Seattle Mariners

‘It’s been a long ride, but a fun ride.’ Mariners promote Tim Lopes eight seasons after drafting him

Tacoma Rainiers second baseman Tim Lopes greets an El Paso Chihuahua’s player as they warm up before the Tacoma Rainiers’ home opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Tacoma Rainiers second baseman Tim Lopes greets an El Paso Chihuahua’s player as they warm up before the Tacoma Rainiers’ home opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

Tim Lopes walked off an airplane in Reno earlier this week, ready to begin a short road trip in the Southwest, only to be told he needed to board a return flight to Seattle.

The 25-year-old rookie infielder, who was promoted by the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday from Triple-A Tacoma, didn’t even make it to baggage claim before Rainiers manager Daren Brown tapped him on the shoulder.

“(He) just kind of catches up to me, and he puts his hand on my shoulder,” Lopes said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s been a big help in my career. ... I took my headphones out, and I just kind of looked at him.

“He had a smile on his face, and I was just like, ‘What do you got, Brownie?’ And he just goes, ‘Hey, is that all you brought?’ He was looking at my suitcase. I just had this little carry-on suitcase. I said, ‘Well, yeah, it’s only like a (six-game) road trip, it’s not a big deal.’ And he just said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to get on the plan, and turn around and go back to Seattle.’ ”

Lopes doesn’t quite recall what was running through his mind at that moment, but he looked at Brown, the manager he’s spent parts of eight seasons in the minor leagues with, and his emotions took over.

“I just started crying,” Lopes said. “I gave him a big hug. He gave me a big hug. I just felt the genuineness in his voice. He was happy to (deliver that news to) me, and I was just happy to experience that with him. ... I’ve been really close with him since I was like 17 years old. It was really special.”

He landed back in Seattle about three hours before game time Tuesday night. His wife picked him up at the airport and drove him to T-Mobile Park.

“That was a ride in itself, just driving, seeing the city, and pulling up to the park,” Lopes said. “I’ll never forget it.”

When Seattle took the field against Texas later that evening, Lopes emotionally greeted family members, and stood in the dugout for the first time as a Mariner.

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind of emotions,” he said. “I was calling family, calling loved ones (when I got the news). It’s been more than I could have every dreamed or imagined.”

“It’s an accomplishment,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “People don’t realize how hard it is to get to the big leagues. It’s timing. You’ve got to be a good player, obviously. You’ve got to grind through it.

“Big league baseball has been going on a long time, and there’s been what ... almost 20,000 players? That’s it. It’s hard to get here.”

Lopes has spent parts of the past eight seasons in both the Seattle and Tornoto minor league systems, and joined the Rainiers for the first time this season.

He was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif. and spent the first five seasons of his professional career with Seattle’s organization, climbing to Double-A before he was traded in 2016.

Lopes reached Triple-A Buffalo last season before signing again with Seattle as a minor league free agent in January. As long as he’s waited for his call-up to finally come, he said he’s enjoyed each step.

“It’s definitely been a long journey,” Lopes said. “I’ve enjoyed the journey, and meeting a lot of great teammates and great people along the way, and stopping by a lot of different cities, wearing a lot of different jerseys, just waiting for my turn.

“I’m just grateful that it’s here. It’s been a long ride, but a fun ride, though, at the same time.”

Lopes became the 57th player to appear for the Mariners this season, when he made his MLB debut as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning Wednesday.

While this has become a season of opportunity for younger players in Seattle with constant roster moves and injuries — Lopes is an injury replacement for veteran second baseman Dee Gordon — Lopes said he hasn’t thought much about that. He’s just happy to be here.

“I’ve been enjoying every single moment ... that I’m here,” Lopes said. “I’m just grateful for every opportunity that comes my way, whether it’s a lot or whether it’s a little. I’m just very thankful.”

Two days after his promotion, Lopes was named Seattle’s starter at second base for Thursday night’s series opener against Detroit. He’s played the majority of his season with Tacoma there, and could also offer some pop in the lineup.

He slashed at .302/.362/.480 with the Rainiers this season, with 30 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 60 RBIs and 24 stolen bases though his first 91 games, and had an active 14-game hitting streak before he was called up.

“I’m really excited to get him out there tonight,” Servais said. “You try to give those guys a start, get them in a ballgame as quick as you can when they get here. The adrenaline’s pumping and it’s great. That’s what the game’s about.

“We’ve had a few of those (minor league promotions) this year. Guys have been grinding through, and you give them an opportunity. I hope it works out well for him. I’m pulling for him.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.