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Ex-Lobo Garver relishes his major league promotion

Mitch Garver has finally been forced to come up with a new dream.

At 26, the Albuquerque native has realized the lofty goal he’s been chasing since childhood. He is a major league baseball player.

The Minnesota Twins, who drafted Garver out of the University of New Mexico in 2013, called him up for the first time Aug. 18. He’s since appeared in 13 games, drawing spot duty for a team that’s battling for an American League wild-card berth.

Though he’s unaccustomed to such erratic playing time, Garver is not complaining. Not in the least.

“Being here is everything I dreamed of and more,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m honestly enjoying every second.”

From the moment it occurred, Garver’s promotion has had a bit of a fairy tale quality. He was called up from Triple-A Rochester at the exact time his wife, Sarah, was finishing off a one-week internship in Minneapolis.

Sarah Garver, whom Mitch met during his sophomore year at La Cueva High, is closing in on a degree in veterinary medicine at Oregon State University.

“She’d signed up for an internship in Minneapolis over a year ago,” Garver said. “We kind of joked about me being there with the Twins. When I found out I was actually going up, I called her and told her to meet me at the airport. She was there for my first weekend in the big leagues. How cool is that?”

Garver became the first member of UNM’s 2012 Mountain West championship team to reach the majors. Three other ex-Lobos from that squad — Austin House (Albuquerque Isotopes), Sam Wolff (Round Rock Express) and D.J. Peterson (Tacoma Rainiers/Charlotte Knights) — played Triple-A baseball in 2017.

“Mitch texted us the night he found out he was going up,” House said. “It was kind of surreal to think this is a guy I’d played baseball with since we were kids. I was just so excited for him.”

Garver struck out as a pinch-hitter in his first major league appearance Aug. 19.

“Best strikeout I ever experienced,” he joked.

But Garver started the following day and picked up his first major league hit, off Arizona’s Braden Shipley, a former Mountain West opponent at Nevada.

“It was not exactly how I envisioned it,” Garver said of the hit. “I hit a slow roller to third base and ran faster than I ever had before.”

Garver has managed more resounding hits since then, including a pair of unlikely triples from the longtime catcher. Prior to hitting two over a five-day span, Garver did not have a triple on his scorecard in more than two years.

One of those three-base hits came in an Aug. 30 contest that Garver currently calls his “personal highlight.” He finished 3-for-4 and caught a well-pitched outing by former minor league teammate Jose Berrios in an 11-1 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Through Monday’s action, Garver had appeared in just six September games for the Twins, three of them as a pinch-hitter. He doesn’t know how many more to expect with Minnesota embroiled in a tight playoff race. Garver is one of three catchers on the roster along with veterans Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez — although Garver is technically listed as an infielder.

“I am?” Garver responded when asked about his designation. “That’s interesting. Well, my first start came at first base, which made me super nervous, so I guess I can be considered an infielder.”

Several of Garver’s friends and family members have already made trips to watch the one-time UNM walk-on compete at baseball’s highest level. That includes Lobos coach Ray Birmingham, who traveled to Kansas City for last week’s Twins-Royals series.

“Mitch was smiling ear to ear,” Birmingham said, “and that was really cool to see. The only advice I gave him was, ‘Be a great teammate,’ and that was really just a reminder. Mitch has always been a team-first guy.”

That mentality also plays a role in Garver’s new career objectives. Having earned his spot on a major league roster — he was selected as the Rochester Red Wings’ 2017 MVP in a fan vote — Garver can now afford to dream long-term.

“I’m just absorbing everything right now,” he said. “The guys who’ve been here all year are the horses (the Twins are) going to ride to the finish line and I understand that. At this level winning is the only goal and I just want to help any way I can.

“But things are a little different for me now, too. As a kid, getting here is all you dream about. Now I envision myself being successful in the big leagues for a long time.”

Mitch Garver

Height: 6-1

Weight: 220

Age: 26

Schools: La Cueva, UNM

MLB Numbers

(through Monday):

Games played/started: 13/9

Batting avg.: 206 (7-for-34)

On-base percentage: .325

Triple-A Numbers

(88 games):

Batting avg: .291

Home runs: 17

RBIs: 45