(Note from Jim: Jonathan Lee is a freelance writer in Charlotte who will be contributing stories about the Knights to South Side Sox over the next couple of months.)
Willy Garcia looked at the lineup and giggled.
"We thought it was pretty cool,” he said. “We had a good laugh."
Garcia was referring to his debut, in which he contributed to Major League Baseball history by merely taking the field. By starting in the same outfield with teammates Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia for the White Sox on April 14 against Minnesota, it was the first time a lineup card showed three outfielders with the same last name.
The 24-year-old Willy Garcia had just been called up the day before to take the roster spot of Melky Cabrera, who was had been placed on the paternity list. Knights manager Mark Grudzielanek came to Garcia with the news.
"I just stayed quiet,” Garcia said. “I put my head down, cried a little bit, but I was excited."
The Knights were in Durham to play the Bulls when Garcia got the call. He had to get the Charlotte, pick up some things and meet the Sox in Minneapolis, where they were starting a weekend set against the Twins.
"When I get to (Target Field), I see the field and the tarp is on, I say, ‘Oh please, please, please don’t rain!” Garcia said.
He got his wish.
“When I get my first at-bat, I feel nervous,” Garcia said. "I'm just like, ‘Let's go, you need to do your job and show people you belong here."
Garcia wasted no time collecting his first hit, lining a double to the left-center gap in his first plate appearance (although he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple). He went 1-for-4 in his debut, and picked up another hit in his second start two days later. For the weekend, Garcia went 2-for-7 with that double, three strikeouts and one double play. He then returned to Charlotte after Cabrera returned from paternity leave.
Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin isn't surprised Garcia held his own with the White Sox.
"He works really hard, he has a plan, he's committed to it and he's hungry to make it back to the major leagues,” Tomberlin said.
“The biggest thing is staying consistent. He told me in spring training that he wanted to cut down on his strikeouts, and my response was, ‘I don't even want you thinking about strikeouts, I want you thinking about hitting the ball hard.’ So we're going to think about positive things, create quality at-bats, be selective and I think that's what he really focused on."
When Garcia returned to the Queen City, teammates were quick to pick his brain about his experience.
"We were actually not happy to have him back,” catcher Roberto Pena said with a smile. “We talked a little. He said it was an awesome experience playing with Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu. He says the preparation aspects doesn't change, you still have to be on time, do your work and get ready for the game."
Garcia knows his next opportunity could come at any moment. Since his return, Grudzielanek has played him in center field, which is a particular area of need on the 25-man roster with Jacob May struggling.
In the meantime, Garcia is trying to stay consistent here in Charlotte. "I try to not do too much, just help the team get its confidence back as the season moves along,” he said.