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Marlins’ Hermida makes splash in debut

Tim Reynolds Associated Press

MIAMI – From the moment his grand slam landed, the phones started ringing – and haven’t stopped.

Jeremy Hermida’s friends clogged his cell phone with messages. Back home in Georgia, his mother simply thanked callers, then quickly clicked onto the next line, often unaware who she’d just spoken with. Even Cooperstown called; the Hall of Fame sought a memento.

Such is life for those who make history on their first day in the major leagues.

“Jonesey turned to me after I hit it,” Hermida said, referring to Marlins closer Todd Jones. “He said it’s all downhill from here.”

Hermida’s shot off the St. Louis reliever Al Reyes – one that came about six hours after he moved into a major league locker for the first time – was the bright spot for Florida in its 10-5 loss on Wednesday night. The ball sailed 373 feet to right field and was caught by a fan, who traded it back to members of the Marlins’ bullpen in exchange for two signed baseballs.

Only two other players – William “Frosty Bill” Duggleby in 1898 and Bobby Bonds in 1968 – had hit grand slams in their first major league game, with Duggleby also doing so in his first at-bat. Hermida is the only one of the three to do so in pinch-hit fashion.

“We’re still shaking from it,” Tammy Hermida, the rookie’s mother, said.

At their home in Marietta, Ga., Larry and Tammy Hermida – who learned late Tuesday night that their son would be added to the Marlins’ roster – stood a foot away from their television when Jeremy’s name was announced in the seventh inning.

They gasped at his first swing, a ferocious rip that struck nothing but air. The slam came two pitches later.

“We’d seen too many of his hits. We absolutely knew the ball was gone,” Tammy Hermida said Thursday, shortly before she and her husband flew down for the Marlins’ weekend series with the New York Mets. “I think I ran out of the room. And my husband fell to the floor, screaming, ‘That’s my boy! That’s my boy!’ “

When their boy was 3 or 4, Larry Hermida began teaching him how to hit left-handed – and clearly, those backyard lessons paid off.

Hermida – who had 18 home runs and 63 RBIs in 118 games for Double-A Carolina – was the Marlins’ first-round pick, No. 11 overall, in the 2002 amateur draft, and eventually signed for a shade more than $2 million in bonus money. The organization has long touted him as a potential cornerstone outfielder, and the 21-year-old’s first day in the majors did nothing to debunk those theories.

“It’s storybook stuff,” said David McDonald, Hermida’s coach at Wheeler High. “I knew way back it was going to happen for him. I just didn’t think it’d happen this quick. But I know he’s living the dream today.”

Hermida is the latest entry on the list of Marlins’ Double-A call-ups who made quick splashes.

Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera arrived from Carolina in 2003 and helped spark Florida’s World Series run. Jason Vargas made the leap this season to Florida’s rotation.

Cabrera also made history in his first game: His two-run walk-off homer carried Florida to a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay in 2003, making him the third player since 1900 to hit a game-ending home run in his major league debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“(In) this game, funny things happen,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “Somebody gets injured, somebody gets cold with the bat, and somebody jumps in and takes advantage of the opportunity. You know, like Cabrera did, Willis did, Vargas did.”

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