September 27, 2022

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Fox's first hit caps off long journey to baseball

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SAN FRANCISCO — If everything had gone as planned, Lucius Fox would have been a track star. If his original childhood dream had been realized, he would have represented his native Bahamas at the Olympics in the 100-meter dash.

But if those athletic aspirations had been achieved, he would not have recorded his first Major League hits by racing to first base at what is deemed an elite speed in baseball on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park.

“I got two infield hits, I stole a base, went first to third, scored from third on a dirt ball — and it was all with the legs,” a beaming Fox said following the Nationals’ 11-5 series win over the Giants. “That’s special.”

Sports were a constant in Fox’s active childhood. He dabbled in basketball, soccer and swimming, and he honed in on track and baseball after trying them all out. By the age of 12, he was “really, really serious” about running — until an unforeseeable injury changed his athletic trajectory.

Fox was putting on his track shoes ahead of a meet when a discus from a nearby competition sliced its way through a hole in a surrounding net and crashed into Fox’s right leg. He heard screams. He felt a rush of sharp pain. Then he realized he couldn’t walk. Fox’s shin was fractured, and his young track hopes were over.

“I never ran after that,” he said.

Fox underwent physical therapy to build back his muscles. After two months, he was able to walk without crutches. At that point, Fox went all-in on baseball, which he began playing at 7 years old. He left home and moved to the United States to continue honing his skills at American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla., when he was 13.

“I still could play baseball, and I felt like I still had the speed,” Fox said. “Maybe not for the Olympics, but I still felt like I could make a contribution on the baseball field.”

Fox transformed into a switch-hitting infielder, turned heads at showcases and garnered attention from colleges — including North Carolina State, the school he aspired to attend because of his favorite baseball player, former National Trea Turner. But similar to what he dealt with when he was 12, he was thrown another curveball when he was 17. Baseball had become a financial hardship for Fox’s family, and he had to leave Florida.

“I thought my baseball career was done,” Fox said. “I moved back to the Bahamas; I had no choice. I did homeschool. But at that moment I just said to myself, ‘I’m just going to use this time to get bigger, faster and stronger.’”

The 2015 international signing period became Fox’s avenue to the pros. He inked a deal with the Giants that included a $6 million signing bonus, but he was traded to the Rays the following summer as part of the Matt Duffy-Matt Moore deal. So when he arrived at Oracle Park six years and four organizations later, he had a firm objective.

“Signing day, I came to [Oracle Park to] watch the Giants play,” Fox said. “To actually get that first hit in the Giants’ stadium, it’s special. But I kind of had that feeling in my mind that I was going to do something special today.”

Fox, who made his Major League debut with the Nationals on April 10 at age 24, entered the series finale 0-for-20 at the plate. In a five-run first inning in which the Nats batted around the order, Fox, hitting in the No. 9 spot, darted out of the box when he made contact on a splitter from Alex Cobb. Washington’s dugout erupted as he reached safely, and Fox gave them more reasons to cheer when he stole his first base on the next at-bat. Five innings later, he singled to third off a Yunior Marte slider and scored on a wild pitch.

“From when I hit it, I was gone,” Fox said of his first hit. “When I hit it and saw they were playing me in the shift, I said, ‘There’s no way he was going to get me.’ So I was on full go. Once I touched first and I saw the ball wasn’t there, it was just joy, just pure joy. I was jumping up and down. It was crazy. I smile a lot, but I couldn’t stop smiling in that moment.”

To put Fox’s two hits into context, the average sprint speed in Major League Baseball is 27 feet per second. Taking it to another level, 30-plus feet/second is deemed elite. Fox’s sprint speed on his hit in the first inning was 30 feet/second, while he reached 30.1 feet/second in the sixth inning.

“He can fly,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We’ve always known that about him. He’s a good athlete. It’s good to get those first couple out of the way. Now hopefully he takes off here.”

There was no way for Fox to know the day he ended his track aspirations that he was opening the door for what would become a Major League career. His road has been filled with unexpected moments, but at this point, he has a clear vision of who he is as a Major League infielder — one with two hits on his resume.

“We go through certain things in life and we don’t understand it, we don’t see it,” Fox said. “We think, ‘But why’s this got to happen to me?’ But I feel like it all happened so I can be here today. If that discus didn’t hit me, then I probably might not have taken baseball as seriously.”

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