Tigers callup makes St. Pierre's dream reality
After tenuous journey through Minors, catcher reaches bigs
MINNEAPOLIS -- Max St. Pierre stood in front of his locker at Target Field and took in where he was, in the Major Leagues.
He only had about an hour of sleep Tuesday night because he was afraid of missing his flight, so he might suspect he's still asleep. But he spent 14 years of Minor League ball dreaming about this.
"I'm still dreaming, I feel like," he said.
For others -- some in the same clubhouse, others watching from afar -- the reality has registered. It means a lot to more than just St. Pierre.
"I am beside myself," said former Tigers player development director Glenn Ezell, who got an early-morning call from his former farmhand. "I was just absolutely, unbelievably thrilled. I can't say enough about the fact."
It was Ezell who, as a catching instructor more than a decade ago, saw a scrawny teenager from Montreal with more enthusiasm than experience -- and much less knowledge of the English language -- and took him under his wing to make him a better backstop, teaching him what St. Pierre said is everything he knows defensively about catching.
Years later, Ezell helped bring St. Pierre back into the Tigers' organization after an ill-fated attempt by the Brewers to convert him into a pitcher -- and a more successful attempt by St. Pierre to change his life after problems with alcohol.
And it was Ezell who talked with St. Pierre last offseason after he thought about quitting baseball, having been sent down from Triple-A Toledo to Double-A Erie that summer. He had been at Erie or Toledo every season since 2003, except for that strange '07 campaign in the Brewers' system. The closest he had gotten to the big leagues was a September stretch in Detroit in '04 when he was at the ballpark, but not on the roster, basically on standby in case they needed an extra catcher.
"I told him, 'Don't ever hang up that uniform until you know darn good and well you're done,'" Ezell said. "I just loved how he went about his business and turned himself around."
It wasn't a rah-rah speech about chasing the dream. It was more about St. Pierre not cheating himself out of a game he clearly loves.
"It was real personal. He did pump me up," St. Pierre said. "He didn't say anything like, 'Oh yeah, you're going to make the team,' or anything. But he stayed positive with me and told me the truth. I told him, 'No worries. I'm going to come back with you guys. I love everybody here. I have a bunch of friends. I love the staff. I love the guys in the Minor Leagues.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to give it another shot.'"
And so he went to Spring Training with the Tigers for the seventh time, went back to Erie again, went up to Toledo and had a late resurgence at the plate. He talked about the big leagues with his roommate on road trips, Casper Wells, who made his Major League debut in May before getting called back up last week.
His dreams were delayed, but not discarded. He wouldn't have kept going if they were.
|"I realized I had goosebumps I think for an hour. Just relief that after everything I've done, I finally got there. It's a dream come true."|
|-- Max St. Pierre|
"Money-wise, I've been doing pretty good," St. Pierre said. "The Tigers have been taking care of me, and I've saved some money. But it's never been about the money. It's always been about the dream. I want to get there. I want everybody back home to say, 'Hey, he made it.' That's what I want to accomplish.
"The money, for me, yeah, it's a plus. But if you chase your dream, the money's going to come. That's why I was trying, just to chase my dream."
St. Pierre took some newfound confidence to the plate and, at age 30, turned out one of the best offensive stretches of his career. A two-homer game Monday for the Mud Hens gave him double-digits in homers between Erie and Toledo for the first time since 2003. A single Tuesday night gave him a .300 average with the Hens, something he hasn't had in a season at any level since he was an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League -- way back in 1998.
Then, Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham told him he was out of the game. He needed to go see manager Larry Parrish, who gave him what he'd been waiting years to hear.
"I think I didn't realize it right away," St. Pierre said. "I called my wife and my mom, got the answering machine right away, talked with my mom. After that, I realized I had goosebumps I think for an hour. Just relief that after everything I've done, I finally got there. It's a dream come true."
It wasn't just his dream.
"I was really excited for Max," Wells said. "I played with him at different levels throughout the last couple years. I'm so happy for him."
Wells met St. Pierre coming up through Erie a couple of years ago. Utilityman Ramon Santiago played with St. Pierre nearly a decade ago, when neither of them spoke much English."It's an amazing story," Santiago said. "He's been playing for a long time. He played most every day with me when I was down in the Minor Leagues. I'm really happy for him."
Brandon Inge, who had a locker next to his for so many years in Spring Training, saw St. Pierre on his way in and told him it was about time he got here.
"It's really cool when you reward a guy who has worked his tail off for that many years," Inge said. "Just for his determination, his persistence, just to tough it out, I'm very pleased for him to get up here and get a little piece of the pie, and for the organization for sticking with a guy like that and giving him a reward."
A few minutes later, manager Jim Leyland walked through the clubhouse, saw him and asked him if he was nervous. If anybody could relate to St. Pierre on this club, it's Leyland, who spent seven seasons playing in the Tigers' farm system and never got above Double-A. He spent more than a decade after that managing in the Minors before he made his big league debut as a third-base coach with the White Sox in 1983 -- 20 years after he signed his first pro contract.
What happened after that is history. But still, Leyland said this summer that he would trade his managerial career to have played one game in the Majors.
Now that Leyland can fulfill someone else's dream, St. Pierre will reap the rewards.
"I'm thrilled for him," Leyland said. "He will play. He will get in a game, I will assure you."
Those were the in-person greetings he was getting. His phone went off all day. Looks like everybody back home saw that he made it.
"I've been getting emails and messages and texts out of control," St. Pierre said. "I'm enjoying it. I'm loving it to the maximum. I feel important. I know I've always been important to my friends, but there's so much support behind me -- it's just a great feeling."
He has pretty much made his phone calls and emails. Ezell was among his first after his family. When Ezell saw the message this morning and called back, St. Pierre was just getting on the plane. After they talked for a few minutes, he told Ezell he'd call him again when he got into the lineup.
Ezell is eagerly awaiting that call.
"This kid has been with us since he was 17," Ezell said. "He couldn't even speak English. I'm thrilled. For the organization to bring him up, I'm thrilled. This young man getting an opportunity to go to the big leagues -- yeah, a lot of us feel real good about Max St. Pierre."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.