By Anne Rogers, covering the Royals for MLB.com
KANSAS CITY — Tyler Cropley looked around as he walked off the field in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday and noticed most of Kauffman Stadium’s crowd was on its feet giving the Royals’ catcher a standing ovation after his first big league hit.
He found his family in a suite, including his wife, Taylor, and 7-month-old son, Tre, and gave a smile. That suite might have made more noise than anyone Tuesday.
Around 40 people — family, friends, former coaches and teammates — were in attendance as the Royals beat the Guardians, 7-6. Cropley made his big league debut behind the plate. He recorded his first RBI on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning, notched his first hit in the eighth and guided Royals pitchers through a threatening Cleveland comeback.
No, those 40 people — nearly all from Cropley’s hometown of Sioux City, Ia., or college town in Iowa City, Ia. — weren’t going to miss this.
“Some of them decided about noon today just to skip out on the afternoon and come for the game,” Cropley said.
The 27-year-old has had a crazy journey to get here. Nothing could beat this moment.
“It’s just been up and down, up and down,” Cropley said. “You never know when it’s going to pay off. Today, it did. That’s the best part about it. Keep working, and never give up.”
Because of a concussion to Salvador Perez and a finger fracture to Freddy Fermin, the two catchers the Royals have on their roster right now were originally signed to be bullpen catchers.
Logan Porter signed with the Royals undrafted out of Dixie State — now Utah Tech — in 2018, and the organization originally envisioned him as a bullpen catcher in Arizona before injuries put him in the lineup and he never stopped hitting through the Minors.
Cropley, the Nationals’ eighth-round pick in 2018 out of Iowa, signed with the Royals ahead of the 2021 season to be a backup Minor League catcher. He began this season on the development list in Double-A Northwest Arkansas as the bullpen catcher.
Over three seasons in the Royals’ organization, Cropley has appeared in just 107 Minor League games. He got his first big league promotion on Sept. 9 in Toronto but didn’t appear in a game. Two days later, he was designated for assignment.
There was a chance Cropley was never going to make it up again. The thought crossed his mind. But he wasn’t going to stop trying.
“I’ve always said, ‘If somebody doesn’t take my jersey off, I’m there,’” Cropley said.
There he was Tuesday strapping his catching gear on for his Major League debut in what ended up being a tense game. The Royals jumped out to an early lead with MJ Melendez’s 15th home run of the season in the first and RBI single in the third.
But the Guardians crept back and had two runners on with no outs when manager Matt Quatraro called on reliever James McArthur to take over for Carlos Hernández in the eighth inning.
Except for a few warmup pitches in Toronto, Cropley had never caught McArthur before, and the righty has two nasty breaking pitches that often find dirt. In an effort to learn some of the relievers better, Cropley had caught some warmups in the bullpen on Monday, but hadn’t gotten to McArthur.
So Cropley leaned on conversations he had pregame and what the Royals’ coaching staff had detailed for him.
“He’s got the curveball-slider, and they move different ways,” Cropley said. “Once I saw the first curveball, I kind of had an idea of where it was going to go. Same with the slider. And then all your preparation pays off when you see it in the dirt and react. No thinking involved, just go out there and do it.”
McArthur relied on those two pitches heavily to strike out the side and keep the one-run lead intact. Only one wild pitch got through, but Cropley recovered it to keep the run from scoring.“That’s the game,” Quatraro said. “… The whole game, [Cropley] didn’t misfire on any receiving. He blocked every ball. He handled himself really well.”
Porter made his debut last week in Chicago. On Tuesday, he leaned over the dugout railing after the Royals’ win to watch Cropley do a postgame interview on the field and get a water cooler splash from Melendez and Bobby Witt Jr.
You couldn’t wipe the smiles off the two catchers’ faces even if you tried. “[It’s been] a rollercoaster,” Cropley said. “It’s just up, down, in and out, upside down. It was worth it all in the end.”