Not every baseball player is a star. For every great player, there is a grinder, a guy making a living at the game, mostly anonymous, hanging around, hoping for that one chance, that one shining moment.
Meet Daniel Camarena, baseball lifer.
Camarena is a left-handed relief pitcher in the back of the San Diego Padres bullpen. He is a native of San Diego so that alone makes a neat little story, a hometown kid playing for his hometown team. What makes it even better is how long it took Camarena get home again.
Drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2011 draft as the 629th player chosen, he set out on a 10-year odyssey through the minor leagues. His baseball journey took him to outposts like Trenton, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Sacramento, Richmond, Tampa, Rochester and El Paso. His luggage stayed packed.
There was a one-day promotion to the Yankees roster in 2019, a brief taste of life in the show. The next day, the Yankees shipped him out, a return to reality for a minor league journeyman pitcher.
Released by the Yankees in August of 2019, he signed on with the Padres. Left-handed pitchers are always a commodity. There’s always a job somewhere for a southpaw and for Camarena, there was the added benefit of returning to his hometown.
At the start of the 2021 season, Camarena found himself pitching for the El Paso Chihuahuas. In June, the call came from the Padres. Camarana was headed back to the big leagues. He was back in El Paso shortly after that.
Then came July 8th, a red letter day for Daniel Camarena. Summoned back from El Paso, he was minding his business in the Padres bullpen, watching his team get thumped by the Washington Nationals.
With the score 8-0, Camarena came in to pitch, to eat up some innings in what looked like a blowout. But the Padres began to stir against Washington starter Max Scherzer, scoring a couple of runs in the fourth inning. With two out and the bases loaded, San Diego let Camarena bat for himself instead of using a pinch hitter. Why use up another arm?
So Dan Camarena, career minor leaguer, stepped in against Max Scherzer, who is headed for the Hall of Fame.
Scherzer got ahead 0-2 and one pitch later, in his first major league at-bat, on the day he was recalled to the major leagues, Camarena hit a grand slam home run.
He was the first relief pitcher since Don Robinson in 1985 to hit a grand slam home run and the first to hit one for his first career hit since Bill Duggleby in 1898.
For Dan Camarena, that was one shining moment, indeed.