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.