The outfielder learned Friday night that he had been called up from Double-A Akron. The Aeros had just clinched the Western Division title in the Eastern League. After the players celebrated on the field, Neal was pulled aside by manager Chris Tremie and coach Rouglas Odor. The message was short and simple: Pack your bags, kid, you're going to Cleveland."It was phenomenal," Neal said. "It couldn't get any better."
The news did get better on Sunday when Neal made his Major League debut against Texas in Sunday's 8-3 loss. He batted fifth and played right field against left-hander Derek Holland. And if that wasn't enough, he got his first hit, an RBI double off Tyler Scheppers in the eighth inning.
Neal overcame a distraction most hitters never have to face in their careers. An airshow was held this weekend at nearby Burke Lakefront Airport, featuring the Blue Angels jets, which were buzzing Progressive Field just as Neal was batting in the eighth.
"That was pretty crazy to have those jets flying over as I'm swinging," he said. "I was telling [Michael] Brantley I couldn't remember what pitch he threw."
Neal struck out in the second and again in the third. He was robbed of a hit in the sixth when shortstop Elvis Andrus made a diving stop of his hard grounder in the hole and made a strong throw to first.
"I tried to approach it like it was the same game [as in the Minors], but it took me about six innings to calm down and get my feet under me a little bit," Neal said.
Neal said he got three baseballs from the game as souvenirs, including the one from his first hit. He plans on giving all three to his parents.
"Without them, I wouldn't be in this situation," he said. "I want to make sure I share some of this with them."
Neal hit .314 with 12 homers, 24 doubles and 51 RBIs in 117 games for Akron. He thought something was up when he wasn't in the lineup for the Aeros on Thursday or Friday. Neal briefly considered he'd been traded, but wasn't sure what to think.
"I wasn't expecting this," he said. "I kind of got the idea that on Thursday when I was in the lineup, but all of a sudden, I got taken out right before the game. We're trying to clinch the division. The following day, I wasn't in the lineup. My teammates started heckling me a little bit about it for a couple of days. So I just waited to see what was going to happen."
Neal, 25, was acquired from the Giants for infielder Orlando Cabrera on July 30, 2011. He was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training and rejoined the organization after clearing waivers.
"I think it was something that was truly a blessing," Neal said. "I could have either sat there and pouted about it, but they made a business decision and I chose to take care of the business I could control, and that was go out and play the game the way I could play."
Manger Manny Acta said Neal will get at-bats against left-handers. Neal can also play left field.