There have been, in the annals of sports history, some truly spectacular ways that athletes have chosen to punctuate the final stage of their careers.
Ted Williams hit a home run in his last major league at-bat in 1959. Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points in his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. Ray Lewis led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in his finale in 2013.
Cody Decker might not have the big-time cachet of those sports legends, but what he now has in common with them is a memorable last dance moment that he can carry with him for the rest of his life.
Decker, a 32-year-old first baseman, smashed a walk-off home run for the Triple-A Reno Aces on Friday night.
DECKER DOES IT!!!
Reno finest, Cody Decker ends the game with one GINORMOUS blast.
— Reno Aces (@Aces) July 6, 2019
Down 9-8 to the Sacramento River Cats in the bottom of the ninth, the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate had a runner on first and one out. Decker stepped up to the plate, swung the bat and hit his 204th career minor league homer, tops among active players.
But Decker wouldn’t keep that status for long.
He immediately announced his retirement, a Hollywood ending reminiscent of the last baseball moment for Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, in the film “Bull Durham,” who similarly hits a home run in his last at-bat before calling it a career.
“If I was writing a movie, that’s the way I would want to end it,” Decker told Tahoe On Stage after the game.
“I never really knew I’d get the chance to do it,” he said. “It was a really special night and one of the best of my career, something I’ll never forget. The fact I got to share it with these teammates, you can’t beat it.”
The only thing better than hitting the homer might have been the celebration and curtain call that followed.
“That moment coming off the field is something I never knew would happen,” Decker said. “Getting all those hugs at home, then having a curtain call from the fans. It wasn’t just the fans — which is amazing — it was my teammates on the top step both giving me a standing ovation.”
Decker was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft by the San Diego Padres and bounced around the minors for all but the briefest of stretches in 2015, when he had 11 hitless at-bats for San Diego and struck out five times, his lone positive contribution a sacrifice fly that accounted for his only major-league RBI.
In the minors, he was a career .260 hitter in 1,033 games with 204 homers and 645 RBIs, a solid .857 OPS his lasting legacy in the smaller parks and in front of the smaller but no less enthusiastic crowds of mostly Triple-A ball.
Decker, whose Twitter bio describes him as an “unprofessional professional ballplayer” and an antihero, had warm words for the fans in Reno who cheered him on during his last two seasons.
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) July 6, 2019
He is moving back to El Paso, Texas, for his post-baseball life. Decker and his wife, Jennifer, will host a weekly radio show, and he will also become executive director of a baseball nonprofit that has as its mission using baseball and softball to get kids into and through college.
“This is a passion project for me,” he said. “It’s something I really care about. El Paso is a place I love and I hope that I can make it a destination for baseball dreams to come true. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m extremely lucky to be in a position where we can. I’m so excited, over the moon about it.”
Looks like the biggest home run of Decker’s life might be yet to come.
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