Pirates’ Bligh Madris far from an afterthought making MLB debut

Miguel Perez had some news Sunday he wanted to share with his Indianapolis players.

So, everyone gathered around the Indians manager after the 5-3 road victory against the Gwinnett (Ga.) Stripers.

The news: Shortstop Oneil Cruz, the No. 3 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system, had been called up to the big leagues.

“Miggy does a great job down there making it special for everyone,” said Cruz’s teammate, Bligh Madris. “Made it really special for Cruz.”

But in the midst of the initial excitement, hugs and slaps on the back, Perez said, “Hey, there’s one more.”

Building as much drama as possible, Perez announced that Madris would be accompanying Cruz to Pittsburgh.

“It was so out of the blue and so unexpected,” Madris said. “I knew I was playing well, but I just tried to get lost in everything in Triple-A.

“I just kind of dropped my head in my hands. I was like, ‘No way this is happening right now.’

“He just made it really special. The guys made it really special. They all started huddling around me, started jumping on me, really excited for me. That made me feel great that my teammates feel that way about me.”

Madris, a Las Vegas native, product of Colorado Mesa University and the Pirates’ ninth-round draft choice in 2017, joined Cruz in the starting lineup Monday against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park, beating seventh and playing right field in his MLB debut. His first at-bat produced two runs when he ripped a sharp single to center field (109.1 mph) with the bases loaded in the second inning. He stole second base to become only the third Pirates player since 1920 to have a hit, RBI and stolen base in his MLB debut. Later, he added a double and single for a three-hit night.

Madris could get some work at first base, but most of his time will be spent in the outfield.

Unlike Cruz, Bligh, 26, is not a highly touted prospect. But he’s not a forgotten one.

“Guys like Bligh Madris and probably (pitcher) Cam Vieaux,” general manager Ben Cherington said, “guys who maybe didn’t populate Baseball America’s list and things like that all the time, there is an extra special feeling for everyone in the organization .

“Every time we asked Miggy and the staff there who’s going to have a good at-bat in a major-league game, his name was usually right at the top of the list, so he’ll have a chance to do that now and it’ll be fun to see.”

Madris kept up a work ethic in Triple-A that earned him the promotion and helped him slash .304/.385/.519 for the Indians this season. For the record, his batting average was 72 points higher than Cruz in nine fewer games.

He did it with five home runs, 20 RBIs, 15 doubles and two triples after hitting .368 in spring training (second among Pirates players who played in more than six games).

“It’s a testament to who Bligh Madris is as a person, as a teammate, as a player,” manager Derek Shelton said “that at no point … was he feeling sorry for himself.

“He just kept playing. He had arguably as good a spring as any minor-league player we had. Went to Indy, there were a lot of people in front of him, didn’t play as much, got his opportunity and I will say the one thing that I think is the coolest thing about Bligh Madris is this is an organizational win.

“There’s a lot of people that put a lot of time and effort into him and first and foremost, Bligh. But, you know, I know (Sunday) night when we made the decision to call him up, that there were a lot of people in the Pirates organization that were really proud to be part of this.”

Starting the season in Triple-A, instead of Pittsburgh, may have been motivating.

“Everyone here was really transparent about why that happened,” he said. “I was happy with it. I didn’t try to let it affect me that much. I just tried to go to Triple-A and start doing my job and do everything I needed to do to get back here, and here we are.”

What happened before that in Bradenton helped him build relationships with Shelton, coaches and teammates.

“I think that was the most impactful thing for me,” he said. “With all the stuff that’s happened throughout my career here with the Pirates, being here since 2017, seeing the regime change and all that stuff. With covid happening in 2020, didn’t really get to build those relationships with the time being gone.”

Sticking with the tedious routine of daily baseball has its rewards, he said.

“It’s really hard to stick to one routine all the time with all the stuff that goes along in a season,” he said. “Long days, long nights, long travel and just having the mindset to get up every day and do the same thing over and over is tedious. That’s really big that I just stuck with that, and I’m going to continue to stick with it here and live and die by my routines while I’m here.”

Madris said family and friends were in town Monday for the game — mom, dad, girlfriend and high school buddies.

“I’m really thankful for all their support through the years and to this day,” he said. “I think we’ve all looked forward to it, and we get to live it out.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaola@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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