Los Primer Dias
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!