One phone call turned Sam Wolff’s Fourth of July weekend into a celebration.
After months of uncertainty, the former University of New Mexico pitcher decided to get in a Sunday round of golf with his wife, Lauren, near their Rapid City, South Dakota home. When the round ended, Wolff’s phone rang.
“Yeah, the (San Francisco) Giants called and told me to report the next day,” Wolff told the Journal in a phone interview. “It was super exciting, especially after spending three months in limbo not knowing if there would even be a baseball season. I can’t even remember what I shot on the golf course, to be honest.”
By Monday, Wolff was in San Francisco getting tested for COVID-19 and walking into quarantine at the team hotel. His results came back negative on Wednesday, and Wolff has since been training daily at Oracle Park.
“The last couple mornings I got a cup of coffee and just walked around the ballpark taking it all in,” Wolff said. “It’s such a unique, beautiful park, it seems kind of surreal being here.”
There is no guarantee that Wolff will pitch in an actual game at Oracle Park during the upcoming 60-game season. He was a late addition to the team’s 60-man roster and is likely to be part of the team’s taxi squad (training in Sacramento) when the Giants visit the Los Angeles Dodgers for their opener on July 23.
Still, last Sunday’s call to report represented a big opportunity for Wolff, a 29-year-old right-hander who completed his UNM baseball career in 2013. He was an All-Mountain West Conference pick as a senior and a sixth-round pick of the Texas Rangers after the season, but his pro career has been a roller-coaster ride to this point.
After signing with the Rangers, Wolff steadily worked his way through the organization and appeared on the brink of a big-league promotion in 2017. The hard-throwing reliever was 2-2 with 2.38 earned-run average at Triple-A Round Rock, racking up 32 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.
In August he suffered a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, ending his season and ultimately his shot at making the Rangers’ big-league roster. During the offseason, Wolff was traded to the Giants as part of a deal for Moriarty High alumnus Matt Moore.
“That was pretty weird,” Wolff said, “working out and trying to get through rehab with a new organization. It was kind of a tough year, but I finished up 2018 in Double-A (Richmond) and pitched pretty well in the fall league. In 2019 I felt great, everything was back to normal and I was really looking forward to this season.”
Wolff split 2019 between the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Sacramento River Cats, though with the latter he never matched up against the Albuquerque Isotopes. Still, Wolff’s season went well enough to earn him an invitation to the Giants’ big league spring training camp and made for a pleasant offseason, much of which was spent in Albuquerque.
During that span, Wolff worked out regularly with former UNM teammate and close friend Mitch Garver. An Albuquerque native who is now the Minnesota Twins’ primary catcher, Garver worked with Wolff during their Lobo careers.
“Mitch does things the right way and he’s kind of a role model for me,” Wolff said. “Working out with him in the winter, things went about as well as they could go.”
Wolff also enjoyed his abbreviated stay at the Giants’ spring camp, meeting veterans Evan Longoria and Buster Posey and getting to know the staff before coronavirus worries sent everyone home. Wolff went back to his native South Dakota but admits it has been an uneasy time.
“Nobody knew what to expect,” Wolff said. “You just try to get workouts in and stay ready, but then the minor league season got canceled and things didn’t look good. I was lucky Lauren was there to keep me motivated through all the down time. She’d just keep saying, ‘Enjoy the day, ride the wave.'”
Wolff also benefitted from a strong start to spring training. He allowed just one hit over three scoreless outings before the shutdown.
“I guess I made a good impression,” Wolff said, “and it ended up paying off for me.”
Things have been much different at the Giants’ “summer camp,” Wolff said. He’s been thoroughly indoctrinated on COVID-19 protocols and said players and staff are following them to the letter.
“Everyone’s wearing masks, workouts are outside and social distancing is definitely enforced,” he said, “then we go back and hibernate at the hotel until the next day. But everyone’s on board. We really want to have a 2020 season, and this is the only way it’s going to happen.”
Wolff also believes this season’s unique circumstances could end up hastening his big-league debut. Teams are scheduled to play a 60-game schedule in 66 days before the postseason begins in late September. He hopes that could lead to another long-awaited phone call at some point.
“This season will be a sprint and teams will have to use a lot of arms,” Wolff said. “They keep telling us it’s going to take all 60 guys. I just need to stay ready and be available when called upon. I’m one step away right now.”