It was one of life’s breath-swiping moments, the kind that lodges itself center stage in the mind’s scrapbook forever.
Ty France walked into the San Diego Padre clubhouse and was greeted by teammates Austin Hedges and Eric Hosmer. His wide eyes could hardly take it all in.
And then there it was.
The jersey number 11 with France stitched across the back hung in front of the locker – his locker.
It had been a steady rise through the rough and tumble and unforgiving Minor League Baseball world for the 24-year-old southern Californian and that moment, the moment that whisks the breath away, will have a special significance in his memory bouquet for a lifetime.
France is back in El Paso now and El Paso Chihuahuas fans are enjoying every at-bat of it. He is simply ripping through the Pacific Coast League.
He was the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Player of the Week April 15-21, then was called up to the Padres because of injuries. Now, back in his first full season at the Triple-A level, France took right up where he left off.
France was named the PCL Player of the Week for June 10-16, soaring through another particularly torrid run at the plate. The third baseman and occasional first baseman who is also available for some action at second base, hit .476 with six home runs and nine runs batted in during the week. He hit a home in five straight games, June 10-15 and hit a pair of round trippers on June 14.
At the end of that week, he had accumulated more than 100 at bats and he was hitting .427 with 15 home runs and 42 runs batted in … an amazing 42 RBI in just 28 games.
“It’s been good,” he said with a small smile and a hefty dose of humility.
“Ty has been on an amazing run,” said Chihuahua radio play-by-play announcer Tim Hagerty, who has seen all but a couple of the team’s games over the past five-plus seasons. “He had that amazing week in April and then got called up. Franmil Reyes had a similar week in May of 2018 and then got sent back down. That is normal. Alex Dickerson had a great run in 2016. Hunter Renfroe led the PCL in home runs (30) and was named league MVP in 2016.
“But Ty has been fun to watch and he’s been amazing,” Hagerty said. “It’s been a fun challenge for me to dig into the team’s history. At this time, he’s had a little more than 100 at bats and that’s a pretty good chunk of season. I’m not sure there has been any Chihuahua streak quite like his.”
France gazed out onto the Southwest University Park playing field and reflected on his journey.
“The Padres have treated me well,” he said. “Each year I’ve moved up a level. I’m grateful to be where I am today.”
Pausing, smiling again, he said, “Sure, there are some tough times and some frustrations in the lower minor leagues … riding a bus for eight hours straight … McDonald’s the only thing open to eat at times. Those are experiences a lot of people can’t understand. But, hey, we were playing baseball and it’s part of the business, part of the process.”
France had that great run in April and is having another great run in June. And then there was that special life moment smack in the middle.
“It was crazy,” he said, shaking his head. “It happened so fast. And it was definitely shocking. I hadn’t saved Edwin’s (manager Edwin Rodriguez) number. He called me after the game that night. It was 10:30 or 11. I saw a number from Puerto Rico that I didn’t recognize. So I didn’t answer it.
“He texted me seconds later and told me to call him that I was getting called up,” France said with a light chuckle. “Within the next eight hours I was on my way to San Diego.”
He made the traditional calls – girl friend, parents, agent – and was on his way to a dream.
The smile broadened and he said, “It was pretty special to walk in the clubhouse and be greeted by Hedgie (Hedges) and Hossie (Hosmer) and then to look over and see the jersey with No. 11 and my name on the back was just pretty cool.
“I didn’t play that night so I was able to sit there and take it all in,” he said. “I was in the big leagues. It was all pretty cool.”
And then came another lifetime moment, just two days later.
“My first appearance was in D.C.,” he said. “I pinch hit in the eighth inning. I got down 0-2 and then battled back and got a 3-2 count. It was a grinding at-bat. And then I got my pitch and got my first Major League base hit, a single through the 5-6 hole.”
He got that baseball and it will forever have a special place in his life’s trophy case, that single to left field will be as vivid 50 years from now as it is today. That single to left field will be a warm glow on even the coldest of winter nights.
France played in 34 Major League games but, when Fernando Tatis Jr. got healthy again, was sent back to El Paso.
“Andy (Green, Padres manager) sat me down and told me I did a good job,” France recalled. “But he said there was just not a spot for me right now – which I understood. It’s a business and I get it. I just have to keep working hard and do everything I can do down here to get back up there.”
This is the business of professional baseball and even the best of the Chihuahuas like Renfroe and Reyes and Dickerson have come back down for brief moments.
And El Paso baseball fans have enjoyed watching each and every one of those moments.
Rodriguez has been a France fan since their days together at Lake Elsinore. Just before this season began, Rodriguez said, “Ty is such a good athlete. He can play third base, first base and he got some looks at second base during Spring Training. You might even see him in the outfield.
“Definitely, he will hit,” Rodriguez said. “He will hit for average and he will hit for power. He is just a hard-nosed player that the fans will really like.”
France has lived up to all of Rodriguez’ predictions – and more.
He grew up in the Los Angeles area and was always an athlete. He played football, basketball and baseball growing up and played football and baseball at South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif.
“I played football for fun,” he said. “Fullback and linebacker. But it was always about baseball. I stopped playing football after my junior year. I figured if I got hurt then, I’d have a year to recover. But, if I played my senior year and got hurt, then …
“Growing up college was always the number one priority and I didn’t want my parents to have to pay,” he said. “So I worked my butt off.”
France moved south a bit and played three years at San Diego State.
“Sure, as a kid you always have the dream of playing in the big leagues,” he said. “After my freshman year at San Diego State, it started to sink in. OK. I can do this.”
He hit .336 with four home runs and 49 RBI in 64 games as a San Diego State junior and was drafted in the 34th round by the Padres.
“We had a good team my junior year and we had six or seven guys get drafted,” he said with a shrug. “We wouldn’t have been that good the next year so I just felt like it would be beneficial for me to go.”
He played for Tri-City in the Class A Short Season after signing in the summer of 2015. He then began his ascent. He started 2016 in Class A Fort Wayne and moved up to Advanced A Lake Elsinore during the season. He began 2017 in Lake Elsinore and moved up to Double-A San Antonio during that season. He began 2018 in San Antonio and finished in El Paso.
In a world where even the best of players sometimes get bogged down along the way, France has always been upwardly mobile.
France also began to grow into his power in the last two seasons. He is athletic, solidly built (“I’m 6-feet in cleats,” he said, laughing) at 215-pounds. He hit 22 home runs in 2018, mostly in the thick air and tough hitter’s park in San Antonio.
And now he is a home run threat each time he grabs a bat out of the rack and strolls toward home plate. More than, that, though – as Rodriguez said – he will hit for average.
France shrugged again and said, “The talk of the year is that the baseballs are different. I don’t think anything’s that different. You’ve still got to get a good pitch to hit and you’ve still got to hit it.”
And that, almost certainly, is the most difficult thing to do in all of sports.
And France has been doing that, doing it at an almost other-worldly pace, turning in some sort of Godzilla year.
“It’s already been a special year” he said. “This year was my first time to go to big league spring training. Definitely, being around the big name guys helps your confidence. Sharing the field, sharing the locker room with all those guys lets you know you are close to a dream come true.”
Ty France continues to work at his craft, continues to improve, continues to climb that most difficult of ladders – the ladder of professional baseball, that ladder strewn with broken hearts and broken dreams and what-ifs.
Through it all, he remains grounded, remains pointed toward his true north. He has a tattoo in script on his left arm – “Through sunshine and rain, I’ll be there. I love you the most.”
It is a message, a gift his mother, Diane, has given him for a lifetime.
And, through it all, he knows two things.
One, he has already reached the top of that ladder, albeit briefly. He has stepped center stage in this nation’s grand drama, the drama that is Major League Baseball.
“It was eye opening, it was a dream come true,” he said. “I felt I handled myself well. I can always say I was a Major League Baseball player.”
Two, he knows he is but a phone call away from more dreams.
In the meantime, France continues to thrill El Paso baseball fans as they flock to beautiful and scenic Southwest University Park to see their beloved Chihuahuas chase another championship.
Watching hits continue to spray from his bat like summer rain, one cannot help but think France might soon again be a Major League Baseball player.
That telephone could ring again at any moment.
And this time you can be certain he will answer that number from Puerto Rico.
Ty France will join Austin Allen and Luis Urias in the 2019 RMHC Triple-A All-Star Game to be held on July 10 at Southwest University Park. The game will be preceded by the 2019 Jarritos Triple-A Home Run Derby on July 8.
Author: Bill Knight – El Paso Chihuahuas
Bill Knight is a contributing writer for the El Paso Chihuahuas. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.