NEW YORK (AP) — Oakland Athletics rookie Dustin Fowler once was a rising star in the Yankees’ system, set to join a promising crop of Baby Bombers in the Bronx for years to come.
He never got to don pinstripes in New York, though. Instead, in his big league debut last June, he suffered a major knee injury while trying to make a catch against the White Sox in Chicago.
While it wasn’t a career-ending setback, he was finished for the season. And then a month later, he was traded to Oakland as part of a package for Sonny Gray.
Fowler finally got to suit up at Yankee Stadium on Friday night, albeit in a visitor’s uniform. He started in center field and batted ninth as the A’s, fittingly, faced Gray.
“I wouldn’t have planned it this way, but it’s perfect,” Fowler said before the game. “Getting my first, hopefully full start against New York, my former team and the guy I got traded for so it’s fun.”
It became a memorable evening, too, when Fowler lined a single in the fourth inning for his first hit in the majors. The ball was taken out of play as a keepsake, and Fowler planned to showcase it along with his bat.
“I’ll hang them up and remember them forever,” he said.
The 23-year-old Fowler got a nice hand from the crowd when he batted in the second, with many fans knowing his backstory.
“It was awesome for them to do that for me,” Fowler said.
Fowler struck out the first time up, but the lefty hitter came back a couple innings later to get his hit off Gray.
“I enjoyed it. It was awesome to be able to get it off of Sonny as well, so it was kind of a cool situation right there,” Fowler said. “I enjoyed every second of it and I’m glad I was able to get it early.”
Fowler went 1 for 5 and scored a run in Oakland’s 10-5 win.
His future looked bright when he made his debut last June 29. He didn’t get to bat in the top of the first, then was hurt in the bottom half of the inning.
Fowler crashed into the short sidewall near the right field corner at Guaranteed Rate Field, rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee. He was eventually carted off the field as distraught teammates and then-manager Joe Girardi watched in despair.
“It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen on a baseball field,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said at the time. “I just can’t imagine a worse scenario for him.”
Fowler underwent surgery that night and it was unclear if he’d ever return to the diamond.
“When it happened, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back and play,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be as soon as it was. So I’m happy I was able to recover as quick as I was.”
Fowler knows just how lucky he is.
“I just don’t take anything for granted, enjoy every second I get out here because I could have easily lost everything on that one play,” he said. “I just try to enjoy everything and not get too caught up in my at-bats or how things are going.”
While he rehabbed, Fowler drew inspiration from some former teammates who kept in touch with him regularly, a group that included New York first baseman Tyler Austin.
“Dustin and I have developed a pretty good relationship over the last couple of years,” Austin said after Friday’s game. “He’s, in my opinion, one of the best players I’ve ever played with. He’s a great guy and I’m happy he’s back out there.”
The reigning AL Rookie of the Year also took notice.
“Many more to come out of him,” New York slugger Aaron Judge said. “It’s exciting to see him at Yankee Stadium playing where he belongs, in the major leagues.”
Fowler was hitting .310 at Triple-A Nashville when he was called up this week. He got his first big league at-bat on Wednesday and lined out as a pinch hitter at home against Houston.
“Not the way I wanted it to go, but it was fun,” Fowler said. “I was finally able to kind of get out there and get it out the way.”
About a dozen family members and friends were at Yankee Stadium for his first start in the majors. He also had a flurry of text messages waiting for him after the game.
“I just went through hundreds of them,” Fowler said, grinning. “So it’ll be a long night for me.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin liked how it all turned out.
“We were pulling for him,” Melvin said. “To come back and get his first start here and get his first hit here I think was kind of apropos, coming full circle for him.”
AP freelancer Howie Karpin contributed to this story.