Fans sported giveaway Tucson Toros T-shirts at Kino Stadium Saturday night, and a feeling of nostalgia hung in the air.
Tucson Padres third baseman Jesus Merchan can't quite reminisce back to the days of the Toros' final season in 1997, but the 32-year-old infielder can get pretty close. Merchan's career dates more than a decade - 14 years to be exact.
The most important number, though - major league appearances - is still stuck at the same figure it was in 2000, when he made his rookie ball debut for the GCL Twins: zero.
But the lifelong minor leaguer isn't just an extra body for the Padres. He's an invaluable piece of the team, manager Pat Murphy said.
"Jesus has just been a guiding force in so many ways, on and off the field, for so many guys," Murphy said. "He's just a tremendous human being and he's a consummate professional.
"He's just so unassuming and cares so much about other people. I love having him here."
Merchan went 1 for 2 with an RBI as a late replacement at third in Saturday's 7-3 win over Colorado Springs.
For a player who's bounced around from team to team, playing for 19 different clubs and in 325 Triple-A games, Merchan's stats don't tell a story of a failed career. He has a .302 career batting average in Triple-A despite being more of a defensive-minded player.
This season marks Merchan's third in Tucson. He played for the then-Tucson Sidewinders in 2008, and hit .329. He played in 45 games for the Tucson Padres last season.
Murphy said if the Venezuela native had consistent playing time, he'd be able to finally break through and reach his elusive dream.
Unfortunately for Merchan, that's not the reality this season.
While he sees spot duty and pitch-hit opportunities, Merchan sits behind someone nearly 10 years younger, Jonathan Galvez, on the depth chart.
Instead of feeling resentment, though, Merchan is doing the exact opposite. He's become Galvez's mentor.
"Galvez is a young guy in the infield, he's going to be pretty good," Merchan said. "So I try to help out as much as I can."
Merchan has taken the young, and talented, Galvez under his wing. Since Galvez is still working on the English language and Murphy doesn't speak Spanish well, Merchan has a "vital" role in teaching his pupil about both baseball and life, Murphy said.
"I see the way (Merchan) plays, and I like (it), you know," Galvez said. "Because I'm a young player and I want to be like him, play this game with more passion."
For a player who's always been near the majors but never made the show, Merchan's dream still lives on. Despite his age, he said his goal remains the same as the rest of his teammates. He just has a more focused perspective.
"You (can't) take anything for granted," Merchan said. "It's a different game every day. Once you think you know the game you realize you don't. So you've got to be prepared every day and be focused. Play hard every pitch, one pitch at the time."
• Who: Colorado Springs at Tucson, 1:05 p.m.