Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Letter To My Minor League Self

After my last blog post, I was referred to an interesting article written by the great Doc Gooden. It was a letter to himself. The now aging Gooden wrote a letter of all the things he wished he could've told his 20 year old self. It's full of little nuggets of advice like this:

"I can’t believe I have to tell you this, but the reason fans are following you to the grocery store is because you decided to put a strip that says Mr. Dwight on the windshield of your Z20 Camaro. You’ll remember this car as the one with the bunny rabbits painted on both sides. Oh, and the big fuzzy dice. Try to practice a little discretion." 

Reading this and trying to digest its wisdom made me think about what I would say to my minor-league self, given the chance. There are roughly 6000 minor leaguers on affiliated teams. Of those, only an estimated 300 will ever reach the big leagues. I remember soaking up every piece of advice that a big-leaguer ever threw my way, hoping in some way to improve my chances of being part of that elite group. By no means do I have the same depth of experience to draw from like Gooden's 16 year major league career. But, entering my 8th year of pro ball and having just enough big league time to know the difference between here and the minors, I thought it would be interesting to see what I would tell 20 year old Collin...

Dear baby-faced, kinda chubby (but with a strong hairline), naive, bright-eyed Collin:

1) Calm down!
I know you think that everything you do, everything you say and every fastball you miss with is ammunition that the team will use to ultimately rationalize releasing you. You're right, it's true. But you can't control what people think of you. You could be the nice guy who never cusses and reads his Bible in the locker room, or you could be a bum who drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could be a sophisticate who listens to NPR every morning and enjoys fine wine, or you could barely have your GED and never know the difference between your, you're and yore. The truth is, you could be just about anything. But, as long as you stay healthy and throw the ball effectively across the plate, you will keep getting chances. Your neuroses about what the team has "planned" for you aren't helping anything. You will only drive yourself crazy obsessing over stuff you can't control...oh, and your wife will appreciate this one even more than you do. Thank her every day for reminding you to calm the **** down. 

2) Having roommates is good for you, but having 6 at one time is not. 
It's easy to isolate yourself from people when you're away from the park. For that reason (and because sharing rent is WAY cheaper), you will decide to always have roommates. Good call. Community is something that doesn't come easily in baseball. You really have to be intentional about developing relationships with people that go deeper than knowing the facts on the back of their baseball cards. Living with them has a special way of fostering friendships that mean more than just being teammates. It will teach you and your wife to enjoy hosting people, and it will make you much more tolerable of each other's weird quirks. However, when you're starting your second year of A-ball and you find a sweet condo with 5 bedrooms...move on. Being the "landlord" of 5 roommates and multiple girlfriends will be the backdrop to the hardest year of your life. 2011 will be hard enough as it is, trust me. Pay the extra few dollars a month and stick with one roommate. You'll thank me later.

3) Reconsider the Agent/Client relationship you're involved in. 
It'll save you thousands of dollars, it won't improve your draft status and you will only be bitter about it later on. Get good advice from people who have been in pro ball before, and don't jump at the first person that tells you they can give you everything you want and more. Your agent will dump you within a year of signing and you'll realize over the next 4 years that buying cleats and gloves yourself isn't that hard. 

4) Fans will be fans, don't take it personally.
You will be cheered and booed. It's the fans' prerogative to do this at their pleasure, but you will take both very personally. The boos will make you sulk and the cheers, like drugs, will leave you groping for ever-increasing approval. Neither is healthy and neither makes any real difference to your career. Don't hold it against fans for expressing their opinions - they are 100% entitled to them. Also, don't go searching for those opinions via the Internet...which leads me to #5.

5) Approach social media with caution.
It's quite possibly the greatest invention of the Internet age. Social media will allow an 18th rounder from a small NAIA school to be on the same vocal platform as MLB superstars. Its allure will lead you to develop your writing skills and create this blog (which to this day is one of your proudest accomplishments). It will also open you up to a entire fan base and all of their opinions. You'll get just enough praise for your Twitter humor to keep doing it, until the one day you make a tasteless joke that sours your reputation and hurts your relationship with teammates. It's not worth it. Digital laughs, likes and retweets will never bring you the pleasure you desire: so stop looking at your phone.   

6) On a lighter note, enjoy your long hair.
As you get older and wiser, your hairline will get thinner and weaker. The days of your long, thick hair are long gone. Enjoy it while it lasts, and for heaven's sake STOP THINKING ABOUT SHAVING IT OFF! (as a side note, you will discover the wonders of facial hair, so don't get too depressed.)

7) You'll never have more free time than at Spring training, don't be lazy.
You are just now realizing, to your high school teacher's amazement, that you enjoy reading. For 6 weeks every year you will have more free time than the rest of the year combined. Stop napping in the afternoons, you're not 70 years old. You don't deserve naps yet. Read the books people keep recommending and stop lying to them, saying "Oh, for sure! I'll definitely have to check that one out." Maybe learn how to fish. Everyone else down there seems to know how, but because you're from the city, you think fishing is beneath you. People have been fishing for thousands of years, you're not that special. 

8) Write things down.
You'll really enjoy writing this blog. It will be cathartic and illuminating. But, even though you try to remember it all, you'll forget so much. 8 years of experiences, eccentric teammates, amazingly strange places, and so much more will escape your memory faster than you think. Take a notebook, keep it close by, write in it. It doesn't have to be clever or profound. Just take notes and enjoy reading over them year after year. When it's all said and done, maybe you could fill a novel with all the stuff that happened around you. 

I'm sure there's so much more that I could tell you, but rest assured, the surprises are worth the suspense. Enjoy the journey, always buy flowers for your wife and never stop throwing your curveball. For now, that should suffice. 

Yours a few years older, and a few years wiser,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Anatomy of a Trade

As the baseball offseason is moving into the new year, teams have been a frenzy of transactions and trades. Finding myself getting swept up by the gossip and rumors, I decided to give an inside look on what getting traded feels like from my own experience.  

At 11:30 pm on a Wednesday night I got a phone call.

"You've been traded..." and just like that my entire life turned upside down.

Once I gathered myself enough to ask where I had been traded to, he replied, "Colorado." After all the formalities of the 45 second conversation had ended, he closed with the business-like mantra, "We truly appreciate your service." He sounded sincere and I appreciated his best wishes. But I couldn't help thinking all I had done was stay just good enough to trick some other team into giving up one of their (presumably better) players in return for me. I remember the 5 stages of grief passing over me on the rest of the drive home.

Denial & Isolation. Surely my team, the one who drafted me and developed me, isn't making me leave? What will I do without all the guys I came up with? They're the only people I've ever played with in pro ball. What do I do now?

Anger. I gave the best years of my life to this organization. Maybe I'll be better off without them. I'll make them sorry they ever traded me.

Bargaining. If I only had a few more starts. My debut was great, but if I would've just had more consistency. One more outing and this all could've been different.

Depression. The tears started involuntarily. I looked at my wife, and we realized everything was gonna be different from this point on. The weight of all that change hit us both. We started crying silently. Where would we be going tomorrow? Where would we live? How long before we got to see each other again. I grabbed her hand, knowing in the morning I would be on a plane for some other life.

Acceptance. My boarding pass said 12:35 PM, Tulsa, OK. Can't miss my flight. They'll be expecting me. Maybe if I have a few good outings they will call me up. The details will work themselves out, they always do. Who knows? Maybe it's not so bad. At least I've been given another shot to play ball...again...somewhere else.

Of course, that conversation with our Asst. GM was just the final stage of a process that started much earlier. There had been multiple transactions over the course of 10 days that landed me on the trading block. For the organization, it was all about business. The business of getting better, more efficient, more competitive. For fans of that team, I'm sure seeing me go was a sign of good things to come. I'm sure there were even fans that (gasp!) couldn't wait to see me go. My production just didn't live up to their expectations and that was unacceptable. Blogs, newspaper articles, and tweets called for my head because my ERA was a bit too high. I'm not here to argue the value of trades. Although, for the first 7 years of my career, I have been closer to a pork bely future than a human being. Baseball is a business, and the goings-on behind the scenes reflect the beauty of capitalism. Like we always say, "if you don't like it, play better." But, in the portion of the year where trades and transactions are happening seemingly by the minute, I want to give a look at the human perspective of these commodity trades. The human beings actually being traded.

I hear people in my hometown talk a lot about how bad this or that person was this season. How there's no way they should can that guy around. That he is LITERALLY the worst player they've ever seen. But let's think for a moment about what baggage this "hypothetical" guy carries with him. Maybe he was traded over here from a different team, in a different city, with a different house. He had, let's say, a 3 year deal, so he decided to move the whole family up here. His kids (5 and 8 respectively) had to change elementary schools in the middle of the year. The family left their house (the only ones the kids ever knew), their church and the teammates/families that they had become so close with over the past years. They were a year into his contract now. Making new friends. Getting used to a new school for the kids. A new church community. New neighbors (that keep complaining about their lawn being so "unkempt"...they're the worst). He just finished a bad season. By all metrics, he didn't live up to the hype of his deal. He's frustrated. His wife feels terrible for him, but has so many things of her own to take care of that she can't offer the support she knows that he needs. There's just so little margin in this lifestyle. The kids don't seem to care about daddy's average. They just want to know whether he's gonna get to see their piano recital in may (he won't. away series in LA). On top of all this, he hears the rumors circulating. The rumors about his potential trade. A confusing 3 way deal sending him to the west coast for two minor leaguers. He tries not to pay too much attention to it, because, let's be honest, there's absolutely nothing he can do about it if it happens. All the money that his contract is worth couldn't buy a no-trade clause (just like the other 99% of big leaguers). The storm of transactions comes and goes after the Winter Meetings. His name came up a few times, but he looks to be in the clear. 3 days before Spring training he's driving his wife and kids home from a movie. The phone rings...

I'm sure you could fill in the rest of the story. As a fan, the trade seemed like a no-brainer. Improve the team. Get rid of that bum. Maybe the team had to eat some of his contract, but it's a small price to pay for the possibility of two minor league prospects becoming good major leaguers. As a fan myself, I get it. It's easy to connect so deeply with a team that you refer to them as "we". But as soon as that "we" has feelings, emotions, or baggage, it's just as easy to sit back and play armchair GM. All of this might not (probably will not) change the way you think about trades and transactions. It probably won't stop you from being disappointed in the guy with a 14.00 ERA, but it might keep you from personally hating him. I still sincerely hope you comment on your favorite team blog, calling for the front office to shell out the big bucks for an ace starting pitcher. As fans, it's fun and the game wouldn't be the same without our passion/opinions. But I also hope you understand the weight of responsibility taken on when you do sign that guy. When he and his family make the move to your city. When they invest in your team and in you, as fans. I hope you can embrace them with open arms, and really appreciate all that goes into making a change like that. From a business perspective I realize that, as players, we aren't much more than commodities. But as human beings, we are people that carry a lot of baggage.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Becoming Gluten Free

I grew up in a home like many Americans. Middle class. Suburban. More well-acquainted with "dinner from a box" than "dinner from a garden." Most of the meals we sat down and ate as a family were cooked with extra love by my mom, but also contained extra fat, sugar and preservatives. By no means do I blame her (mom, please don't feel bad!). Feeding a family of 6 is basically a full time job, and since she already held one of those, the food we bought had to last in the pantry until we got around to preparing/eating it. Basically every meal was boxed or canned and included wheat flour. Dinner rolls, cinnamon toast crunch, pop tarts, bologna and cheese sandwiches on "healthy" whole wheat bread. They all contained copious amounts of (what I would come to know this past year) as gluten. Gluten is the binding agent in wheat flour. It's the wonderful reason why bread is so fluffy and soft. It is also, as scientists and the population at large are realizing, a huge problem for a lot of people.

My relationship with gluten, as I mentioned earlier, started a long time ago. As a kid, and well into my teenage/post teen years, I was always kinda chubby. None of my siblings (2 brothers and a sister) were overweight at all. They were fit, athletic and ate whatever they wanted. I was overweight, slower and could gain 10 lbs by looking at a chocolate cake. I also suffered from, what the doctor called, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). To them it was a catch-all for my "bad stomach". To me it meant that, like clockwork, I would be sitting on the toilet within 10 minutes of every meal, praying to God that if he let me live through this particular bowel movement I would never sin again. I struggled with inflammation around my belly, chronic stomach aches and embarrassingly frequent gas. As I got older I began to notice more concerning signs of bowel issues, for which I had to undergo some pretty crappy butt procedures (no pun intended). These still yielded no definitive prognosis, so I was left to assume that I was just one of the defective ones. That guy at the party who would ALWAYS ask to use your bathroom. I say these things in such honest terms to dissuade you from thinking my new gluten free lifestyle (and inevitably someone's you know) is part of some stupid and passing fad. I wrestled with these body issues for a long time, and until I stumbled into eating GF, I thought it would be my lifelong battle to fight alone. 

So how did I decide to stop eating gluten? Well, like all great men who make decisions, my wife told me I should do it. She had been voicing to me for a while how she thought I might have a gluten issue. As I said before, I grew up with a taste (more akin to an addiction) for wheat flour and all its tasty/sugary/fatty partners in crime. The thought of a life without Krispy Kreme donuts, chocolate croissants and even ham sandwiches was too much for me to handle. Every time I had one of my gut-busting episodes, I would get defensive and chalk it up to eating things in the wrong combinations. Soda and anything deep fried. Milk and breakfast pastries. Alcohol and wedding cake. I was rationalizing away the common thread that all these things share. Gluten. It wasn't until my wife was instructed by her wholistic doctor to cut out gluten from her diet that I even seriously considered eating GF. Her doctor recommended it as a possible solution to her thyroid problem, so out of marital solidarity I figured I'd try it for a week. 

I expected so little. Maybe I'd feel a little bit better (mostly about my ability to "sacrifice" something I loved), but surely not good enough to make it a lifestyle! Yet, within 7 days of not eating gluten I felt like a new person. My energy level was higher and lasted all dat without need for a nap. All of the aforementioned stomach issues were non existent. I was INCREDIBLY regular (and as a side note to those guys who think pooping 4 times a day is "regular"...it's not!) It was as if I could feel my body repairing itself after years of tearing it down donut by donut. Mentally and physically I knew that this was a breakthrough for me, yet still I was hesitant to admit that it was a "real" problem. The little devil on my shoulder would whisper, "it's all in your head." So after a week of purging my gut of gluten, I decided it was time for a reintroduction to test whether it was fact or fiction. 

Sitting down in front of a big juicy burger is something that usually sends the serotonin coursing through my veins straight to the part of my brain that feels happiness. Some of that is all of the memories associated with burgers: cookouts, 4th of July, the smell of charcoal fires. But the other part of that is a more scientific one. Gluten, as scientists have discovered, is the one substance most suited for carrying nutrients and toxins directly to the brain. In fact, they are trying to figure out how to use gluten as a transmitter to direct Alzheimer's medicine to the brain more quickly. So as I sat down in front of that burger, basically drooling with anticipation, one of two things would happen. Either I would eat it and feel the wonderful bliss of its nourishment, or I would feel only the pain of not being able to digest the gluten (in the form of both gut pain and brain fog). Sure enough, within minutes of eating the otherwise delicious burger, my body began to tell me that the prior week was not a fluke. My stomach cramped up and I could feel myself losing focus on anything except how bad I felt. I realized that my body really does prefer a diet free of gluten, and that its consequences are not a figment of my imagination (as plenty of people have told me since). 

I love food. My wife and I have traveled all over the place eating and drinking just about everything we could get our hands on. We enjoy good stuff and bad stuff, rich tastes and bland tastes, both popular and exotic. For me, the choice to cut gluten out of my diet was not something that I did flippantly or without plenty of pause. It was only when the overwhelming evidence was presented that I decided my long term health was more important than the short term satisfaction of eating that buttery flaky ticking time bomb. I could go into the long frustrating rant about American food integrity and processing, but nobody wants to hear that. It's too big of an issue to tackle in a dumb blog post. But I will say this. The 2014 baseball season was the best of my life so far. Was it solely because of my change in diet? No, of course not. But did it affect my performance on the field and on a daily basis? Absolutely. It improved my quality of life. It reinforced discipline. It made me more resourceful. Sure, I was called a hippie, a tree hugger and high maintenance. For anyone who doesn't struggle with the issues you do, it's impossible to expect them to exactly understand your struggle...and that's ok. I would just encourage any of you who do struggle with similar things, you only get one life. No one else gets to live your life and no one else reaps the consequences of how you live your life quite like you. If living the way you see fit is hard, embrace that! Know that you're not alone in it. Maybe we don't share the same struggles, but we all struggle. 

Is it easy now, on the other side of gluten? No, hardly. I still have to run past the bakery section at the grocery store and sometimes I have to leave the room when yellow cake with chocolate icing is served. I've had to educate clubhouse managers, hotel concierges and waiters about what I can eat and why. Like I said before, I love food. That won't change. But it gets a little easier each day, each season. The holidays are just around the corner, and I'm sure it will present its fair share of challenges. It always does, and perhaps it always will. But I'm not afraid of it anymore. My gluten allergy is real...and really beatable.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


It's been said that pitching is an art. Tom Seaver wrote "The Art of Pitching" and Greg Maddux, for all intents and purposes, took the reigns and came as close to perfecting that art as any of us have ever seen. Growing up in Atlanta, I saw him carve up hitters more consistently than any other pitcher of the last quarter century. It literally was like watching a painter methodically work his way across a canvas. You could see the creativity in all of his pitch combinations and speed changes. His imagination and the execution of that creative mindset baffled hitters for the better part of 20 years, yet very few people would call baseball (even pitching) a creative occupation. In fact, when making analogies to baseball, people most often reference war or racing or some other brute activity. This frustrates me. I like to believe that all people in all endeavors (paid and unpaid) have the ability to be creative...not just the "creative community".

My wife works in a collective studio/office space in Atlanta. She, a letterpress printer and calligrapher, shares space alongside photographers, film directors, bloggers, graphic designers and comedy writers (see Aaron Chewning). The motto of the collective is "Home of Atlanta's Creative Citizen", which makes sense considering all of the people working there would be classified as "creatives"...meaning they all get paid to use their creativity. But sitting in the studio, watching all of them be creative, I found myself thinking about creativity in different spaces. For instance, in a crowded floor of cubicles on the 20someodd floor of a tall building downtown, there are accountants using all of the creativity God blessed them with to figure out my taxes (which must be filed in 17 states for 2014...what!?). Down the road from there, a firefighter might be looking at a mangled car imagining all the possibilities to get a young girl out safely. At my favorite restaurant spot, there is an amazing chef who everyone would agree is part of the "creative community", but the real creativity lies in the gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free suggestions that my waitress keeps whipping up out of thin air.

I believe that, all too often, people are either encouraged or discouraged from exercising their natural creativity based on the job expected of them. Interior designers are expected to imagine a room, brainstorm about its Feng Shui and create it, while mechanics are expected to rotate the tires, change the oil and get it finished quickly. On the surface, those seem like fair descriptions of their jobs, but when you dig a little deeper, both have their creative side and their transactional (get stuff done) side. The mechanic has to use his imagination and creativity to troubleshoot that weird sound my car makes when I turn the wheel to the left, and the interior designer has to drudge through a few days of sewing pillows and hanging curtain rods. At times both share residence in the "creative community" and at other times, neither do.

Baseball is no exception. I truly believe that baseball players can be as creative as anybody in any other profession. Their duty in the game might not always call for the most creativity or ingenuity, but seeing a 9 hole catcher with cement in his shoes lay down a perfect drag bunt for a base hit...that is as creative to me as my wife's perfect calligraphy. Perhaps I am a bit biased towards the creative. My brothers are graphic designers, musicians and film majors, while my sister is a singer/songwriter living in Nashville. Being the "dumb jock" of the family, I made it a point to exercise my creativity in any and all outlets at my disposal. I began to write at an early age and picked up guitar, saxophone, clarinet and drums along the way. Just because I was good at baseball didn't mean that I would allow myself to sell out to the game at the expense of my other talents and attributes. At this point in my life, writing is my creative outlet, but I'm also experimenting with other creative endeavors. I'm learning how to cook (mostly gluten-free & paleo) and cultivate a garden (my succulent collection is getting pretty impressive). I'm also toying around with the idea of different iphone photography projects and the long term goal of possibly writing a book. Some old-school people might say that doing all of these things might hinder my baseball playing. That a ballplayer should play ball and not clutter his mind with frivolous activities that don't affect the game. My official opinion, however, is that all of my creative outlets do affect the game. Every time I practice thinking outside the box, every time I strum a guitar, plant a flower or sit at a keyboard and contemplate how to express what's brewing inside my mind, It prepares me to execute well on the mound.

It's the 8th inning of a one run game. We have the lead and they have 3, 4, 5 coming up in the lineup. I've already faced them three times that day and dozens of times over the course of a season. There is a way to get them out, there always is, but it's up to my imagination to figure out what the answer is on that given day. I've practiced my fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup thousands of times, but how often have I flexed the creative muscle required to attack these hitters on this day? I believe in living a holistic lifestyle where work, food, creativity, faith and leisure are all interconnected. If everyday I can work on all of these things, then when that moment comes I won't have to worry about being prepared. Simply living my life and cultivating all of the talents/passions that have been entrusted to me will prepare me to succeed. I refuse to be a dumb jock. Life (baseball life, particularly) is too short to pigeon-hole myself into what a stereotypical ballplayer has evolved into. It doesn't matter what you do for work or play, YOU ARE CREATIVE. Let's flex our creative muscle and see what we happens!

I will be starting a series on Instagram (@cmchugh) using the hashtag #UnleashMyCreative. Whenever you use/see creativity in places/people that aren't stereotypically "creative" take a picture of it, write a caption and hashtag #UnleashMyCreative. It's all around us, everywhere we look. Go out, be brave, be creative.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Baseball Takes

The season ended, the last pitch was thrown for the Astros, and we boarded our 43rd plane of the year. It was roughly 11:15 pm as we descended over Atlanta, and all I could think about was how much I missed that place. I missed the trees lining the freeway and the familiar skyline rising into the warm, late summer air. I missed how the roads have no discernible patterns (thanks Gen. Sherman) and how, if you time it just right, you can beat the traffic by cutting through the east side neighborhoods. I missed my family and friends and familiar faces. I missed birthdays and weddings and holidays. As I was thinking about the things I missed (longed for nostalgically), I began to realize all the things I missed (out on) because of baseball. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to conjure up some great sympathy for professional baseball players. I was just keenly aware of the things that have already, and must continue to be, sacrificed at the altar of the game. One fact of our life is tried and true. Baseball takes.

It's been a month since my season ended, and home has really started to take shape...starting with an actual home. We bought a house towards the end of the season (after seeing it one time for 15 minutes during our 3 day all star break, naturally). Baseball takes our free time. There are no such things as weekends during the 7+ months of the season. Days become a blur of alternating homestands and roadtrips. 10-15 days at a time without an off day. No Holidays either. We play on all the major holidays from Valentine's Day to Labor Day. Baseball even takes a normal dinner time and moves it to 11:45 pm. I'm not gonna say that baseball makes me eat Taco Bell at midnight...but, it kind of does. Being home and seeing my friends follow their normal work schedule reminds me that baseball takes the 9-5 workday and makes it 1-11. These things are inconvenient, sure, but baseball demands relational sacrifice and that pill is much harder to swallow.

I remember a few years back when one of my buddies was getting married. It was going to be a perfect summer wedding on the beach in South Carolina. I, of course, would be playing ball all summer and thus unable to attend. Knowing this, he still invited us to the wedding and even asked if I could be a groomsman. I had to regretfully decline both of the invitations, and my only contribution to the wedding was a super nice wedding gift (my wife has a gift for picking out fancy kitchen tools). As the rest of our friends started getting engaged, there were no more groomsman invites. No more holding out hope that I could "get away" for a couple days to celebrate the biggest day of their lives. Baseball takes Spring/Summer weddings, birthdays, graduations (including my own wife's), etc. and makes them novelties of the past for me. The only remnants of these special events are pictures and status updates via social media. I scroll through my Instagram feed (@cmchugh) and facebook wall and feel myself falling a little further out of touch with the most important people in my life. It becomes more than a crippling case of FOMO (fear of missing out). It's closer to FOFOOTF (fear of falling out of touch, forever). When the offseason comes it's wonderful to see your loved ones' faces you haven't seen in over half a year, but sort of horrifying when you meet the 8 month old cousin that didn't exist when you left. True story.

Not only does baseball take other people's important events away, it also dictates when we can have ours. Thinking of starting a family? If we have a baby in the middle of the season I get 3 days to fly from wherever I am (based on our history, let's assume it'll be as far away as possible), see my wife give birth, hold my first child and be back at the park ready to play. Not ideal, obviously. For that reason, giving birth in the offseason is clearly preferable. To do this, however, there is roughly 3 months from new years to opening day (april 1) to conceive. Baseball takes what should be a natural and organic process and shrinks the timeline into a stressful sprint to parenthood. Some players get lucky and nail to the schedule perfectly, for others (like so many) it isn't that easy and the 3 days during the summer is all they get.

On the subject of wives, baseball has taken my wife's business on a winding journey through 18 houses, countless cities and far from the consistency that she would have if I had a normal 9-5. Only because she is a BOSS has her business survived (even thrived at times), but my decision to play baseball has pulled the E-brake on her enterprising too many times. Baseball puts money in my wallet and takes it out of hers.

Once again, I don't want this to sound like I am complaining. I've taken chartered flights all across the country, stayed in 5 star hotels, eaten at the fanciest restaurants, discovered the best hole in the wall places, met celebrities, met the best fans ever and enjoyed making a living playing the greatest game on the planet. I love it. It's worth it. But standing around our newly built firepit yesterday with my closest friends in the world, I saw all of the things it takes to play baseball and all the things/people baseball takes in return. Sometimes I wish baseball wasn't so jealous and that she shared more of her time with the other important things in my life...because I miss them. Baseball won't last forever, that is a fact, but the people crowded around the fire, drinking beer, sharing stories and inside jokes, will be around long after the game is over for me. My 4 months of offseason is down to 3 now. Here's to investing in the things that last.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Good Days And Bad Days

I always say that when writing, motivation and perspective are the two most important things. Perhaps I'm motivated to write, but not enough time has passed for the events of which I am motivated to write about have any real context. On the other hand, there might be a great subject primed and ready to go, but the inspiration to write it fails me. Either way, people kept telling me "You need to write about this season. So many things that have happened!" Therein lies precisely my dilemma.

Things this season seems to be happening at such a rapid pace that I haven't felt capable of sitting and digesting all of it without fear of missing something else. It's like a roller coaster that keeps making sharp turns and dips while all the people standing in line keep screaming at you to take a good picture. There's a reason so few players (especially in the course of a 162 game baseball season) write, journal, chronicle, etc. their experiences. I had fans and reporters coming up to me after my first start of the season telling me that surely I would have to blog about that night. 12 strikeouts! No runs! It's basically written itself, right? And maybe they were right. But the reality of the matter is that after celebrating well that night with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate Raisinets, I had mentally moved onto my next start. I woke up early the next morning before our day game and was the first to the field, knowing that I had to eat, run, throw, lift and go over video before the 12:05 game began. For better or worse that's the nature of this game. It leaves little time for dwelling on things, good or bad. 5 days later I had another good outing at home. I was fortunate enough to throw into the 9th inning for the first time in my major league career and had a chance for my first shutout as well. Neither the complete game nor the shutout remained intact, but it was, nevertheless, one of the best games I've pitched in my short career thus far. I was greeted with not one, but two, Gatorade baths and a bunch of hugs and kisses from my wife and family afterwards. Once again we celebrated well; this time with friends, a couple local beers and some pimento cheese (classy, i know). Yet just as before, once that night was over, so were the warm fuzzy feelings of success.

The next day brought more of the same questions and pleadings from friends and media alike. "Write!" "Tell us what it feels like to have success like this after being so mediocre for the last two years" (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point). For whatever reason, however, both the motivation and perspective didn't feel right. Maybe it was a superstitious fear that as soon as I wrote down what it felt like it would be over. Maybe it was a selfish longing to hold onto the emotions that those two weeks had given me. You know, keep something for myself. Either way, I didn't write, and when the sun rose the next morning I was once again full steam ahead for my next start.

I'm a man of routine. I had 7 days between start number 2 and 3, and I did pretty much everything the exact same as the previous week. I did the same workouts. I got all of the same treatment from our trainers. I even ate at the same Mexican restaurant the night before my start just as I did the week prior. But if I had any faith in superstition, it was broken that night of my 3rd start. It wasn't that I pitched poorly. I actually felt good out there! It wasn't that I gave up a million runs (although 6 is pretty close). It was the simple fact that all things equal, I should've done really well against the team I did really well against 15 days beforehand. But baseball isn't a simple game. Sure everyone gets 3 strikes and you have to get 3 outs, but beyond the playing rules there are so many variables that discourage consistently great performances. Perhaps that's why streaks in baseball are so fun to watch. Players defying the "baseball gods" by stringing together success after success. And still, they all come to an end. For me, it was two really good starts before the odds caught up with me.

Sitting in the locker room after that start, cameras and microphones in front of my face, I was asked what the difference was between that night and the previous starts. My answers were generic. Stuff wasn't as sharp. Give credit to the other guys, they swung the bat well. Wish I could've given our team some more innings. All true answers, but not the truth that was ringing between my ears. What I really wanted to say, the real difference between this start and the other starts, was nothing. I had prepared the same, given the same effort against the same team and had come out on the short end this time. Baseball has a way of evening things out over the long run...a concept that's hard to grasp when you, as a player, don't know how long that run will be. Before, in my career, I would worry that one bad outing would define me. That if I pitched poorly I would get sent down, and if I got sent down or designated enough, teams would have a bad opinion of me. It was a self fulfilling prophecy. I would pitch poorly (because, as we already said, everyone does at some point), freak out that it was the end, heap more and more pressure on, only to find myself back on the mound again fighting for my baseball life. It was unsustainable and draining in every way. My wife and I, over the course of our 5 years of marriage/baseball, have tried really hard to fight that mentality. We prayed for patience and perspective, and practiced living it out as often as possible. But until this season I wasn't sure if it had really sunk in.

That night, however, standing tall and undaunted after a loss...I realized that it had. Days like that are going to happen. In baseball and life, there will be good days and bad, but they are both fleeting. Each day can only hold 24 hours, so when life is good CELEBRATE WELL! And when life is tough, remember that there is a newer one, a potentially much better one, just on the other side of the horizon. In the end, we will be judged by the entire body of work, so don't let one good day paralyze you with contentment and don't let the bad ones crush your resolve. Keep plugging away and chances are, in the end, you'll end up right where you're supposed to be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Field 5 All-Stars

It was the last week of Spring training, and I sat watching the pre-game warm ups on field 5. Stretching on the right field line were a smattering of players, all at differing levels of the minor leagues...but minor leaguers all the same. Some of them were playing just for a chance at making a club. Some were already cemented into a roster spot on one of the 6 minor league affiliates. Most were young. Some were older. All were tired. This was week 7 of camp and most everybody was over playing games where nobody kept score. Where statistics don't matter, and on field 5 where the games more resemble The Sandlot than Minute Maid Park.

The way the facility was set up, each full season affiliated team had a field to itself. The big stadium was for the big leaguers, obviously. Fields 2-4 were for A-AAA respectively. Then, back about 400 yards from the rest, field 5 stood in solitary confinement. It was reserved for the rookie ball guys and whatever other castoffs needed to get some work in. Those players relegated to the daily game on the back field gave themselves the ironic and self deprecating nickname of "field 5 all-stars". These games on field 5 never had real umpires, instead they commissioned rookie ball coaches to stand behind the pitcher's mound and call balls and strikes. Like I said before, it was always a mish mash of young and old, bright-eyed and bitter, full of expectation and full of unrealized expectations.

As the game began with an unenthusiastic "Play ball..." from the coach/umpire, I could immediately see the difference between players on field 5. It wasn't that the talent levels were so much different between veteran and rookie. In fact, with no names on the back of jerseys it would be nearly impossible to distinguish someone with 5 years of big league time from a player fresh out of the draft...except for one glaring characteristic. I could tell immediately which guys took this field 5 all-star game seriously and which ones saw the game as an obligation beneath their talents or experience. Not to say that either of the groups was right or wrong in the scenario. However, when it came to execution and ultimately the result of the game, those who treated being a field 5 all-star as a worthwhile job came out on top. So as an older player, the running joke continues. It's just accepted that if you are chosen to be a field 5 all-star on any given day, you're probably gonna get shown up by a bunch of fresh faced teenage newbies. And nobody seems to take that reality very seriously, because the thought is that when games really begin to matter, the more experienced group can turn it on and compete at the level they should. Maybe they can. Maybe it's as easy as flipping a switch. But if the game of baseball has taught me anything, it's that this game is NOT THAT EASY.

I've been around long enough by now to understand why these things continue to happen, but as I sat and watched a group of young energetic ball players fight and scrap for nine innings in front of no fans on one of the last days of camp, I saw something that resonated. The rookie field 5 players took their back field game just as seriously as the big leaguers took their big league game. They don't know any better because that's all they get. Their lack of experience makes every field 5 game the most important game. But because the older guys have seen what else is out there, the field 5 game feels like a demotion unworthy of their best efforts. The lie in that logic, however, is that just because where you are isn't as "flashy" or important, that the work you're doing is also not important. I feel like we've all experienced this to an extent in our lives. Perhaps you've spent 7 long years working hard and getting the best grades at a good college and law school, only to be saddled with a first job that has you pushing papers 80 hours a week for little pay. Maybe you changed career fields and starting from square one seems like a giant step back. Quite possibly a child or older adult came into your life and "work" became less suit and tie and more diapers and strained peas. Whatever the case, I encourage all of us to remember that work as a field 5 all-star, though maybe less sexy, is just as important as big league work. The better and more consistently we execute our jobs on the back fields of life, the more prepared and confident we will be when we're invited back to the big ones.