Former ORU infielder Tyler Saladino emerges from the dugout at Wrigley Field for his first major-league plate appearance. He got called up to the Chicago White Sox roster less than 24 hours ago.
He takes a deep breath. The eyes of 41,580 screaming fans are on him. Walking to the plate, every step is closer to the dream he’s had since Little League. Once Saladino steps into the batter’s box, it’s just him and the pitcher. The crowd goes silent. The butterflies in his stomach settle. This is familiar. This is home.
“You could very easily get nervous, but you just show up,” said Saladino with a chuckle recalling his first day. “It goes by real fast. I got to the park, saw I was playing third base and batting two-hole. It was an unbelievable feeling. You hear the anthem and the crowd roar, and, after that, it’s just about playing baseball.”
Saladino’s journey began at ORU back in 2009. He transferred to ORU for his junior year after going to Palomar Junior College in California for two years.
“You know at Oral Roberts there’s no fooling around; there’s rules that are very valuable for a journey like this, as I got to pro ball,” Saladino said. “Being out there in Oklahoma and having the responsibilities we had as student athletes at ORU, there were a lot of lessons that I learned from that. I was really fortunate to play there.”
Saladino has become the everyday third baseman for the White Sox. He’s currently hitting .255 with three homers and 11 RBI as of August 21. His stellar defense at third base has been a boost to the White Sox who had struggled defensively this season.
“We were in a spot where we were struggling at third base, hitting, and we needed to improve our defense, and he was a guy that stood out even though he played shortstop in AAA,” said White Sox Manager Robin Ventura. “We’re pretty comfortable putting him anywhere on the infield. Just knowing the background of a kid, and he’s always been on our radar.”
Saladino’s journey to the major leagues has been a success so far, but the future did not always look so bright. After playing in the minor leagues for five years, Saladino suffered a severe elbow injury last season that required Tommy John Surgery forcing him to miss the rest of the season and his shot of being called-up.
“It was a roller coaster ride, for sure. I had never hurt my arm like that or had any injury that took me away from baseball the way it did,” Saladino said. “Fortunately, I came back healthy. Being able to be out here after an injury like that, I can’t even describe how much that means to me.”
Ventura has confidence that his 26-year-old rookie will continue to improve every day and his experience will help his transition.
“When [prospects] get here, they’re going to have struggles,” said Ventura. “Sometimes you can bring guys up who are younger and it can overwhelm them, but he’s confident in his game, and that’s half the battle.”
Saladino doesn’t regret the decision he made almost six years ago. ORU Baseball Head Coach Ryan Folmar and the baseball program had a lasting impression on his career.
“Playing for Coach Folmar, even when he was an assistant coach at ORU, I learned so much from him,” Saladino said. “Every day we’d get after it. That’s part of the pride I have in my game today, the ability to get after it just like he used to teach us.”
Saladino realizes this opportunity he has this season with the White Sox and is focused on capitalizing on it, just as he capitalized on his opportunity to play at ORU five years ago.
“I just wanna be able to show that I can play with these guys. It’s not easy coming out here with 40,000 people screaming at you and not be nervous, but that’s why we love this game, that’s what we’re playing for.”