Opposing players rarely get standing ovations at Yankee Stadium — retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz had been the last one to earn that kind of respect — but A’s rookie outfielder and former Yankee Dustin Fowler was bestowed that honor in his first at-bat Friday night.
“That was special,’’ the 23-year-old Fowler said Saturday. “I didn’t want to think about it too much. I already had nerves on my side, but it was awesome how the fans reacted. It was pretty special.’’
For many, it was the first look at Fowler since June 29, 2017, when he made his major-league debut against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. That first appearance ended in the first inning when rightfielder Fowler, racing toward the stands in pursuit of a foul ball hit by Jose Abreu, suffered an open rupture of the patella tendon in his right knee when he slammed into an unpadded metal electrical box on a low fence at full speed. He tried to stay on his feet after hitting the wall but collapsed. Then-manager Joe Girardi was in tears as Fowler — who had been moments away from his first major-league at-bat — was removed by stretcher and taken to Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
“It was brutal. You wouldn’t want that from anyone in their debut,’’ Fowler said. “It was a special moment that was taken from me. I was thankful that I was able to come back and get it again. You don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to come back or play again. It was such a serious injury. You didn’t know how messed up it would be.’’
Fowler described the road back as “brutal. I was locked out in a brace for a couple of months. At the beginning [of rehabilitation], it was all bicycle work to get the motion back. After that, air squats to get the hamstring back. A lot of body weights. The strength’s not fully back. It was a long process, but as long as I’m able to play again, that’s all I wanted.’’
In audio provided by the A’s of Friday’s pregame gathering with reporters, Fowler said his return seemed “oh, forever away. I mean when that happened, I didn’t know if I’d be able to come back and play. It’s something I didn’t think it would be as soon as it was. I was happy I was able to recover as quickly as I was and get back and make my debut again.’’
There was some additional pain at the trade deadline late last July. Fowler was dealt to Oakland as part of a package for Sonny Gray — the pitcher who on Friday allowed Fowler’s first major-league hit and then flipped the ball into the Oakland dugout to give the rookie a souvenir.
“I was upset. I wanted to play with the team I was drafted by,’’ he said. “Getting the hit off Sonny, it was a cool situation. I enjoyed every second of it and I’m glad I was able to get it early.’’
He was hitless in three official at-bats Saturday and is 1-for-9 (.111).
When the shock of the trade subsided, Fowler figured it might be for the best. How was he ever going to get time in an outfield that already had Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with highly rated prospect Clint Frazier? And that was before National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton joined the mix in December.
“I’m getting my shot right now,’’ Fowler said. “That’s what you want, to be in the big leagues. There’s no telling how long I would have been in the minor leagues. I think it’s a blessing I got traded over here. They got five outfielders that are really good. It’s a good chance I’d be in [Triple-A] Scranton right now.’’
Fowler has a chance to be the A’s future centerfielder. “We got a good team, we’re very young,’’ he said. “We all have some stuff to learn, but we’re competing. It’s special and it’s going to be fun.’’
Last December, Fowler instituted a lawsuit against the White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority for “negligence, reckless, willful and wanton conduct of the defendants,’’ according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Sports Illustrated. “It’s in the works,’’ Fowler said of the suit. “The trial is coming up soon.’’
A spokesman for the White Sox said the team does not comment on pending litigation.
Fowler, who was selected by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 2013 draft, will miss his former teammates. “There’s a bunch of great guys that I went up with,’’ he said. “They will be in the major leagues for years.’’