By Joe Southern
The Sugar Land Skeeters are doing what is quite possibly a first in professional baseball.
On May 22 they will give away a bobblehead of a bat boy. The fans voted and Michael “Big Mike” Garcia was selected for statuary immortality. He joins the ranks of Manager Gary Gaetti, Skeeters Special Assistant Deacon Jones and team mascot Swatson with a bobblehead honor.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It looks just like me.”
The 500 bobbleheads will be given away to fans who stay for the Dream League All-Star game following the Skeeters game Sunday afternoon. It’s a joint promotion between the Skeeters and the Dream League and is sponsored by Memorial Hermann Health System.
The club will hold a second bobblehead giveaway on June 25 when former Skeeters pitcher Matt Wright is honored.
Big Mike, like the honorees before him, is among the few who have been with the team all five years.
“He’s one of the guys that stuck,” Gaetti said. “He’s done his job and guys kept bringing him back. It’ll be a fun time to see what happens with the bobblehead.”
In many ways, Big Mike is like an unofficial team mascot. He’s always there, working hard, playing hard and endearing himself to players and fans alike.
“I think everybody loves Big Mike,” Gaetti said. “He’s just a sweet, big ol’ teddy bear guy. Works hard; fun-loving guy. You can joke around and tease him. He’s big. He’s like a celebrity here.”
Most fans see Big Mike when he runs from the dugout to retrieve bats or deliver baseballs to the umpire. That’s just a small part of what he does on game days.
The 25-year-old arrives at Constellation Field at 3 p.m. for each home game and gets right to work.
He makes sure all the water coolers are filled with ice and water and delivered to the dugouts before batting practice begins. He collects and delivers the game balls to the field along with the bats.
Big Mike began his career with the Skeeters when he attended a hiring fair just before the first season in 2012. He graduated from Clements High School the year before and used his experience as a sports team manager and bat boy to land the job with the Skeeters.
“I liked being a manager at Clements,” he said.
Big Mike has what he describes as a learning disability. That hasn’t hindered him from learning his job so well that the organization now calls on him to train new bat boys.
“He’s steady,” Gaetti said. “He’s been a regular worker here. I think it’s a good thing. He’s fun to have around and he does his job.”
When he’s not working for the Skeeters, Big Mike works at a Kroger grocery store. Born in San Antonio, he is the son of Elizabeth Martinez and stepson to Raul Martinez. His birth father passed away when he was 10.
In his off time, Big Mike continues to immerse himself in baseball. For the last 10 years he has been a player and coach for the First Colony Dream League, a baseball league for children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.
“I was a coach last year. This year I’m a player on the senior league,” he said.
He normally plays third base but moves around as needed.
“I help out all the other kids,” he said.
He is also active with Special Olympics. With the Skeeters, Big Mike has become an integral part of the team. He even made a road trip to Camden, N.J. and Bridgeport, Conn., a couple years ago.
“I got to roommate with Coach (Travis) Scott,” he said.
When he first started as a bat boy, he was assigned to working the visitors dugout. It wasn’t long before the Skeeters wanted him on their side.
“I do what I can do to make this team like me,” Big Mike said. “The other teams like me too. I’ve got other coaches saying I’m the best bat boy in the whole league. They always want me in their dugout.”
Gaetti said Big Mike is just like another member of the team.
“I’ve seen him have his ups and downs and he can get overheated just like anybody else and sit down. I’ve seen him get clobbered in the knee with a practice swing on deck going to pick up a bat and go completely down,” he said. “They guys love him, they really do. He’s always pleasant to be a round and he can do some funny stuff and he’ll join in and celebrate and clap and get bummed out just like the rest of us.”
When Big Mike started, he didn’t know what to make of the husky former Major Leaguer chosen to lead the team.
“The first year I was kind of scared to talk to him,” he said of Gaetti. “As the years go by I talk with him and we joke around a lot.”
During pre-game preparations Swatson will find Big Mike and the two will dance a little jig. It’s just one of the many ways Big Mike has become an endearing part of the team. And the team has become important to Big Mike.
“I hope they have a good season,” he said. “I like to see them win.”