The Texas Rangers have another heart-warming story on their roster. A year ago, it was Austin Bibens-Dirkx.
This year, it's left-hander Brandon Mann, who was called up from Triple-A Round Rock before Sunday's series finale against the Astros. Yohander Mendez was optioned to Round Rock so he can continue to make regular starts. He was recalled on May 3 but hadn't pitched until he threw 2/3 of an inning Saturday.
Mann, who turns 34 Wednesday, has played professionally since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 27th round in 2002. But he has never made it to the big leagues until now.
He would be the second-oldest player in Rangers history at the time of his major league debut behind right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama, who was 35 during his debut on May 24, 2011, against the White Sox.
The only older player at the time of his big league debut in 2018 was Arizona pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano, who was 34 on March 29.
"It means everything, honestly," Mann said before Sunday's game. "It's been a long journey, so I'm just really excited."
Mann, who grew up near Seattle near Rangers' teammate Tony Barnette, is especially excited that friends and family will get to see him in the big leagues when the Rangers play Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle.
"I found out after the game last night and called my wife immediately, helped her book a flight [to Houston]," he said. "She’ll be here with my sister, which is awesome."
Mann then called his parents, which included a lot of reflecting on his 17-year journey to the majors.
"I always believed so," he said. "I always told myself I was a big leaguer. To keep grinding it out to get the opportunity, you have to believe that you are."
Mann is 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Round Rock this season. He's holding opponents to a .133 batting average with 13 strikeouts and five walks. He last pitched 2/3 of an inning on Thursday against New Orleans.
Mann, who married his wife, Sarah, in November, was wondering whether his baseball career was over while waiting for a team to call over the winter. Rangers assistant general manager Josh Boyd saw a video clip of a bullpen session and went to watch him in person and signed him this winter.
"There were definitely moments for sure, even this off-season, not a lot of teams calling," Mann said of doubts. "There was a good month and a half before I got signed … were we like, if no teams call are you ready to be done? I was at a point where I didn’t want to go back to independent ball. I had done it multiple times already, and I believe in my heart that I was definitely capable of pitching in the big leagues."
Hearing Bibens-Dirkx's story while teammates in Round Rock provided Mann with another well of inspiration to keeping going.
"His story is incredible as well. What he did coming up here last year was even more incredible," Mann said. "He’s one of the guys I talked to a lot down there as well. I’ve learned a lot from him. Hearing his story gave me motivation early on in the year when I first heard it. I love the guy. He's awesome."
It's not just a feel-good story, Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
"As the season progressed, Brandon continued to throw the ball very well," he said. "All of our scouts felt like it was a solid option for us. He gives us some length [in the bullpen]."
Banister said the move has no bearing on Matt Bush's progress in Round Rock.