MLB’s $300 Million Man Was Once a Tri-City Dust Devil
The Tri-City Dust Devils are back, baby!
The Tri-City Dust Devils have been a Tri-Cities institution since 2001. Entering their 20th season (2020 was canceled), the team is celebrating new beginnings. For the past 19 seasons, the team had been a short-season A affiliate, playing a 76-game summer season. This off-season had many towns with minor league teams wondering if they'd get to keep their clubs. Amidst nationwide uncertainty, the Dust Devils got called up. By signing a ten-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels this winter, the Dust Devils season will be much longer. With 120 games in a High-A affiliate season, Gesa Stadium will be rocking from early May to late September for at least ten years.
The Tri-City Dust Devils have a rich history of developing big league talent.
The Dust Devils served as the Short-Season A affiliate for the Rockies from 2001-2014 and the Padres from 2015-2020. In that time, they saw several young prospects grow up to be big leaguers. For a long time, Charlie Blackmon was the biggest success story for the team. He's a three-time All-Star and snagged the NL batting title in 2017. In 2012, when the Seahawks drafted a quarterback from Wisconsin in the third round, locals thought that name sounded awfully familiar. Just two years prior, Russell Wilson was manning second base for the Tri-City Dust Devils. I remember watching Super Bowl XLIX and the broadcast detailed his baseball to football story and showed a picture of him in his Dust Devils uniform. A life-sized bobblehead indicates how proud the community is of Russell.
This may be the biggest Dust Devils success story yet.
A lot of players have played for the Dust Devils and with affiliate changes, it can be easy to lose track of everyone who played here. Walking through the parking lot at Gesa Stadium on opening day, I was smacked in the face with a name I had forgotten appeared on a Dust Devils line-up card. Late in the 2016 MiLB season, 17-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. appeared in 12 games for the Dust Devils.
Tatis was an international prospect and signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2015. He never played a game in their organization. Tatis and another prospect would be flipped to San Diego for James Shields. Since his time with the Dust Devils, Tatis has emerged as one of the biggest stars in the game. He is the cover athlete for MLB The Show 21, and this off-season signed a huge contract with the Padres. He made baseball history when he signed a 10-year $330 million contract to stay in San Diego. It's historic because he signed this deal before he had even played a full season in the big leagues. He wasn't even eligible for arbitration and signed a free agency-sized monster deal. It's a risky contract for the Padres considering Tatis doesn't have the sample size that other players who signed $300-million contracts did. Tatis' contract is the fourth-largest contract in baseball history while teammate Manny Machado's is not far behind. Machado signed a ten-year $300 million deal in 2019. The Padres are all in on Tatis and Machado and hope that their 20-year $600+ million wager pays dividends.
I'm not sure when we'll see that Fernando Tatis Jr. Dust Devils bobblehead, but I'll be first in line if I can. COVID-19 has made scheduling promotions at Gesa Stadium difficult. I'm just thankful for what we do have. The Dust Devils are back and there are fans in the stands! I'm sure there will be all sorts of promotional happenings down the road. 120 games will give the team more freebie firepower and I'd bet we'll see some Tatis collectibles just like we have with Russell Wilson.