Even though my legs won’t agree with me Spring Training is flying by right now, we’re already a couple of days into full squad workouts meaning there are close to 200 Tampa Bay Rays running around the back fields at Charlotte Sports Park. As was the case when I met the bunch of guys that were down here for early workouts all of the position players that just arrived have been great to me. Tuesday night was the reporting date for the position players, so there were reunions of all sorts around the hotel. I went with my roommate Justin and one other guy (whose name escapes me right now) to see Ride Along, a movie starring Kevin Hart, in the afternoon. There’s a theatre right around the corner from our hotel, so it was a quick ride over and back for us. The movie was funny at times, but certainly wasn’t anything worth talking about. When we got back to the hotel O’Conner asked if I wanted to go get dinner with him and a bunch of the guys which was awesome, so we went down to Luke Maile’s room to wait for the rest of the guys to arrive. We sat and chatted for a little while, the two of them catching up and Luke and I getting familiar with one another and trading stories about guys we’d both played with and against. After a while the rest of the Bowling Green guys showed up so I met Patrick Leonard, Joey Rickard, Tommy Coyle, and Marty Gannt. We split up into three cars and met over at Outback for dinner, and we talked about all the guys we faced last year, while Joey, Pat and O’Conner talked about their time in the Australian Baseball League this past winter. It was a really nice night getting to meet all those guys and hang out, and to try and start to build a new group to hang out with during the year. The weirdest and most difficult part of camp so far has been not having my guys around. It’s weird not getting to go and hang out with Fried, Walker, Shepherd, Joe Ross, and all the other San Diego/Fort Wayne guys.
I started out yesterday early with an interview on CBS Sports Radio Orlando, as I was invited on the morning show called “Baumann and Big Joe.” The show had featured Ronnie Richardson, my former teammate from Eugene on Tuesday morning, so I guess they’d asked him to contact me and see if I wanted to go on. I was thrilled to be invited, and even though I had to wake up early I had a great time talking to them about camp, the big league team and my blog. It’s very cool to know that even sports talk radio guys know about this, and it was fun to discuss all of that stuff with them. Since most of you follow me on Twitter or are friends with my sister and I on Facebook you may have already seen a link to the interview, but for those who haven’t, you can listen through the link my sister tweeted.
With the position players now in camp we’ve switched the format of the workouts from pitching groups to team groups. We’ve been divided into working groups that will eventually begin to form into the Minor League rosters later on in camp. Each morning we meet as a large group on Field 1 to go over the important notes for the day about which guys will be switching fields, and other housekeeping reminders. Hoffy leads the meeting and almost always “Skip” Evers has a quick comment for the group. Normally Skip talks about certain words like responsibility, and respect, reminding guys that the only way to make a career in this game is to be smart, and make responsible decisions that allow for proper rest, recovery, work etc. We then split up onto two fields, pitchers on Field 1 and position guys on Field 4 (which is beside, the numbers go around in a circle around the observation tower in the middle). We go through our stretching program, lead by a different strength coach every morning and then we do our conditioning. Next is base running, same as last week when it was just catchers. We then get our arms loosened up with our throwing program before the day really starts. At that point the catchers all head down to one of the bullpen areas to do defense work with Hoov, Skip and the other coaches. We have a specific area we work on each day and every one of us goes through the same series of drills. For example, yesterday we did a lot of receiving work, so each coach was given a different drill to work on with a group of 3 or 4 catchers. We started with some barehanded drills, working on staying under the ball, then we went to some mini glove work which is very similar in that we’re trying to work to keep the ball on the almost flat surface without closing the pocket. We finished with a “receive and footwork” and a throwing station. The receive/footwork drill helps to take us from just catching the ball to getting into our throwing position as if we were going to throw to get a runner at each base. The throwing drill is always just down to second base, and I had a lot of trouble with it yesterday, struggling to stay on line and gain ground toward my target. Yes Coach Pennucci, I STILL have an issue with gaining ground.
After we finished our defense work we head to our team fields to go into live BP (*title tie in*). Live batting practice is more geared toward pitchers, getting them on the mound, and having a hitter in the box. We as hitters are allowed to swing so it’s technically working both guys, but it certainly is a pain in the ass as a hitter. Unlike in a game when a hitter has a count and a scouting report live BP is done based on 5 pitches per hitter, and the guys throw their pitches in no particular order. Since they have no fear of walking somebody they could miss with two fastballs and then throw something off speed, which in a game is pretty much a sin, so it makes our job as hitters much more difficult. My group has three catchers, so during live BP we have one catcher on the field catching, one in the bullpen and one in the hitting group. Yesterday I got to lead off, which again means nothing other than I went first. I faced a lefty who threw from a high 3/4 arm slot, meaning that my first live pitches since last year were a little tricky to track. I spent the first 5 pitches just watching, getting used to seeing the ball out of his hand and recognizing spin. After that I figured I’d cut it loose a few times and swing. I made some solid contact off both pitchers I faced, and a whole bunch of ass out, completely fooled “doinkers” off of changeups I didn’t pick up well. I didn’t swing through any pitches, so that was positive, but knowing my eye at the plate during the season this was certainly day 1. When I finished hitting I went to the bullpen to warm up three pitchers, two of whom would throw to the other catchers. The third guy I brought in with me, and caught him on the field. Both of the pitchers I caught on the field threw 20 pitches, but the two sessions flew by and I remember very little of them. I think I was nervous, excited and a lot of other things that contributed to my blanking on them, but I know they went well because I only had 1 drop all day behind the plate, which was significantly better than my previous best of 3.
Today we battled bad weather so everything was moved up earlier than normal to try and get it all in before the rain. Half way through early work somebody called an audible, cut it short and we started practice at 9:15. Normally we switch early work stations at around 9:15 and we finish at 9:45. We hurried through stretch and conditioning and didn’t do base running in order to get our throwing and live BP in. Today I started in the bullpen, warming up Molina who has the dubious honor of being the last guy to surrender a home run to me. He’s a lefty from Bowling Green’s team last summer with a good fastball, a change up and a slider that is still a work in progress. I caught his thirty warm up pitches and sent him to the field, and he was followed by Ryan Garton who was also in Bowling Green last year. He also pitched at FAU against us my sophomore year at Stony Brook, so I’m fairly familiar with him. We talked briefly before he started throwing since he came over to the pen early, and he asked me how I liked catching, and if I had ever done it before, seeing as he’d only ever faced me as a 2B or SS. He threw thirty or so pitches in the bullpen, working on his fastball, curveball, change up and cutter before being called onto the field. As we walked out of the pen I asked how he wanted to work during his time on the field since the 20 pitches are limited to fastball and change up the first few times. We decided upon a routine and went to it. I had another clean day behind the plate, and was 2 pitches away from finishing his work when Araiza, one of the other catchers who was hitting at the time, fouled a ball off my right shoulder. It was the first time I had gotten hit with a foul ball, and even though I thought it would be a traumatic, horrible feeling it really wasn’t awful. I actually kind of liked getting hit in some weird way because it made me realize that it wouldn’t be that bad. My last pitcher was Faria, a tall right hander who would only throw his fastball and change up to me since we were on the field. He’s a taller kid, so I had a little bit of adjusting to do with my eyes because his high release point was above the batters eye in center field and with the grey cloudy sky the ball blended in. I had 1 drop during his work on the field, a change up that just sort of floated on me and I didn’t follow it into my glove, yes Molly it was a f****** focus error. As I trotted off the field to get ready for my live BP hitting the rain began to come down hard, so Hoffy blew the air horn and we all headed under the canopy at Field 5. We met quickly and were sent inside to wait for our turns in the covered batting cages. Group by group we darted through the rain to the cage, trying to get soaked as little as possible. We hit inside for 15 minutes each, and were allowed to pick which cage we hit in, so I ended up hitting with Johnny Field, who I knew from my trip to Las Vegas, and from playing against him in the Cape. The third guy in our group is Raul Mondesi’s son. I remember watching Raul as a Blue Jay when I was growing up, he was known for having an absolute missile for an arm, routinely throwing guys out at third and the plate from way out deep in the right field corner. When our 15 minutes was up we ran back inside, avoiding Oscar Hernandez who decided to try and jump in every puddle and splash us. It was another good day baseball wise, and I’m starting to get comfortable with coaches names and some of the players.
It’s been a while since I posted something, and that’s partly because I was in the middle of my last post when I went out to meet some people and left my post unsaved. When I came back, I found that my computer had run a bunch of updates and restarted so I lost the whole post, BUMMER! That post was going to talk about last week, while I was completing my second week of optional pre camp workouts, and was joined by my mom and my sister who came over to spend three days with me. It was awesome to have some company, and some people to hang out with every night while they were here and as always there were the normal Maxx/Molly incredibly stupid, laughing at nothing moments, during which Mom just bursts out laughing at us. We had some great dinners at Captain Curt’s, the little seafood joint down the road, they got to see a few workouts and it was a very good week.
Thursday of this week we had an early morning BP only practice after which we cleaned out our temporary lockers, and put all our gear into boxes that would be loaded into our Spring Training lockers by the clubhouse staff. We hit from 9-10 in the morning, and then I met up with Mom and Molly for brunch before they got on the road. I spent most of Thursday afternoon cleaning up the house, turning off lights, fans and other switches, and “closing” the place down according to the instructions I was given by my aunt Charlene. I grabbed a quick dinner and went out with some friends that night up in Longboat Key. It was a pretty nice, easy going night and even included a really nice walk on the beach and a much debated “shooting star.”
Friday was a day off so I went back to Longboat to hang out on the beach for the afternoon, I tried desperately to even out my baseball/farmers tan but obviously a two week head start for my forearms and neck was too much for the rest of my body to overcome. We swam, played a little baseball on the beach and listened to music. It was a great way to spend a day off. At 4:30 I hit the road and drove down to Port Charlotte to move into the team hotel for the rest of the spring. The drive took a little over an hour, and before long I moved myself into my room. I’m rooming with Justin O’Conner who was the catcher in Bowling Green last year, so I was sort of familiar with him when he arrived later that night. We sat and talked with ESPN on as a background, and he asked how I liked catching, the coaches and being with Tampa Bay.
Saturday was the official start to Pitchers and Catchers on the minor league side of camp. We began the day with a meeting in the coaches room during which Hoover discussed the importance of fundamentals in our defense, about our defensive program, and a bunch of other important topics we’d need to cover before hitting the field. When we finished with that meeting we headed to Building B for a meeting with all the pitchers. It was the standard welcome to Spring Training meeting during which Mitch, the Minor League Director introduced everybody. We headed out to the field around 11 am and got stretched out. The stretch was a very long, involved series that worked up a good sweat right away. After stretch the pitchers had a whole series of conditioning, while we (catchers) ran arcs around the infield. We knocked out the conditioning, and headed into a quick base running session during which we went over very basic things like our responsibilities on deck, our routes to first base and our lead offs. My group was on Field 3, diagonally across from the field we stretched and would later throw on. We threw after base running, then it was time for the day to start. At this point anyone without an idea what was going on would immediately think the word “chaos.” There were pitching groups on every field, catchers in the bullpens, hitting on one field and other guys running around between the stations. My group took BP first, then caught bullpens. I hit well, spraying balls all around the field and feeling pretty good about my swing. I caught three bullpens, and had some positive feedback from both Hoov and some of the other coaches that were watching.
This morning was an early morning for me as I started out with my concussion baseline test before 7 am. I knocked it out and then headed into the Pavilion to eat breakfast. We had scrambled eggs with cheese, tater tots and the normal assortment of fruit and bagels/toast. I had a good meal with some of the guys before heading inside to put on sunscreen and tape my wrist. We had another meeting in the coaches room, this time one of the big league catching coaches came in and talked to us. He again stressed the importance of defense in our organization, talking about all of the different things that the front office measures and quantifies. When we finished with Nelly we headed to the cages for a meeting with Liv, one of the hitting coaches. He talked about early work, cage rules and other house keeping stuff, it was another one of those welcome style meetings. We all drudged back across the complex to Field 1 for stretch and did our whole morning routine. Today we did blocking work before batting practice started. That was the only real change schedule wise, other than Hoov breaking us into 4 groups instead of 3 groups to get everyone a little more work. It was another good day, and I’m starting to figure some stuff out behind the plate. The highlight of the day for me was wearing our full uniform for the first time. It has been nice working out in shorts and tshirts, but there is definitely a sense of pride involved in wearing your big league club’s jersey and having your last name and a number on your back. It was very cool to see everyone in uniform and a big help to start getting names figured out.
I’ll be more regular on here now that I’m all settled in so my posts won’t be long boring summaries of the days like this might have been. Until next time, Go Rays!
Put it in the books. This weekend was the last weekend I’ll have off until the 2014 baseball season ends in September, and I couldn’t be happier. This coming week will be made up of the final four or five optional early workouts and then my official report date with all the Minor League pitchers and catchers on Friday. We were given the weekend off, and even had an earlier start time on Friday to allow us to get done sooner. When I blocked my final ball in the bullpen during blocking drills I knew I had a long evening ahead of me. I packed up my catchers gear, changed out of my cleats (we aren’t allowed to wear cleats inside the clubhouse) and scrambled as fast I could back to the clubhouse. I was in a hurry for two very major reasons, first, Team Canada and Team USA were playing in the Mens Semi Final in the Olympic hockey tournament, and second, my Stony Brook Seawolves were opening their year at 6:00 pm in Miami. I got to the locker room, peaked into the video room which happened to have the game on and saw that Team Canada had won, giving them a shot at gold. I showered and changed as fast as possible and hit the road, stopping only to grab a quick sandwich and fill up my car with gas.
I shot south of I-75 making the 2.5 hour drive to Miami in hopes of getting there before first pitch. That didn’t ultimately work out as a little bit of construction caused traffic and I was stuck moving really slowly for a while. I made it to Florida International University around 6:20, and it was the top of the 2nd inning. I quickly found my sister who had my ticket, and we walked in and sat down with my mom, grandparents and Denise Italiano, whose son Anthony was a teammate and good friend of mine during my Junior Year at Stony Brook. We watched as FIU jumped out to an early lead, only to find the Seawolves right back in it around the 5th or 6th inning. The guys played a decent ball game, and considering it was their first outing of the year I thought they did alright with a very young team. I got to watch a bunch of former teammates get their first hits, rbi’s and innings pitched of their year. After the game I went down to the field to say hello to the guys, and the coaches. The guys were in pretty good spirits given the result. I talked quickly with Cole who was the SS beside me during the 2012 year, as well as Tate, Anthony, Barry and a couple of others. When the guys cleared out of the dugout I went in and said hi to Coach Senk, Coach Pennucci, Coach Marron and Roy, our athletic trainer. It was awesome to see all of them as I really haven’t had much time down at Stony Brook since I signed. When we walked out to the parking lot Coach Senk had Tom Koehler, a Miami Marlins pitcher (in the Big Leagues) and SB alum, talk to the whole team. Koehler talked about how lucky the guys were to be doing what they are, and that they should enjoy every day together because of how fast it all goes by. I nodded along, knowing that the message was clearer to me having been through the whole process.
I went back to the team hotel and then out for dinner with Coach Pennucci and Coach Marron. We went to a little Cuban restaurant around the corner from the hotel and had an awesome dinner. We talked about the game, all of the new players on the team and traded stories about a whole bunch of different topics. It stands to reason that the dynamic at a dinner like that is obviously different than when I was a player and at practice, but it still blows me away how much fun they are to just sit and talk to. We passed an hour really quickly, then I jumped on the highway to head back to Boca Raton where my grandparents place is. I spent the night there because it’s only an hour drive down, and I planned to go to the Saturday game as well. Coach Pennucci told me to come early, so I could go on the field with the team during batting practice.
Saturday afternoon my sister and I jumped in what we call the “fun-mobile” which is our Gramma’s convertible. We dropped the top, and cranked the music up loud for the hour soaking up every last ray of 80 degree sunshine we could. We got to Miami around 1 and figured we should get lunch before heading to the ballpark. We used Molly’s UrbanSpoon app (the same one that found us that incredible fried chicken place in Chattanooga) but this time we struck out. The place we went into was a fancy sit down place, rather than a quick little “grab a quick bite” type of joint. Disappointed we turned around and headed back toward the ballpark. As we drove through the neighbourhood on Calle Cuba Molly spotted a little place on the corner that we figured was worth a shot. All the signage was in Spanish, and there were a bunch of people going in and out of it so we parked and gave it a shot. “This may be a bit of a struggle,” I joked with Molly as we walked in, but when it came my turn to order I spoke well enough to not let her or anyone else know that I wasn’t a real Spanish speaker. The lady behind the counter and I had a quick little “hey how’s it going” before getting down to the business of ordering lunch. I ordered two plates of “arroz con pollo” or rice and chicken. I also spotted some fried plantains like I had when I was in the Dominican so I ordered us each one of those too. The lady packed up our to-go boxes and asked if we wanted drinks. Only when I said “diet coke” did she realize I spoke English and then tried to ask if I wanted salad in English. I answered back in Spanish to make it easier on her and before long we had paid and walked back to the car. We both had a moment as we sat down where we weren’t really sure how the hell I had pulled that off, but it was incredibly cool to be able to do it without the help of Rodney or Reyes like I had during Instructs.
We ate our lunch at the ballpark before I headed to the field for batting practice. Molly went up into the stadium and sat with all the scouts. I wore my red cage jacket so I looked like I was part of the group, and I caught for Coach Pennucci while he hit fungos to the infielders. I stood around the cage and watched guys hit and did my best to look official, and enjoy being down there. It was weird being down there without a care in the world, but it was still great to be back down there with the coaches and the guys. The game was ugly, but I spent a few innings talking to a few scouts that were sitting near me about our 2012 team, and my brief career in pro ball. When the game ended Molly and I went for dinner with the Italiano’s, the McNitt’s, Chad Lee and Kevin Courtney. It was great to get to spend the evening with those guys and share all sorts of stories, most of which were completely unrelated to baseball. It’s awesome how friends and former teammates can just pick up like that, having not really seen one another in such a long time.
This morning we did what 100% of Canadians all over the world did (okay slight exaggeration) and watched our boys in red and white knock off Sweden for their second straight Olympic Gold Medal. It was a dominant performance, and there really was never any sort of tension that made the game seem like it was at all in doubt. When the game ended we grabbed a quick brunch at my grandparents golf club and then I got in the car and drove back to Siesta Key for this last week. I think my mom and sister are going to come across to watch a few practices this week which will be cool and then Friday will be the “OFFICIAL” start date for Spring Training. No more weekends off, it’s now ALL BASEBALL, ALL THE TIME. What better way to spend the next 7 and a half months?
I remember my first week at Stony Brook, an 18 year old kid freshly transplanted from his family, friends and life at home. I was in a new city, in a new state, in a different country and would be joining a completely new team. I had to live on my own for the first time in my life, and had to do all of that while earning good grades and playing baseball. I remember those first practices, thinking to myself “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” I remember feeling like I had no idea where anything was, the training room, the weight room, or my classes. I remember needing to ask Coach Nick or one of the Seniors what every single exercise on our card was. I remember fighting myself to try and just “be better” at all the drills Coach Pennucci hit us with during our daily infield work. It was a grind not only physically but mentally as well.
I arrived in Florida on Saturday and spent the afternoon and evening with my grandparents. We went out for Cuban food that night and I felt a very similar uneasiness in my stomach the whole night. I was excited, but I also had all these strange fears, doubts and questions floating around. I tried to just enjoy my last night before the season got underway but I certainly didn’t feel like myself. Sunday afternoon we went down to the Boca Beach Club for lunch with Uncle David and Suzanne (long time best friends of my grandparents). We had a great meal, and had our usual very interesting conversations that cover pretty well anything and everything, and watched the Team Canada vs Team Finland game on tv. As lunch drew to a close I felt all of that nervous energy reappearing as I knew I was leaving from lunch to drive to Port Charlotte. We said our goodbyes and I hit the road following my GPS. My grandparents who are normally incredibly trustworthy with their sense of direction recommended a different route than my GPS so I flipped around and took off up I-95. I took a long, boring, meandering route across the state that I managed to get lost on. Both their directions, the street sign and my gps said “stay on 80 west” which apparently actually meant “exit right TO STAY on 80 west.” Next thing I knew I was entirely too far north, not far enough west, and spending more time in the car with my windows down and country music blaring. It wasn’t all bad, I did enjoy the private concert I put on for myself.
I arrived in Port Charlotte around 4:30 and went directly to the stadium. I called my dad, and my grandparents/mom/sister to let them know I made it before taking a few pictures, tweeting that I had made it and then getting back in my car to drive up to Siesta Key. I had gotten an awesome offer from my uncle Allan, to let me stay at his place during the two weeks leading up to Spring Training since housing isn’t paid for or taken care of through the team. I made the 40 ish minute drive up and found the key, let myself in and threw my bags into one of the bedrooms. I’m here by myself, so I got to choose which room I wanted. Next I plugged in my PlayStation so I could play some NHL when I got back from dinner. I went and grabbed a quick bite to eat, picking the spot based on the music I heard playing inside this little joint on the water. I had a great dinner and headed back home to rest up for my first day at camp.
I arrived around noon for a 1pm workout, much later than I had wanted to show up, but I had to make an emergency pit stop on the way to the complex after realizing I’d forgotten a very important piece of “equipment.” I got to the gate, and asked the security person if I was in the right place, and sensing my nervousness he told me I wasn’t even in the right city. I semi laughed, nervous that maybe I’d managed to find the wrong place, but half confident it was a joke. He pointed me to the parking area for Minor League players, a little grassy area just outside the gates which enclose the Major League parking lot. I parked and carried my navy Padres bag into the clubhouse. I walked in and found the clubhouse manager and immediately recognized him from Bowling Green. He told me I had to get rid of the bag, so I unloaded it quickly into my temporary locker and then hid it atop the locker behind a stool. I got my Rays shorts, T-shirt and a velcro back hat (we get the fitted ones on our report date) and headed back to my locker. I sat in my locker as the guys filed in slowly exchanging handshakes, pats on the back, hugs and all the other athlete “bro” greetings we exchange with long lost teammates. I felt fairly invisible as the guys went about their reunion. I talked briefly with Ryne Stanek, a pitcher out of University of Arkansas who I had faced in Cape Cod. I also talked to Taylor Guerreri who I faced last year when he was pitching for Bowling Green. It was good to talk to a couple of guys who recognized me, and it made me feel a little bit more comfortable. Ryan Carpenter then came in and I got to talk to him, we were teammates for parts of two summers with Orleans in the Cape. When it finally was time to head out to the field we all walked over to Field 2 and across to the right field line. The guys began stretching and I was still in the middle of talking to the minor league coordinators and trying to figure out my position. We chatted for a few minutes, and I felt awful that I wasn’t in the beginning of the workout, but I soon jumped in.
We stretched, then did some conditioning and threw to get loose. As quickly as the day had started I was behind my mask and gear in the bullpen to catch a pair of pitchers. I did my best to just relax and give a good target and I felt like overall as a first impression I did a pretty good job. There were still some seriously sketchy attempts to block pitches in the dirt, but I worked both out of a traditional stance and off of one knee like Chris Robinson had been teaching me all winter. When the pens were over we broke into BP groups, and the catchers were the last group. We took 5 rounds of 5 swings, a pretty standard “dust off the cobwebs” type of batting practice session. My first round I was jumping out at the ball trying so hard to do EVERYTHING right that I couldn’t do ANYTHING right. I flared balls to foul territory, hit them up into the top of the cage and rolled over. I blamed the light, as I hadn’t hit outside in months, but I made sure to not get frustrated and just told myself to focus on seeing the ball. I took a “yellow light” (reference to Heads Up Baseball by Ken Ravizza, a book my dude Robert Grilli recommended to me this offseason) and made sure to refocus and get back to “green.” My next four rounds were awesome, I hit a couple balls out, hit the 410 sign in center field and dumped my normal amount of line drives into left field. I felt absolutely incredible in there, loose, free and just insanely happy to be there. We finished the day in the bullpen with Hoover the catching coordinator doing some defensive work. We did a whole bunch of barehand transfer drills to work on exchanging the ball high to give us the best chance to make good throws. We did some other little drills with the mini glove and were done about 20 minutes after the rest of the guys had gone inside. I got a little frustrated that some of the tips he gave me weren’t being applied right away, and that I needed reminders every other throw. I felt that same burning I felt at school that I just wanted it to happen, I wanted the changes to just be there, done right away. It was frustrating at the time, but Hoov told me after that it was all normal, and part of the transition, the same transition that got him to the Big Leagues. I walked away from Day 1 feeling great, I knew it was going to be a long working process defensively, but I liked the way he taught, and I felt like my hitting was great.
Day two was very similar to the first day except we had no bullpens to catch. We stretched, ran and then took BP before finishing up with defense in the bullpen. My hitting wasn’t as good as yesterday, but that could be attributed to a number of things not the least of which was that my body was tired from lifting earlier in the morning. Just like my freshman year at school I had to ask what everything was, what the routine was, the reps, the weights etc to try and just get through the workout. When I finished, I showered and changed back into my street clothes to get lunch, then came back for practice. At the end of the day we apparently (catchers) had to go in to do shoulder care work with the trainers. I had already showered and was about to leave when one of the trainers found me and told me to come in and get it done. I threw my sweaty gross workout stuff back on, did the 15 or 20 minutes worth of “pre-hab” then showered for the 3rd time before heading back home. I walked down the street to grab dinner a little while ago and have been down at the beach writing this.
I’m going to head back inside, watch some college basketball on TV and probably get on Skype at some point. I’m starting to figure out the who, what, where and when of being a Tampa Bay Ray, but it will no doubt be a process too. I’m enjoying it, and trying to learn as much as quickly as possible. I still can’t believe all of the interaction I’ve had with all the Rays fans, that has been one of the coolest parts of this whole deal. It has been awesome to know that there are so many people looking forward to following my blog, my season and my career with Tampa Bay. I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to interact with you the way that I have through the blog and through Twitter. I’ll always do my best to get back to everyone, but there are some things I’m not supposed to discuss on social media, and some that I really don’t have an answer for, but I LOVE talking baseball, so if you’ve ever got questions or comments always feel free to comment here or there.
As promised I’m writing the blog I mentioned earlier on Twitter, so I apologize to those of you who aren’t on Twitter for not giving any notice.
My mom, my sister and I left Toronto yesterday morning shortly after 7 am to drive down to Florida for Spring Training. Unlike last year when cars were spinning in ways more akin to Olympic athletes this years drive was easy. We left on dry roads, without any snow, wind, rain, slush, sleet, hail or Flappy Birds falling out of the sky. I drove the first stretch with Molly up front beside me doing the DJ work. Our first day took us south and west through Windsor, Ontario and through the border into Detroit. I got to spend a great hour chatting with the Customs and Immigration office as I switched my visa from my Padres one to my new Rays one. We stopped in at a small diner just off the highway for lunch before proceeding south toward Lexington, Kentucky. Lunch was good, nothing spectacular, but it was healthy, quick and included a warm cup of soup which was important considering it was still -7 (19.4 F). We jumped back into the car and split up the rest of the 5 hours of driving before arriving in the heart of Big Blue Nation. Having played with two University of Kentucky guys, Trevor Gott and Brian Adams, I’d heard many stories about Lexington, UK, the Wildcats, and Big Blue Nation. We checked into our hotel, attempted to get on the internet to let my mom check her business email, but the hotel internet was having NONE of it, so we scurried back downstairs to go for dinner. We had agreed on a place that was in downtown Lexington, so we plugged it into the GPS and headed to town. As we got downtown we saw a whole bunch of places that looked really cool, so we called an audible (OMAHA, OMAHA) and pulled into a parking spot. We got out, and low and behold it wasn’t frigid arctic air like we had left behind in Toronto.
We walked past a few small joints and found a place called The Local Taco. We went inside and were entirely unsure whether to sit down, or order at the counter that was pretty much right in front of us, so we HMM’d and HAA’d over it for a few minutes before asking. We then went up to the counter and ordered dinner, each of us got the 2 taco dinner. I had spicy shrimp, Molly had brisket and mom had tequila lime chicken. Before you could say taco we each had a platter of tacos and sides in front of us. We did manage to hold off long enough to snap a picture of our food before absolutely GOING TO TOWN on it. My tacos were absolutely phenomenal, with crunchy vegetables to add flavor with the spicy sauce. They were so good in fact that both Molly and I got another taco afterwards. She changed it up and went with pulled pork, and I was having no part in change as my spicy shrimp tacos had treated me wonderfully. We finished up, watched the end of an uninteresting SEC basketball game and then went back to the hotel to rest up for today.
We woke up fairly early this morning, but we hung around the hotel for a while and left around 8 am. After stopping to find a sunglasses clip for my mom we hit the road. Again I drove the first leg, getting us all the way down to Chattanooga, Tennessee where we stopped for lunch. As we drove I noticed both the GPS and highway signs kept saying Nashville so we looked up how far we were from Nashville, only to find out we’d be going like 6 hours out of the way to go there and back. We kept driving figuring we’d get hungry and find a place. Suddenly Molly and Mom were hungry so we decided we needed lunch, Molly managed to get her phone to work long enough to find a place on her Urbanspoon app, so we headed into Chattanooga. We got into the downtown area and I drove slowly and as touristy as possible to try and find the place, we were being passed by everything from bikes to little old ladies driving to do their grocery shopping. Finally we found Champy’s Fried Chicken. To say this place was a dive is generous, the outside of the place is made of tin siding with hand painted lettering and pictures. The “door” is actually the plastic cover that keeps the wind off of the outside seating area. We sat outside which was awesome, and ordered our food. Mom and Molly got a fried chicken salad, and I got a two piece platter with a chicken strip on the side. This was no doubt the best fried chicken in the entire world, it’s absolutely impossible to make it better. Juicy white meat chicken with a breading that was absolutely to die for, and all served with Champy’s Sauce which is their take on honey mustard. I knocked back a glass of sweet tea with lunch paying homage to every country song that mentions it and proceeded to find myself repeating the words “oh my god” for about two hours after we left. This place was incredible. I think next winter I actually may considering driving to Chattanooga just to have lunch, then turn around and drive home…Okay not really, but still, it was awesome!
We finished up today in Cordele, Georgia after passing by where Brian Adams and Tyler Stubblefield (both former teammates with Fort Wayne) live, just north of Atlanta. We got stuck in major Friday rush hour traffic as we passed through the city, but we made it down to our hotel in good time overall. We went out for Valentines Day dinner at a place called 16 East, and had more great food. Really nicely done steaks, and grilled chicken were shared around the table as we watched the NBA Celebrity Game and listened to all the good country music that was playing. It was another very solid meal, and probably “played up” (scouting jargon) because of our desperate attempt to find somewhere to go. We drove the main strip in Cordele before deciding to try going to the “Historic Downtown Area” which was entirely dark and didn’t so much as have a single restaurant that was open. Mom joked at one point that we might have had to get a big bag of Fritos from Walmart and call that dinner, so going from those bleak prospects to having a really nice steak was quite the swing. I’m now in bed, on my pullout couch in the hotel as we spend our last night on the road before arriving in Boynton Beach tomorrow where I’ll get to see my grandparents for the weekend before heading up to Port Charlotte for camp which starts on Monday.
I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am for Monday’s workout, having not seen a baseball fly off the bat since Instructional League I’m itching to see how the off season tinkering I’ve done will work. I’m looking forward to meeting all the new instructors, coaches and players that I’ll work with this year. So for now, goodnight. I’ll be back on Monday evening with a look back at Day 1. Until then, get your baseball fix in Port Charlotte (if you’re from the Tampa area) as pitchers and catchers have officially reported already!!
In spite of the very dark title, this post will be almost entirely bright and cheerful. The end is near, we are finally about to open up 2014′s edition of Spring Training, the moment that for me signifies the start of summer. No, technically February 13 isn’t the start of summer, but with the thump of a baseball in a catchers mitt I can officially begin to call it baseball season and therefore summer. So, 10 more days, then its ALL systems go as we race toward Opening Day.
Last Friday was my last day working in my off season job at Splash International Marketing, so I’m officially free of any responsibilities other than putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher after dinner. I am in full blown baseball mode as of today, no distractions, no being sidetracked. I took this weekend to relax and unwind a little because this winter has been hectic. Getting up every day at 7:15 and being out of the house from 8 am until 7:30/8:00 pm most nights takes a toll on the body and the mind, so I figured that two days to just refresh would be good for me. It just so happened that the first weekend after I finished working was an awesome sports weekend (in theory anyways). Saturday night was a big rivalry game for my Toronto Maple Leafs, the Battle of Ontario with the Ottawa Senators and then the Super Bowl was set for Sunday evening. I made plans with my sister and two of our oldest friends, Lauren and Sam. We’ve known the twins since we were all really young, I played hockey with them and then Molly joined the crew and we all snowboarded and skied together every weekend from the time we were 9 or 10. The four of us headed downtown to Real Sports, an absolutely awesome sports bar right beside the Air Canada Centre (Leafs arena). Real Sports is owned by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, so the whole place is Leafs and Raptors themed. We jockeyed for a table for a little while, and just before puck drop at 7:15 we were seated at a table that was meant to look like the Raptors home floor. We ate dinner and watched as the Leafs fell behind 2-0 and looked to be on their way to another ugly “Leafs” loss. They turned it around late in the second period and ended up beating the Sens up in the 3rd en route to an exciting 6-3 win. The whole place erupted in cheers with every goal (there were a bunch of Ottawa fans there too) so it was an awesome atmosphere. We had a great time, and some really good food which made the night a major success especially given the rivalry game win. We split up and took the subway home. When we got home I decided it was a great idea to throw a snowball at my sister. I hit her right in the hip, making sure not to hit her up high, then I turned and took off for the door trying to get inside before she could get me back. I turned the corner and fell flat on my face, soaking myself in the snow, then when I popped up she nailed me right in the middle of the back. I was the big loser in that little snowball fight, but we definitely had a major laugh at my expense.
I managed to do something I rarely if ever do on Sunday morning, sleeping in until after 9:30. I woke up, came upstairs to a great breakfast my dad had made for everyone and then lounged around the living room for a little while too tired to actually move. We went out for Chinese food for lunch, going to one of our favorite spots on the east side of the city. We shared some awesome food (that will always be a theme here lol) and then headed home for the afternoon. I took a nap, and then Molly and I headed over to Lauren and Sam’s place for the Super Bowl. They had a few friends over for the big game which was great considering I normally just end up watching it at home. It was nice to have some people to watch with and share more than a few serious laughs. As the Seahawks racked up point after point Twitter was sent into a dizzying frenzy of messages making fun of the Broncos. We spent the majority of the second half watching a play, refreshing our Twitter feeds, passing phones around and laughing hysterically at the absurd comments people had written. Despite the fact that the game was never really close, or interesting we all still had a great time. It was awesome to be able to spend some more time with great friends, some old and some new.
Today marked the beginning of my baseball “year” as I am now only focused on getting ready for Spring Training. I get to spend every afternoon at The Baseball Zone working on all the different aspects of my game. Today I caught a flat ground for a local pitcher, worked on my throwing to 2nd base (from C) and back picks to first base (also from C). I finished my defensive work and went into the cage to do some tee work, and after a few buckets of balls I was done. I headed over to the other side, occupied by SST Mississauga where I train. I had a lower body day that consisted of some box jump series’ as well as some weighted step ups. When I got finished with all the work on my card I did some prowler sprints as extra work. They’re miserable, I hate them and my body ALWAYS hates me for doing them but as my trainer Boots has told me they’re one of the best things for my overall running ability.
I’m now sitting in the Starbucks at Chapters in the mall near my house as my sister roams around looking for a new book or six to read over the next few days. She goes through books faster than most people go through socks, it’s rather impressive. Only another two weeks until I won’t have to worry about snowstorms, cold weather and icy roads! At least now that the Super Bowl is over, and I’m not working I can tell myself its baseball season. Soon enough my surroundings will agree as I’ll be out on the diamond. I can’t wait to get to work!
Well today was the craziest day of my baseball career, and I didn’t even end up doing any baseball related activity. I went to my office this morning, same as I do every weekday during the off season, bag packed to make the trip across the city and hit after getting off work at 5 o’clock. The morning was typically crazy, as our major trade show is tomorrow, so everything that can possibly go sideways, has. I scrambled around trying to organize last second sample shipments, unloading Christmas items into our Sample Room, and then back into the warehouse. I fired off NPIS (new product identification sheets) cards at a rate never seen before, printing and stapling the product pictures to their information sheets. Everything seemed to be typically crazy, and then, shortly after I got back from my lunch break everything turned not so typically crazy.
I walked back into my office and had a text from my mom “Check ur email. Read about Padres prospects 2b…then catchers.” Apparently she had found an article writing up all the guys in our organization and we were going to have a laugh over the fact that I was still listed as a second baseman in spite of the fact that I’d been working out at Instructs as a catcher. When I opened my hotmail inbox I found not only her email address, but one from AJ Hinch, the assistant general manager of the Padres. I opened his first figuring it was something important, it was the first time I’d ever gotten an email from that high in the front office. His email asked me to call the GM Josh Byrnes, which I did immediately. Apparently the club had tried to call my American phone number but being home in Toronto that phone was off, so email was the only way to get in touch with me. Mr. Byrnes told me that I’d been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a seven player deal. He thanked me for working hard while with the Padres and wished me luck in my new organization. He had nothing but positive things to say, and I was thankful that was the case. He agreed to pass my Canadian phone number to the Rays front office so they could contact me later.
With one phone call that lasted under 10 minutes my life had been thrown a major curveball. I’m talking David Price, ALCS, 0-2 count in the 8th inning curveball. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find out I’d been traded, I had just recently booked all my hotels en route to Arizona for Spring Training. I sat back in my chair and took a huge deep breath trying to get some of my senses to come back to me. I immediately called my mom’s cell phone and let her know. My sister actually picked up the call so she broke the news to my mom. I called my dad and told him the news, and then a few minutes later my agent, Blake, called me. I was running back and forth between trade show preparation and this whirlwind that is being traded. I went back to tagging Christmas samples for the show, scanning them into our inventory system and arranging them to be packed for the show. I cleared the samples shelf by shelf until my phone rang and it was the Rays people calling. I had a quick conversation with them during which we discussed both catching and playing the infield. We discussed Spring Training briefly and they were incredibly welcoming to me, again, it was a very positive conversation.
I smiled as I put my phone back into my pocket and headed back to my job. The afternoon was a struggle to keep focused as I was trying to keep the idea of being traded out of my mind. All I wanted to do was sit down and look up who the deal included, what people were saying about it, who the Rays minor league affiliates were etc. I felt as if I was in outer space, my body felt weightless, my mind felt empty and yet I had a million things swirling in my head. The most difficult part of the day was ignoring the fact that my phone was buzzing every few seconds. I really wanted to check it every time, but I knew I owed it to the company I work for at home to just bear down and get the stuff finished in the office. When I had a free minute a couple of hours after hearing the news the first time I checked my phone. Text messages from my teammates and friends flooded my inbox, my Twitter feed was overrun with hundreds of notifications from Tampa Bay Rays fans welcoming me to the organization, and my Facebook was slowly starting to light up with notifications as well.
It was absolutely incredible to read all of the messages, these coming from people that had never even seen me play! They just saw my name, looked me up on Twitter and felt like welcoming me to the organization was the right thing to do. I cannot thank those people enough, it was truly an incredible feeling. I tried to favorite every Tweet that came in, to give a personal acknowledgment to each person that had taken the time to welcome me. It was an absolutely crazy day, one that I will never forget. It was such an insane flood of emotion both positive and negative that I couldn’t even begin to process it all until just a little while ago.
Finally, I want to thank the San Diego Padres. Ever since I was a 3 year old kid playing ball on my grandparents front lawn I’ve wanted to be a professional baseball player. In 2012 the San Diego Padres made an investment in me, and in my career allowing me to live out that dream in signing my first professional contract. They’ve put me in a position to learn from some great coaches, and play every day for the season and a half I was with the organization. I’ve met some awesome guys that have become lifelong friends. I’ve met people in the cities I’ve played in that will also be friends long after my playing days are over. To everyone in San Diego, Eugene, and Fort Wayne and all the people who work tirelessly at our complex in Peoria, Arizona, thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I appreciate it all, it has been a blessing.
Now in the next few days I’ll find out the rest of the details of my report date etc with Tampa Bay. Spring Training will be in Port Charlotte, Florida which is awesome considering my grandparents place in Florida is just over 2 hours away. I am so excited to join the Rays organization, I’ve heard nothing but great things and if today was any indication the fan base truly loves their team. What an exciting opportunity to continue chasing my childhood dream!GO Rays!
I opened Twitter on my phone looking to see what my friends were bantering about on the omnipresent short messaging app. I flicked my thumb across the screen glancing over Tweets about the Monday blahs, weekends gone wrong, and the Leafs latest loss to the Bruins. Then there it was.
With one message, confined to 140 characters Mike Wilner, a Blue Jays radio voice broke the news to me. Roy Halladay would be retiring, and he’d be doing it as a Blue Jay. I’m not really sure what the rules governing this sort of post are given that I’m under contract with the Padres but I don’t think it is wrong of me to write about a guy I grew up idolizing.
Roy Halladay came up a lanky 21 year old right hander in September of 1998. He pitched in two games that year, game 157 of the season and game 162. On that September day I was 7 years old. My sister was 4 and she drew the long straw and got to go to the game with our Zidie. She got to see this young kid make his second career start, I watched it on tv. I watched as Roy Halladay dazzled Blue Jays fans, and befuddled the Detroit Tigers. Through 26 batters he was perfect. Did I mention it was his second start in the Show? Batter number 27, the final out for his perfect game was a pinch hitter, Bobby Higginson. The perfect game bid was broken up with 2 outs in the top of the 9th as Bobby Higginson took him deep to left. Perfect game, gone. No hitter, gone. Complete game shutout, gone. I don’t think a single one of the 38, 036 fans at the game that day or any of us watching on tv thought that would become normal. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to watch “Doc” go deep into games without allowing a hit or a run. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to watch entire big league lineups walk back to the dugout with that helpless expression.
I grew up a huge Blue Jays fan, I spent every summer splitting time between my games and the Blue Jays games. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Doc pitch. There were times when I needed a “mental health day” to see him pitch against the Yankees in a Wednesday 12:35 start. When I pitched I tried to simulate what I thought his windup looked like. He was the definition of an ace, a workhorse and a professional. Every time Doc took the mound I felt a sense of ease when watching my hometown team, I knew that if they could scratch out a run or two that they’d be in line for a win. I used to ask my Zidie what it would be like facing him, and playing behind him knowing how dominant he was. He’d stalk out to the mound with a mean scowl on his face, grab the ball and before you could say “play ball” he’d have fired 5 innings of scoreless baseball. He was a fearless competitor that attacked any and every hitter. If he was scared of anyone (which I doubt) nobody would have ever known it. He just pitched, caught the throw back from the catcher and pitched again. Knowing what I know now about rhythm and timing for hitters it’s no wonder he was so dominant. I think I’d rather face a submarining lefty throwing 130 mph than a guy that could work that quickly!
Roy Halladay also had the “stuff” to be the dominant pitcher he was. He wasn’t over powering, his fastball normally ran 91-93 mph but it always ran and dove away from opponents bats. He had a curveball that was second to none, a huge sweeping 12-6 breaker that froze so many hitters it was ridiculous. It was the kind of pitch that even if the hitter knew it was coming he wasn’t going to hit it if Doc put it where he wanted. It looked like a video game pitch on tv, it would break from what appeared to be over the hitters head to below his knees as he swung over it and sulked back to the dugout. Announcers routinely called his stuff electric, and it truly was just that. Explosive late life and a wonderful ability to locate with all of his pitches.
When I used to go down to Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida to watch the Jays tune up for the year I remember seeing him running before games, during games or after games. He was always working. His work ethic was written about time and again, his workout routine often got him to the complex well before the sun came up over the palm trees at the then called “Knology Park.” When my North York teams were lucky enough to play a game at the Skydome he’d invariably be there out running on the warning track, minding his own business working at his craft when the place was empty save for a few 12 year olds and their parents. I admired that. I stood at shortstop during those games thinking how cool it was that a guy who really seemed to be perfect in my mind was out working on an off day. He never took a break, it was truly relentless. He was relentless every time he took the ball for my beloved Blue Jays, throwing every last pitch with conviction, dignity, poise and a tear your heart out passing. Every single pitch he threw between that Sunday afternoon in ’98 and his final pitch as a Blue Jay 10 years and 361 days later was relentless.
When Doc left I continued to keep tabs on how he threw checking in on his highlights online and watching TSN or ESPN game clips. He never lost any of that fire that he brought to the mound. When he finally threw that no hitter on October 6 2010 in the NLDS against Cincinnati I was elated. He deserved that crowning accomplishment more than anyone in baseball. He worked for it for years, grinding away when he easily could have taken a day and relax. I have so much respect for him as a player, and even more for him as a person. He was always a big community leader in Toronto, he and his wife Brandy were ambassadors to our city. They donated time, money, tickets, anything they could to help the kids in our city grow. He was by far my favorite pitcher, and is one of my all time favorite players. In my mind he’s up there with Derek Jeter in terms of being one of the best all around guys and players of my childhood.
Seeing Roy Halladay retire today, and in his #32 Blue Jays uniform was special for me. I really never thought it was so important to do the whole 1 day contract and retire as _______ team. When I read that Doc was going to do that for US, the city that ADORED him for 11 years I felt a great sense of pride. I felt like all those hours I spent watching him pitch, cheering him to victory was actually appreciated. It felt as if he wanted to thank me, and I’m sure that there are other Blue Jays fans that felt a similar thing. As he rides off into retirement and a life with wonderful family I wish him nothing but the best. I cannot imagine how a guy that was as dedicated to his craft as Doc was starts a new life without the game. I know that he’ll excel in whatever he does after baseball because I know that whatever he puts his time and energy into will be something he pursues relentlessly.
So from one Blue Jays fan, and on behalf of Blue Jays fans everywhere, THANK YOU DOC for everything you did for our city, our team and for us. You were an inspiration, and a joy to grow up watching. There will never be a #32 that will capture the hearts of Blue Jays fans the way you did.
Well the winter has officially arrived in Toronto. We’ve had some snow, and this morning I had to spend 10 minutes brushing and scraping my car to get the snow and ice off before I left for work. Needless to say I’m not very thankful for snow because it really does me no good, BUT the cold temperatures do mean that all the outdoor rinks in the city are opening soon which is great news! I’m sitting watching the Leafs game right now and they’re already down 1-0 but it’s still early and I’m confident they’ll get it together, considering the last 7 goals scored in games they’ve played in were scored on them…
UH OH TIE GAME! JVR with a tip in goal for those that are wondering.
I know I’m Canadian, but having lived in the USA for the better part of the last 4 years I’ve come to adopt the American Thanksgiving. I’ve come to love the tradition of family and friends, turkey and football. I’ve spent Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh with my cousins and I’ve had Thanksgiving dinners in Toronto with my family and grandparents. I always loved the idea of the Thanksgiving travel rush, no not the flight delays and cancellations, but the fact that everyone just seems to be friendlier, everybody is wearing their school sweatshirt and that invites conversation. With that, I’m going to dive into what will undoubtedly turn into a LONG reflection on the year that was.
What am I thankful for?
The most important thing that I’m thankful for right now is my family’s health. On August 30 I was in West Michigan getting ready for a game with Detroit’s affiliate, the Whitecaps. I got a phone call from my Dad saying that he, my mom and my sister were in a car accident. It was move in day at Harvard and my sister was getting ready to begin her Sophomore year. Three weeks later it was clear that her academic year and her 2013/2014 seasons (hockey and softball) would be lost to a concussion suffered during the accident. Having seen the pictures and heard the descriptions of what happened I’m relieved that my sister and mom’s concussions were the worst injuries suffered. My Dad jammed his hand, and in my expert opinion I think it’s his hamate bone, the one baseball players break when they try to stop a swing wrong. The damage could have been far worse, so I am thankful that in the grand scheme of things they are all safe and healthy. Mom and Molly have started getting back to their daily lives, pouring over books and newspapers and slowly building back into being full time athletes. I’ve said to many people since Molly came home for the year that although it’s absolutely under the wrong circumstances, I’m extremely happy to have her around because we haven’t been home together for this long in five years. She has always been my very closest friend, and to finally get to spend some time with her, going to hockey games, going out with our mutual friends and training together (started yesterday, more to come) has been a blessing.
I’m thankful for the fact that I got to spend a full year chasing the only dream I’ve ever dreamed. My season was a roller coaster, I’d have a great month then an awful one, then another great one. Statistically speaking my season was pretty good, but I know from the way I performed and the way I felt month to month that it was still a learning experience. I’m still trying to figure out what works, how my body reacts to the grind of 140+ games after Spring Training. I had a conversation over texts right after we got knocked out of the playoffs in which I was asked if I was okay. My answer surprised me, because normally I’m crushed by season ending losses. My answer went something like this, “I’m okay. I realize that I’m so incredibly lucky to do this for a living. I get to play baseball, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I get to go out and play every single day. It sucks to be out of it now, but there’s always another game. I’m lucky to have so many people who love me, care about me and support me.” I realized that even when things weren’t going well, when I wasn’t playing well or wasn’t playing at all that I still had so much to feel lucky about. On my worst day, an ugly 0-4 I was still playing baseball, I was still in a stadium filled with a few thousand fans and I’d have some great friends to go out and try to forget the game with afterwards. I had way more great nights filled with walk off wins, playoff clinching celebrations and dominant performances by my team. I’m incredibly thankful that the Padres once again gave me every opportunity to succeed. I’m thankful for the 30 or so guys I got to call my teammates this year, some for a short period of time, and others from start to finish. I’m thankful for each and every single one of the 410,459 Fort Wayne Tincaps fans that made Parkview Field such an incredible place to play. I’m incredibly happy and thankful that I got to have my family come down to watch me play as often as they did. Having not been close to home has made it hard for them to get out to see me, but being a quick 6.5 hour drive from Fort Wayne was definitely a blessing, even if it meant having to brave the cold and the Rally Camel at different points of the year.
I’m thankful for my friends, particularly because in spite of the fact that I’m rarely around they always welcome me home and we pick up right where we left off. I’m incredibly lucky to have a group of friends here in Toronto that truly are always there for me. Whether it was a small breakdown over a crappy week of play, or a hysterically funny text once in a while you are all so incredibly important to me. I’m so excited to have been able to see a bunch of you already since I got home, going out for sushi lunch dates, hockey game dinner evenings, and casual after dinner meetings to just catch up. Even though we may not get to see one another for months at a time I truly do cherish the time we get to spend together, it’s awesome to share the laughter, happiness and joy that only great friends can provide. I also am thankful for my friends that are scattered across the all the places I’ve called home over the last four years. I miss the ice cream nights at school, the baseball house nights and all the summer nights with friends in Lowell, Cape Cod, Arizona, Eugene and Fort Wayne. You all have given me reason to smile even when I really didn’t feel like it.
I’m thankful for second chances because without them I realize my world would look a lot different. There were times that I felt like the guy Kenny Chesney is singing about in his song Living in Fast Forward.
‘Cause I’m living in fast forward
A hillbilly rock star out of control
I’m living in fast forward
Now I need to rewind real slow.
There were definitely times when I felt like that guy, out on the road, lost without any real direction other than whatever the lineup card told me I had to do. I felt like at times life was moving at fast forward speed and I know that some of the things I did in those moments were stupid. I know that I did damage to friendships that I really did care about. I realize that I hurt people and I’m grateful every day that those people have let me try to fix the things I’ve done. I’m glad that I’ve been able to slow down, catch myself and reset and refocus on who and what is important to me. To those that fall into this category, you know who you are and as I’ve told you I’m committed to making things right. I thank you for forgiving me and understanding that I’m human.
I’ve had an awesome year, and Thanksgiving always begins the countdown until the end of the year and the start of a new one. I’ve made new friends, developed new relationships, played in another awesome city, traveled to the Dominican AND gotten to take my sister to a Leafs game (which they won btw). I look forward to everything that is still to come in the final month of 2013 and then to the start of a new chapter in the book of life. It will be a chapter in which I’ll be a better person, a better friend, and a better player because of all that I’ve experienced in this chapter.
What am I thankful for this year?
Side note. After 2 periods, the Leafs have made it 5-3. Like I said, the turn around was bound to happen!
Okay this blog post is, in baseball terms, about Yasiel Puig. It is also about a lot more than just one dude who can flat out play. It’s about two contrasting cultures, and their manifestations in our sport. Let’s first just all agree upon the fact that the dude is an absolutely freak athletically. To be able to run the way he does is something most people can only dream of. The power his swing generates is ridiculous as evidenced by all of his tape measure home runs. He’s as raw a baseball player as you’ll find in The Show, something he proved time and again through what can only be described as dumb mistakes. I know it sounds a little ridiculous coming from a guy who has never played above Class A, but there are some things that, having been in the system for a year and a half, you know are no no’s. Throwing together his freak athleticism, ungodly power and the fact that he’s a raw, Latin American player has turned him into a bit of a fire starter throughout the year. I don’t want this to turn into some racially charged tirade, so don’t take it that way, but there is a fundamental difference in the cultures of Major League Baseball. (Hang with me, I’ll be back to Puig in a little bit)
This month I’ve spent in the Dominican Republic has shed light on a lot of things, most of which aren’t directly related to baseball. The time I’ve spent outside the complex has been as much of a learning experience as my time in the 5-Pack of bullpens. Through trips to the beach, back and forth to the two schools we did community service in, and our trip to Baseball City when we played the Leones Del Escogido I’ve taken note of a lot of cultural differences. I’ve only ever been to the Dominican Republic, but I’m going to take a guess that a lot of this translates to other Latin American, baseball playing countries. I think that is a safe bet because I’ve seen the way the Dominicans, Venezuelans and Puerto Rican guys all mesh together, nearly seamlessly, aside from some small lingo differences. Latin American culture is loud and vibrant, it’s colorful and community oriented. People here in the small villages spend their days sitting at the Colmado’s (little storefront shops, stores etc) listening to music that plays at a volume loud enough to hear it throughout the neighborhood. They sit and converse with one another playing pool, dominoes, cards and other games with the loud music as the only background. They are people oriented, most don’t have 9-5 jobs, and that leaves them in the community together for extended periods of time. They are very relaxed, friendly, fun loving people. They truly love living it seems, whatever they have gives them happiness, and whatever they need to supplement that can be found in their friends and family.
How does this translate into the baseball world? Last week on our trip home from Baseball City our bus driver was cranking the music as he does on every trip. Several American guys complained about the music, too loud, too noisy, it sucks etc. One player who was sitting near me asked aloud, to nobody in particular “don’t these guys believe in silence?” That question smacked me in the head, and all of a sudden I had one of those “ahhhhhhh I get it” moments. On all our trips in Fort Wayne this year the American guys either watched movies or listened to music on their headphones. These are both very individual, solitary things. I realized that the American guys prefer that, solitary, silence. They prefer not to be bothered with anyone else’ definition of fun, music, or conversation. For them, silence is golden. It’s every man for himself. There is no common ground, no mutual agreement, if the guy didn’t like the song he changed it on on his Ipod. On each of these trips one of the Latin guys would put his headphones around his neck, turning them into speakers and blast the music as loud as possible, and most of them would sing. Sometimes it would be all together, sometimes there would be multiple songs and multiple choruses. It drove the American guys nuts, myself included sometimes. Now I’ve realized why. Music is normal, singing together is normal. That’s just the way they live, that is their culture. Together, out loud and colorful. They love to laugh with one another. They enjoy each other. It’s just a different way of living, it’s vibrant. Can it rub people the wrong way sometimes, sure, but they come by it honestly. It isn’t a forced, fake thing that is meant to piss off the rest of their teammates. It is guys thousands of miles from home in an uncomfortable culture trying as best they can to feel like they have some semblance of normalcy in their lives.
I can totally relate to them having been down here for the month, in a way I never really got to when I was here with Team Canada in 2008. During that trip we stayed at an all inclusive resort on the beach, and we were only here for 10 days. For all intents and purposes was basically a paid vacation on which we played some extremely high caliber baseball. That isn’t to say the baseball was secondary, it was absolutely the most important thing on that trip. What I mean by it is that we weren’t put outside our comfort zone. We had big lavish meals, we had a private beach, we had swimming pools, mini golf courses, volleyball, televisions. We were living the high life. This trip has taken a lot of us outside that comfort zone. We’re in an isolated little village, as big a stretch from the big city hustle and bustle of Toronto as I’ve ever been. There are power outages daily. There are only two tv’s at the complex and everything is in Spanish (except NFL Sunday Ticket). The food is different, hell even the KETCHUP is different! We have to deal with a language barrier when we go off site. I can completely understand these Dominican players wanting some semblance of normalcy while riding a bus from Burlington, Iowa to Peoria, Illinois. It’s comfortable for them, it’s home. It’s their way of life. It shows up on the field too, they are fiery passionate players. This is the thing they love more than anything in the world other than God. They are young kids from tiny villages a long way from home and suddenly they are launched on what they see as a trajectory toward super stardom. It’s EXCITING to them. Baseball is what they do, in the streets, on time worn fields and at all the Complejos across the country. The love it, and their passion shows through in ways that are much different than ours.
Back to Yasiel Puig. Does anyone know where Puig played last year? Hands up if you said the Rancho Cucamongo Quakes of the California League. He signed last year as a 22 year old and played the majority of his 2012 season in Advanced Class A, he was one level above where I was in 2013. This year he played 40 games in AA before the Dodgers called him up. That call up is something that millions of kids all around the world dream of, and so few actually ever live it out. Keep in mind this kid grew up in communist Cuba, I can’t imagine he had the lifestyle he now has. His life is a party now! He is getting PAID, he’s living in Los Angeles and there isn’t much of a case to say he isn’t the face of the franchise. He is LA, young, energetic, and alive. What happened last night was just another instance of him being absolutely PUMPED to be living the life he probably fell asleep thinking about every night growing up. He is getting to play in the playoffs in a Major League uniform. I understand that he’s a rookie and that in this series he had struggled mightily up until that point, and that to me makes what he did even more beautiful. I’ve been through the 0-11 slides. It’s a nightmare, I wrote about it earlier this summer. Imagine being a 23 year old kid failing for the first time at the Big League level, on the biggest stage in the game. Put yourself in the kid’s shoes. The feeling in a hitter’s chest when he walks up to the plate in a funk like that is like a disease. It courses through a guy’s body and it puts him in a fragile state. To finally come through in a HUGE situation, as a rookie, in the NLCS has got to be such an emotional rush, such a high that I can hardly blame Yasiel Puig for his celebration. Yea, I get it, he pimped what he thought was a home run and it wasn’t. He still did everything he possibly could do in that situation. He drove in the two runs, and got himself to third base with a triple. Oh yea, he didn’t even have to slide either.
I watched the video for the first time today after reading hundreds of Tweets and Facebook posts berating him for the whole thing. When I watched it I couldn’t help but want to run through a wall, that got me so fired up!! It reminded me so much of my Stony Brook team down at LSU in the Super Regional. We weren’t supposed to be there, same as a 23 year old Cuban kid who played in High A last year isn’t supposed to be starring in the NLCS. We played with passion, we played with fire and we celebrated that way. Guys were jumping on one another with high fives, screaming and yelling across the field after every play and throwing our “Omaha sign” into the air after every hit. I absolutely loved that, everyone did! It was baseball in its purest form, it was a game and it was fun. Could Puig have not flipped the bat all the way back to the dugout like he did? Absolutely. I don’t however have a problem with him doing it. He was excited, I’m not even sure that’s a strong enough word, and it showed out. Loud, vibrant and for everyone to join in. Why isn’t anyone upset about Adrian Gonzalez who also had his hands in the air immediately after the ball was hit? This was a HUGE moment for his team and I don’t have a single issue with it
To say that he doesn’t know how to play the game the right way is ridiculous. Why does baseball have to be a boring, lifeless drag? It doesn’t. I understand the whole America’s Pastime deal, and that it’s seen as wrong to show up a pitcher or a team. Am I saying that every single play should result in a touchdown celebration? No, but I am saying that in Game 3 of the NLCS when a guy puts his team up 3-0 in a must win game he shouldn’t be castrated for it. There is nothing wrong with excitement! Going back to the World Baseball Classic we saw the same sort of thing with Team Dominican Republic. Those guys danced and cheered and had the best F****** time of anyone in that tournament, go figure they won it all. That was huge for them, this was huge for Puig and his Dodgers. I’m not advocating that every single should be followed up by a bat flip and a “swaggerific” trot to first base, and I’m not even saying every home run should be either. What I am saying is that in that kind of high energy, high intensity situation that a positive result should get people excited, it should make people love the fact that they’re playing baseball in front of 50,000 people and getting paid to do so. There is absolutely not a single job in the world as great as playing baseball, why not enjoy it?