Cole Tucker vividly remembers the conversation he and Hamilton High School alum Cody Bellinger had at Chase Field six years ago.
The two sat in the upper deck, looking down at the field below as the Arizona Diamondbacks took on the San Francisco Giants. Bellinger, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, had just signed his rookie deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tucker was still a junior at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.
“I was like, ‘Dude, this is crazy, you just got drafted in the fourth-round and have a really good chance at playing in the big leagues,’” Tucker says. “I had the draft coming up the next year and I just thought how cool it would be for us to do that someday.”
Bellinger had his moment two seasons ago, when he was named the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year. Tucker’s moment came on April 20, when he made his big-league debut with the Pirates on a stormy day in Pittsburgh.
In the bottom of the fifth inning with the Pirates and Giants tied, 1-1, Tucker stepped into the batter’s box. With his family looking on, he hit a two-run homer that eventually gave the Pirates the win after the game was called due to weather after the fifth inning.
It was Tucker’s first career hit, one that resulted in him receiving a curtain call from Pirates’ fans.
“I remember being a kid watching D-backs games and seeing (Luis Gonzalez) get a curtain call,” Tucker says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be that guy. To go out there and hit that big homer and ultimately decide the game, it’s storybook. I didn’t see that coming but I’m really glad that it happened.
“My life is changed forever now because of it.”
Tucker, who returns to Chase Field with the Pirates May 13 to May 15, was one of the most sought-after prospects during his time at Mountain Pointe. He batted .405 his senior year with 30 RBIs and 5 home runs. He was drafted by the Pirates in the first-round of the 2014 MLB draft, and elected to sign right out of high school at 17.
He spent the last five years working his way through Pittsburgh’s farm system before receiving a call from Brian Esposito, the manager of triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians, around 11 p.m. Friday night.
“I wasn’t expecting to get called up but once I saw he was calling I kind of knew what was coming,” Tucker says. “I just kept telling him not to mess with me and he told me he wasn’t. Just being there and getting to experience that moment with my mom and then calling the rest of my family, it was a dream.”
Tucker’s mother, Erin, was already in Indianapolis visiting when he learned he would be starting at shortstop for the Pirates the following day. He immediately called his father, Jackie, who was still home in Phoenix with Tucker’s younger brother, Carson.
“I was just at the house with some of the boys, it was just a regular Friday night and then my dad started going crazy upstairs,” says Carson, a junior on Mountain Pointe’s varsity baseball team. “He facetimed me and we were all just so happy for him.”
With little time to spare, Carson and Jackie immediately began packing. They boarded a plane in Phoenix at 5 a.m. and arrived in Pittsburgh at 3:15 p.m., just 45 minutes before first pitch.
“We didn’t get any sleep because we were so excited,” Carson says. “Just knowing everything he has gone through and all of his hard work, he reached his goal. It’s amazing.”
Even separated by thousands of miles, Cole and Carson’s bond remains as tight as it was when the two lived together in Phoenix. They remain in constant communication, calling or FaceTiming daily.
Like Cole was during his time at Mountain Pointe, Carson has already established himself as one of the top players in the nation. He committed to the University of Texas before the season, and continues to seek pointers from Cole.
Carson hasn’t given much thought into which route he would take if he were to be drafted after his senior season. But Cole is certain that he will have the opportunity to go pro as a first-round pick.
“When you compare a 17-year-old Cole Tucker to a 17-year-old Carson Tucker, Carson is the better player,” Cole says. “I wouldn’t say this for every round, but if he gets picked in the first round and it’s a life-changing opportunity, he should sign.
“But until that happens next June, he needs to continue to play with the same energy. That will allow him to get noticed. The sky is the limit if he does that.”
Cole says the entire moment still seems surreal. He’s been the subject of several social media posts from big-name outlets, and will even get recognized and stopped on the street for pictures.
It’s something he hasn’t ever experienced before, but he’s enjoying every moment.
“It’s wild to feel like a celebrity,” Tucker says. “But I’m the same 22-year-old kid that I was when I was in Indianapolis. That’s not going to change.”
Things have come full-circle for Tucker since that day six years ago at Chase Field. He and Bellinger are both in the big league, and have already made an impact for their respective teams.
Recently, in Los Angeles, Tucker and Bellinger met on the field for the first time as big leaguers. It was a moment the two had looked forward to their entire lives.
“To finally be able to be out there together as pros, what could be cooler?” Tucker says. ‘It’s going to be a really cool moment for our families.”