KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Even the few Minnesota Twins fans who turned up in Kansas City on Thursday night were quick to recognize Miguel Sano, the strapping slugger standing on the top step of the dugout.
They were quick to toss him some balls for autographs, too.
One of the prized prospects in all of baseball, Sano was recalled from Double-A Chattanooga before the Twins opened a four-game series against the Royals. The big slugger from the Dominican Republic was the designated hitter and batting sixth on Thursday night.
''It's a good moment. This is the opportunity that everyone wants in baseball,'' said Sano, who is being counted on to ignite a stagnant Twins offense.
''I want to try to stay here for my whole career, never get sent back down.''
Sano signed as a 16-year-old in 2009, and his big league debut has been anticipated for years. But his fast track to Minnesota was put on hold when he needed Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of last season, and left him starting this season in the minors.
Sano hit .275 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 66 games at Double-A, but has been even better the past month. And that is good news for the Twins, who were in first place in May but have gone 11-18 in their last 29 games, mostly because of their poor offense.
''It's exciting, for myself and the staff and the players. His name has been out there for a while. It's been about a five-year journey to get to this point,'' Twins manager Paul Molitor said. ''We're looking for a little pick-me-up. It's fun to put his name in the lineup.''
Besides the few fans who raced down to see him when the gates opened at Kauffman Stadium, Sano also had his wife, sister and a couple of friends in town for his debut. More of his family is expected when he plays his first game in Minnesota on Monday.
Then there was the film crew following him around.
Sano was one of the central figures in the 2012 documentary, ''Ballplayer: Pelotero,'' which examined the often corrupt system of scouting, development and signing of players from the Dominican Republic. The film in part prompted an investigation into Sano's age and a closer inspection of the entire Dominican system.
A new documentary, ''The Miguel Sano Story,'' picks up where that film left off, following his rise through the minor leagues. It will presumably include his debut Thursday night.
Sano took the roster spot of first baseman Kennys Vargas, who was optioned to Chattanooga after hitting .245 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games. He also follows in the wake of Byron Buxton, another top prospect who made his big league debut earlier this season.
Buxton hit just .189 in 11 games before spraining his left thumb.
Molitor said that Sano will serve primarily as the designated hitter, even though he only served as the DH three times in the minors. His main position is third base, where Trevor Plouffe is firmly established as one of the veteran leaders of the clubhouse.
''It was one of the things we talked about,'' said Molitor, who joked that he was once in extra in a film during his own playing days. ''I didn't tell him how to be a DH. I gave him some options on things guys do. ... You try to find a rhythm that works for you.''
Molitor said he may use Sano at third base in a pinch, but he also wants the rookie to take grounders at first base and fly balls in the outfield to improve his versatility.
''Whatever they want me to do,'' Sano said. ''I want to stay here in the big leagues.