HOUSTON — Jon Singleton waited eight years and 13 days between his 14th big league home run and his 15th.
In the interim, he received a 100-game suspension for the third failed marijuana test in his then-young career, was released by the Houston Astros team for which he had once been the top prospect, opened a gym, raked in the Mexican League, raked in the minors for the Milwaukee Brewers, played all of 11 games in the majors for them, was designated for assignment, and wound up back in the Astros’ system.
It took him less than half an hour to get to No. 16 in Houston’s 11-3 blowout victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Singleton debuted for Houston at 22 years old in 2014. In his first big league game he homered against the Angels. By then he already had two failed drug tests in the minors, spent a month in rehab, and admitted to the Associated Press, “at this point it’s pretty evident to me that I’m a drug addict.”
He also had a contract worth a guaranteed $10 million and up to $35 million over eight years, signed before he accrued a single day of service time. The towering first baseman had been the first player ever to sign a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract before his major league debut. The Astros were coming off three-straight 100-loss seasons and sought to cost control what they thought could be a championship core. They were right about plenty of other players who debuted around then, just not Singleton. He appeared in just 19 games in 2015, with just nine hits and a single home run — against the Angels, on July 29.
“Honestly, I kind of don’t remember it,” Singleton said Friday night about what would have been his last big league home run if not for a second chance. “So long ago, you know, and a lot has happened in between.”
Nine years after that debut, the Astros signed Singleton to a minor league deal in June. He slashed .333/.446/.692 across 33 Triple-A games in the famously offense-friendly Pacific Coast League, earning himself a call up to an Astros club in desperate need of a left-handed bat off the bench.
Now 31 years old, Singleton was hitless, with two walks and a run scored, in two games in Baltimore this week. But in front of a sold-out Astros crowd that came to see Justin Verlander’s 500th career start — and first in Houston since being traded back from a brief stint with the Mets — Singleton started at first against Angels southpaw Reid Detmers.
For Verlander and Singleton, Friday night’s game represented a meaningful return.
“Walking out there and hearing the fans’ ovation was pretty special,” Verlander said.
“It’s a place that kind of feels like home,” Singleton said.
In his first at-bat back where he once belonged — with his wife and two children, whom he credits for giving him a “normal life” away from the field, looking on — Singleton crushed a fastball 390 feet over the right-field wall for a three-run blast. The home run 2,935 days in the making got out in a hurry as Singleton let his bat tumble nonchalantly out of his hands, like he does this every day.
Or twice a day.
An inning later, he launched a nearly identical two-run shot — marking his first multi-homer game, a career-high five RBI night, and the beginning of what is likely to be more regular playing time.
Each would have been home runs in all 30 ballparks and even an eight-year gap left little doubt in Singleton’s mind — from the second he made contact, he knew the ball was gone.
“Ye-ah” he said, pronouncing it with two syllables as if that was an understatement. “Without a doubt.”
“Yes,” he said, and then, just for good measure, he said it a second time. “Yes.”