The SF Giants opened their 2022 regular season Friday afternoon with a 6-5 win in 10 innings over the visiting Miami Marlins. The game featured an excellent start by budding ace Logan Webb, help from the Marlins defense to score the first two runs, three home runs, a blown save and ninth inning comeback before a walk-off double in extra innings.
Certainly not lost in the exciting win was an important first (other than the first win of the season): rookie catcher Joey Bart launched his first career home run in the fifth inning:
Since being selected with the second overall pick of the 2018 amateur draft out of Georgia Tech, Bart has been lauded for his ability to hit the ball with authority - though his ability to make contact has been in question - on his journey through the minor leagues.
Pressed into service behind the plate in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season thanks to Buster Posey opting out of the season to protect his newly-adopted newborn twin girls, Bart struggled at the plate in his first big-league try. In 103 at-bats he tallied just 24 hits for a .233 average, and three walks against 41 strikeouts meant he was rarely on base when he didn't get a hit. Bart also failed to hit a home run; his only extra-base hits were five doubles and two triples.
In the midst of a 2021 season where he dealt with injuries and, when healthy, was mostly at Triple-A Sacramento to earn more playing time while Posey was enjoying his resurgent final campaign, Bart appeared in two Major League games - collecting two hits in six at-bats.
With the memory of his 2020 performance still somewhat fresh and the team's need for a bat to step in and pick up the slack left by Posey's retirement, it was reassuring to see Bart homer and earlier score the first run of the season on a ball thrown away by Miami's defense when Brandon Belt laid down a bunt single in the third inning.
Also cool was the note passed along by Jon Miller on the television broadcast shortly after Bart's blast: he became the first Giants rookie to homer on Opening Day since J.R. Phillips in 1995, and the first Giants rookie with his first career round tripper in the opener since Will Clark in 1986.
Will Clark homered in his first MLB at-bat, against Nolan Ryan
In case you've forgotten, Clark's feat was impressive in many ways. The 1986 Opening Day game was his MLB debut; he had spent the previous summer mostly with the Single-A Fresno Giants after being drafted. The Giants were on the road for the game, playing at the Houston Astros in the Astrodome. Starting for the Astros was one of the greatest, and most intimidating, pitchers ever: Nolan Ryan. And Clark's bomb came on his first Major League swing, in a 1-1 count during his first at-bat.
Even though Bart's home run wasn't in his first career at-bat, other parallels stand out. Like Bart, Clark was the Giants' first-round pick, second overall, out of a school in the South (Mississippi State), and both of their first career homers came on April 8.
Certainly, the Giants would be ecstatic if Bart approached Clark's success as a hitter in the Majors. That is unlikely, but at least they'll have a unique connection with their inaugural big league home runs.