Steven Souza Jr. arrives just in time for first big league call-up

Steven Souza Jr. in spring training. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Steven Souza Jr. in spring training. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

You only get one time to walk into a major league clubhouse after your first call-up. For Steven Souza Jr., the Nationals outfield prospect called up while Denard Span recovers from his concussion, the experience was part embarrassing and part humorous.

Souza, 24, said he was given the news of his call-up around 1:40 a.m. on Saturday morning by Class AAA Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner Jr. The game in Scranton, Pa., had been rained out and Souza was on the phone with a friend when Gardner called from an unrecognized number.

Souza called his parents in Seattle instantly with the news; he never calls that late. His family was all gathered at his mother’s house. “All I heard was screams,” he said. “They started yelling and crying. It was awesome.”

Souza was so excited about his call-up that he couldn’t get to sleep and walked around for a while. He told himself he needed to get a little bit of sleep before flying to Atlanta to join the Nationals. “I did but I got a little too much,” he said.

He had to be up by 4:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. flight. He set three alarms on his cell phone but couldn’t hear them when it fell to the floor. The front desk called to wake him and both he and his roommate slept through the calls. He missed the flight.

So he was put on a 2:30 p.m. flight out of Allentown, nearly 90 minutes away. A Syracuse video staff member gave him a ride to the airport there. Souza arrived in the visitor’s clubhouse of Turner Field at 5 p.m. Saturday, just 10 minutes before the team took the field to stretch.

Teammates, especially the veterans, teased him about his missed flight as he walked into the clubhouse with his bags of baseball gear. Souza just laughed as  he walked to his locker in the far corner. He changed into his uniform frantically and joined the team on the field for stretch and batting practice in time.

“When I walked in here, I don’t think my feet were on the ground for a couple hours,” he said. “Then once I felt like I was going to get a pinch hit opportunity, I got settled in and locked in. [Sunday] is a little easier. You’re on the ground but still excited to be here.”

Ten family members and friends from Washington state flew to Atlanta for Sunday’s game. They got to see him make his major league debut in left field in the seventh inning and the took his first major league at-bat in the eighth, a strikeout against Jordan Walden.

Souza was hitting .273/.429/.545 with two home runs in seven games at Syracuse when he was called up. Three years ago, after a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy and being benched by his manager, Souza quit baseball and went home to Washington. He had a change of heart, and now he’s made it to the majors — even though he missed his flight.

“It’ll be a great story someday,” he said.

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