Storybook ending: Aces’ Cody Decker homers, hangs it up
“If I was writing a movie, that’s the way I would want to end it.”
In his 3,367th and final at bat, Cody Decker lifted a hanging slider over the left-center field scoreboard to give the Reno Aces a 10-9 win on July 5.
Three days later, the 32-year-old first baseman announced his retirement in a press conference in El Paso, Texas.
His walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Sacramento River Cats tied the bow on an 11-year career full of laughs, home runs and his signature “arm explosions” with 13 different professional baseball clubs.
Decker’s trip around the bases was a memorable one. Jubilant teammates and coaches eagerly awaited the celebration at home plate as 6,612 fans screamed in delight at Greater Nevada Field. A dramatic conclusion to his baseball script, one reminiscent of the movie “Bull Durham,” in which career minor leaguer Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) hits a historic home run and promptly retires.
“I never really knew I’d get the chance to do it,” Decker 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 celebration continued heading into the dugout.
“That moment coming off the field is something I never knew would happen,” he 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 selected in the 22nd round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres. In 1,033 career games, he had 204 home runs, 645 RBIs, 212 doubles and hundreds of forearm bashes — what he calls arm explosions — in the dugout.
The active all-time home run leader in Minor League Baseball left the game with a career 3.54 ERA in nine appearances as a pitcher.
[pullquote]If I can have any legacy, I hope it’s that I made my fans and teammates happy.” [/pullquote]His warm and comedic personality has spread throughout five Pacific Coast League clubhouses including the El Paso Chihuahuas, Albuquerque Isotopes and Omaha Storm Chasers.
“Whether he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 he always has that smile,” Aces manager Chris Cron said. “The guys feed off his energy and he’s just a great guy in general. You can sit with him and talk about anything.”
Even retirement won’t slow Decker’s pursuit of making an arm-to-arm blast with friends, family and associates.
“I’m going to forearm explode everyone I meet,” he said. “It’s the new handshake. Guy puts out a hand out and I’ll say ‘No, forearm, give me that arm baby,’ so it’ll be around.”
Decker brought plenty of pop and a superhero persona to downtown Reno since his Aces debut on April 8, 2018. His powerful right-handed swing was destined for the thin air at Greater Nevada Field.
The slugger launched his first Aces homer over the scoreboard in left field in his Reno debut against the Fresno Grizzlies. Decker had two more home runs on April 9.
Along with a slew of round-trippers, Decker has made dozens of memories and met hundreds of faces over the years.
“I’ll have both good and bad (memories) here,” he said. “The worst game I ever played in my career was here. It was a doubleheader when I was with Albuquerque, I went 0-for-7. What a nightmare. But I had some of the best games of my career here. … It’s a special stadium and a great city. The fans here are just the best and they’re so supportive”
In his last game, Decker experienced a bit of deja vu. He and a fan engaged in conversation during breaks in the action in left field, similar to his first appearance at Greater Nevada Field.
“I remember my first game here in 2012,” he said. “I was playing for the Tucson Padres. which doesn’t even exist anymore so that’ll show my age. I was in left field. I’m not really an outfielder…. And I’m sitting there getting heckled so hard by this fan in left field. Last night (in left field), I was heckled so hard by one fan and I went ‘Man, this is coming full circle.’ I ended up chatting with the guy and it made me realize just how much I love this game.”
In 2015, Decker had a cup of coffee in the show. He went 0 of 11 with an RBI for the San Diego Padres.
At first base in Triple-A Reno, Decker was stuck behind 2017 PCL MVP Christian Walker and 2019 PCL All-Star Kevin Cron over the last two seasons. Walker and Cron are both top five in franchise history in home runs.
Decker transitioned to a bench role with plenty of pop, but thousands of fans cheered his name each plate appearance. He appeared in 39 games with the Aces this season.
“I’ve been off the bench for the last two years and it’s been a tough spot,” he said. “I think for the most part I’ve handled it pretty well. But the fans’ support here coming off the bench has been so special and fun for me. Getting a crowd reaction every time I came to the plate was something I’ll always cherish.”
The slugging infielder will stay busy in his post-baseball life. He and his wife, Jennifer, signed a three-year deal with Intercom. Together, they will host a three-hour live national radio show and once-a-week podcast.
“Me and my wife (Jennifer) both signed a contract with Intercom,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, keeps us busy.”
The love for the game still runs in Decker’s blood. He accepted an executive director position for a nonprofit organization in El Paso in hopes of building his own baseball school. The program aims to get as many kids as possible a college education through baseball and softball.
“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.”
Among the six All-Star appearances and a 2009 Arizona League MVP Award, it’s the relationships that Decker built during the last 11 years that he’ll miss the most.
“If there’s one thing I am going to take away from baseball is that there are no accolades,” he said. “It’s all the relationships I’ve been able to have. If I can have any legacy, I hope it’s that I made my fans and teammates happy.”
Decker’s day has come to ride off into the sunset. He savored every moment he played on the field and his storybook ending capped-off an eventful career.
When he joined the Aces last season, Decker said: “I know that one of these days I am going to have to get a big boy job. But until then, I will play every game as if it were my last.”
Cody Decker sure did.
The final box score
ABOUT Isaiah Burrows
Tahoe Onstage sportswriter Isaiah Burrows also is a general assignment reporter for CarsonNow.org, an online news source in Carson City. He is a journalism major at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he writes sports for the Sagebrush student newspaper. He is the Reno Aces beat writer for Tahoe Onstage.