A home crowd of just over 25,000 people watched the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball season opener against the Colorado Rockies March 28.
The Marlins' starting pitcher Jose Urena was struggling in the fifth inning as a two-out double increased the visitors' lead to 6-0. It was time for a pitching change and Miami manager Don Mattlingly summoned the bullpen.
The 6-foot-5 right hander Nick Anderson entered the game to face the Rockies' Ryan McMahon. Taking the mound was nothing new for Anderson as he did so in high school with the Brainerd Warriors, in college with St. Cloud State and Mayville State, and in the minors for three years in the Frontier League and four seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization before being traded to Miami last November.
But this appearance was special for Anderson, who was making his Marlins' debut and becoming only the third Brainerd Warrior baseball player to enter a MLB game over the past century. Anderson joined former Warrior players "Bullet" Joe Bush and Todd Revenig when he fired his first pitch across the plate for a strike. McMahon then grounded out on his second pitch to end the inning and complete Anderson's debut.
"I knew the way the game was going that I might get in," Anderson said, who added that his parents, sister, girlfriend and agent all attended the opener. "I was surprised how calm I was when they told me to warm up. I was waiting for this opportunity all of my life. I was more excited than nervous."
Anderson only faced one hitter, but there will be more opportunities since the 28-year-old made the Marlins' 2019 roster after an impressive spring training - limiting opposing hitters to a .179 average with no walks and 10 strikeouts over eight innings.
"Going into training camp, I knew I had a chance to break with the team," he recalled. "That's why the Marlins traded for me and protected me on the 40-man list. I was trying to stay focused not press too much in camp. You do what you can and not worry about the results because (roster) decisions are out of your control."
He pitched well enough to make the team, and found out in a private meeting with team management on the final day of training camp.
"I was speechless when (Mattingly) told me," Anderson said. "I was taken back for words because it was pretty awesome. I've always had the mindset, even through the ups and downs of my life, that I was going to make it. I kept believing.
"I called my parents (Russ and Barb) and that conversation was a little more emotional because I know how much they've done for me. They were excited, although I think my mom thought I was kidding at first."
Major league hitters are taking Anderson serious in the opening weeks of the season. He appeared in five of the Marlins' first 13 games - allowing just one earned run and one walk while striking out 12 hitters and compiling a 1.59 earned-run average in 5 1/3 innings for Miami, which won just three of its first 14 games.
The pitching stats, especially the elevated strikeout rates, have been typical for Anderson going back to his high school days.
"Nick was the fastest pitcher in our conference," said Lowell Scearcy, who was Anderson's high school coach. "He mostly threw a fastball, and the kids who faced him in our conference didn't have much of a chance. It's rare to have high school players throw close to 90 miles-per-hour. And Nick also had unusually good control for a young kid who threw that hard."
Anderson did strike out 16 hitters in just eight innings as a senior in the spring of 2008.
"Nick was injured a good share of his senior year," Scearcy said. "He just blew people down in the few innings that he was able to pitch. Nick had as much talent as anyone I ever coached. I'm glad to see he made it and I hope he stays in the majors for a few years."
After high school, Anderson pitched in college at St. Cloud State University before transferring to Mayville State University in North Dakota for his senior season. Anderson was growing as a player, and while in college he also matured after some personal challenges in his life.
"I learned some valuable lessons," he said. "It molded me into the person that I am today."
Anderson was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 32nd round of the 2012 MLB draft, but didn't sign with the team and instead played three seasons in the independent Frontier League. Anderson signed a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2015.
Last year, Anderson dominated Triple A hitters when he compiled an 8-2 record with the Twins' minor league team in Rochester. He struck out 88 hitters in 60 innings. In four seasons in the Twins organization, Anderson compiled a 16-7 pitching record with a 2.55 ERA. He averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Anderson was acquired in a trade with the Twins for minor league third baseman Brian Schales last November.
"I think (pitching speed) is more of a natural ability since I've never been into lifting weights," said the 195-pound Anderson, who delivers his pitches from a slightly higher slot angle. "I can't really tell you where my power comes from, although my speed did jump a few miles per hour a few years ago. I also throw a curve and change up. I've worked on keeping the ball down in the zone and figuring out how my pitches play off of each other."
For now, Anderson is enjoying life in the majors and taking things a day at a time.
"I wanted to pitch in the big leagues forever and I've worked hard to make it, but I don't think of this as a reward," he said about the opportunity of playing for the Marlins. "I'm thankful every time I get the ball. Even if I didn't make the team this spring, I was planning to keep trying the next year or two."
Anderson's extra baseball workouts in recent years has limited his time returning home in the offseason.
"My dad still lives in Brainerd, and I miss getting back there to do things like snowmobiling," said Anderson, who does keep in touch with family and friends through social media. "My phone has been blowing up a bit (since his MLB debut). I did put something on Facebook to thank everyone for their support."
The Marlins do play the Twins this season, but that series will be in Miami July 30, 31 and Aug. 1.