ORACLE PARK — Mauricio Dubon could hear nothing but the crowd, giving him a standing ovation.
Standing on first base after lining a first-pitch, center-cut fastball to right in the fifth inning Thursday — his first major-league hit — the San Francisco Giants second baseman looked into the stands. He saw see the two host families that took him in when he came to Sacramento from Honduras at 15 to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball.
While the Giants lost to the Padres, 5-3, Dubon’s debut was a look into the future for a San Francisco team that’s now three games under .500 with hopes of a National League wild card berth fading fast. Considered the club’s second baseman of the future, when he first took the field, Dubon realized his dream of playing for the Giants.
“Everybody was loud,” Dubon said. “It was emotional.”
The ball was promptly returned to the home dugout. After the game, Dubon said that he plans to give the ball to his first host mother, Sandy Ritchey, who has constructed a baseball shrine for Dubon out of his gear throughout the years.
During his two years playing high school baseball in Sacramento, Dubon became a big Giants fan, planting himself in front of the television at the Ritcheys’ Rosemont home to watch the 2012 World Series, wearing a Brandon Crawford jersey. After his first summer spent in Sacramento, upon his first game watching the Giants in person at then-AT&T Park, it was Sandy who told him he’d play there. Host father Andy Ritchey always told him he’d look good in the club’s home cream uniform.
“In the first inning, I look at my right and I see those two [Crawford and Evan Longoria],” said Dubon, whose last visit to Oracle Park before his Tuesday call-up was Game 5 of the 2014 National League Championship Series. “It’s unreal. To my left is [Brandon] Belt. Then I look down, and I’m like, “Oh, it’s me.’ It was very special sharing the infield with them.”
He fit right in, making multiple slick defensive plays including a sliding backhand stop ranging to his right to rob Ty France of a hit in the second inning.
“I tried to get the ball and dove and got it,” Dubon said. “It was just an instinct play.”
With the release of Joe Panik shortly afterward, and the release of big-league second baseman Scooter Gennett earlier this week, the Giants insisted they weren’t waving the white flag on this season, but, including Dubon, 13 players on the team’s 25-man active roster started the season in the minor leagues. At seven games back of the second wild card, San Francisco got a look at the future with Dubon as they lost the first of a four-game set against San Diego.
Manager Bruce Bochy and starter Dereck Rodriguez were quick to praise the middle infielder, who will get most of his time at second and will occasionally spell Crawford at short.
“I thought he played well defensively,” Bochy said. “He showed his athleticism, so that’s a good start for him.”
Rodriguez, pegged with the loss for his efforts, nonetheless appreciated the 25-year-old’s performance.
“Those were some big plays,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously Dubon, everyone knows about his glove and it was nice for the fans to see that.”
His impressive showing was ultimately a footnote in the Giants’ third straight loss, but represented a more defined plan for a team that, for a month, has toed the line between contending now and building for the future.
While Dubon flashed star potential, Rodriguez – making his third start for the team since being recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on August 15 – struggled mightily.
Following two quick innings to open the game, Rodriguez served up five runs on six hits, two of which were homers, in the next two frames to give the Padres a 5-0 lead before the Giants had recorded a hit.
The right-hander would pitch just one more inning after the rough stretch and finished his night having allowed five runs on eight hits. San Francisco’s first run came in the fourth inning on a solo shot by Brandon Belt launched into McCovey Cove for the 81st Splash Hit by a Giant at Oracle Park. The long ball was his 15th of the year and broke up a no-hitter.
The Giants would also notch runs in the eighth and ninth, but squandered a no-out bases loaded situation in the eighth when Longoria grounded into a double play to drive in Donovan Solano but record two quick outs. Solano would come to the plate as the tying run in the ninth but grounded out to end the game.
Back in Honduras, several restaurants streamed the game. Dubon is the first-ever Honduran-born player to reach the Major Leagues, making a two-game cameo for Milwaukee before the trade.
“I can’t imagine right now what’s going on,” Dubon said.