“Look, over there in left field stretching,” I said to my children as we reached our seats for the evening. “That’s Michael Kopech!”
My eight-year old son and five-year old daughter have heard plenty about who Michael Kopech is, and what he is potentially capable of as a baseball player, but today was much different.
Today was real. Today was, “Kopech Day.”
If all goes as planned — and as Chicago sports fans, we know that’s easier said than done more often than not — it won’t be until well into their teenage years that they truly realize what they witnessed with me tonight at Guaranteed Rate Field. Hell, it might not set in until the early years of their adulthood, but what they potentially saw tonight, was the beginning of something truly memorable.
Fans gathered around the White Sox bullpen in left field, clamoring for a chance to see this kid throw warm-up pitches in the bullpen, like he was his childhood idol, Nolan Ryan.
— The Loop Sports (@TheLoop_Sports) August 21, 2018
It was just beginning.
With the cheering competing with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” Michael Kopech and the White Sox took the field as the crowd eventually drowned out the stadium music when he threw his final warm-up pitches from the mound.
Kopech offered a 96 MPH fastball to future Hall of Famer, Joe Mauer for a called strike one to start the game, and it was on.
Kopech’s next offering, a 97 MPH fastball was sprayed up the middle just to the right of the second base bag for a lead off single by the crafty veteran Mauer. After Kopech jumped ahead 1-2 on Twins’ outfielder Eddie Rosario, Rosario slapped a slider into right field to give Minnesota runners at the corners with nobody out.
I chuckled and looked nervously at my wife to my right, and my colleague Nick to my left, and waited anxiously, feeling like the dog in the cartoon drawing where he is surrounded by a room engulfed in flames.
This is alright, I hope.
Michael Kopech, Filthy 83mph Slider. 😷
First MLB K.[Sano, Not his First MLB Sword. 🤺] pic.twitter.com/7krCgFFkqq
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2018
After notching a huge pair of outs, Kopech whizzed a trio of 96 MPH fastballs by Max Kepler, running the count to 3-0 on the Twins outfielder.
Kopech bounced back into the count with a pair of fastballs for strikes, and the crowd rose to its feet, urging Kopech toward his escape as a sixth consecutive fastball — and the 19th of the inning — resulted in a fly out to center field.
“Dude,” I said to Nick as we walked into the concourse area of the club level seating. “That was [expletive] amazing!”
I turned to my daughter as my wife and son made their way toward some foot vendors, and I just looked at her, and said, “What’d ya think of that?”
“Are Mom and P.J. going to get ice cream?”
I had to chuckle out loud, realizing that her current focus of the evening wasn’t as centralized on the field of play as mine was.
After a wasted opportunity by the offense in the home half of the opening frame, it was Kopech time once again.
Like Mauer in the first, Kopech started Logan Forsythe off with a called strike one on a fastball. Unlike Mauer in the first, Forsythe was no match for Micheal Kopech. An 81 MPH slider, and eventually, a 98 MPH fastball put away Forsythe as Kopech opened the second frame with his second strikeout.
So nasty 😳 pic.twitter.com/eoszDA2xuc
— The Loop Sports (@TheLoop_Sports) August 22, 2018
Jake Cave was the next supplier of hanging “K” in the stands, falling victim to a 96 MPH fastball for the second out of the inning.
“Now we’re talking!” I exclaimed in applause and excitement.
After jumping ahead 0-2, and then falling back even at 2-2, Kopech ran a heater too far in and hit Robbie Grossman, wiping away an otherwise perfect inning.
After Bobby Wilson poked a 2-2 fastball into left field for a single, it was Kopech vs. Mauer once again.
The savvy veteran watched a 95 MPH fastball for strike one, and a change-up for ball one, before fouling off four consecutive fastballs. To the delight of the home crowd, there wouldn’t be a fifth, as Kopech uncorked a 98 MPH fastball to sit Mauer down with a backward K, and notch his fourth strikeout of the evening.
As a drizzle began, we made our way to the concourse for a drink but before we could get through the door, the sky opened up and quite literally, rained on our parade.
After a nearly hour-long rain delay, which included my wife surprising me with a Michael Kopech number 34 shirt, “Kopech Day” was over.
It was the smart thing to do, even if it wasn’t what we envisioned when we made the trip down to the ballpark. No reason to jeopardize the future of a guy who turned the first two innings of a late August game into a buzzing playoff-like atmosphere not felt in those parts for far too long.
After the game, Kopech, lauded for his ferocious competitive spirit by many, showed some reciprocal human emotion. Sharing with the media that he got about an hour of sleep on Sunday night after learning that his boyhood dream was finally coming true, and even mentioned his lip quivering with anticipation and excitement when he took the mound on Tuesday night.
As for his feelings on the rain-shortened effort, “I would have like to work a little deeper,” Kopech said. But in the end, the six-foot-three right-hander concluded, “That was pretty exciting stuff.”
Indeed it was.
Regardless of how this plays out, for now everything about “Kopech Day” lived up to the hype.
Yoan Moncada (making his debut) was fun last year, and he’s an uber talented prospect in his own right, but this is different. This felt, and feels even hours later as I type this, like the rebirth of White Sox baseball.
“It was exciting to see how invested the fans were tonight.” Kopech said. “Standing ovation pretty much every time I had two strikes. I didn’t really expect that. It made me feel like I was in a big-time game, and I guess it was a big-time game for me.”
As my colleague David Wildman opined this evening, “Being a Chicago sports fan is [like] continual punches in the gut, with brief gasps of air.”
Judging by the electricity at the old ballpark tonight, many White Sox faithful are in agreement that the 22-year old right-hander from Texas by the name of Michael Kopech, might just be the latest gasp of fresh air on the Southside of Chicago.
Follow Patrick Flowers on Twitter — Feature Photo Credit: Chicago White Sox