekend, the 31-year-old Rice received countless phone calls and text messages of congratulations, but could not savor them for too long. Preparing for the Padres, he said, was always on his mind.
So while Rice admitted to some jitters upon jogging out to the Citi Field mound, he did not soak in the moment in quite the way that Collins envisioned. Rice figured he would be able to reflect on it better in the hours after the game, or perhaps the next day, before reporting back to work on Wednesday.
"Once the batter gets in there, it's baseball," said Rice, who plans to deliver the game ball to his father. "It was kind of what I expected in a way. It was baseball."