Brett Wallace couldn’t believe his eyes when he entered the Houston Astros’ clubhouse at Minute Maid Park for the first time on July 31.
Wallace had finally arrived at the major league level as a first baseman, and this was not some small, congested area where the players have their cubicles.
“When you walked in, everything was first class, with flat screens everywhere and food rooms,” Wallace said. “You never touch your bags. They take everything everywhere. It’s pretty unreal. They treat you pretty special.”
Wallace is special, too. The 2005 graduate of Justin-Siena High School was acquired by Houston in a trade with Toronto on July 29. Originally, he was assigned to the Round Rock (Texas) Express, a Triple-A team that plays in the Pacific Coast League, and flew to Oklahoma City to meet his new team.
“As soon as I got there, they pulled me from the lineup,” said Wallace. “After the game, they told me I was going to Houston to play in the big leagues. That was the dream I had had for a long time. Getting the news like that, having a chance to fly there and play the next day was pretty unbelievable.”
Wallace was batting .333 (9 for 27) with two doubles and four RBIs in 10 games following Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to Atlanta. He was 2 for 3 with a double and RBI Monday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wallace said on an off day late last week from Milwaukee. “Ever since I was little I wanted to play in the big leagues. Getting that opportunity over here has been amazing. They definitely treat you well.
“Going to the field every day knowing you’re going to be in the lineup, not worrying about if you had a hit last night and if you’re going to play the next day or not, it’s really special. And I’m fortunate to have that situation right now.”
Wallace got his first major league hit, a single to left-center field in the fifth inning, against Milwaukee on Aug. 1. It came against Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf on a curveball on a 1-2 pitch.
The fans at Minute Maid Park gave him a standing ovation and the ball was later given to Wallace, the Pacific-10 Conference’s two-time Player of the Year for Arizona State who played on three CIF North Coast Section Class A championship teams at Justin-Siena.
“He’s a high-profile kid who can really swing the bat,” Astros’ general manager Ed Wade said on the team’s website.
Batting sixth in the lineup, he struck out in his first at-bat, then grounded out to second, reached base on a throwing error, and flew out to left-center in an 0 for 4 outing in his debut.
Wallace’s family was on hand to cheer for him and support him.
“You’re nervous because you’re excited,” he said.
“For me, that was the biggest thing, getting the jitters out. At the end of the day, you realize it’s just a game still. Everyone that’s there has been in your shoes and they all understand where you’re coming from.
“The team did a great job of helping me feel at home and calming me down a little bit. The home crowd was unbelievable the whole time, coming out and just supporting me. And when I got that hit and they gave me the standing-O, I think that’s every kid’s dream, is to play at your home field and get that first knock and then get that reaction. It’s pretty special and it gives you goose bumps when you’re in it.”
The first base position opened up for the Astros with their trade of Lance Berkman to the New York Yankees.
Wallace was batting .301 with 116 hits, including 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 61 RBIs for Las Vegas, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, at the time Houston acquired him.
“When I first got traded to the Astros, I was excited about the situation, knowing they were rebuilding with youth,” he said. “It’s always fun to play for a team that has a lot of interest in you. They’re rebuilding with youth, and being part of that is a lot of fun. Playing with the energy of the team is pretty fun.”
This was Wallace’s second year in Triple-A baseball.
“I was having a good season in Triple-A and I felt like I had learned a lot this season. People knew who I was from the beginning. I made a lot of adjustments throughout the season, I learned a lot as a hitter. When I got that call, I felt confident and ready to go.”
It’s the third time that Wallace — the 13th overall pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by St. Louis — has been traded. The Cardinals traded him to Oakland last summer, then the Athletics dealt him to Toronto over the winter.
“I’ve said it all along, you’ve got to take every trade as a compliment,” he said.
“They’ve acquired you for a reason. I’m just trying to grind it out day by day right now. I feel really good at the plate. I think if I keep grinding it out, it’ll get going.”
Wallace led the Pac-10 in six categories, including batting average (.414), hits (94), runs (83), RBIs (81), total bases (173) and home runs (21), for Arizona State in 2008. He was named First Team All-Pac-10 and Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
He had a record-breaking career at Justin-Siena, shattering nine school records over four years for the Braves.
He holds single-season school records for walks, runs, hits, RBIs, home runs and slugging percentage.
Wallace was a key fixture in Justin-Siena going 97-9 in his prep career, including a 27-0 record his senior season. As a senior for Justin-Siena, he batted .520 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs. He was First Team All-State and the California Small Schools Player of the Year by CalHiSports.com.
Three other former Justin-Siena players — Matt Leonard, Jordan Roualdes and Tim Steggall — are playing minor league baseball.
“While we were there, we had such good talent, we had good coaching,” Wallace said of his days with the Braves.
“I think all those guys have worked really hard. I’m still very close to all of them.
“Coach (Allen) Rossi did a great job of pushing us all. We took that and took it to the next level and just kept going.”
Wallace has been working with former Astros All-Star Jeff Bagwell, the team’s hitting coach, on his swing.
He wants to use the last two months of the season to adjust to everything while gaining as much experience as possible.
“You get here and you want to play well, but you also want to get comfortable in your situation and kind of get some experience under your belt for next season,” he said.
“Obviously, just getting to know the guys and get to know the game at this level, little things change here and there, the speed of the game, umpires change, you just want to get out there and have fun, feel loose and kind of let things happen. That way, next year, you’re going into the season with experience under your belt.
“I feel like the work I’m putting in with Jeff Bagwell, it’s paying off.”