BOSTON -- There was a time for Nick Longhi when he would sit on his couch at home in Venice, Florida watching his favorite team growing up, the Boston Red Sox. The now-Lowell Spinner would watch the team play at Fenway Park on television, dreaming about the day he could fulfill his major league dreams by running out into the outfield and have the Green Monster looming in the shadows behind him.
For Longhi, those dreams partially came true on Sunday when the Spinners hosted the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Futures at Fenway . When Longhi, standing out in left field with the Monster behind him as he always dreamed, had to play balls over the 37-foot wall, the 18-year-old was prepared.
He studied the Green Monster's intricacies from his couch for years.
"I've watched it my whole life," Longhi said. "You pick up some of the flaws on there."
While he grew up in Florida, Longhi was born in Springfield, just a short 90 minute drive on the Mass Pike away from Boston. Longhi's roots led to his life-long fandom of the Boston Red Sox. While he did not visit Boston frequently, Longhi managed to make the trip to Yawkey Way on four separate occasions. The first two trips came when he was age 11. The second came just a couple weeks back when Mookie Betts, who he befriended in spring training, made his Fenway Park debut.
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The fourth came on Sunday as a member of the Boston Red Sox organization.
Looking back on his first trips to Fenway, Longhi remembers seeing a man on stilts on Yawkey Way. Longhi remembers sitting in right field eating Fenway Franks watching Red Sox legend Wily Mo Peña. Longhi remembers watching, the then-newest member of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett throw out the first pitch. Most importantly, Longhi remembered the magic of being at Fenway Park.
"I just walked out here and the first thing I thought about was when my foot hit the outfield grass and going out and taking pictures and how special it was," Longhi said. "It's real amazing to be here. Just taking BP here and getting to play here today, it's a very special occasion for me and I'm happy that my family was here and that we'll be able to share it."
Longhi, however, did not always think that he would be playing his first game at Fenway Park at the age of 18. A 30th-round draft pick in the 2013 draft, Longhi fell to the Red Sox late in the draft due to signability concerns, despite being considered a top-five-round talent. Longhi, who was being heavily recruited by Louisiana State University, felt there was a small chance that he would sign a contact to play professional baseball because he would not get a big enough bonus.
He was sure of his decision. That was until the Red Sox came calling.
"It was late and a lot later than I wanted to go, but that's the one thing that kind of took it away," Longhi said. "My favorite team drafted me and I didn't know if the opportunity would come again or if it would come again so I kind of had to strike while the iron was hot and it gives it a whole new feel playing for your favorite team."
The decision was made. Longhi decided to forego college and begin his professional baseball career at the age of 17. The Red Sox gave Longhi a $440,000 signing bonus, the fourth-largest bonus of the 2013 draft class and $140,000 more than what they gave their fifth round pick. Having been assigned to the Gulf Coast League in Fort Myers, just 45 minutes from where he grew up, Longhi said the transition to life as a professional was gradual and easier.
"It was easing out of the family environment and learning to be on my own a little bit and family was still close enough to where if I had a problem, they could help me through it," Longhi said. "It was a much easier transition than if I came straight to Lowell, Mass., I would've been out on my own and wouldn't have known what to do. I would've been lost, but I had a lot of help down there."
While the transition to life alone wasn't a struggle, Longhi faltered at the plate, hitting .178/.245/.356 with one home run, four RBIs, five doubles, three walks and 12 strikeouts. Longhi decided to take his struggles and turn them into future success. After being assigned to extended spring training with plans for Lowell, Longhi came in with a newfound mindset.
"Extended spring training was pretty much about keeping my head in there," Longhi said. "If I have a bad game, knowing that tomorrow is a new day. You could go 4-for-4 and hit the ball soft and the next day, you could go 0-for-4 and hit everything as hard as you could possibly hit it. It's just about staying mentally balanced and keeping that even keel."
Soon, the results came for Longhi. Longhi is hitting .341/.384/.462 with 10 RBIs, nine doubles, one triple, seven walks, 17 strikeouts in 25 games. The highlight of Longhi's success came in form of a 14-game hitting streak, which came to a conclusion on Sunday at Fenway. Spinners manager Joe Oliver says that Longhi brings a lot to the table for a team.
"What he's doing is pretty impressive," Oliver said. "You kind of expect a slump to pop up pretty soon, but he get his hits. He's very versatile. To be able to put him in left field and right field and be able to play some first base, he's a big asset and part of the offense right and he's swinging a lot faster.
Even though he is still a ways away from the majors, Longhi has big dreams.
"When I was eight or nine, [my dad and I] were watching the Little League World Series," Longhi said. My dad was on the couch next to me and he said, 'How'd you like to play in the Little League World Series?' I said, 'Forget that, I want to play in the real World Series, man.' Just being in this ballpark and playing for this team, it's something real special."