LOS ANGELES — A spindly 6-foot-6 man with coiled and frayed red hair to his shoulders and a nascent red beard is not required to wave to or otherwise acknowledge other redheads.
“It’s not like a Jeep wave, no,” Dustin May confirmed late Thursday afternoon.
The topic arose while May, 21 years old and after five Triple-A starts, sat in the Dodgers dugout on the eve of his first big-league start.
Forty-five minutes after the organization failed to acquire the sort of starting or relief pitching many expected it to, May had received the call. The next day he boarded a flight delayed for three hours because of brake issues. The plane landed at LAX mid-afternoon. And, oh, 10 or 15 questions into his introduction, he was asked if Justin Turner had seen his beard. Because Justin Turner has red hair and a red beard, just like May does. These are the things that apparently occur to people, seeing as only 1 or 2 percent of the population has red hair and fewer still turn it into a sensational work of art, and this is what spurred questions of crimson camaraderie, covert or otherwise, and comparisons to Jeep waves, which apparently are a thing as well.
“No,” May said. “I haven’t seen him yet.”
He smiled, a good sport, and also probably aware that all of that muss of hair, no matter the color, is going to draw attention. Then put it atop 6 feet, 6 inches. Then stretch 180 pounds over and across the knees and elbows and shoulders. Then stand the whole thing atop a pitcher’s mound as an elite prospect, then a major leaguer. Then turn the hair a brilliant orangey-red.
“I didn’t actually start growing it until my senior year in high school,” said May, a third-round draft pick in 2016 from Northwest High School outside Fort Worth, Texas. “I didn’t really have any plans for it. Before my senior year, I was like, just not gonna cut it. It just stuck and I like it.”
Because he is tall and right-handed and throws hard and with some of the same commitment as a certain big ol’ New York Mets pitcher, he’d been dubbed in some circles, or at least one circle, “Gingergaard.” That he is somewhere in the neighborhood of a sixth-grader lighter than Noah Syndergaard, also from a high school outside Fort Worth, diverted no one from the cleverness.
May laughed and said, yes, he’d heard the nickname.
“I have, a few times,” he said. “As long as it’s being said in a good way, doesn’t matter to me.”
May has a big fastball and uncommon command — 110 strikeouts and 29 walks in 106 ⅔ innings, 27 ⅓ of those in Triple-A this season — given a body that might seem complicated because of its height and width and youth. The Dodgers will spend the next two months auditioning jobs for the postseason, two or three of those in the bullpen ahead of Kenley Jansen. May would be among those options, as would be right-hander Tony Gonsolin, a rookie who on Tuesday pitched four tidy innings in Colorado, this being the fallout of a trade deadline that netted lefty Adam Kolarek but not lefty Felipe Vázquez. May’s shot comes more as a result of right-hander Ross Stripling’s stiff neck (along with Rich Hill’s forearm strain), though what’s a 16-game lead good for if not a few August tryouts?
As for May’s chances, control and stuff are a reasonable start. He’s the second-rated prospect in the Dodgers’ system and well-regarded overall, as well. He seems to have been promised one start — Friday night against the San Diego Padres — though there is likely to be opportunity for more. He could start. Seventy-three of his 78 minor-league appearances were starts. He could backfill a bullpen that has the third-best ERA in the National League and also 19 blown saves. Manager Dave Roberts has dealt deftly with the deficiencies, but the air gets thicker and escape routes narrower in October, where electric arms and strike-throwers are crucial. At some point soon the Dodgers will find it important to identify the preferred options and begin building toward then.
May, of course, said he would be game for any and all of it. The Dodgers love his nerve and his desire in addition to, of course, how often he gets people out. He’s committed to that and otherwise spends his time watching “Dexter,” the television show, and not just occasionally.
“In the down times?” May said. “I’m a huge TV and movie watcher. I spend a lot of time doing that. Once I’m out of the field I kind of take my focus away from it and focus on the things out of the field and life and stuff like that. I try to focus on small things and not let the big things get too big.
“Right now I am in the middle of Dexter for the fifth time.”
Every season, then, over and over.
“Every episode four times,” he said, “yeah.”
Sensing confusion, May continued, “I don’t know. It just really enthused me. The first time I watched it, it kind of gave me a spark that if baseball wasn’t the thing then I wanted to be a detective. That was going to be my thing if baseball didn’t pan out. I just liked the way the show went and progressed. It’s always there and it’s always my go-to.
“I don’t know about with my hair I could be an undercover guy. It’s easy to spot. But just a detective, I feel like it’s cool.”
Maybe a detective in a Jeep.
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