Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Doldrums

I'm in the middle of my winter training, and while everyone's getting ready for the holidays, I feel stuck.

What I love about being a starting pitcher is the 5 day routine that repeats about 35 times throughout a season. I've talked before about how pitchers (baseballers in general) are creatures of habit. Well, it's hard to stick to a routine knowing that you won't get on a mound for 5 months after the season ends. There are workouts, conditioning, more workouts, 9-5 job, early morning workouts, social get-togethers, and night workouts. There's only one problem with all of that...I don't really enjoy working out.

That's pretty much heresy in the baseball world, but it's true. I don't like lifting heavy things, running long distances, or having an elevated heart rate for more than about 10 minutes. It's probably why I chose baseball over, say, track. I love baseball, but these winter doldrums make it hard to stay motivated. All I really want to do is eat, sleep, and watch good movies these days. Anybody on the same page?

Still, I know that looming on the horizon there is a whole beautiful baseball season just waiting for my "in shape" body to tackle. I guess it's time to get this body "in shape"...ugh.

On a brighter note, Christmas is right around the corner and Christmas music has been ringing in my ears, over the sound of the treadmill. Our tree is up & lighted, and BuzzyCraftery christmas cards are flooding mailboxes everywhere. Perhaps the cure for this cold winter is just a little holiday cheer.

...and a couple extra sit-ups.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Off season dynamics

Alas, baseball is over for the next 5 months. (That's what you think...)

In reality baseball as we know it never stops. It's a year-round journey to continually improve your game, your body, and thus your chances. I always give myself a break from the end of the season until sometime around the world series. This year, as my 9-5 work has increased, my break lasted until the end of the Fall Classic, which means I'm already behind. Most ballplayers these days train day after day, in season and out, just to get that tiny competitive edge that separates them from the rest. Every team makes changes over the off season whether it be international and domestic free agent signs, late draft signees, or in the Mets' case, front office turnover. All of these factors make it increasingly more difficult to feel secure in your status within the organization. Guys take on physical trainers, stick to rigid diets, and work on their skills because the reality is that no one is safe.

I try (in reference to my last post) to keep some sort of balance between real life and baseball life. The line between the two gets pretty hazy sometimes though. Expenses necessitate that I have a full time job to support my wife and I, but baseball necessitates that I train 5-7 days a week. There are only 24 hours in a day, and finding time for everything seems like a puzzle (I hate puzzles).

Believe me, I know that right handed pitchers who throw what I throw are a dime a dozen. I know that there are guys who get picked up every year with better stuff than me. But I also know that the Bigs are filled with guys like me; guys who make a living (a pretty good one at that) getting guys out consistently with that same stuff. I just finished a season where I threw more innings than any other season, stayed healthy the whole way through, and learned more about myself as a pitcher than ever before. As much as I want/need to throw harder & get faster, better, stronger (thanks Kanye) I have faith in my abilities. Three years into it, I know what my body needs and what it's capable of. Not to say I'm slacking off or content with where I am now, but I'm not pushing it. I'm not gonna blow out a knee doing agilities every day, nor peak too early by starting a long toss program in November. I plan on being methodical about my improvements. As Josh Hopper (college pitching coach) said, "don't work harder, work smarter." Drinking one extra protein shake or doing one extra crunch will not get me into the Bigs any sooner, but staying healthy and sticking to my routine will.

March 6th I will be ready, not a day sooner nor a day later. As for now, I gotta go eat...maybe I'll mix in some vegetables. Don't wanna get sloppy.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Balance

It's my natural inclination to take life issues and find a baseball connection. My wife, Ashley, makes beautiful analogies that are complex and very helpful (when I understand them) in communicating her points. I, however, make ridiculous references to pitching all the time. This one might actually have some value though...

When pitching, there are certain points that you have to hit in your delivery to throw the ball where you want. There is a small step back, then balance. Bring your knee up towards your chest, then balance on one leg. Foot down towards the plate, hands break, balanced power position. Hips turn, arm swings through, weight shifted onto front leg, balance on one leg again. Release ball, back leg swings through, finish with body balanced and facing the plate. Repeat a
s necessary.

Balanced is what we have to achieve in our delivery and balanced is what we are trying to keep the hitter from being at the plate. Pitching might as well be one big tight rope act. We try to balance our way through 9 innings flailing our arms wildly in the attempt to simply make it through unscathed. Oddly enough, my life seems to share some of those same qualities.

As I've grown up there have been more and more things which I have to keep balanced in my life. When I was 8 there was baseball, basketball, playing with friends, and school. When I got into high school there was baseball, girls, friends, and school. Now that I am married there is a whole new set of objects that I have to balance in my life...and at times it can be a real struggle. One of the big things that I was unprepared for going into marriage was the new decision making process. Before, I was making decisions based on my own well being, but still taking into account my girlfriend's feelings. Now that my girlfriend is my wife, I have to make every decision for 2. There is no "well I hope she can just deal with it." Every time I choose to do or not do something there are real consequences for another person. Balancing these consequences is no easy task, no matter how much you love and care about your spouse.

As throughout my whole life, one of the things on my balancing scales is Baseball. The same question still rings true "how much am I supposed to care about this game?" For any of you out there who have been doing something you love for years and years, taking inventory of how much it means to you can be hard. To look yourself in the face and ask "why do I love this and how much is ok?" can be really difficult. It takes balance. I had to ask myself that question when I was getting ready to propose to Ashley. Did I love baseball enough to drag her through the ups, downs, and arounds that minor league baseball has to offer? Did I love Ashley so much that it wasn't worth it? These are examples of balance that creep into every aspect of life.

My comfort in the situation is wherein my balance lies. I love God and He loves me. He created a world around me that, minus our development, is the most balanced thing in the universe. He created scientific processes that are as symmetrical and balanced as life gets. He created our bodies to live in this perfectly suited environment, on this perfectly positioned planet, but why? I believe that He wanted us to see balance all around us as an encouragement that it is possible. In my life, i've seen it first hand. If my priorities push my relationship with the LORD to the background then I become imbalanced, running around frantically trying to even the scales but never quite getting it right. When I seek the LORD first, though, things begin to move by themselves into the right positions.

Tight rope walking becomes much easier and you'll be surprised at how often the ball goes where you want it to go.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bobby Cox

As per one of my friends, Jared Jones, I will attempt to answer the question of "what defines a Major League manager?"

In my job i've been staring at a computer screen for the last 2 weeks, looking at numbers, manipulating them, analyzing them, and repeating. I figured this topic would give me a reason to use my skills for awesome. Or at least interesting.

I took all 16 Big League managers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and looked at their stats. I looked at similarities and differences in their stats and compared them in the context of their managing era. My results are pretty interesting if you care anything about Bobby Cox and his legacy in terms of the history of the game.

Of the 16 Hall of Fame managers 2 are below .500 in their winning percentage, 2 are above .600. The rest of them are between .500 and .600. Bobby Cox ended his illustrious managing career on monday in Atlanta with a record of 2504-2001, which is a winning percentage of .558. He ranks 4th all time in wins as a manager which sets him up nicely for a place in Cooperstown. The top 11 managers in terms of wins are in the HOF except 3...Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. Nice company, huh? Cox is the only manager to win 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005. His pitching rotation during that stretch was the object of envy for nearly every team in the game. They ran Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz out there three out of every five days giving them a pretty good chance for success. To this day teams (i.e. the Mets) would die for 3 aces in a rotation...hell, give us just 1 healthy one to start.

Honestly though, what we all remember about Bobby is his prolific ejections record. In September of this year he passed John McGraw for the all time ejection title. Unlike McGraw, however, Cox isn't known for being a hot head (as referenced in the last blog post). Most of his 161 ejections have been in defense of his players, which has endeared him to team after team in the Braves organization. Chipper Jones has never played for another manager in his entire career, and most of us young Atlantans have never known anyone before Bobby. What will we do now that he's gone? Go Mets?

I leave you with a quote from Bobby Cox to Jeff Francoeur in response to the question of what to do after being ejected...

"I’m like, ‘What do I do?’ He said, ‘Go have a couple cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when it runs out, let me know'."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Manager? Why Not Coach?

Last night in the Twins/Yankees ALDS game I saw something pretty normal, but with new eyes. Ron Gardenhire was sitting back in the dugout, calm and collected as usual. Man on first 2 outs. The count was 1-2 to Lance Berkman and Pavano was on the hill. He was 1 strike away from pitching seven innings of 2 run ball and leaving the game tied. Having set Berkman up perfectly, Pavano and Mauer called for an inside fastball. The pitch was thrown on the black at the knees with some sinking action that caused it to catch the plate. Catcher, pitcher, and second baseman start walking to the dugout...BALL! Fans begin to boo as Pavano cocks his head to the side and stares at the home plate umpire wondering what else he could do to get that pitch. As happens so often, next pitch double. Scores the man from first and breaks the game back open. This is where it gets interesting.

Instead of the pitching coach going out to the mound to settle the pitcher down, Gardenhire himself gathers the infielders at the mound and talks. Talks some more. Talks as much as he needs to until the homeplate umpire has no choice but to break it up. The meeting adjourns and players scamper back to their positions, but not Gardenhire. He follows the ump back to home plate jawing in his ear the entire time. Everybody in the park knows what's about to happen. "You're outta here!!" Gardenhire loses it. He gets toe to toe with the homeplate ump and lets him have it. All the rage and frustration of the whole team flows out of him like a river and leaves the umpire in no doubt of his opinion. Almost triumphantly Gardenhire walks back to the dugout and into the clubhouse hoping that his little act would inspire the troops to victory.

Then and there it dawned on me how managers aren't coaches. If this was the pitching coach and he got tossed, the pitchers would be at the mercy of another less specialized coach for the remainder of the game. Same goes for the hitters. But a manager isn't firstly a coach. His first duty is to manage the egos, emotions, and expectations of his 25 players and handful of assistant coaches. For Gardenhire it wasn't a matter of whether the team would be able to go on without him in the dugout, it was what do the players need to "feel" like they can win. If it means not being able to put on a hit-and-run in the 8th inning, most big league managers will choose motivating their team over strategy. They are managers first and foremost. Just like in the corporate world, Big League managers do what is best for the team as a whole over what is best for an individual. Perhaps it wasn't the best for him to get thrown out of a one run game in the late innings down by a run, but if it means the team as a whole gains any confidence at all it will have been worth it.

Bobby Cox, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre, Mike Soscia, Ron Gardenhire, etc. All of these guys are relatively docile in the dugout until they know their team needs a defender, a champion. They manage the game, the team, the players, the coaches, the ups and downs, the good and bad. They're a calming effect until they need to be a lightning rod. It didn't work last night for the Twins, but I finally saw the merit in trying.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a YEAR older, a YEAR wiser

It's been a crazy week, or three. My wife and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary over the weekend in beautiful Seattle, WA. I've started (restarted actually) my offseason job which is taking about 40 hours a week to do effectively. We've been getting things unpacked from storage boxes, breaking down the boxes, and unsuccessfully trying to find places to hide the boxes in our apartment. On top of all of that, we hosted a babyshower (pictures soon to be up at Ashley's blog buzzy craftery) for my brother and sister-in-law. In between breaths we have been driving all over Atlanta trying to see all the friends we missed during the season. So all in all it's been tiring...fun, but tiring.

Let's start with Seattle. The Pacific Northwest in October might not seem like an ideal anniversary destination, but let me assure you that IT IS! Neither Ashley nor I had been to Seattle in our travels, so we decided we're young and adventurous...why not. The flight is not the best. 4 hr. 30+ min. but the cookies and ginger ale made it bearable. BTW can you buy those cookies anywhere else? so good. Anyway, we landed and checked into The Hyatt at Olive8 in downtown Seattle. Great view of the Paramount Theatre from our window and a cozy bed to boot.

We spent the next 3 days eating ourselves into and out
of multiple food comas and walking around the whole city to make room for more delicious food. My highlight was Elliot's Oyster House where we ate complementary crab cakes and creme brulée as bookends to our delectable salmon. The best part about Seattle, though, is the people. They get my vote for nicest people in America. From the vendors at Pike Place Farmer's Market to our cab driver everyone we ran across was so inviting and friendly. If you have any urge to visit Seattle, do yourself a favor and just do it (channeling NIKE).

All of this was to celebrate our first year of marriage, which is the real treat. Being married is great. I can see how people could grow to dislike it if they get easily weary of conflict or if they would rather just be single. For me though, being married to Ashley is better than any alternative reality I could want. She's loving, talented, hard when she needs to be, but sweet almost always. We teach each other continually about life from our own perspective, and because of that we are becoming more well rounded people. Also, she's my best friend and the only person I would want to spend every second around...so that helps.

My offseason job is pushing me to the limit almost every day. This is not a bad thing. After a baseball season where you go along everyday doing the same thing, I relish the opportunity to come here and be thrown into the heat of issues that need solving. I spend most of my day putting out fires, but there's such a rewarding feeling when you find a way to put it out before it consumes whichever project your in charge of. I feel needed, and that's always nice.

We moved to Midtown West (close to Howell Mill Rd. and Collier Rd.). Apparently there are a bunch of cool new bars, restaurants, and shops being built down there, so we are looking forward to being trendy again. Time to break out the cardigans and V necks. I think I hear my Converse calling. A possible roadblock to this is Dave Ramsey. The Financial freedom guy (nerdy bald guy with glasses) has inspired Ashley and I to start using a cash system. I see this going less than perfect, but we'll see.

If we have not hung out with you and you feel spurned by us, fear not. We wanna see all of you and soon! Drop me a line (or another phrase than means contact me) and let's hang out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Closure

The season is over and life has shifted. My wife and I have moved from baseball 24/7 to "real life" again. Quite literally, too. We've moved from Savannah, into Ashley's mom's house, then into our apartment in near Collier Hills, Atlanta. I've loaded my car (my compact sedan...of course) full of boxes, furniture, TV's, gardening tools, clothes, and a Brita Water Filter (I just can't find it). For a solid week I drove around with my life in my car...my baseball life that is.

I live two distinctly different lives every six months. My baseball life is not 9 to 5. It's more like 2 to 11, which wreaks havoc on normalcy. It means I sleep in, eat at weird times, and spend more time at home (things close at 11). Baseball consumes life in nearly every aspect. Relationships that once had broad bases are boiled down to "how's ball going?" or "So, when you getting home?". You lose dinner dates because of extra innings and breakfast dates because of workouts. Life becomes one never-ending game (140 innings long). It's easy for me because I love it. It's not easy for everyone else because it takes no prisoners, asks no permission, and leaves a trail of tears (not a Native American reference) for 6 long months.

So it's good to be back. Back into the 9 to 5 swing. The life where dinner really does come before 8 and where people hang out after their jobs. I like a life where the only roommate you have is your best friend (no offense baseball roomies) and your stuff is really yours. I have a job just like the summer only this one doesn't consistently make me sweat more than most people. I miss playing ball and could honestly do it for another 6 months. I don't, however, miss the life it forces me to lead and the life it forces Ashley to bear.

Yet I'll blink and it'll be back, so I'm not worried. We had 6 good months, broke up, and now I've finally got some closure in the relationship...but we can still be friends.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

SALLY League Playoffs 2010

"Hell boys, we're here anyway. We might as well win it!" - everybody

Today is the first day of our divisional playoff series against the Greenville Drive. It's a best out of three series, wherein we have to drive to Greenville, SC to play the first game, then drive back the same night and play two more in Savannah. Pretty damn literal if you ask me.

At this point in the season you've already played 140 games in 5 1/2 months...that's a grand total of 10 off days. Not only that, but you've had to play in a league that is notoriously the worst in the country for traveling (avg. drive time of 6 hrs). To top it all off you've played 70 home games in Savannah, which is a great city, but also the hottest place on the planet in the summer. Mentally, physically, emotionally...we're tired. But this is the playoffs, and what doesn't kill you gets you a nice shiny ring on your finger.

Now I've heard it said by some who don't understand the game that we are a bit "light in our loafers" for spending all this time and effort on jewelry. Let me make this clear to anyone who might subscribe to said opinion. It isn't about the jewelry. It is about pure unadulterated competition. It's about doing something that most professional athletes never get to do. It's about dog-piling on the mound after the third out in the last inning of the championship game. It's about champagne (well, sparkling cider...still some young'ns around) being popped in a clubhouse that has seen so much defeat everyday for 6 months straight.

It's about finishing knowing you couldn't have done any better. In an industry where you have no control over your future, all you can do is try to be the best wherever you are. That's what a ring represents. Not a couple diamonds and a logo, but a memory. Something no one can ever take from you. This is what we're after.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pitcher's graveyard

Yesterday was a day where nobody wanted to pitch.

The game was a 14-9 slugfest accented by 35 combined hits. That's just short of two hits per player. It started from the top of the first where we homered to grab the lead 2-0. They came right back in the bottom half and tied it up 2-0 with four hits of their own. In the next inning they kept pouring it on, scoring 7 and bringing the 2 inning time lapse to 1.5 hours. Ouch.

On these days pitchers are kinda like fish and the hitters are shotguns...we're trapped in a barrel. You get the picture. The starter doesn't get a choice, he has to go out and try to get one out at a time. It feels like everything you throw up there gets hit. If it's a good pitch it finds a hole. If it's a bad pitch it finds the bleachers in left. The bullpen is sweating it down there and not just because of the heat. They know that the hitters are locked in, and they hope that when the phone rings they're name isn't called. It's not like college where someone steps up in Herculean fashion and says "I will stop the bleeding." Some days you just bleed out until the game's over. Yesterday was one of those days. We finished the 3 hour and 45 minute battle bleeding and bruised, but still breathing.

There are no post game blow ups. No grand speeches. Everyone just saunters into the clubhouse with the same glazed look on their faces. We made it out defeated but alive.

Skip says "Shower up and eat fellas. We'll get em tomorrow." Perhaps we will, but can we at least try to keep it under three hours.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Baseball In Vogue

Today is day one of my new look blog. It needed a bit of a face lift I think. It was getting boring to look at, you know. It's kinda like all of us, every once in a while you just need to get dressed up for no reason whatsoever. At least you can look in the mirror and say "Well that's not boring."

I suppose I should take this opportunity to talk for a bit about baseball player fashion. I try to stay away from it because, well, it's not too interesting. Guys tend to wear the same things partly because of rules and partly because of imagination deficit. The organizational rule used to be collared shirt and pants to the ballpark. It was, I suppose, enacted in order to make us look professional. It took the variables out of the fashion equation so the organization knew what they were getting. However, it also proliferated the theme of treating us like children instead of men like we are. So in this new regime things have been worded differently (if not to the same end). The player's manual now reads "players must arrive at the park and leave in professional attire." Holy Loophole! Guys now arrive at the park in all kinds of outfits. Latin players wear what seems professional to them, Southern boys do the same...both quite different.

For instance, a tight Affliction t shirt and athletic shorts is stylish to some people and style=professional, duh. To others a tucked-in polo shirt, levi's, and sunglasses on a frat strap are professional. The beauty of it is that you can't get busted for it anymore. You can literally wear anything and talk your way into it being "professional". A wife-beater and cargo jorts can be professional as long as you've gelled your hair enough and have a big fat gold chain showing...and a clean pair of kicks.

I very much appreciate this new freedom. It allows me to express myself in a game where the only distinguishing factor on the field is your number. I take pride in my attire and attempt to stand out when possible. I'm no model, but I a firm believer that if you look good you feel good, and if you feel good you play good (or at least better). You always run the risk of being made fun of for sticking out, but the truth is if you're not sticking out, you're blending in and preparing to get lost in the abyss of the minor leagues. Take your chances where you can find them and don't be afraid to look stupid...but at least try to match.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dave Bristol

I was sitting in the stands yesterday, charting the game as usual. An elderly gentleman came and sat down right next to me, unfolded his Asheville paper, and pulled out a copy of the lineups. He didn't fit the typical "scout" profile, meaning he wasn't wearing khakis and a hawaiian print t shirt. He kinda looked like my grandpa actually. I introduced myself as always and he did the same. My next question was simple enough, but what he replied with was far from it. I asked "So, who do you scout for?". He replied in a slow country drawl "Son, I'm no scout." Now I'm wondering "why are you here then?" But before I could raise this question he said "I'm Dave Bristol and I managed in the Major Leagues for 20+ years with four different ball clubs." My face dropped. I felt like such an idiot, like one of those people who comes up to me and says "so this is AAA right?" I immediately went red in the face put my hand on his shoulder and said "I'm really sorry sir. As a baseball fan I should've known that." Without flinching coach Bristol smiled wide slapped me on the arm and quipped "Boy, I was coaching before you were a thought in your daddy's head." That's true.

For the next six innings coach and I talked about all things baseball. I picked his brain about the best players he'd ever coached and about what sets players apart in his eyes. "Steve Carlton" he said, "was the best pitcher I ever managed. His slider would start in the middle and hit a righty in the jock. Only problem was he'd swing at it too." We watched a double get slapped into the right center gap and the pitcher saunter over to third base to fulfill his duty backing up the play. Coach whipped his head around and took off his cap as if to say something really serious. He said "Collin, when you back up bases, you run. Don't jog. Don't half-ass it. Get as far back as the park let's you and haul ass there. There is always someone watching you, and let's be honest, there ain't a whole lotta difference between one guy and the next. That could be the only thing you do better than the other guy. So do it."

We got to talking about Sandy Koufax. "Koufax," he said "made pitching nothing more than a physics problem." He said that the old lefty would cut out all the variables that could disturb a delivery, so that he could repeat the simplest form of a pitch every time. From his hand placemet on the ball to his foot placement on the rubber, everything was simple. Coach Bristol asked me to watch his stuff while he went out for a second. Next thing I knew he had placed a book down in front of me and said "read the first chapter." I was torn. I knew that I needed to watch the game and chart, but I was fascinated with this man's knowledge. He could obviously see the struggle going on in my head because he said "I underlined the main parts, I'll make sure the coaches aren't looking." This guy is awesome! Sure enough, I read the chapter and put the book back down saying "I gotta get this book." Coach chuckled and said "Ya, there's no way you comprehended half of it. Go out and buy it. It'd be worth it."

The seventh inning rolled around and the game was tight. Coach began to gather his things to leave. "I got a two hour drive back home. You gotta cell phone?" I pulled my phone out. "Take down my number and give me a call when the game's over. I wanna know who won." So I got his number (i'm married. these are the only numbers i get anymore) and told him of course i'd call him. He shook my hand and said "Well this was fun, Collin. Good luck. You'll be great!"

We lost 7-3. At least we agreed on one thing, though. I will be great.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Physicals

We have end-of-the-season physical evaluations today. To compound matters, we are on the road and in the worst clubhouse in the league. Preseason physicals are the thorough ones. The ones where you have to turn your head and cough, get your teeth checked by an old crochety dentist, and read the eye chart you memorized three years ago. The physicals today consist of measuring the degrees to which you arms bend (in ways they're not supposed to), checking the tightness of your legs and hips, and making sure you don't have any injuries you've been hiding all season. The only problem with these are...well everything.

Our arms are freaks of nature. They bend and strain in ways that would make any other part of the body scream, but when they are forced to the brink to measure their dexterity they tend to scream too. The day after these physicals is the worst of the year, presumably a punishment for putting my arm through hell. Also, we're baseball players not gymnasts. Our legs are tight. They tell all of us at the end of these things "you need to stretch more". You think? Of course we need to stretch more, everyone does, but do we? No. We sit around on buses and in hotels getting tighter and tighter until the end of the season comes around and we think "I don't feel more flexible". Finally, every player that has ever played professional baseball will tell you that he hasn't been 100% healthy since he was 12 years old. We are always hiding something from trainers and coaches, not because we are trying to fool them, but because we are trying to fool ourselves. The worst thing for a ballplayer is to have to admit to himself that he cannot perform. So day after day we silence these aches and pains hoping they will disappear along with our era. But you can't hide them forever. We come to the field today and the trainers know exactly what position to put your arm into to make you squeal like a teenage girl, then they say "has it been this way for a while now?". Of course our response is all the same "No, that didn't hurt. I'm just a little sore there. That's all".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Equal Rights For Pitchers

We lost a close one today 1-0. Guy throws 7 innings of complete dominance, gives up a run on the only two hits he gives up and loses. Not that I am weeping for him or anything, I mean it happens to all of us. It happened to me twice in the last month. I threw 6 innings twice each time giving up one run and each time getting a big fat L next to my name...again. Funny how baseball is, though, my last outing I threw decidedly worse than the last couple and got a big beautiful W in the left column. Baseball is, like most companies, an equal opportunity employer. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or speed of fastball. Every guy that goes out is equally capable of dominating in a single ballgame or crashing and burning at the hands of his opponents. So our guy lost today but in the grand scheme of things, who cares.

Also, planning a trip around a pitching rotation in the minor leagues is useless. It's as unpredictable as lightning and usually as dangerous. I mean that if you (you know who you are) are trying to plan a trip to see a beautiful city and catch a baseball game, plan around the city not the starting pitcher. Yes, We are scheduled to pitch every 5 days, but this rule is like many rules in the english language...it's breakable. We could have a rainout, fogout, power outage, wind storm, riot, fire, or worse. Don't get me wrong, we will play that game, but not necessarily in accordance with the "every fifth day" rule. If we have to play a double header, that means two guys start on one day. Then factor in an off day or a late season promotion...what day am I pitching now? I resume my earlier point. Make your plans around seeing some ballgame, not a specific one. The city is more interesting anyway.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Fun Day

So today is Sunday, which means a couple of things. Firstly, it means that we have a "show 'n go". Sundays provide us the opportunity to come to the field without having to take BP, without having to shag (shag means throwing the balls back in when the hitters hit them during batting practice...not the other thing) and without having to run in 100+ degree heat. Day after day we have to come out to the field 5 hrs before the game, stretch , throw, run, fielding practice, and shagging. So Sunday comes along and it's time to relax. Our game starts an hour earlier and we get to show up 2 hours later than we normally do...it's the best. When things in baseball are particularly great ballplayers give them nicknames like "Sunday no run day" "Sunday fun day" or "Show 'n go". They all mean the same thing. They mean that in a season where monotony is an inevitability it's important to appreciate the little things...like not having to run. It also happens to be the day of our Lord, the day of rest, and I can't help but believe God smiles down on Sunday mornings saying "it took you 6 days to go 3-3, and on the seventh you may rest. But it sure would be nice if you could finish the week above .500".

Monday, August 9, 2010

The New Guy Spark

We got a new player yesterday. A high draft guy from this year's draft. He runs well, covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and can get on base. It's amazing what a little pressure can do to a lineup. All of a sudden we have more outfielders than can play at once, and people realize that in order to get the playing time they want they gotta hit. We won 10-1 in a blow out. We had 19 hits, the most for us in what seems like years.

The introduction of a new guy is like true capitalism in baseball. It throws a new competitor into a small group creating a deficit of playing time. While before you could do just about anything without fear of losing your job, now you have to excel at something. You have to make yourself stand out in a crowd to gain market share (innings and AB's). Maybe that's all we needed to push more runners across the plate.

We also lost a starting and relief pitcher in the last week, meaning us starters are back to the nickname of "ole 5 day"...the way it should be. 6 more outings before the playoffs (barring any more promotions/injuries/natural disasters). Sprint to the finish.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mornings

It's 10:00 am. To most of you, this would be a mid morning coffee break. To me it represents a success. For minor leaguers on the road you have to count it a victory to be out of bed before noon. It's not so much that we're a lazy bunch of people, it's simply that when you don't have anything to get out of bed for, you can stay horizontal for a long long time. We are stuck in a hotel, in a foreign town, without a car, without much money, and (for some of us) with splitting headaches...not sure why.

We get finished with our game the night before at around 10 pm. We shower up and get out of the locker room while our hair is still wet just so we can get the most out of those few precious hours of "me" time before we have to go to bed. It's usually around 1 am when we cash it in for the night, meaning a 10 am wake up call should be no problem. With the promise of hot coffee and a blueberry muffin I was, in fact, no problem.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ball Four: how I walked the leadoff hitter

I've been reading Ball Four by Jim Bouton, which chronicles his career through the minor and major leagues. It's a mix of baseball humor (both tasteful and crude) and stories about the game told from inside the game...kinda like what I hoped this blog would be. He just does it way better than I do.

6 innings, 4 hits, 1 run (unearned), 2 walks, 7 k's. This might not seem like a lot to someone, but this is a pitching line. A pretty good one I might add. It was mine from the other night (not tooting my own horn) and it felt good to look at it the next day considering all of the problems that I had that night. I walked the first batter of the game, again, worked from behind in the count all night, and only threw 4 changeups the entire evening. Now while that is typically the recipe for a mediocre, if not worse, pitching performance I managed to work my way into that gem of a line. At the end of the night that's all a pitcher wants, a good line. While it is nice to talk about development and getting better, what really gets us going is seeing that the hard work is paying off in visible numbers. 0 earned runs. Let's keep this up and maybe I can join all my friends who are already moved up...woof.

I got the loss. 1-0 is how it ended. The only run of the game came on a two base throwing error by yours truly. I read all the blogs the next day (because i'm that lame guy who still needs to feel special seeing his name in the papers) expecting to be praised for a more than quality outing. No. All I got in each write up was that I threw a ball away that plated the winning run. I lost 1-0!! I guess fielding practice is in my future before I get my literary slap on the rear.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Helmet Throws And Other Temper Tantrums

"Get mad, then get over it." ~Colin Powell

At every baseball game the PA announcer is required to read a statement of liability saying something to the effect of, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please be aware at all times for balls and/or bats flying into the stands at any time during the game." I've seen both happen. I've seen little old ladies eating their hot dogs only to be surprised by a foul ball in their laps. I've seen grown men scramble for an illusive bat that slipped from the batter's hands on a rainy day and landed 12 rows deep. Baseball can be dangerous too. I've had the displeasure to see fans get hit in the mouth with a blistering foul ball traveling 100+ mph, and others fall from their seats in attempting to catch said foul ball. As baseball fans, we get it. Bring a glove, watch the game, don't spill your beer...pretty simple really.

What you don't know is the liability statement we each have to abide by in the dugout. In addition to batted balls and wayward bats, we must also be aware of bouncing helmets, post inning glove throws, not to mention the verbal rampages. Baseball players tend to be like thread on a spool. Every failure winds them up a little tighter until one puts them over the edge and they snap. For hitters it is most typically the helmet throw, sometimes in combination with a bat toss. They stomp into the dugout and you can see it in their eyes. They toss the bat aside as if it's defective and then take the helmet in hand. Finding a perfect spot on the ground and focusing in on it, the world around them seems to go dark. They raise the helmet to the sky cursing the "baseball gods" and send the equipment crashing to the ground in a cathartic explosion. While they are wrapped up in their childish antics, the rest of us just happen to be crowded into the same 20 ft dugout covering our faces and jewels so as not to become casualties of failure along with the helmet.

What really gets to me, though, is the unnecessary blow up. A pitcher throws 7 shutout innings only to give up 2 in the 8th. Not really cause to throw your glove across the dugout and scream obscenities in the direction of the family of four seated in the first row. In the same way, a hitter slaps a scalding liner off the pitcher's foot that bounces straight to the first baseman. Two steps out of the box then right back to the bench. While i'm in the middle of giving some encouraging cliches, I see the helmet whizz by my face only inches from smashing the thing it's made to protect. A player to be named later did just this yesterday, and I kinda lost it. This was the 4th or 5th time i've been threatened by flying helmets this season, and it's just a matter of time until one finds me. I picked up the discarded helmet, brought it back to the player, and slammed it on the bench right beside him. I yelled, "You hit the ball hard! What are you mad about?" I tossed the helmet to the other end of the dug out and told him to put it away like a good boy. Call me dramatic, but my self preservation instinct is unpredictable. Nobody said don't get upset. Everyone has the right to be disappointed. Just do it in the clubhouse, wait until no one is around, and get it all out without endangering anyone. Get mad, but please get over it when my face is nowhere near your helmet.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Get Away Day

Every last day of each road trip we are forced into the skill of the "get away". Hotels are notorious for making sure their rooms are vacated in time to clean and flip them for their next customers. Sometimes (if you're my dad) you can work your way into a late checkout, but when your a 25+ man baseball team taking up 15 rooms in typically small to medium sized hotels, then your negotiating power drops significantly. We are forced to "get away" in organized chaos.

The night before, our trainer will announce 3 rooms that will receive late checkout. It's like a mini lottery for us. All of us are sitting in the edge of our seats saying "come one lucky number 323...come on!" Inevitably I don't win, and when I don't win I have to follow the protocol the next morning. Here's how it goes.

9:00 am - The maid will come by 2 hours early hoping that she can clean this room early. She bangs on the door until I can muster up some sort of YELP that vaguely sound like "go away".

9:50 am - I realize that I have 10 minutes until breakfast is finished and therefore must make the decision to stay in bed for the next hour or get food. Always choose sleep.

11:00 am - The "head" maid comes by and tells us that if we don't get out in the next 5 minutes she will kill us...or at least that's what it sounds like in spanish, or russian.

11:05 am - Throw all my clothes in my suitcase, assuming that they are all too dirty to bother folding. Make sure that I don't forget my computer, charger, phone, charger, pillow, charger, or toothbrush...or my charger. Move it over to the lucky lottery winner's room where he is still sleeping. Bastard.

12:00 pm - Realize I'm hungry and should've eaten when I had the chance. Find food. Fast food. Stomach ache.

1:00 pm - I still have 2 hours before we leave for the field. I'm officially homeless so I become a squatter in the hotel lobby, praying that the internet works. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, repeat.

3:00 pm - Bus pulls up and we pile in. Now our day actually begins.

10:15 pm - Game ends. Leave for home.

2:45 am - Finally get back home to Savannah. Yikes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Greenville Drive's Fluor Field

This is where we're playing for the next 5 games. Amazing ballpark. Fenway park replica stadium. Boston Red Sox Low A affiliate.

Dynamics of a Good Team

We've only just begun our second half of this season, yet it seems like a brand new team. 71 games with basically the same players, few roster moves, ups and downs, a playoff push, and a pennant...now 8 new guys to replace 8 of the old guard. I'd be lying if I said it is an easy pill to swallow. Not that the new players are in any way inferior to the one who left, but you spend so long developing relationships, that it really does begin to feel like a family. Our manager, Pedro, told us from day one that we are a family. The philosophy still remains the same, we just have new brothers that we don't know so well. In this case the dynamic of the locker room has changed dramatically. We had players who had been in Savannah before, who knew the way things worked there and who genuinely enjoyed being around each other all day. We had Latinos who knew got along with Americans and American guys who knew and liked the Latin players. We trusted each other, and trust takes time to build.

With a new crop of players brings new challenges. The greatest of all of them will be the willingness to open up, to get to know each other the way we all did before. Guys will have their comfort zones and stick close to those who don't threaten them. But like any well functioning family, we must all become comfortable with the group as a whole. We miss the guys who left, they were brothers. This is the Minor Leagues, though, and brothers leave all too often. But the show must go on and we still have to win...nothing changes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Artistry And The Fastball

A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing. - Giorgio Morandi

I've always said that pitching was an art, but not being an artist, I had a hard time completing the analogy. My wife, however, is an artist and fluent in the language of analogies, so when she began the conversation last night with "It's like you're an artist..." I was intrigued.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to pitch for a playoff birth for our team (the first such accomplishment in 14 years for Savannah's franchise). It was a big game for me, I knew it, and I was ready for it...so I thought. I worked out of jam after jam and pitched with runners in scoring position for most of my night. They managed 9 hits off of me, 5 of the infield variety, and scored only twice in 5 innings. After the game I had to decide how I felt about my performance. Did I pitch well? No, not particularly. Did I battle hard? Yes, definitely. Did I go out to accomplish what I intended? I'm not sure. You see, I hadn't set a specific goal for the game., I just wanted to win and pitch well. Here's where the analogy continues.
Ashley said to me that If I don't have a specific goal in mind each time I go out on the mound and only hope that I pitch well, it's like an artist looking at a blank white sheet of paper and saying "Be Art." No, an artist knows the picture that he is trying to create and has specific tools for each aspect of the piece. In the same way, a pitcher must have a specific picture in mind and full confidence in the tools he is using to paint it. So what kind of pitcher am I, in art terms? I am a landscape artist. I don't paint big broad strokes. I'm precise. I'm not a guy who will blow you away throwing 96. I work at 88-91 with a two and four seam fastball that I spot low in the zone. As an artist I have three primary colors (pitches) that i use in combination to paint my artwork. I have Red, my fastball. I have Blue, my 12-6 curveball. And I have yellow, my up and coming changeup. In order for me to paint vast landscapes (7 innings) I have to use all three in combination. A landscape that is all red isn't a landscape at all, and one with only blue and yellow is just a green mess. Most importantly, though, is the painter's ability to call on these colors at will in order to impose his will on the blank canvas. If he knows he needs a bright blue for the sky, but isn't sure if he will get royal blue or navy blue, the sky will be either day or night. Big difference. In the same way, if I know I need a sinking fastball away, and I'm not sure if i will get the sinker or the cutter, the outcome is as unpredictable as day and night. People always say that you cannot control the outcome of baseball. You throw the pitch and live with the results. Well, what if that was not the case? What if you decided to control the outcome of your pitches? You may not get the result you are looking for 100% of the time, but maybe you'll get 80%. And in baseball, 80% of anything is a lot.
So the new goal is this, 7 inn. 5 hits or less, 0 walks, 0 runs. The new idea is being able to throw all three of my pitches at will in any count. I will have an idea of what I want the hitter to do and throw my pitch to make that happen. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get more groundballs that I've been getting, and giving up less 0-2 hits. Pitching isn't just AN art it IS art. And I'm an artist. Time to paint.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Boom, Roasted

You probably ask yourselves everyday, "What do minor league baseball players do with their days off?" That's understandable seeing as how we are so interesting and our off days are so few. This last wednesday was the first real day off (one where we weren't traveling 15 hours), and being near the beach here in Savannah we were all on the same page. My wife and I are not necessarily beach people. I'm white like a ghost and Ashley is what we like to call an indoorsy person. However, most of the guys were going down to Tybee Island and we weren't about to be left out. We packed up our Reisenthel satchel with beach towels, food, and most importantly Sunscreen. You see, the last thing our manager said to us before we left for our off day was "don't get too burned to play." As we've already said, my skin is not historically friends with the sun, so I wrestled with the best way to get a nice bronze and still remain playable. Unfortunately for me, I have a wife who doesn't believe in sunscreen and naturally tans in one day in the sun. My conclusion was to put SPF 30 on my shoulders so that I could move them freely the next day and let the rest of my front and back get a "little" sun. In retrospect, this was a bad idea.

We spent 3 hours at the beach in midday laying out, swimming, listening to music, and having a wonderful time with each other...relaxing. The sun, combined with the sea breeze, felt good on my body. I felt good about my health because I was drinking water and lots of it. I thought "I need to stay hydrated so I don't feel bad tomorrow." Little did I know that was the least of my worries. We packed up and came on home salty, sandy, and tired. As I peeled the shirt back from my unexpectedly tender stomach I gasped. I was no longer a ghost, I was worse. Splotchy! I had covered my shoulders in what looked like a child's finger painting. Spots of red and white speckled my maimed body and all I could hear from across the room was hysterical laughter. Ashley was rolling on the floor with her perfect tan and I was standing shocked at my condition. Pedro's last words were ringing in my ears "too burned to play." Was I indeed too burned to pitch in two days?

Come on Folks, let's remember that I'm Scotch/Irish. Our fate is this...Get sun, get burned, turn purple, turn pink, peel, and repeat. This is a pretty quick process so don't worry about me, I'll be ready to go.




Friday, June 4, 2010

Running To Perfection

Coach: Do you want to run or get hit by a car?
Player: How fast is the car going?

Could this be the year of the pitcher...again? Not since 1968 have we in the baseball world seen pitching performances so good in such a cluster. Perfect games from Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, and Armando Galarraga (minus Jim Joyce's hiccup) and a no hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez, who also happens to be 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA. So many people have commentary on these guys, but I have a different type of question regarding them. I wonder how much running has to do with all their success? I only ask this because, in my personal baseball opinion, running is the worst part about pitching. I mean we only run about 90 ft total during a game, and if strength is what we are going for...have you seen those marathon runners?? Yet year after year nearly all organizations implement some sort of "flush" runs for their pitchers after they throw. A flush run is a long distance jog meant to "flush" the crap out of your body that your pitching created the night before. I don't like running. It's boring to me. But hey, if these guys are doing it, who am I to argue.

Seen the day after his no hitter in Atlanta in April, Ubaldo Jiminez was running the streets of Atlanta. His 6 mile trek led him through downtown Atlanta, down Peachtree St., and into Grant Park. He threw 128 pitches that day, which was the highest total in the league to that point, so I guess he felt the need to flush a little extra. I'm not sure what the others did after their performances, but I imagine it was some form of distance running (though I did hear that Dallas Braden liked running stadium steps after pitching...yuck). Here's my problem with it all. Running in circles around the field so monotonous, and in Savannah's 90+ degree 100% humidity weather it's almost unbearable.

So in the spirit of Ubaldo, I told our strength coach that I was going on a scenic journey of Daffin Park (the park around Grayson Stadium). I threw my headphones in, put on some Phoenix, and started my run. My goal was to run as close to the trees as possible so that they could be my natural sun block, but the spanish moss was hanging too low and I wasn't in the mood to get chiggers on my face. I kept to the rubberized track next to the sidewalk for half of the trip which led me by the pond and fountain. Now as I'm running by this little pond I thought wow this would be a great place to take Ashley on a picnic. That thought lasted about 30 seconds as I strolled up on two large people taking up an entire park bench and making out on it as if it were their parents basement couch. Kinda ruined the picture i had in my head. On the back side of the pond sat 4 older gentlemen crouched next to their bicycles discussing something. I like to think that they were talking about how irresponsible GM has been and how their boycott of the motor vehicles will catch on soon enough. Who knows. Anyway, the middle part of my run was a blur partly because i left the shade of the oak trees and partly because I was paranoid that someone was following me. I just kept looking behind me thinking "I'm too tired to outrun anyone right now". As I saw the homestretch I knew that I wanted to make an entrance into the stadium like a champion. The center field gate was open and I saw my opportunity. With arms raised and head back I ran through the gate to the sound of riotous applause...in my own head of course. In reality the team was in the middle of BP and nobody noticed my entrance. No worries though, one day I'll flush run down 5th Ave. in NY and maybe someone will say "Hey, there goes Collin Mchugh!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That's Why It's Called Development

"I hate baseball. It's dull. Nothing happens. It's like watching grass - no, Astroturf - grow" - Jeff Jarvis

I think what separates baseball from other sports is how frustrating it is. Not to say that basketball, football, golf, tennis, and ping pong aren't frustrating in their own way, but baseball is unique in its ability to thwart success. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase "I hate baseball" from baseball players, i'd be...well, richer than I am now. It's absurd to me that men who give hours upon hours of their lives to a game that gives back so little in return continue to play it relentlessly day after day for 6 months a year. As we've said earlier, baseball is a game of failure. It is a game where you MUST reevaluate what your definition of success is. I think this is part of the problem with us baseball players. We play the game with the same set of standards for success that we did when we were in little league or high school. We suppose (surely don't expect though) that we should hit .350, have a < 1 ERA, and lead the league in "awesomeness". Those expectations are ok when the you're 12. The problem is that now the filter for people who make it through to our level has tightened so that those who make it are just as qualified as you are to make these claims. We have these grand ideas of what we are capable of (and rightly so) but the fact is, we won't all get there all at once. I suggest (via advice from Rick Waits) that we be ok with simply improving. I've heard from more than once great baseball mind that the only way to make it and stay up there is to be content with getting a little better every time you strap on your cleats. If you can improve, even the smallest minutiae, from yesterday then you should consider it a success. "I hate baseball" comes from the disconnect of where we are to where we expect to be. It takes many games and many seasons to be great...ask any hall of famer. Nothing in this game happens overnight. There are very few meteoric rises, and many many more rags to riches stories in baseball. Patience is the key to development. Just like the herb garden Ashley and I are tending to, it takes time, work, and faith that these tiny bulbs will grow into what we expect them to be. If everyday we cursed them saying "I hate herbs", we'd be insane. Everyone knows that plants take time to flourish. Here's a secret...Baseball players do too.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Visiting Clubbies

"The bases were drunk, and I painted the black with my best yakker. But blue squeezed me, and I went full. I came back with my heater, but the stick flares one the other way and chalk flies for two bases. Three earnies! Next thing I know, skipper hooks me and I'm sipping suds with the clubby." - Ed Lynch

Every team in the Minor leagues has a clubhouse manager. These are the guys responsible for cleaning/maintaining the clubhouse, washing and drying (well, sometimes drying) our jerseys pants and personals, and making sure we have food before and after games. Clubbies (good ones at least) have a much broader job description than just these "chores" however. They are hired by the organizations to take care of us players and relieve us of as much stress as possible. From picking up family at the airport to making sure that I have some sort of alternative to peanut butter (allergies) before games, clubbies are our saviors. Don't get me wrong, though, they aren't our personal assistants. We do our part to make their jobs as easy as possible by putting all our clothes in the right places, keeping our demands reasonable in both price and etiquette, and most importantly tipping well. They usually have a set base price per day that we owe them, but for those clubbies who go above and beyond, players will pay a premium for their services.

What is funny to me, though, is the phenomenon of the "visiting clubby". Just as each team has a home clubhouse manager, they provide the visiting team a clubby as well. These vagabonds are responsible for the enemy's well-being...or ours if we're on the road. They tend to be one of two extremes. They are either completely apathetic people who do the bare minimum for the minimum tip, or they are bad-ass ex-army drill sergeants who do any and everything you need without thinking twice about it. "Sarge", the Augusta Greenjackets visiting clubby, is simply the best. He has been a clubhouse/equipment manager for years in both Hockey (his first and true love) and minor league baseball. He does what you need and surprises you with things you didn't even know you wanted...like Captain Crunch with Crunchberries on an early sunday game. Sarge always has a good story or a funny/kind of inappropriate joke, but he doesn't bother you. He understands that the little extra he puts in pays (literally) at the end of the series when guys get their wallets out. Of course in the big leagues every player makes a lot of money and tips well, but in the minors guys are a little tighter with their wallets. We're not stingy, necessarily; we're just frugal. I will, however, pay for Crunchberries.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Will Not Go Quietly Into The Night


We just got back from one of our community service days at H.V. Jenkins high school. We have three days overall in their school, spaced out over about a month, the goal being to help them develop a public service announcement (PSA). The reason we are in the school is because the PSA is about exercise, healthy eating, and turning off the TV...three things we are "experts" in. Anyway, I think it's a good idea seeing as how the obesity rate in this country is astoundingly high. The only problem I have with the whole thing is the way it is being organized, or lack there of, by the teachers, administrators, and players. The kids aren't responding to the project and I don't blame them. It's hard to focus on a solution when the guidelines are unclear. We had teachers sitting in their offices unwilling to get involved, administrators sending us into the classrooms with no expectations, and players too "shy" to say or do anything resembling community service. These kids don't even know what a PSA is and yet they are expected to deliver on one in a short time. They are set up for failure, and I hate it.

The typical American loves the underdogs because they are expected to fail and yet they succeed. Circumstances out of their control are against them and yet by sheer willpower they overcome obstacles and come out victorious. What I hate, though, is when people are made to be the underdog when they shouldn't be. Just because the Yankees are the Yankees doesn't mean that whoever they play are automatically the underdogs. If a team is playing better than they are, then they are just as likely to succeed (if not more so) than the Yankees. In the same way, just because these are kids from a low income high school in Savannah doesn't mean they are incapable of making a great PSA. If the teachers get involved, if we manage their expectations better, and if our players take it seriously, these kids can create something to be proud of. They shouldn't be underdogs in this situation, but that's what we've made them.

I waited 7 days this week to pitch. I'm a piggyback pitcher right now which means that I eat the scraps of innings left behind from the starter. Unfortunately for my inning total, our team has three starters who eat lots of innings and I'm behind one of them. I waited 7 days to pitch 2 innings last night. Let's call a spade a spade here, I'm not a starter right now. They may call me a "starter" and I may pitch on a schedule of 5-7 days, but starters don't throw 2 innings. Starters don't come in for mop up work in the 8th and 9th. I'm not pitching my best right now and that's frustrating because my room for error is MUCH smaller than the other starters. If I give up a run one inning I don't get the luxury of throwing 6 shutout innings behind it to clean up my ERA. I get 2, maybe 3, innings to go throw shutout baseball and if I don't get it done, so be it. I can't help but feel like I am being set up for failure just like the kids today. I have no defined role, no set schedule of when or how innings I will throw. I have no management of expectations because, honestly, I don't know if they have any expectations for me. I am a good pitcher, sometimes a really good pitcher, but right they've made me the underdog. The odds are for me to fade into the abyss of our minor league system and vanish as quickly as I came. This being said, I know I have family, friends, and fans who are rooting for me to overcome...who wouldn't, I'm a nice guy. But I refuse to be the odd man out here. I refuse to take lying down, the assumption that I am not good enough to compete with any one of the starters in our organization, or baseball in it's entirety for that matter. I am not an underdog and I will not accept that label, because no matter the hand dealt to me so far, the odds are still in my favor. It's not the pitching arsenal that makes a winning pitcher, it is his ability to take what has been given to him and make it into something more. I have a good array of pitches, but what separates me is my capacity to make it into something special. I have so much more to give than what is expected of me right now. I'm sure some of you out there can appreciate this. If you can, I give you this encouragement: Do not settle for less than you are capable of, and don't let anyone tell you what you cannot achieve. Life is too short to fade into the abyss. Rise to the occasion and don't let anyone write your story for you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Grayson Stadium in Savannah, GA

video

It's kinda rough quality, i know. But i'm working on it.

Playing Minor League Baseball...Priceless

“It's not your salary that makes you rich, it's your spending habits.” - Charles A. Jaffe

I thought that I would stop eating Ramen Noodles once I got out of college. I mean, they're good don't get me wrong, but I always assumed that I would be able to afford real food. For sure when I got married the days of canned tuna and saltine crackers would be long gone. I didn't account for one thing though...Minor League Baseball.

Each day we are on the road we get a whopping $20 for food!! When I found this out, my first reaction was "I can make that work." Then I realized that $20 really means about $12 after you take out $5/day for the after game spread and $3/day for clubhouse manager dues. So $12...what to buy, what to buy?? I could venture over to the two restaurants nearby to the hotel, but one meal at either of the two chain places and I'm out for the day. So I decide to move to option B. I walk over to the supermarket across the street, hoping to stumble upon a good deal. I walked around the place looking for something filling yet inexpensive. Sandwich meat and bread? No refrigerator in my room. Ramen Noodles? No microwave in my room. Oven pizza? Obviously no oven close by.
                                                                  As I looked around, my stomach humming a low tune, I figured it was between a bag of cheddar cheese pretzel Combos or a cylinder of Pringles (preferably sour cream & onion). As I made my way down the cracker isle, I was reminded of my Paw Paw and his affinity for cheap yet filling snacks. Moon pies, I thought? Not in Delmarva. Ahhhh yes...just as he would pack lightly for a golf outing so as no to fall prey to the cart girl and her overpriced candy bars. I give you Lance cheddar cheese Crackers. Yum. When life gives you lemons...be thankful, they're too expensive for some of us.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What's Delmarva?

"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest..."  Proverbs 6:10

Delmarva - Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It's a city at the corner of the three states. Technically it's Maryland, but I like to think that it's in the magical space in between them all. In my quest to experience a little piece of the local delicacies of each city...Jumbo Lump Crab Cake. "Crab cakes and football. That's what Maryland does!"  It took us 12.5 hours on a chartered bus to get here, only to be informed that we couldn't check in for another 2 hours. So we did what any self-respecting group of 20 somethings would do, we went to the local shopping mall.  We walked around aimlessly (the way most mall walkers do) until we could check in and get some sleep.

Not to say I needed sleep after 2 Nyquil and 12 hours of aggravated bus dozing, but it would be nice to bend my knees at least.  Some cannot sleep on a bus. I have no such problem.  I can sleep just about anywhere and anytime of the day. A blessing and a curse for sure. Whereas I can sleep on a bus, I can also sleep through breakfast everyday in the hotel. However, after reading my daily Proverbs chapter and seeing Solomon's wise council, I decided to try my hand at pre 10 a.m. food. I woke up to my alarm and eyes that wouldn't quite open all the way. Not because I was really tired, but because I had eaten some peanut butter cookies on accident the night before and my reward was red puffy eyes. Where's Ben Stein and his Visene when you need him. Breakfast was a success though. Two cups of coffee and a shower later and these eyes were back to normal and ready to seize the day. Carpe Delmarva!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Savannah Update...And Life As Well

"Baseball is like church. Many attend; few understand." - Leo DuRocher

We just finished our 20th game of the season last night. That means we're 1/7 of the way home for the year. Ya, it's a long season. We've managed an 11-9 record up until now and that puts us atop the southern division of the SALLY (South Atlantic) League.  We rarely do the spectacular to win games. A lot of good solid pitching efforts both by our starters and bullpen combined with typically adequate defense and timely hitting usually wins you more than you lose. At least that's the case so far with us pesky Gnats. A couple of guys are standing out on the team for their good CONSISTENT play. Wilmer Flores (ss) and Jimmy Fuller (lhp) are playing above their pay grade right now...which isn't too hard to do with what me make. They are hitting and pitching extremely well respectively, so well in fact, that they shouldn't be around much longer. However, even the Old Testament prophets couldn't foretell who goes up and who stays put, so no promises.

Life is good here in GA. The weather is mild so far and the gnats are biting...typical. It rains just enough to rinse the pollen off my car and return it from its early summer jaundice. We get home late, eat late, stay up late, and sleep late. Luckily for me, I have an amazing wife who I really enjoy spending time with and who, in return, doesn't mind twisting her schedule around to spend her time with me too. We watch a lot of TV on DVD (no cable) and she likes to cook a good bit, so we keep ourselves entertained. Ashley got a job the first day she got here (because she's awesome) working at No. Four Eleven boutique in the Design District downtown. On top of doing some great monogramming and custom sewing work there, she also has her business up and running. Buzzy Craftery is her design blog with some great ideas for fun and cost efficient craft ideas. On the blog you will also find her invitation and stationary samples that she has custom designed for people...they're really great work and in your price range. Away from the field I find myself playing some video games (ugh, it sounds terrible...but they're addictive) and trying to keep up with my friends' lives back home via Facebook and Twitter.

Most of all I'm content. I'm playing a game that I love. I'm getting paid (loosely used) for playing it. I get to spend all my free time with my best friend. I work with 30 other men my age who may very well be the funniest/most ridiculous group of men on the planet. And, though their antics can get out of hand at times, I hear some great stories from them. I don't know if I'm gonna get moved up or around this season, but I am not worried about it. God is bigger than baseball politics and his agenda runs deeper than the Mets' farm system. I'm in good hands.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Variations In The Key Of Pitching

"Show me a guy who's afraid to look bad, and I'll show you a guy you can beat every time." -Lou Brock

Despite our extraordinary egos, we as baseball players are fragile delicate specimens. We spend our whole lives playing a game where, if you're good, you'll get a hit in less than 1/3 of your plate appearances. If your team is great you'll still lose 60 games a year. And as I learned from pitching coordinator Rick Waits, the greatest pitchers of all time felt great and had their best stuff only 10-12 times out of 35 starts/yr.  We go 3 inn. with 3 runs and a bomb, and because of the teetering edge that we walk on our coaches and loved ones drone on about "it's only one game" and "hey it's just not your day today" or the worst, "Reality is, it's a game of failure." The truth is that they have to feed us this eyewash encouragement because we have to get right back out there the next day. Get back on the horse even when, figuratively, we get bucked off over 75% of the time. It's not their fault though. We have been trained to thrive on confidence. If our egos aren't fully satisfied then we have already failed. "Reality" is we have no chance. 


Well to my credit, I didn't marry one of those lemmings. She will see me after a bad game and, most of the time, just walk up to me, smile, and give me a hug. She doesn't come from a baseball background, so she doesn't understand that I "need" constant confirmation that I am the greatest. In fact, this past week she turned the tables on my completely. I came home from my first outing. Terrible outing. I mean, really bad. I expected the same smile-kiss-hug combo and a nice bed to sleep off the defeat. I got no such thing. She was sitting in the couch almost scowling at me as if i had done something wrong. She let me talk it out; you know, about why I didn't pitch well or what was wrong today. It ended with "you know, somedays you have it and some days you don't...it's reality". At this, she furrowed her brow and quipped "reality is not an option, Collin."

She went on to say that if reality was always an option in our minds then divorce would always be an option. I mean 50% of marriages in end in divorce, why not us? Reality cannot be an option for us. We have sunk time, effort, money, and most importantly, our desire into being the best. If reality says that we probably aren't going to be the best, that we probably won't make it, we have to look reality in the eye and say...Whatever man. I always figured that the key to pitching was having great stuff with great command and never being injured. No, the reality is that the key to pitching is taking reality out of the equation. On the day we wake up to pitch in a game there is no "my arm hurts" or "I feel tired" or "my stuff just isn't what it was the other day". We have one focus; we have to try to be the best. Anything short of going out and being as good as we are capable of being cannot be an option in our minds. This game is 70% mental, that means what we do out on the mound is less than 1/3 of the whole game. Control what you can control. Make your mind a slave to yourself. Discipline your thoughts so that you can and will be at your best most of the time. Will we fail? Maybe. But is that an option for you? Don't let it be.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Savannah Update

There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League. - George Vecsey

So it's been a little bit since my last post, but cut me some slack...I had to move, again. Ashley and I are now down in Savannah, GA playing for the Sand Gnats (A- affiliate for the NY Mets). We're three days into the season and we're 3-0 with two shutouts. Nice! However, anyone can read the rundown of stats, scores, etc. etc. at any of the countless blogs dedicated to, well, us. This blog is more along the lines of "tell me something I don't already know." 

Ok a couple stories...First, our apartment situation is settled. Finally. It was a three week process of searching though every available piece of real estate in/near Savannah. No one seemed interested in giving a newly married couple a cheap place to stay for 5 months, at least not in a decent area of town. Found a couple places, but was deterred by the phrase "there haven't been that many muggings here." Needless to say we were willing to pay a little more, take on a roommate, and thus maintain our security (so far). 

Opening night, baseball aside, was an absolute CIRCUS! They call it Thirsty Thursday, I call it a frat party loosely centered around a ball game. By the second rain delay I'm guessing 80% of the crowd was incapable of walking the first baseline. This includes the two mouth-breathers who openly encouraged my wife to flash me in the middle of our conversation. The night was unlike anything I've experienced thus far in pro-ball, but I didn't hate it. My wife, however, had a different viewpoint and thus a different opinion. She has gotten the cold shoulder from just about everybody involved in this move. Apartment management, furniture company, ticket booth attendant, and abrasive inebriated southerners. She's a trooper though and she's ridiculously talented, which has made getting a job a pretty simple journey for her. She starts monday at a custom monograming and sewing shop...badass, i know. 

So I pitch tomorrow in our first afternoon game, and I get the opportunity to start the season with a four game sweep of the West Virginia Power. And I'm sorry to say other affiliates, but we have the best starting rotation in the system. Mando, Jimmy, Mark, B-Mo, Gorski, Whit, and myself. Call it friendly competition, but we all want to win more games than the next guy. "As iron sharpens iron..." you know how it goes. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Life of a Minor Leaguer: What We Eat

So we're making our way towards the last couple days of Spring Training and I thought it was important (more like just interesting) to examine what kind of eating habits we as baseball players have formed. Coming off an offseason where I got married and thus ate better that I have in the previous 4 (single) years, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought that the 10 pounds I gained from Ashley's chicken souvlaki, brick fried chicken, and other great chicken dishes would simply melt away in the heat of Florida...that was not to be.



The Mets take great pride in their emphasis on nutrition. They provide us all of the right foods we need to stay healthy. They cannot, however, regulate the combination of foods we choose to eat. As you see in the photo here, the Mets have roast beef, potatoes, some sort of rice and beans, and vegetables...good food right? Apparently, not unless you smother it in Ketchup (not catsup, ugh).




Breakfast, lunch, late lunch, early dinner, dinner. Sometimes I feel like all I do is eat and play ball. Tough life. We get our dinner catered at the hotel 6 days a week. Creative Catering is responsible for our meals and they typically do an outstanding job. see Alonzo Harris for confirmation.





Anyway, as much as I try to eat right and stay fit, I have my flaws. I hold Coca-Cola personally responsible...with the help of Hot Tamales. Some guys drink protein shakes, I drink soda. Who are we kidding, I'm a pitcher.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Pitchers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity... - Charles Dickens

Two pitchers, both coincidentally named Collin McHugh, pitched today in Mets Spring Training. One, a fierce competitor with a feel for the strike-zone and confidence bursting with his every move. The other, a frenzy of thought and emotion, unable to locate effectively or consistently...nervous.

Things both of these pitchers had in common:
-Both pitching against the same hitters
-Both competing for a limited number of roster spots
-Same repertoire, same velocity, same situation

Collin "the thrower" threw the first of their three innings of work. From the bullpen to the mound every pitch was analyzed in the search for fixes to whatever didn't feel right. A lot didn't feel right. By game time, Collin was nervous that, on top of facing AA hitters for the first time, his stuff wasn't cooperating with him. Nerves led to getting behind hitters, a leadoff homerun, walk, and double in the first inning. Not good.

Collin "the pitcher" sat on the bench in between innings. Not once did he criticize or analyze the last inning. Not once did he wish he had done something different. He was too busy preparing to PITCH. As he took the mound, shoulders back and chest out, he wasn't worried about the hitters or the umpires or his parents in the stands (sorry guys). He was focused on doing what he does best...pitching. He threw 1st pitch strikes, breaking balls for strikes, and put away strikes. He struck out the side not throwing nasty pitches, but simply throwing strikes. Collin, happy with the second inning, decided a third was in order. More strikes. No runs. Easy, right?

The truth is, yes. It is easy, but only if we operate within what we do best. In order to be a great pitcher, I cannot pretend that I have the dirtiest pitches in all of baseball. To be a great pitcher I must be great at commanding my three average to slightly above average pitches. For two innings I did that today, for one I did not. It isn't perfect and it isn't what I hope to be all season long, but it is progress. Spring Training, while a breeding ground for competition, is also a forum for sharpening ourselves and preparation for the season ahead. Today, by getting better, I came that much closer to the Big Leagues. How do I spell progress? F-A-I-L. Everyone does it, everyone hates it, but those who learn from it are better for it. I know I am.
  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Life of a Minor Leaguer: Getting Called Into The Office

"See that fellow over there? He's 20 years old. In 10 years he has a chance to be a star. Now, that fellow over there, he's 20, too. In 10 years he has a chance to be 30." - Casey Stengel

Today was one of the hardest days of the year. Today was the day that, as baseball players, we realize our career mortality. 5 of my good friends/teammates were released from their minor league duties this morning before i had finished my morning coffee. One after another were called into the office (yes, just like high school) to receive their baseball death sentence. Each one emerged in classic baseball player bravado with their heads held high, chests out...and dreams unfulfilled. Not to say each one of those men didn't give their best every day in hopes of reaching the big leagues, but the truth remains, as Casey Stengel put it, not all of us get there. 

We grow up seeing our baseball heroes on the field all spring and summer long playing as if they were born to do it. After watching John Smoltz pitch as a kid I just knew that I, too, was born to play that beautiful game. Year after year I worked on my pitching so that I could get to the BIGS. Little league turned into middle school, high school turned into college, then I arrived at Pro ball with a sense of accomplishment and relief. "I Made It!!" I said. Then just as quickly as I got here, I'm on the chopping block again; earning my way from level to level. Still even as the competition increases, I hold onto the hope that there is a manager waiting to call me into his office to send me up. What I try not to think about, however, is that the same manager is capable and often obligated to call guys like me into the office and say "I'm sorry kid. It's over."