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?
Gross title no? I figured it was only fitting considering the last two days have been all about sweat for me. Too much sweat, avoiding sweat, and enjoying a sweat, in that order. So let’s start out with the most fun, too much sweat.
Tuesday morning started out how any other morning would. Alger and I both had our alarms go off, one at 6:50 and the other at 6:55, we complained about not wanting to get up, made fun of one another for a few minutes because we wouldn’t get up, and then we got up. We scurried over to the cafeteria for breakfast. I had a normal plate, some eggs, some pancakes and a ham/cheese sandwich that I took apart, using the meat and cheese with my eggs. I threw some peanut butter and maple syrup on the pancakes and had a very nice breakfast. Two glasses of water and a glass of lemonade later I was on my way to the clubhouse. I checked the early work board and the daily schedule before heading into the locker room to get changed. I threw on my white pants because we had a game against the International Prospect League, did my pre practice stretching and even went into the training room for an extra stretch since I was feeling a little sore. I had Miguel stretch my legs and back, before Cabrera came over and helped me crack every single inch of my body. I sprang off the table feeling absolutely fantastic. At around 8:15 I grabbed my bag and headed down to Field 2 for early work, the catchers were scheduled to work with Brad Ausmus, a long time Big Leaguer, and one of our instructors. At 8:30 we were all warmed up, in our full gear and ready to throw. One by one, Rodney, Jose Ruiz, Tyler, Miller, and I caught pitches from Pozo and threw down to second. My throws were pretty good, accurate and firm. I had a couple that got away from me, but so did everyone and my misses weren’t bad misses, they just weren’t good throws. Brad pulled me aside after one of those and told me that it looked like I rushed and lost my base, I wasn’t using my legs the way I had, and that made my arm drag. RED FLAG numero 1. I watched as the other guys took their turn, and then went in for my second round. My throws were again all pretty good, but I had one slide right out of my fingers and float over the second base side of the bag, which I know from experience is the worst place to put a throw. My hand was soaked in sweat, so I rubbed my hand in the dirt to get it a little more tacky for my last throw. RED FLAG numero 2. We finished our early work, and met up with the daily 9 am meeting, and I was drenched, my shirt was pretty well soaked right through. After the meeting we stretched and had conditioning, which is where the day really started to get ugly.
We had two 60 yard sprints and four 30 yard sprints, set up in a short, short, long, pattern. As I ran the first 60 yard sprint I felt my stomach start to turn a little, something wasn’t going so well. RED FLAG numero 3. Conditioning finished, and I walked back to the dugout to get some shade and get my gear on for infield. As I walked I passed by some of the coaches and joked “I chose the swimming conditioning instead of the running,” pointing at the fact that my entire body was dripping in sweat, my shirt and pants were drenched and I really did look like I jumped in a pool. Our infield seemed to buzz by, everyone had a little extra jump because the whole Front Office and a TV crew from Fox Sports San Diego had arrived that morning. In spite of the fact that we had thrown earlier, we all decided to throw again in an effort to make sure everyone saw us. Aside from my inability to catch the ball on the pitch I had to throw to 3rd, I was good. We finished infield and I started feeling sick. You guessed it RED FLAG numero 4. I staggered into BP, trying harder to keep myself from being sick than I was trying to really hit. I took two rounds and told Varo that I had to run inside. The heat had won, I was dead. I made it inside only to completely lose my breakfast (sorry for the details but it happened). I felt like a zombie as I trekked back down to the field to try and keep going. Our trainers asked me if I was alright and I told them what had happened at which point they shut me down for the day. I got taken up to the clubhouse in one of the golf carts and was told to take a cold shower, change and meet back in the training room. I got in there with a thumping headache, and sat in the cold air conditioning for the rest of practice. I downed Gatorade and water to try and get my body back to its proper temperature. The rest of the day I spent in bed trying to relax and feel better.
Wednesday morning I went back to the training room, before practice and talked to the trainers at which point it was determined that I was going to sit out of practice. It’s a bummer of a feeling being told not to practice, but I knew I wasn’t ready, my body still had a little bit of left over muscle soreness and uneasiness. Prior to practice the catchers were brought up to one of the meeting rooms at the complex where we had a meeting with Josh Stern, Director of Baseball Operations. Normally baseball meetings are boring, and really basic. They touch on all the things we all already know, and we just need a reminder of. This was not one of those meetings. We began to talk about the value of “getting strikes,” that is, the value that is placed on a catcher’s ability to make a borderline pitch look like a strike to the umpire. Apparently, using the technology that provides fans with the Gameday pitch tracking, the Front Offices of many organizations are beginning to quantify which catchers are best at “getting strikes.” Josh explained that more and more organizations are realizing that even though the idea of one pitch being called a strike or ball appears to be a miniscule detail, there is a HUGE total over the course of 162 games. He explained that in a small sample, like an inning one pitch may not be a huge deal, but over a series, a week a month or a year, that one pitch turns into an exponentially bigger number. He talked about Chris Stewart, the Yankees catcher who we actually had in Tucson a few years back. He, and Ausmus both mentioned that Stewart isn’t a hitter, but that he does such a good job of “getting strikes” that he’s a Big League catcher on the team with the highest payroll in all of baseball. It was a far more thought provoking meeting, and at times I felt like I was actually in the movie Moneyball, which tells the story of the last huge statistical trend in baseball, the on base percentage. It was a good way to keep my mind active even though physically I wouldn’t be active at practice.
I spent the entire practice wandering around trying to keep myself busy, and actually had a little bit of time during bullpens that I spent talking to Josh Byrnes (GM) and Omar Minaya. It was good to catch up with both of them, as I’d gotten to know Byrnes at Spring Training and Minaya during my Junior year at Stony Brook.
Wednesday afternoon we went to a different school in the community and again were split into nine groups. Each group was given a list of tasks we had to complete a la a scavenger hunt. Unlike a normal scavenger hunt this wasn’t a race, and it wasn’t about finding things. We were tasked with meeting people, and immersing ourselves as much as we could in the community life. We had to find a beach vendor, and find out who the person was, what he or she sold and take a picture. My group walked down to the beach and found one of the vendors that sells coconuts. Normally when the players go to the beach we buy coconuts from a specific guy, but today we spoke to a lady. Pricila, one of the girls in our group ran over to her abuela or grandmother, Ivelice. Ivelice also sells coconuts on the beach, and so we bought five of them for $100 Pesos. While we waited for her husband to cut them all open I realized that the guy we normally buy from was Ivelice’s son, and so I said hi and told him I remembered him, all in Spanish of course. We all took a swig of coconut water, passing them around to all the young kids before turning around and heading back up to the village. We stopped by one of the colmados, little markets on the side of the road that sell everything from snack foods to water and soda to, what else, Presidente beer.
We took pictures with local kids that weren’t at school, we visited one of the student’s home and met his mother and younger sister. We talked to her for a while and found out who all lived in her house. We asked Jamaico, the kid, about his brothers and sisters and if we could take a group picture with the, but his mom said she didn’t want us taking pictures. It was very cool to see how proud Jamaico was of his family’s home. To us it wasn’t much more than an assortment of random misfit bricks and bent tin sheets for a roof, but Jamaico ran through the dirt roads to take us there and had a beaming smile the whole time we were there. Before long our two hours of walking up and down the streets and across the dirt roads was over and we headed back to the school. We were all (amazing tie in right here!) drenched in sweat from our trip. I really enjoyed meeting the people in the community and being able to see just how different life is in terms of living arrangements, housing and even child’s play. As we walked back to the school to wrap up the day we walked right through a two base game of baseball in the middle of the road. Cars, trucks and motor bikes would whiz by, horns blaring and the kids seemed to dance between the game and the cars, without anyone ever really being impeded. I stopped to take a picture of that game because I saw that one of the girls was going to hit and I thought it would be a fun picture to send home to my sister. In typical Molly fashion however, the girl blew my expectation away smacking the ball over the street, a house and into a different yard for a very easy home run. I guess the fact that I thought about sending it to Molly made this girl hit like her, because as I recall the pitch was nowhere near a strike. So, Molly, I’ve found your new league, it’s in the streets of San Cristobal, where nothing is a strike and sisters can really swing it!
Tonight Team Gringo is having another cookout, we’ve got steaks and baking potatoes which will be a delightful change from the daily rice and beans with INSERT PROTEIN HERE. I’ll have my computer outside with me because the Leafs play again tonight and even though I’m not sure Shep Daddy made it this far into the blog they’re playing the Nashville Predators and bragging rights are on the line. Go Leafs Go! Only one week left until the offseason, it will certainly be nice to kick back on the couch with my mom dad and Molly and watch the Leafs from the comfort of our living room, without my usual company, a swarm of mosquitos!
Okay, first things first. You probably noticed that my blog’s page looks entirely different than it used to. Fear not, all the same stuff is still in all the same places. All I did was change the template, and ultimately allow MLB.com to track my blog. By switching formats, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to create enough noise around this page that eventually MLB.com notices and I make those rankings pages. Why? Well, for one it’s always cool to be in a “Pennant Race” of sorts, and two, I think it could help open some eyes in terms of a possible career writing when baseball is all done. No, I’m not thinking of an exit strategy, I want there to be WAY more content on this blog, years in different cities, at different levels and eventually a post I’ll title When It All Pays Off, which will chronicle my big league debut. I just think that once I’m using wordpress as my platform for the blog, I may as well have MLB.com paying attention so that I can eventually use this for something other than just connecting with all the people who enjoy these stories, and are following along with my journey.
Now back to the good stuff. Since our trip to Escuela La Playa there’s been a lot that has gone on, mostly good stuff, but one absolutely awful day was thrown in there. Baseball seems to have a way of knowing exactly when a guy thinks he’s starting to figure things out, an innate sense of when someone is starting to get comfortable. As soon as Baseball recognizes that, it reminds him in a very unkind way that he’s wrong, and that he was STUPID for ever beginning to think that. Such was the case in my second outing behind the plate. We were playing a full game against the Dominican Prospect League, a travel team here that consists of teenagers looking to sign professional contracts. They’re an incredibly “toolsy” bunch, and were invited to our complex for a scrimmage. Jaimito Lebron, the Dominican kid I caught in my very first bullpen a week earlier was throwing the first inning, followed by Cam Stewart, Ramon Reyes and Walker Lockett (not Walker from my team in FW). Lebron looked awesome in the pen, both our new pitching coordinator Gorman and AA pitching coach Jimmy Jones were raving about him as he threw his bullpen. Everything was right at my shin guards. Low, firm, well executed pitch after well executed pitch. He had good feel for his off speed stuff, and when he shook his hands to tell me he was ready, I gave him a fist bump and told him “bien trabajo papi.” We quickly went over the signs, “1, recta, 3 slider, wiggle cambio. corredor en la segunda base, primera señal,” and headed to the dugout. We gulped down some red gatorade, I wiped my head and arms dry because I was swimming in sweat, and with a “VAMENOS!” we were off.
Game two started much better than game one did for me, I remembered to shake the umpire’s and introduce myself. I caught the warmup pitches, had a little swagger in the sign down to second that I was throwing, and I put a strike right on the bag. I felt awesome. I stood in front of the plate, banged my fist in my glove and said “vamos vamos,” a final here we go to the pitcher, and settled into my squat. Remember I mentioned he looked insanely good in the pen? Yea, well 10 pitches later he had dispatched of the first three hitters, striking out the side. I felt like a genius. The hitter had a long swing? Fastball in. The hitter pulled his front foot out on the first swing? Fastball away. Everything worked. I jogged back to the dugout and gave fist bumps to Lebron, then the coaches and players. I chugged as much water and gatorade as I could, and then got back to business, pulling a chair along side Cam who was just in from his bullpen. I asked him what worked in the pen, how he felt, what he wanted to try and do within his outing. We established that his change up was his best pitch in the pen, he wanted to throw a few breaking balls because he hadn’t in his first outing and that he generally felt good. We ran through the signs in English and headed back out there. The warmup was clean, Cam wasn’t as far down in the zone as everybody would have liked, but he threw to both sides of the plate and all was well and dandy. Then, all hell broke loose. Together, Cam and I fell apart as the inning ballooned into a really ugly outing, that lasted what seemed like hours. Every set of signals I put down something bad happened. 0-1 change up, well located down? Bloop single. 0-2 curveball, HUNG? Double. 0-2 fastball away? Right past me. I began to get frustrated, I began to press trying harder and harder to make sure I caught everything. The game sped up on me to a point where I absolutely couldn’t control it. The next two plus innings were a nightmare as pitch after pitch got by me, all I kept hearing was “catch that ball” a Padres catchphrase originally patented by Jonesy, our infield coordinator. All the coaches yelled it at one point or another, everything just kept going to the backstop. I couldn’t make the decision to block fast enough, I tried to pick everything in the dirt and balls bounced in every direction. I felt as lost as a person can be while knowing exactly where he is physically.
When the 4th inning mercifully came to an end I trudged back to the dugout, dropped my mask on the ground and just sat there, towel over my head, sweating. I was entirely zoned out, I don’t even know who started the inning to be completely honest, I just stared out at nothing. Obviously Collins (or El Tubbo…I was tweeted that I needed to include that nickname) picked up on my misery, I assume I looked like a mix between someone whose dog just died, and a person waiting for his lethal injection to kick in. It was an absolutely horrible feeling, and he came over whacked me on the shoulder and in a giddy sort of chiding way asked me “still wanna be a catcher?” I snorted out a forced laugh, and the only words I could think to say were “I don’t know what just happened.” We spent the next few innings talking together, going through scenarios, talking about pitches to call, things to look for, all the sorts of things I have come to know like the back of my hand at second base. The day ended, I spent the day miserably trying to forget about it and when I finally fell asleep that night a crazy thing happened. The sun came up the next day, I was still alive and I still had practice. I’ve been working hard on trying to figure that part of the game out, having had early work two of the last 5 days specifically on blocking. Practices have begun to feel long, the days are starting to feel more draining and aches and pains are starting to creep up on all of us as we start to see the end. Everybody knows that in 9 more work days, we’ll be done for the year, able to go home and miss baseball for the next 3.5 months.
Outside of baseball we took our second trip of the Gringos on the Island tour, as we headed into Santo Domingo to the Colonial City. We hopped on a bus at 2 pm yesterday and made the hour and a half drive while our tour guide Favio explained some things to us about Dominican history. When we arrived we were just on the west side of the Ozama River, which Favio told us is across from where the town was originally. The city has moved from far in the north, to the east side of the Ozama River, and finally to the west side where it has been for the last 500 or so years. We walked through a secondary gate, and up a cobblestone path to the staircase that lead us to to the castle of Diego Columbus, Christopher’s son. We took a tour of the castle, stopping in each of the 20 or so rooms, walking up spiral staircases, and ducking through the doorways which were built when the average man was a mere 5’4. We saw both Diego, and his wife’s bedrooms which were on complete opposite sides of the castle, and our guide explained that the reason for that layout was that the King only married his Queen to create a strong Royal Family. Marriage wasn’t for love, it was prearranged, and it was normal for the King to have other women come over to fulfill his fantasies. His wife was expected to bear his children, be by his side at public appearances and not cause too much of a fuss.
When we finished looking through the castle we walked over to a memorial building called the Panteon de le Patria, which was originally built as a church in the 1500′s. It was used as such until the Haitian occupation of the Dominican Republic, during which time it was used as a police station. It has been restored, and rebuilt since and in its current incarnation the structure is still the same as it was 500 years ago. The interior is now a memorial and burial site for famous Dominican artists, poets, and government people. It was an absolutely gorgeous building, with all sorts of marble, and some wonderful paintings on the ceiling.
We finished the day by going into a market in which some of the players and coaches tried different cigars, and a Dominican drink called Mamajuana which is a mix of rum, red wine, honey and spices. Mamajuana is available everywhere down here in different forms, and the only other time I had tried it was at the beach the first time we went. I took a sip of the strange colored concoction and didn’t like it. The Mamajuana at the market however was absolutely delicious. It had a strong fruity flavor, and a really firm kick. Some guys bough cigars, and souvenirs for their families, friends and girlfriends, others just tried the cigars and drinks. When we finished at the market we piled back onto the bus and headed to a restaurant called Adrian Tropical. We had a feast unlike any feast I’ve ever been a part of. We had appetizer after appetizer, main course after main course after main course and enough side dishes and desserts that we probably could have fed a small nation. The food was delicious, I tried some native dishes like Camarafongo, a mashed plantain dish served with garlic sauce and shrimp. It is a spin on the traditional Dominican dish Mofongo. I had some crab meat stew that was absolutely out of this world, and just to feed my ‘Merican Man side I had some steak too. We crushed so much food that we all felt like we were going to fall into a food coma. Luckily, the bus driver had a live Daddy Yankee concert video on the tv on the bus and he cranked the volume up to 72 at one point, aka we had a full blown FIESTA on the ride back.
Yesterday was an awesome day because for once I got to be touristy without sacrificing baseball. Normally when I travel I avoid any sort of distraction, but it felt great to walk around, take some pictures, learn about history, culture, food and drink and just relax with not a hint of baseball on my mind. Hopefully you’ll share this link with your friends if you’ve enjoyed the stories and pictures, and I’ll be back in a few days to update you all again.
Thanks for your time, I know this was a LONG one.
Wednesday afternoon we performed our first community service activity. After practice, lunch and a short break during which I flopped onto my bed and nearly fell asleep, we all piled onto a bus and headed into the town beside our complex to go teach at a school. We had been divided into nine groups earlier in the day, and I knew that I’d be going into a first grade classroom with my group. When we arrived at El Escuela de la Playa we were met by awkward stares from the young children. We filed into the fenced in campus
“Buenos dias clase, mi numbre es Maxx Tissenbaum. Soy un catcher de los Padres de San Diego, y soy Canadiense!” This was my introduction to the first grade class that my teammates and I taught in on Wednesday. I wanted to use as much Spanish as I could to let the children know that I could at least interact with them a little bit, in spite of the fact that I appeared American. I felt obligated for whatever reason to make sure I threw in the last part about being Canadian. All seven of the guys in my group were lined up at the from of the classroom and one by one we had to say hello to the kids. My group included four Dominican guys, and three American (there’s that loose interpretation of American again) guys, so naturally the Dominican players took the lead. Jorge Guzman, who you may know better as Pokey from Fort Wayne, lead the way, followed by Mayky Gonzalez, Miguel Severino and Ronaldo Contreras. They were all loud and enthusiastic, and even though I had planned on following with the same vigor, my introduction came out relatively paltry. I got it out, but it wasn’t loud or wonderful like I’d imagined, while we were on the bus headed over. Max Fried and Jake Buers followed me copying the “buenos dias, mi numbre es” formula, and before long Pokey took hold of the group and explained that we would be teaching them to write their names, count to 12 and draw.
We went around the room and asked each kid his or her name, and wrote it on a nametag that we had them stick on their uniform shirts. The kids were clearly intimidated by the relatively large group of us, and spoke very softly which sometimes made understanding them more difficult than it already was going to be. The professora walked around and helped us with some of the more difficult names like Rohelfris, and I made sure to communicate with her entirely in Spanish. Once each student had a name tag we split up and began to copy down their full names onto pieces of blank white paper, writing them three times. Each student was given a piece of rice paper, and the Dominican players explained that they’d use a pencil to trace their name. Once the kids started I began to walk around to some of the kids and asked them “dime las letras en su numbre,”Spanish for tell me the letters in your name. They quietly told me, and I repeated them in Spanish until they got to the end and I said their full name, which usually is four names long. One by one the kids raised their hands and told us “termine,” Spanish for I’m finished. I walked around and told them “bien trabajo” which means good work, and once all the kids were finished we moved on to our second part of our lesson.
Lesson two was about numbers, and we were given a set of bright colored numbers to post on the chalk board. Max and I quickly posted them, as Pokey handed them to me. Jake and I spelled out each number from 1-12 in both English and Spanish, looking back over our shoulders to Mayky, Miguel, Pokey and Contreras to check our spelling. Once we finished, Pokey lead the class counting in Spanish. After they finished in Spanish, Jake and I lead them in English. Once we felt like they had the hang of counting, we began to ask them questions that would make them count. Pokey asked “cuantas mesas son en esta clase?” The kids quickly began counting the number of desks, and all began to shout out answers. Next, Miguel asked “cuantos niños en este clase?” We learned our lesson from the first question and chose a specific kid to answer this time. He counted the boys in the class and shouted out “once” which the three Gringos translated back to eleven. Mayky followed by asking how many girls were in the class, and again we picked a student to answer. I asked the last question, again wanting to show off some Spanish. “Cuantos peloteros de los Padres están en tu clase?” They all were too quick and shouted out SIETE. We all told them bien trabajo, and began to pass out coloring sheets, each with a number and the corresponding number of a certain picture. I remember the page for 11 had ice cream cones. Each student had a number and they began coloring with the crayons and colored pencils we brought. As they drew I walked around and asked simple little questions like “cual es tu color favorito?” (what is your favorite color) or “te gusto el helado?” (do you like ice cream). When the kids answered my questions I wanted to try and give them a high five, so I asked Pokey how to say that, and his answer apparently was far to vague. He told me to hold my hand out and say “dame cinqo” as in “give me five” but when I did that, a lot of the kids thought I was asking for money. I had to actually show them what I meant using both my hands to get the point across. It was very cool for me to be able to interact with the kids, even if it was in a very small way.
When we wrapped up our portion of the day in the classroom we again lined up in front of the class and thanked them for their time. We gave a quick wave and walked out into the yard to meet up with the guys that were all in different classes. As I stood outside waiting for everyone to leave a young boy came up and tapped me on the arm and asked me “tu estas un catcher?” I was surprised that he chose to try to talk to a white guy, but I turned around and said “si, me llamo Maxx. Como te llamas?” We began talking and I found out his name was Adrian, he was 12 years old and he was a RHP. I asked him what pitches he throws, he said all of them. I began to rhyme off the pitches in Spanish, recta (fastball)? Si. Curva (curveball)? Si. Esláider (slider)? Si. Cambio (change up)? NO! I was a bit surprised that this 12 year old threw all the breaking pitches but not a change up, typically a pitch that is easier on a young arm. I was intrigued so I asked him why? “Porque tu no tira un cambio?” His answer blew me away, not because it surprised me, but because it surprised me that the prevailing thought down here reaches all the way down to 12 year old school kids. “Es el pitch mas lento,” he explained to me, meaning it’s the slowest pitch. Having been around so many young Dominican pitchers I’ve come to understand that the only two things they really care about early in their careers are speed and strike outs. It’s very normal for a Latin pitcher to finish throwing and immediately after the game ask whoever did the pitch chart how fast he threw. They seem to base their success off of strikeouts, rather than simply on outs. When Adrian told me a changeup was too slow a pitch it shocked me that even before they’re looking to be scouted, or ready to be signed that these kids know what scouts look for, big numbers on radar guns. I laughed a little, and wasn’t sure where the conversation would go, but his friend came running over and jumped in to tell me he was a third baseman. Here I was, a Canadian kid standing in the middle of a Dominican school yard, holding court with a bunch of 12 year old peloteros. I told the friend I was a second baseman and a shortstop before becoming a catcher, and they both seemed a little confused (I wasn’t sure if they were confused as to how a big lumbering gringo could play the infield, or as to how a middle infielder becomes a catcher). We exchanged a few more quick baseball questions and answers and then it was time to leave.
As I walked back to the bus I felt so incredibly happy that I had been able to go in there and feel comfortable with the native language. I was extremely proud of all of the guys for putting in a really great effort with the kids, because going into the day I wasn’t sure how many guys were totally committed and on board with the idea of community service. Hell, I wasn’t really on board before I left, but when I got here and started to hear about the different activities I started to warm up to the idea. It was awesome to see the English and Spanish speaking players really come together to help a common cause, the school kids. It was very cool to see guys who normally exist in almost two entirely separate universes interacting to try and help one another figure out just how to get the job done.
As I sat down on the bus I thought back to a conversation I had at the end of 9th grade at Crescent with my friend, and at the time, line-mate Robbie Mitchnick. We were going through our course selection for 10th grade and I had the choice between taking French and Spanish. I had always been good in French class so I quickly “bubbled” it in on the selection card. Robbie saw me do it and immediately stopped me and told me “you’re a baseball player. What are you going to do when your middle infield partner is a Spanish speaker and you can’t communicate. You’re taking Spanish with me.” I laughed and semi ignored the advice at first, but he insisted and eventually I erased the bubble beside 10th grade French and colored in the bubble beside 10th grade Spanish. Having been on teams with over 50% of the guys being Spanish speakers I can’t thank him enough for making sure I took Spanish. It has truly been a blessing to be able to communicate with those guys, and the kids at that school earlier this week. I’ve been able to trade stories and make friends with my Latin American teammates in a way that a lot of other guys haven’t. I’ve learned a lot about their lives, and the total difference in the two worlds we live in when we aren’t together on the baseball field.
Well. It happened. It’s over, and now I can move on.
I sat in the dugout, sweat dripping down my face as the humid air continued to thump me. I stared blankly at the green artificial turf on the floor of the dugout trying to do one last run through of all the things I’d learned, heard, picked up, or seen a catcher do in a big league game. I wasn’t sure if I was excited, nervous, terrified, ready or a mixture of a whole lot more things. The chatter around me in the dugout started to speed up and I saw a bunch of different cleats walking in both directions, so I knew it was time to go. I stood up, gave our starter, Cam Stewart a little fist bump, bumped knuckles with some of the other position players, flipped my mask down over my face and jogged out to my spot behind home plate. I was in such an information overload, both sensory and physically that I totally forgot to shake the umpire’s hand and say hello. I simply dropped into my stance and waited for Cam to start firing his warm up pitches, at which point the umpire said hello to me and asked me “tu hables espanol?”
“Si, un poquito,” I replied, and I sort of laughed at myself because I felt like at that specific moment in time I had more of a grasp of the Spanish I’d need to talk to the umpire and my pitchers than I did of what I was actually supposed to be doing. Cam told me he was ready, I threw my two arms out wide to signal to Josh VanMeter that I was going to throw down to second, and he fired in a good low fastball. I caught it, popped and threw a strike down to second base, I still felt like the world was moving at a gazillion and six miles an hour. I couldn’t really bring myself into the moment, I couldn’t tell if I was breathing, I couldn’t really tell if I was alive. As Collins, the catching coach, jogged past me to go coach third base he pointed at my foot marks and said “good job being on line there Tiss,” and for whatever reason, looking down, seeing the line my feet made and replying “thanks” somehow centered me. My mind slowed down, my breath suddenly came back and I was weirdly dialed in. I watched Mallex take his final warm up swing before doing his strut to the plate, I watched him dig in, about a shoe width in front of the back line of the batters box. Finally I looked out at Cam and threw down my index finger, fastball. Mallex step forward to bunt before pulling away realizing the pitch was a ball. I had the ball in my glove, but I had no idea how it got there. I’d seen Cam lift his leg and throw, but I couldn’t remember the pitch itself. This routine continued throughout that first at bat as I fought as hard as I could to get my bearings. Mallex drew a walk, and in my mind I knew he was going to run on the first pitch. I thought about calling a pitch out to try and nab him, but I felt like given that it was Instructs it was best to have Cam throw a pitch and try to throw him out. He spotted a fastball down and away from the hitter and I popped up and threw down to second, which by mistake had been left uncovered. Our SS came running over, late to the bag and caught the throw, putting a tag down after Mallex was on the bag. We ended up getting Mallex later in the at bat as he danced too far off second and Cam picked him off. We got the middle out, and then Rymer Liriano who is a top prospect in our organization, rehabbing his elbow stepped in. I remember vividly seeing his get locked and loaded as Cam threw to him, and my thought was that my life was over. All 230 plus pounds of this hulking figure were about to unleash a swing I was sure would hit me in the side of the head and end my career if not my life. Miraculously, neither happened, and the pitch darted under his hands for strike one. We ended up getting him to chase a pitch down and away for strike three and the inning was over. I froze for a minute, unsure of how to properly get the ball back to the mound at the end of an inning, realizing I sort of maybe had practiced rolling a ball to the mound from SS and 2B a time or two in my life. I tossed the ball toward the mound, and it awkwardly bounced and rolled onto the dirt, far less suave than I would have liked. I’ll work on it, but for the moment I was able to breath a huge sigh of relief. I’d finished my first inning in a game as a catcher, and was alive, in one piece and feeling like I did a pretty good job of receiving the baseball.
The rest of the game sort of blurred together, pitch after pitch after pitch, pitcher after pitcher after pitcher. I tried to ask as many questions about pitch sequences as I could to both Jackson Quezada (Dominican pitching coach) and Jimmy Jones (AA pitching coach). I asked if I had the right idea going inside on a guy after throwing 3 or 4 pitches to the outer half. I asked if change ups could set up fastballs in. I wanted to try and soak up as much as I could because I knew I was hyper aware of what I was trying to do. Though the game now seems like a blur, I know that inning to inning I was able to remember each at bat, each sequence. I felt surprisingly cool and collected all the way through, and I felt like was actually very much in control of what I was doing, which surprised me, given that it was my first true game. When we finished I gave fist bumps to all the pitchers I caught, Cam, Pokey, De La Cruz, and Linares. I packed my bag and headed back to the air conditioned sanctuary they call the clubhouse, trying as best I could not to drown in the puddle of sweat that had become my uniform. As I got changed and headed to and from the shower I had a number of little interactions with the guys, Max Fried, Brian Adams and Hunter Renfroe, all asking how I felt, and how it went. I was really excited when each of them said they felt like it looked pretty good, almost natural. I took pride in the fact that even though I’m still a long way from being an every day catcher that my starting point is far ahead of what I expected. I headed upstairs to go grab lunch with Smitty, our Player Development coordinator stopped me and told me he thought I did a really good job during the game. Talk about excitement, to hear from the decision making guys that I did well was the best news of the day. Today truly was a great step in the right direction, the first of many, but a positive one to be sure. It still is amazing to me that I was the guy all geared up behind the plate, but I’m sure once I find a picture or two of myself doing it, and have a chance to work on my “swag” element that I’ll be able to really own it.
Tomorrow I’ll be back out in the bullpen area at 8:30 am for early work again, running my streak to 7 consecutive days. I think by the end of Instructs I’ll have broken Cal Ripken’s record for consecutive days at Instructs with scheduled early work! Hopefully by then the whole thing will have started to feel natural, and become more routine. Until that day comes, I’ll do the only thing I can do, keep working at it. Tomorrow we’ll also do our first community service activity of Instructs, heading into town to the school the Padres sponsor to help teach children English.
Most important of all however, today is October 1. To some that might not be a significant date, but to anyone who knows anything about what’s truly important, tonight is a huge night. It’s the night when all dreams are possible, the night when I can finally start to forgive Dion Phaneuf for that BONEHEAD pinch in overtime last spring. Tonight is Opening Night for the NHL and my Leafs will be in Montreal to beat up on the Canadiens, sorry Dad. So without much else, GO LEAFS GO! PLEASE MAKE THIS THE YEAR WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO PLAN A PARADE!!
Buenos Dias muchachos!! Hoy es Viernes, y por celebramos el fin de semana nosotros fuimos a la playa por la tarde. Hoy es un dia bonita, perfecto en actualidad! Okay, enough with the Spanish intro, back to what you all came to find, stories and a big ole “what’s happening” down here at Instructional League.
We kicked off Instructs on Wednesday morning when we all were first allowed into the clubhouse. We had an early breakfast, any time between 7 and 8 am. Alger and I were up at 6:50 and were the first to breakfast then into the clubhouse. When we walked in we found all the lockers set up with numbered t-shirts, and Padres name tags at the top. I quickly realized that I’d no longer have a locker in the alphabetic part of the room, because the catchers have their own wall of lockers, so I’m right beside the front door. When I found my name, it still took me a few seconds to understand that the navy blue Padres bag had catchers gear in it that I’d be expected to use. I stared at it for a while, before opening it and saying to Alger, “well I guess it’s real.” I threw the shin guards on to try them out and adjust the straps, and giggled at the fact that I was wearing them in the first place, it still wasn’t real, I hadn’t fully (not sure if it’s accepted or acknowledged) but I hadn’t fully something-d about the whole catching deal. As I sat in my locker letting it sink in, some of the other guys began to trickle in, and before long the locker room and clubhouse building were buzzing with the 50 or so guys all wandering around getting ready.
We headed out to Field 2 for our meeting at 9 am, and Smitty introduced all the coaches and explained the program to us, including all the special outings and trips we’ll be making. The meeting was less long dull than normal, mostly because I took interest in the few things Smitty told us about the program outside of the baseball stuff. It’s cool to think ahead to the day we’ll spend in a local school or at a local public rally. I also did my best to listen in when Varo, the director of our Dominican Academy translated Smitty’s speech into Spanish, trying to pick up some of the words. We broke the meeting off and split up with the pitchers staying on Field 2 to stretch and the position players heading up the hill to Field 1. We stretched, and ran a few 60 yard build ups. When we finished getting loose we threw before splitting up into our IPS (remember from last year? No, probably not, it’s Individual position skills session). For the first time I headed to the dugout to put on my catchers gear and head to the bullpen, rather than just running out to the infield for ground balls with Jonesy. It was weird seeing the guys I’ve worked with for the longest time head out one way while I lumbered up a hill in gear to the bullpen. I took the third mound in and settled in behind the plate as the pitchers walked over and slowly picked a mound to throw off of. Somehow with all the guys I knew, both English and Spanish speaking, I ended up catching a kid I’ve never met before and a guy who speaks extremely limited English. Afterward I asked Bryan Rodriguez what the kids name was and found out it was Jaimito Lebron. He threw hard and relatively straight which was nice considering it was the first time I’d ever been in an environment where a line of pitchers fired balls to the catchers a la a firing squad. We lined up and in no particular order the five pitchers fired, catchers mitts popping left and right. At first it was a little disorienting, I’d see a guy on the mound beside Lebron go into his windup and found myself wishing he wouldn’t miss. It was nerve wracking at first, but as he finished up I realized I’d be okay. Next I caught Wilmer Santos, a guy I met at Spring Training, and a guy with a HUGE arm. Santos sits in the mid to upper 90′s and seems to have no idea if his fastball will run, cut, sink or stay straight. It was a bit of an adventure trying to track his bullets as they darted around the zone, I had to really focus on his release point and try to pick up with ball early to have a chance, and even still some balls bounced off my glove. Over all I felt pretty good about my first day catching, I felt like I caught more balls than I dropped, and I felt like I gave a good target and received relatively well. Next, we ran up to Field 1 for bunt defense which I got an interesting new view of. Rather than it being a major conditioning drill, running back and forth from second to first base, I got to hang out behind the plate and basically direct traffic. Jonesy didn’t test the catchers, so we basically had to read the direction and speed of the bunt and decide whether it was best to get the lead runner, or take the sure out at first. We took turns yelling to the infielders from our spot behind the plate, and discussed our calls with Collins in between turns. We finished the day with batting practice, and after having two weeks off my first round of Instructs was off the curveball machine. There were some ugly swings in the first round, before we all started to remember what a breaking ball looked like and consequently how to hit one. We finished the day and headed back to our rooms where most of us slept all afternoon.
Day two brought with it the earliest start possible, as Dial and I had early defense work with Poso and Collins. We worked on receiving, and Collins immediately had me switch where my arm was positioned bringing my elbow outside me knee, rather than where I had set it originally inside. He explained that with hard throwing righties and lefty breaking balls that having my elbow inside would create a block for pitches low on my glove side. This in turn would lead to passed balls and broken thumbs, neither of which sounded like a good idea. I made the adjustment, but still had trouble catching some pitches the machine fired at me. Poso took me aside and in his heavily accented English explained that I needed to “catch the ball with my fingers” as he showed me his thumb, index and middle fingers wrapping around a ball. He threw a few at me and had me catch them barehanded to get the feel. Since then I’ve had much less trouble. In our bullpens on day two I caught Starling Ynfante and Gonzo, two very young Dominican pitchers. Ynfante had a weird issue with his changeup that miraculously turned sharply to my right, more like a slider than a changeup. Gonzo followed with a nasty split-change, a pitch that darted down toward the bottom of the zone, and a lot of times the top of the dirt. My receiving continued getting better, and I was no longer spooked by all the guys lined up and pitching at the same time. The only thing that “weirded” me out was the fact that Cat, the pitching coordinator had put a string across the entire face of the bullpen, right at the front of the plates. Apparently the string was there to show the pitchers the height of a 6’0 hitters knees, and to give them a target to throw to, or below. He quickly explained to us that no matter what, the ball wouldn’t deflect up if the pitchers hit it, rather it would stay pretty close to on plane being that it is so narrow. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about it because my guys were either under the string or significantly over it, where it didn’t come into play. We finished the day with hitting, and then headed off to Santo Domingo to the Jumbo, a market similar to Walmart or Target. We spent the afternoon buying groceries, and killed the whole day with the two hours of driving.
Today was day three, and Instructs is beginning to become routine. I figured out that rather than hauling my catchers bag all over the complex, I could leave it by the bullpen area and just carry my glove around. I figured out that I could grab a cup of water or two between pitchers so as to not get a headache the minute I finished. I caught Bryan Rodriguez, one of the guys from Fort Wayne, and the only pitcher who specifically wanted to throw to me, albeit for a strange reason. Ever since he found out I was going to catch, B-Rod has wanted to throw to me to see if he could “break you thumb,” as he says. B-Rod throws hard and has natural arm side run, which is a pitch catchers can get in trouble with if they don’t rotate their wrist properly, its the pitch we get our thumbs jammed on. I managed to remember to roll my wrist and he was unsuccessful in his quest to break my thumb, but when he finished he came over and shook my hand (all bullpens finish this way) and gave me a pat on the shoulder and told me “good job man. You good as catcher.” I was pretty happy to hear that from a guy who had a very solid year in FW, and seems to be on the rise in our system.
After practice today all of the “American” (yes I throw myself in there, it’s more just the English speaking group) guys headed to the beach. Vladimir De La Cruz and Wilmer Santos acted as our local guides and came with us. De La walked us through the small village right near our complex, and I was amazed by the way we just sort of walked through the local peoples lives, we got to be in their world for the half an hour as we passed through. We saw children playing in the dirt, men playing cards and drinking outside of the little bodegas, and people just hanging around listening to music with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It truly is a slower pace of life, time seems to stand still, there is nothing to press these people, they just sort of exist.
We spent the afternoon in the ocean and on the sand, buying bottles of coke for 50 pesos each and sharing a plate of fresh caught crabs that De La Cruz bought for everyone to try. All in all it was a very cool day to sort of experience the life in that small village and to see the pride that these guys take in their country. I could tell from the way he walked us through and was talking to people as we passed by that he enjoyed the idea of bringing us through there, that he wanted to show us around. I truly enjoyed the whole experience, even if I was completely drenched in sweat both walking to and from the beach. Tomorrow morning all catchers have early work again at 8:30, and it will be the first time I get to throw down to bases which will be an interesting test. Hopefully I’m on line at least because having not thrown much the weeks leading up to Instructs I know my arm isn’t at full strength yet.
Hopefully I’ll have more stories from the next few days, I’m sure we’ll be making a return trip to the beach now that we know our way around. Thanks for your time, good night!! Buenas noches, y gracias por su tiempo!
Good evening everyone, o buenas noches a todos. Que lo que? That’s Dominican slang for “what’s up.” I figure that on the first night of Instructional League I should try and throw in some spanish phrases considering that I’ll be using them a lot for the next 24 days. Unlike last year, Instructs this year is being held not at our complex in Peoria, AZ, but in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. Why? Our Spring Training complex is currently undergoing a renovation and therefore we’re using our Dominican Academy. Today has been an insanely long day, but I think that it should be posted about while I’m still awake and over caffeine-d from the coke I drank with dinner.
My travel day began at 4:00 a.m. when my cell phone began blasting Aviici’s Wake Me Up. I felt like it would be an appropriate song given the hour, and whole idea of the song being about becoming older and wiser. I threw my clothes on, stuff that I had preselected the night before and ran upstairs to make sure my parents were up. I didn’t feel like eating at 4 so I threw my bag into the car, my dad grabbed my other bag and we went out into the freezing cold darkness to make the drive out to Pearson International Airport. I checked in and dropped off my bags before heading through to customs. I didn’t realize I needed to fill out an American customs card, considering I was just connecting through Atlanta. I scratched the card together while standing in line, then went through the check point and headed through security. By the time I was through all of the checks, scans and paperwork it was close to 5 am and I was getting hungry. I stopped at the little cafe that is just inside security and got a breakfast sandwich, bottle of water and a bottle of Mio. All in all breakfast was just under $20, which at the time made me really frustrated, more so because I didn’t have an option. I sat at the gate and ate, did a little creative writing and then headed on to the small plane that would fly me to Atlanta. I ended up having the whole row to myself so I spread out, laid back and was asleep before the flight attendant could tell me how “to properly fasten” my seat belt. I never liked those tacky safety information talks anyways. I woke up as the plane touched down, and quickly switched sim cards in my phone to let everyone know I had landed in Atlanta, and I’d be off to find my connection.
As I walked through the airport, frantically trying to figure out my banking situation which had quickly gone from well planned to awkward sideshow I grabbed an egg mcmuffin from McDonald’s and headed toward my next gate. On the way I saw that familiar blue duffel bag that could only belong to one of our University of Kentucky boys, so I knew Brian Adams would be on my flight. I gave him a wave as I passed in the opposite direction, talking on the phone with my dad. As I turned back around, wandering aimlessly I spotted Mallex Smith, who I was roommates with at Instructs last fall. We all ended up making our way to the gate, where we met up with Alger, Renfroe and the guys from this years Eugene Emeralds. We did the ballplayer intros, the obligatory “sup man”s, complete with a hand shake and then sat down and talked about our two weeks we all had at home. Our plane was delayed, and we all joked about how nice it was to get an extra few minutes of Wifi and cell phone service. We boarded quickly, and I was lucky enough to have another empty seat beside me, which again allowed me to fall asleep until I heard the stewardess say “we have begun our descent into Santo Domingo, please make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked positions.” As I looked out the window at the vast open green that makes up most of the island it suddenly donned on me that I was very far from home, and even farther from my comfort zone. We landed and took off through the airport, picking up our tourist cards (a cash grab that basically makes a visitor pay 10 bucks to get in line for customs), going through customs and collecting our bags.
When we left the baggage hall we were met by three guys from Bohio Travel Group who took us on the hour plus drive from Santo Domingo to Playa Najayo, the small beach town in San Cristobal where our complex is. The drive was a most interesting experience. Unlike the normal flow of traffic we have in North America, where all cars travel on the correct side of the road, for the most part obeying the rules of the road, the drive to San Cristobal was littered with motorcycles going way too fast, on both sides of the road, in both directions. There were multiple times we all thought we were going to crash into someone, or be crashed into by on coming traffic. We managed to dodge all of it, but there were two unlucky people who came around a corner (probably entirely too fast) and smashed each other, one guy was lefty badly bleeding on the side of the road while the rest of the people around tried to help in getting police and or an ambulance. When we finally made it through San Cristobal and out to the complex we arrived at an iron gate, and a security guard came to check which players were in the car. We did a roll call of sorts as the driver and security guy mangled our names in broken English. Once inside we were dropped off, told to go inside and we were then on our own. We were given keys to our dormitory style rooms and told that we could go eat in the cafeteria when we were hungry, something we did almost immediately. We had all sorts of different stuff, rice and beans, calamari, beef slices and potatoes in oil and garlic. It was a pretty solid first meal in my opinion. The rest of the day we’ve spent back and forth between our rooms, the cafeteria, and the common room in which we have been playing ping pong and pool.
I’ve seen a bunch of the Dominican guys I met at Instructs last year, Franchy, Belen, Franmil, and some of the guys I played with last year. It has been fun trying to use my Spanish with them, and with whoever I talk to, but obviously not being a native speaker it is still difficult. I really think mom and I should have made the shirts we joked about before I left. “Hables lento. Soy un gringo” was the slogan we planned, which translates to “speak slow. I’m a white guy.” Belen told me that since he tried English last year in Arizona at Instructs that he wants me to only speak Spanish with him this year in Dominican, so as we played ping pong together I made sure to let him know the score was “nueve a quatro”(9-4) and that I am “el mejor jugador de ping pong” (the best ping pong player). We shared some laughs, I managed to pull off a win, and that was good enough for my first day here. I’m now in bed, with the one pillow and one sheet that was on our bed when we arrived, and I’m trying to feel as at home as I can, being one of only 19 non native Spanish speakers at the entire complex. I’m looking forward to getting on the field tomorrow and seeing what this new challenge has in store for me both in terms of the social aspect of communicating with all the Latin players and physically in terms of the new position. Both should be difficult, but I like a challenge. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.
Gracias por su tiempo, y buenas noches!
Well, another year has come and gone, and as, always the end was very sudden. There are lots of teams every year, at every level that are so far out of the pennant race that their final couple of weeks as a group can be spent preparing for the end. I have been lucky enough to never play for one of those teams. Every team I’ve played for has been in the thick of a pennant race, or a playoff run. The 2013 Tincaps were no different. Our playoff run was a great one, we turned our ugly second half around and swept Bowling Green in the first round before going the distance against South Bend in the Eastern Division Championship. Our loss last night closed out our season, and closed the book on my first full professional season. I’ve seen everything professional baseball has to offer, from Spring Training through the playoffs. This post is going to try and wrap up the year, and make sure to thank all of the people who have made this a very memorable experience.
Well, let me start from upstairs. Fort Wayne’s General Manager Mike Nutter is an absolutely awesome guy to play for. Mike runs a wonderful program for Minor League ball players passing through. From day one when we arrived at the Courtyard Hotel right outside center field at Parkview Field and had our first team meeting Mike provided a structure that was easy to follow, while leaving us all enough space to be 18-22 year old kids. He immediately was welcoming, offering us a hand with anything we could possibly need. His policy on tickets was a perfect example of how willing he was to accommodate anything we needed. Many Minor League teams set aside a limited number of tickets per player, trying I think, to maximize the number of tickets paid for. Mike told us at that very first meeting that if we ever had anyone in town, no matter the size of the group, that we’d be taken care of. It may seem like a minor detail, but to a player in the middle of a 140 game schedule it is one less thing to worry about, and a luxury that I took advantage of when I had my family come to town throughout the summer. Mike was always trying to make our experience flawless, after Sunday autograph sessions he’d give us a gift card for dinner, or to Dicks Sporting Goods. I felt like they were always entirely unnecessary as I always enjoyed that fan interaction, but to Mike it was important to thank his players. I appreciate all of the things he gave us, all of the opportunities he afforded us and most of all the fact that he was always there to give us a compliment, cheer us on and congratulate us during our many successes. @MinorLeagueNutt, thank you for an awesome 2013!
Next, I think I’ve got to get down to the field, and oh what a field it was! Parkview Field lived up to every bit of the hype that it was given by all of the former players. Starting in the middle of Spring Training when the Padres Minor League rosters started to take shape former Tincaps players began telling the guys that looked to be headed to Fort Wayne all about the cathedral of baseball at 1301 Ewing Street. In our minds we all began to put together an idea of what the ballpark would be, the smells, the sights, the sounds, and the crowds. When Spring Training finally came to a close we were all chomping at the bit to get to Fort Wayne to make it all come to life, and I think that maybe the best line of all came from our hitting coach Morgan Burkhart who upon his first arrival at the ballpark asked us “aren’t you guys in A Ball? This isn’t an A Ball stadium, this is the closest thing you’ll get to the real thing.”
When we finally took to the field for our first practice it was clear that not only was the stadium immaculate, but the playing surface was entirely above Class A baseball. The grass was thick and green, it was cut in the checkerboard pattern that I used to see on tv watching big league games. There were all sorts of screens, tarps, and nets set up that were meant to protect the field. There were plenty of rules, stay off the black mesh nets, don’t stretch or play catch in the same spot back to back days, make sure the turf mat goes over the plastic boards which go on top of the black mesh nets. Why all the rules? Enter Keith Winter, our head groundskeeper. Keith is a stern guy, he’s got his rules and they are to be followed at all times. As an infielder I couldn’t have been more excited to have someone like Keith in charge of the field. He takes care of the field like its his baby, there is not a single detail that is ever missed. Having played on probably 500 different baseball fields I know that natural grass and dirt infields are inconsistent, there are good days and bad days, good hops and bad ones. Parkview Field’s surface was the first natural surface I’ve ever played on where not for a single inning all year did I feel like I was in for a surprise. I was confident in the work that Keith and his amazing team did every single day, and then for hours after we left. I knew the ball would get to me quickly, it would take consistent, evenly spaced out hops, and I never needed to fear for my teeth, because bad hops just didn’t seem to happen. It was an absolute pleasure to play on a field that was so well kept, and for that I am blessed, Keith you and your guys do an absolutely wonderful job on our field, it truly was amazing to come to my “office” every night knowing how well cared for it was. It was an eye opening experience for me to see all of the work that your crew puts in, long hours that begin way before the first pitch, and last well past the 27th out. To the Tincaps Grounds Crew, thank you and congratulations on a well deserved 4th consecutive Midwest League Sports Turf Manager/Grounds Crew of the Year Award!
Next up is Jeff Nycz, our photographer. I was lucky enough to develop a really good friendship with Jeff throughout the season, we talked baseball, and hockey. Jeff took some absolutely incredible shots this year, pictures that were able to tell the stories of the games. He captured not just the play that was given, but there always seemed to be a feeling to the shot. There were pictures from double play turns that had really big collisions, and the tension of having a guy try and take out my legs was evident. There were pictures of guys diving through the air to make inning ending catches, with just enough face to show the desperate effort that every guy was putting in on the given play. He captured hits, runs, plays, wins, losses, walk offs, and some ridiculous goofing off. Jeff was always willing to play along in whatever goofy game we played, whether it was a casual “flex and stare toward the sun” pose or a pregame “stroke your chin beard handshake.” He took pictures that were fun, incredibly professional and told the story of our season. The smiles of our guys in the dugout, the camaraderie of the group of us stretching in right field while sharing a laugh, and our high five lines after each of our 72 wins. Jeff was always friendly during games, never too busy to pull up a shot of a diving play or me getting flipped over turning two. He would pull up the preview on his camera’s screen and casually walk by while gesturing to me to take a look. I loved the in game previews, it was always fun to see exactly what all of the plays I felt were highlights actually looked like.
Another absolutely integral part of our experience this year in Fort Wayne was our host families. The Tincaps don’t use a traditional host family arrangement in that players don’t live with their adoptive host families. Our host families helped us from the day we moved into our apartments. When we arrived at the Willows of Coventry we walked into apartments that had giant plastic bins filled with everything we would need to live comfortably. Blankets, pillows, dishes, cutlery, paper towels and towels were all loaded into the boxes, and having never even met the “host families” they had an impact on our life in Fort Wayne. As we settled in we were all assigned a host family, and we began to form a relationship with the local families. My host family was the Brown’s, and I found out that Brian Adams, and Justin Hancock were paired with the same family. We went out for Italian food very early in the year and talked about some of their former players, about hockey, and about the teams Alex coached and followed. It was very cool to find that the Brown’s had hosted Steve Delabar, a 2013 MLB All Star for the Toronto Blue Jays. I recognized Steve’s name when they first brought him up, having seen him pitch at the Skydome in previous years. I found that they shared a love for hockey, just like I did, and we routinely talked about my Toronto Maple Leafs, and their Fort Wayne Komets. Unfortunately our schedule never allowed me to take in a hockey game with them, but that would have been a lot of fun for sure. All of the host families have traveled to see us play on the road, and packed us road bags of snacks and, drinks. It was great to not have to worry about food for the bus trips, because we all tried to maximize the number of minutes we could sleep in before we left, and rarely left ourselves time to go get our own stuff. They are a very important part of our success, and they really do it only because they want to help us along on our journey. As Cindy has told me many times, the only request that all the host families have is that when we make it to the Big Leagues that we provide tickets for them to come see us play. To the Brown family, and all of the other host families that took care of all my teammates, thank you for taking good care of us all year. We appreciate the effort you’ve all made to provide us with a friendly face and an open home while we are far from our actual families.
Finally, there is our staff. Ricky and Pat are a hell of a tag team, there’s no other way to put it. They’re two guys who know how to have fun over the course of a 140 game season. From those first games at Great Lakes in the bitter cold Ricky always did a great job taking care of our players and making sure we were healthy enough to play. Although I did get frustrated with him for writing me in to his report before the All Star game when I had a tight muscle in my side, I eventually realized that he knew better than I did in that case and that holding me out for a couple of days did help my longevity. Ricky took care of a million bumps, bruises, injuries and non injuries and made sure we all were as close to professional as we could. Pat was great to work with in the weight room and on the field. He always gave us the ability to train in a way that was sensible, he let us adapt to changing conditions. Pat expected us to bust our asses when we were in the gym, whether it was for our pregame prep work, our weekly workouts or our conditioning on the field. He also expected that we’d be able to make wise cracks about one another, because we all ended up getting a laugh out of each other. Pat and Ricky are a great team, they really compliment one another well, working in tandem to get us in optimal playing shape.
Morgan Burkhart was our hitting coach, and the guy who I think had the biggest impact on me this year. Burkie is like me, he’s a basebal junkie. His idea of a perfect day consists of getting out on the field as early as possible, hitting for as long as possible, while being smart about the workload, jamming to some classic rock and then playing a ball game. He always came to the ballpark ready to work with us, to help us get better. He was a great guy to work with, serious when necessary and also always ready to share a laugh. He is a fiery competitor, and that was always evident when he’d be muttering to himself about how we couldn’t possibly be locked in and ready to play if we were sharing a friendly hello with a buddy from the other team. Burkie above all else wants to win, and nothing gets him more fired up than seeing his guys string together consecutive great at bats. He was always there on the top step of the dugout to give us a high five after we came back to the dugout, to give us a quick little piece of information on the pitcher we were about to face. He loves to talk hitting, and that made him incredibly approachable, and easy to work with in between at bats during the games.
Our manager Jose Valentin is someone I learned a lot from all year, and is another guy who just absolutely loves baseball. Every day Jose came to the yard with an almost child like energy, he just loves being on the field. When our hitters were outside taking front toss at 2:30 every day, Jose would stand at second base, playing infield in depth, and make all sorts of plays ranging to his left and right. He always messed around with us, making fun of us when we couldn’t get one past him. When we finally got one past him he’d pretend he was doing a cartwheel to try and get the ball and would give a laughing yelp. Jose taught us things that directly applied to baseball, but could also be applied to our lives off the field. He talked to us about fighting back when things don’t go our way. He taught us that more work isn’t always better work. He taught us to be professionals, and though the lessons sometimes came after some of our hardest losses we all knew that he was giving his post game speeches to try and make an impact on our careers. Last night when he addressed our team for the final time, I could tell how much he genuinely cared about each and every guy in our locker room. He really wants us all to move up and have long successful careers in the game. It was a pleasure to come to the park knowing we were playing for a manager that cared about us, wanted us to do well and was always going to be energetic and fun.
I only had small interactions with our pitching coach Burt Hooton, but I know that all of the pitchers enjoyed working with him. They enjoyed the fact that he could relate to them, in spite of the fact that he never played in the Minor Leagues, and was significantly older than the rest of our staff. Hoot could always pop into a conversation I was having with Burkie and just throw in some tidbit of information, of a remark that just kind of got you fired up. It was cool to share those little conversations with a guy who went directly to the Big Leagues and pitched in the World Series.
All in all 2013 was a very memorable year for me. There were so many people that made it what it was, and I truly appreciate everything that they have done for me and my teammates. I will remember my time in Fort Wayne as a very positive experience, one full of winning baseball, and exciting finishes. Unfortunately we didn’t come up with one more inning to beat South Bend, but we battled hard all year and worked hard learning our craft. My very last thank you is to the people that came out every night to watch us, our fans. We loved the huge crowds we had all year. It was pretty special to see 4,000 people in the stands during the snowstorm we had against Lansing early in the year. It was absolutely incredible to see the 4th of July crowd that broke a Tincaps attendance record. Every night you welcomed us, rooted hard for us and hung with us until we finally got the walk off hit, like we did so many times this year. I sincerely hope it was as exciting a year for all the fans as it was for our team!
To everyone involved in Tincaps baseball and my experience in Fort Wayne, THANK YOU!