ARLINGTON, Texas — Grayson Rodriguez doesn’t generally call. For day-to-day conversations, his parents have come to expect text messages.

But when Temple Rodriguez’s phone rang and she heard her son’s voice waver on the other end of the line, she braced herself. Grayson Rodriguez has been through it before — the disappointment, the feeling of something so close being taken away. Last year, it was a lat injury that delayed his expected promotion to the major leagues. He didn’t make the Orioles out of spring training this year.

“All right, Mom,” Grayson told Temple over the phone Tuesday evening. “I’m trying not to cry.”

Temple began to console him, waiting for her husband Gilbert to come in from the tomato garden to hear what was wrong. Then Grayson cut her off.

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“Mom, they’re bringing me up!” he yelled through the phone. “I’m pitching tomorrow in Dallas!”

Temple began screaming, Gilbert came running, and the word soon spread through their small town of Nacogdoches, Texas: Grayson had made it.

So on Wednesday, a little more than three hours from his hometown, Grayson Rodriguez took the mound at Globe Life Field in front of his family and friends. The entire population of Nacogdoches could fit inside the monstrous stadium in Arlington — with about 8,000 seats to spare.

Dozens of people made the trip — the baseball coach, the basketball coach — wearing the blue of Central Heights High School or orange Baltimore gear. The town has watched him since he was a child, first learning baseball. Then they saw him at age 23, on the biggest stage.

“I’m praying for a good outing,” Temple Rodriguez said before his start. “It’s very surreal. My heart rate’s crazy. And I just want him to have a good outing.”

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That it was. Grayson Rodriguez labored through the first inning, allowing two runs with a walk, single and double mixed in. But after that 30-pitch frame, Rodriguez settled in. He retired 13 of his final 15 batters, and his final pitch sailed past the bat of shortstop Corey Seager for Rodriguez’s fifth strikeout of the day.

He left the mound with a no-decision in the eventual 5-2 loss to the Rangers but established himself in an encouraging way. If this was just the start, it was a solid one, and Rodriguez’s dad, Gilbert, finally finished pacing back and forth once his son had left the mound for the last time.

“The emotions were definitely high,” Rodriguez said. “It was kind of a whirlwind.”

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A day earlier, Rodriguez was on the field in Norfolk when he was pulled to the side and informed of his impending trip. His flight was leaving in an hour and a half, but he fit in the phone call to his parents.

“A lot of tears,” Rodriguez said.

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The yells from Temple when she first received the news from Grayson did enough to tell Nacogdoches that something important had occurred. Her mother, Lynda Greer, told her to stop shrieking — until she heard the news, at which point she joined in the chorus. Gilbert ran in from the tomato garden and began making rapid plans for Wednesday.

Their younger son, Garner, played a game Tuesday night. They hopped in the car Wednesday morning to make the trek, along with what felt like much of the town.

“Grayson called me yesterday to thank me for everything I’ve ever done,” Greer said. “And I said to him, ‘Son, I’ve kept a list, I want you to go over it.’”

Among them was the fact she’s never missed one of his games. She sure wasn’t going to miss his major league debut, either.

As David Russell, the superintendent of the Central Heights Independent School District, looked around the stands at Globe Life Field, he recognized most of his students. He didn’t mind they were missing class for this.

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“I’m really wondering how many kids we have at school today,” Russell said, “because I see a lot of them here.”

The last time Grayson Rodriguez flew midseason to Texas, he was in a different frame of mind. He had been on the verge of a call-up to the big leagues last year. He felt as though he was just one start away. And then he suffered a lat strain, putting his season on the shelf.

Rodriguez flew home to Nacogdoches for a week before reporting to the Orioles’ facility in Florida, where he’d begin his rehab. Rodriguez worked back to Triple-A Norfolk, entered spring training with high expectations and was left on the outside looking in again, optioned to the minor leagues after a shaky 15 1/3 innings.

“I know there was some disappointment there,” said right-hander Kyle Gibson, whose spring training locker stood next to Rodriguez’s. “The hope is that any time you get sent down, you take it in stride and you understand your time will come and you just have to make sure you’re ready. It would’ve done him no good having spent the last week being mad about not making the team and not getting his work done.”

And then his debut came unexpectedly. Right-hander Kyle Bradish suffered a right foot contusion Monday night, forcing him onto the 15-day injured list. The sudden opening in the rotation brought Rodriguez here.

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It brought tears to his eyes, it strained the vocal cords of his mom and it inspired so many family and friends to be at Globe Life Field, to see the moment that will forever live in his mind.

Ten years into his major league career, Gibson can remember the conversation with the pitching coach after his debut, and nearly every pitch he threw. It’s burned into his memory, those six innings in 2013. He expects the same will be true for Rodriguez someday.

When Rodriguez arrived at the ballpark Wednesday morning, manager Brandon Hyde told him to treat this start as if he was pitching in high school again.

“It’s not realistic,” Hyde later admitted. “And there’s [Jacob] deGrom going at the other end and [Corey] Seager and [Marcus] Semien. It’s not realistic. But trying to make him feel good, honestly.”

It felt different than anything Rodriguez had experienced while playing at Central Heights. He said he could hardly feel the ball in his hand that first inning, and “I kind of felt like I was on an island.” His command, as a result, was shaky to begin. But when he returned to the mound for the second, third, fourth and fifth, Rodriguez looked every bit of the highly-ranked pitching prospect he became since the Orioles selected him in the first round of the 2018 draft.

And while the surroundings at Globe Life Field were far different than back in Nacogdoches, the crowd was much the same as it was when he pitched for Central Heights, full of those who watched the pupil turn into the professional.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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