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A cup of coffee and no regrets
05/10/2010 10:33 AM ET
Rob Sasser got the news. Wandering through a shopping mall in some minor league town-he can't recall which-early in the afternoon on July 31, 1998, the 23-year-old had stepped out for a bit to grab lunch, not knowing he was about to receive the phone call that every minor leaguer dreams of.

"I got the call that afternoon, but they had to find me, actually," Sasser says now, recalling the moments that comprised one of his most memorable days. "We were on the road, and I was out getting something to eat. It probably took a little over 30 minutes from the time they started trying to track me down."

The "they" in this case was the Texas Rangers, the third big league organization for which Sasser had played to that point.

And then, thanks to two trades and one phone call, more than five years after being selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 draft and after 600 some odd minor league games, Robert Doffell Sasser had finally become who he had toiled so intensely for so long to be: Robert Doffell Sasser, big leaguer.

After spending the first four years of his career in the Braves' organization, the California Angels selected Sasser, an infielder, in the Rule 5 Draft in December 1996. Sasser spent the 1997 season with Cedar Rapids (Iowa), the Angels' Class-A Midwest League affiliate. He was on the move again that offseason, landing with the Texas Rangers as the player to be named from a deadline deal earlier that year that sent Ken Hill to the Angels for Jim Leyritz.

Sasser, now in his third year as the hitting coach for Winston-Salem, had the chance to participate in the big league camp at Spring Training in 1998 and says he must've made an impression.

"There was a lot of firsts that year; it was my first big league camp, my first year in the Rangers' organization. I did really well in big league camp, and the reason I got called up had more to do with what I had showed them in spring training than what I was doing during the season. At the time when I got called up, I was hitting .280 or around there, so it wasn't like I was the guy down there doing the best, as much as it was that they were more comfortable calling me up from what they saw in the spring."

Sasser knew that his stay with the Rangers would be, to put it into baseball vernacular, nothing more than a cup of coffee, a brief stay with the big league club said to be long enough only for the player in question to have a cup of coffee before being sent elsewhere.

"I knew going in that it was going to be a short stint at that time," Sasser said. "The reason they had brought me up was because there was a trade going down, and the guy that we were getting had a couple days before he had to report, so they wanted a guy there that could fill that slot as necessary until he got there."

Earlier in the day, the Rangers had completed two trades. The first sent Fernando Tatis, Darren Oliver and a player to be named from the Rangers to the St. Louis Cardinals for Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre. The other brought in Todd Zeile from the Florida Marlins in exchange for minor leaguers Daniel DeYoung and Jose Santo. The corresponding roster shuffling opened the door for Sasser to get his first big league call-up.

Sasser's afternoon call alerting him of his promotion, though, barley afforded him enough time to make it to the game. Sasser took the first flight he could find that could get him to Arlington, Texas, for the Rangers' tilt with the Chicago White Sox that night.

"I got right off the plane and went straight to the stadium," Sasser says. "I got there in time for the game, barely, but didn't go through any of the pregame workouts or anything like that.

"I was just hoping to play, really, but it didn't hit me at the time, the experience of getting called up for the first time. I'm a kind of guy, even now, where I stay in the moment until it's over, then kind of decide after the fact whether I'm going to get excited over it or revisit it mentally."

"When I got there, I wasn't expecting to play, honestly, but a couple of guys were trying to give me a heads-up that they were going to try to get me an at-bat by way of saying they were injured or something, cool stuff like that, stuff that, at the time, I didn't appreciate as much as I do now."

Sasser didn't need any such help from teammates, as the visiting White Sox broke a 1-1 tie with a five-run rally in the fifth before adding two runs in the seventh to take an 8-2 lead and bust the game wide open.

"Closer to the end of the game, the score was still out of hand at the time, so I figured I might get a shot," Sasser said. "Then they said, 'Hey kid, get ready,' so I had an inning or so to get myself together and take some swings in the cage."

The game's result no longer in question after the White Sox added two more runs in the ninth to extend the lead to 10-2, Rangers skipper Johnny Oates pulled the trigger, sending Sasser to the plate to pinch-hit for centerfielder Tom Goodwin, who was due to lead off the bottom of the frame.

"It didn't really dawn on me until my actual at-bat came up and I saw myself on the (video board), and that's when it kind of hit me, but even then, it was kind of surreal." Sasser stepped in against White Sox left-hander Bryan Ward, seeing a total of five pitches before popping out in foul territory to catcher Chad Kreuter.

"Fastball, curveball, fastball, curveball, fastball. It was a 2-2 count," Sasser says now, the pitch sequence from his lone taste of the big leagues forever seared in his brain.

While Sasser, a native of Oakland, Calif., knew his stay in the bigs would be short-lived, he didn't realize, however, that his at-bat and 20 some hours with the Rangers would be the last taste of the big leagues he'd have during his playing career.

The post-trade roster shuffling complete, Sasser was sent back to the minors the next day.

"In my mind, it was like, 'OK, that first one's over with, but now I'm looking forward to more,'" Sasser said. "It was one of those goals you set as a little kid. You want to do certain things, you want to play in the big leagues, then you want to be successful in the big leagues."

Though he wouldn't get another chance to do so, Sasser would continue to play professional ball in parts of seven more seasons, reaching the Triple-A level with five different organizations. In all, the former 10th round draft pick played in 1,169 minor league games, posting a .258 average with 98 homers and 543 RBIs.

Sasser called it quits in 2006, beginning the year with the White Sox Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, before retiring to join the organization as a hitting coach. Looking back now at his long, strange journey-including his 15 minutes of fame and his one big league at-bat-Sasser says he would have loved to have another crack at it, but that he's happy to have been, if only for a day, a major leaguer.

"I obviously thought I'd get back again, and I had opportunities where I was right there and it just didn't happen. It just wasn't in the cards, as they say.

"But for me, there are also no regrets. Zero."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.