Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pitching and Soft Bodies

A bit of truth before we start. I used to be fat.

Now when I say fat, I mean overweight for my age/height. Not P.H.A.T., which would be cooler. In the 9th grade I was about 5'4'' and 170 lbs. Chunky, for lack of a better term (See picture below for reference). Up until my fateful 9th grade year I was very confident in my athletic abilities. Growing up I played just about every sport a boy in Atlanta could. Baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, street hockey, flag football (no real football at my school). If there was a projectile object and any sort of goal, I was playing. Then came JV basketball tryouts. We had a good team the year before, and returned nearly all the starters. There were just enough open spots for about six 9th graders to make the team. I had always fancied myself one of the best athletes in the grade (despite my stature, speed and pudginess). In my mind there was no way that I would fall behind the 6 other classmates and not make the team. I was wrong. I went into the coach's office and was told, in no uncertain terms, that my general body shape was not going to be an asset on the basketball court. I was crushed. Having not made the basketball team and watching Greg Maddux dominate yet another year, I made up my mind that there was only one sport out there for me. Baseball!


I watched the NFL and the NBA. It fascinated me how fast they were and how high they could jump. Watching Michael Jordan was a treat, but I knew that I would never be able to dunk from the foul line (or any line). But David Wells, Greg Maddux, John Wetteland, these guys were shaped like me and they were playing in the Major Leagues. My mind was made up. From that point on, no matter how my body grew and molded itself, I was committed to my one sport. Spring, Summer, Fall I was going to be playing baseball and in the Winter I was going to be wishing for Spring again.

I did grow, eight inches to be exact, from 10th - 12th grade. As I got taller my body relocated some of the love handles...but not all of it. Even after receiving a scholarship to play baseball at Berry College, I was labeled a "soft body" guy. I had a loose arm, a good curveball and repeatable mechanics, but compared to most of the other guys on the team I looked like a chubby kid. Stepping on campus at Berry, the disparity only increased. One after another, my teammates would get in the weight room and throw so much weight on the bench press and squat rack that the bars would bend. Then I got up there and spent 5 minutes taking all the weight off just so that I could lift it off the rack. I was a "soft body", but I could flat out pitch.

Going into my second and third years of school I was determined to redistribute more of the spare tire around my waist in an effort to look the part. I worked hard in the weight room. I did all of the prescribed running, and more. Coming into the spring season of my junior year I was in the best shape of my life. Not an Adonis like some of the other guys, but still not bad. I expected my pitching to follow suit. I was wrong. Between getting lit up at times, having control issues, and developing tendonitis my year wasn't turning out the way I had imagined it would all those days staring into the weight room mirror. My goal to become a "hard body" guy had ended up hurting my performance. Not only was I still soft around the middle, but I was riding the pine because of injury and overuse. It was frustrating, because I still saw the same "soft body" guys doing it every 5th day all summer in the MLB.

I got drafted (by the grace of God) and began working my way through the organization. Strength training was a mandatory thing, but the routine you chose was more personalized than ever before. I could choose whether or not to bench press or do bicep curls. I could focus on mechanics and stretching and maintenance over muscle building. Still the pressure was there from organizational higher ups and the rumor mill that being a "soft body" guy didn't do much for your prospect status. You look at the top prospects from most teams and they look like men. Big, strong, fast, ripped. These guys might be uncoordinated and undisciplined but they sure could fool you into believing they weren't. I read (yes, I read) article after article describing myself and guys like me as dime-a-dozen righties with "soft bodies" and not much of a future. It kinda pissed me off. Just because I was a little pudgy and couldn't throw 100 mph didn't mean you could just write me off as a "long shot at best".

I began to use this frustration as a competitive edge. I had figured out what my body needed to perform at its highest level without breaking down. It might not be the most athletic looking body in the world, but I was going to prove that it could to be effective. I threw 130+ innings last year. Almost 160 this year. I didn't miss a start due to injury. My body didn't break down. I also didn't win a marathon, break any world dead lift records, or steal any bases. I also wasn't beaten to the bag by a runner while covering first base. You see, my "soft body" used to be a stumbling block to getting where I ultimately wanted to go. Some people would claim that it still is, that my chances would be better if I wasn't so fat. They're wrong. God created me with a certain type of body. One that might never show a 6 pack and might always have love handles. But that body is also the one He will use to get me to the big leagues. To keep me healthy and flexible. To keep me one step in front of the runner when covering first.

We come in all shapes and sizes. That's why I love Baseball! None of us have to look or act or pitch or hit exactly the same, but in the end we all have the same goal.

Have fun. Win or Lose. Repeat.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Travel Light & Hope For The Best

It's getting close to that time of the year. The time when baseball organizations have decisions to make with free agents, arbitration, next year's payroll, and the Winter Meetings. The season after the season, where all the behind the scenes work starts in preparation for next year. For us Minor Leaguers, however, we're narrowing in on the offseason. A time of decision making as well, but on a much more personal level.

Ashley and I have made our offseason home in Atlanta for the last 2 years. We don't own a house or an apartment. We don't have a dog, cat, or any children. We have 2 cars and an apartment's worth of furniture in a storage unit (yes, it's air conditioned...don't worry). Our lives are light in comparison to most people. We aren't weighed down by much, mostly because baseball won't allow us to. It would be great to have a place in Atlanta to call home. A place where our furniture lived and our pictures hung on walls. It would be great to have a place to come "home" to after the season, or a place of refuge for Ashley when my life sends me 1500 miles across the USA in a couple weeks. It would cut down on the post season headache of having to look for 6 month leases (or 3 months this year). Our lives are light, but our burden can be heavy at times.

Some ballplayers have the resources to buy or build. Their signing bonuses stretching a bit further than ours, into the home-owner category. Other ballplayers live light, similar to us, but without a significant other. They move all over the place with their closet in their backseat. The beach one week, the city the next. Moving where the weather is warm enough to play catch. Some work in the offseason and some don't. Some need the money...some don't. Personally, I enjoy working during the Winter months. It keeps my mind and hands occupied while keeping us out of the poor house. Not to mention, when you're doing work you really enjoy it becomes satisfying on a different level. I've worked for a company called Booster Enterprises for the last 2 years, and it truly is fulfilling work. Booster is a fund-raising company that partners with elementary and middle schools throughout the country, helping them raise funds through a character based leadership development program. They get the privilege of interacting with students everyday and helping to build the next generation of leaders. It's rare that a company would take such a vested interest in a personal situation like mine and Ashley's. We are gone for 6 months out of every year playing baseball all over the country, but when we are back in Atlanta the Booster family has welcomed us back with open arms. Not all baseball players who want to work get an opportunity like this. It's a real blessing.

More than finding a home, finding work, and working out, minor league ballplayers use the time ahead to take inventory of their careers. For 6-7 months of the year they grind, day in and day out, trying to play at the highest level they can in hopes of making it to the Show. Once the season ends and the pace of life slows (even just a bit) ballplayers sit back and look at their body of work. How did they play statistically? Where did they end up? What do their chances of making it look like next season? I've said before that most baseball players contemplate quitting about 4 or 5 times every year. I think it's our coping mechanism. The idea that we could hang 'em up at any point keeps the illusion of control close at hand. But when the games stop and there's no competition, the idea of being done playing ball actually begins to take shape. You get a closer look at what it would look like to live in a "normal" life. To have the brick house with the picket fence, 9-5 job, and 2.5 kids. So far in my experience, that nostalgic comfortable feeling begins to wear off around the new year. The itch to play comes back and there is nothing you want more than to get back out on the field. One day that desire will fade, though. It's our job to keep asking ourselves the tough questions and make sure the passion is still there.

So far, so good!

None of us (minor leaguers and major leaguers alike) know exactly where we will be when camp breaks April 1, 2012. There are too many variables between now and then to triangulate which city/team/organization we will play for. If we want to continue to play, we have to face that reality. It's not for the faint of heart, nor the "heavy" lifestyle. For now, we will continue to travel light and hope that we can drop anchor in Queens, NY...sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Second Half Success

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything. Perhaps it's because we are 165 games into the season (longer than any stretch i've ever played) and it's all we can do to focus on what's going on between the lines. Perhaps it's because I'm not throwing as well as I would have liked thus far, and motivation to write has eluded me. Or perhaps it's because with our free time Ashley and I have been catching up on our favorite TV shows each night (already caught up on The Office, now working on Bones). Whatever the reason, i'm back and It feels good.

I'm 6 outings into the Fall League with an astronomical ERA. The Javelinas are floating around .500 and we've got just about half the season left. Not to toot my own horn, but i'm a notoriously good finisher. Each of my last 4 professional seasons I have finished much better than I started. It might be that my starts were so bad that I could only go up from there...but whatever the reason, now is the time to finish strong once again. If you read some of my old blog posts, you know that I talk to myself. I talk myself into things, out of things, and through some of the tougher things. Halfway through each of the last few seasons I've had a "look myself in the mirror" pep talk. In each of those, I look in the mirror and tell myself that no one will pitch better than me for the rest of the season. It has worked in the past...why not do it again right now?

It's only three weeks before I go home for three months. The time is winding down out here in the desert and I have already learned a ton about myself and my development. But there's more that I want from the AFL. I want to leave with the taste of satisfaction in my mouth. The taste of success that can be carried into next championship season.

Well, I gotta run guys. There's a mirror calling my name and it's not gonna give itself a pep talk!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Colder Weather

I’m listening to Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” right now wishing that we could get some of that. It’s about 100 degrees today…same as yesterday. I feel like this is really my endless summer. I started the season in Port St. Lucie, FL just as it was getting hot down there. I left St. Lucie and headed to Binghamton, NY just in time to miss the nice spring weather and jump right into their hot summer. As soon as it started to get nice in Bingo the season ended and I headed back home to Atlanta, catching their blazing hot summer’s end. Now I am here in Arizona stretching out my endless summer once again. I love the warm weather as much as the next person, but it’s hot…and it’s been hot for a while now! Oh well, at least there’s no problem getting loose.

Also, not to brag or anything, but our team rocks! On a scale from one to hilarious, the guys in our clubhouse are like a Steve Martin…or at least a Woody Allen. We’ve got a great mix of loud and quiet, but I feel like each guy has something funny to add to every conversation. Usually there is a giant discrepancy between the fun I have in the bullpen and the dugout. One usually trumps the other, depending what team I’m on. Here, however, both are an equally good time. I think I have to chalk it up to the fact that we all just seem to get along so well. Pitchers, Position players, coaches, trainers, clubbies…one giant family. The way it should be!

I’m throwing tonight. All of the other stuff out here is a lot of fun, but tonight is the reason I’m here. The reason we’re all here. Time to have fun doing what I love. Come what may, homeruns or 123 innings, I’m getting to live my dream. It feels good.



Friday, October 7, 2011

Q & A (Answers)

It's Sunday...our first day off. Usually when I talk about a day off during the season, it's followed by "I really need it!" But this time around in the AFL we get one every week and we only play for six weeks. I can't say I really need it yet, but I'm also not complaining. So, you've gotten your questions in and now it's time to see if I can answer some of them.

How's your arm feeling this time of year? Since this is your first time pitching in the Fall League, are you super tired? Or is it just something to get used to?

It's been a long season. 140 games. 130 innings for me. 6 full months with less than 10 days off all season. Surprisingly, however, my arm feels really good. I think once you've been in pro ball for a couple years you learn what you need to do to keep the old gunslinger feeling ready. Some guys refuse to carry anything with their throwing arm (grocery bags, ball buckets, even their gloves). Me, I take care not to "waste bullets" playing catch too often or during BP. Other than that, your body has been doing it long enough to simply take care of the rest. Then again, ask me in 6 weeks and I may have a different answer.

Can you possibly imagine really living your life in NY AND playing for the Mets?

Can I imagine living in NY? Honestly, some days I have a hard time imagining myself living anywhere else. I'm from Atlanta, GA and I call it home. I also love big cities, so the prospect of getting to live in one of the greatest cities in the world really gets me going. Where I would live in the city is still up for consideration. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Upper East Side, Manhattan. Times Square. Chelsea. I guess we'll see. Can I imagine playing for the Mets? Yes. I mean, of the two teams in the city (not naming names) I think ours has the most character.

Do the Met’s coaches tell you specifically what they want you to work on or what you have to improve on or how much more you need to progress to make it to the next level? or do they keep you guessing to some extent or does your intuition tell you?

Lots of "OR's" in that sentence. Let's see if I can clear it up. To some extent, all of the above. Towards the end of the season the coaches told me that I would be coming out here AND I needed to simply keep getting guys out the way I had been doing AND show consistency AND that maybe I had a chance to pitch in Buffalo (AAA) or even in the bigs if I threw well AND it's always a guessing game. Very rarely, if ever, do organizations tell you exactly what they're planning for you or what they will do with you more than a few days in advance. It's the nature of the business we're in. Things change AND they don't like to make promises AND my intuition tells me that isn't going to change any time soon. You're right, run-on sentences are fun!

Is there a lot of pranking or similar hijinks that go on amongst teammates in the minors? If so, what's the best one you've pulled, or the best one that's been pulled on you?

Baseball has a rich history of pranksters, and no place is it more prevalent than in the bullpen. Think about it, you have to sit in a small room for 3+ hours everyday with the same people and an endless supply of bubble gum. It's like the Perfect Storm of pranking. Just yesterday I witnessed two of the better ones I'd seen in a while. The first is what I like to call "the wet towel". With the white towels that they put down in the pen, you can tell if one is soaked compared to a dry one...but if all of them are soaked you can't tell the difference. A few guys soaked all the towels and laid them out perfectly on the bench, then proceeded to take up all the seats except those. Guy walks into the pen, looks around, sees an open seat, plops down, immediately stands back up with giant wet spot...prefect execution. The second is an oldie but a goodie. With our endless supply of gum also comes an endless supply of potential "Hat Bubbles". This is when you blow a giant bubble and stick it to your teammate's hat without them noticing. Executing it is hard enough, but the real fun comes with trying to convince them go play catch with the outfielder in between innings so that the fans can see it. It get's a laugh like a quarter of the time.

Bull Durham is one of my all-time favorite movies, and one of my favorite scenes is when Costner is teaching Robbins about his cliches on the bus, and the news comes out that he's been in the show. Do you guys get as excited as they seemed when you have a current or former MLBer with your team for a while?

Honestly, anything that is a break from the normal everyday grind is a welcomed distraction. Not to say I don't absolutely love my job, but sometimes things just need a little shaking up. This year I had the pleasure of paying alongside Jose Reyes and Jason Bay. 2 class acts! When they show up everybody plays like they don't really care. Like they're just another teammate. But the truth is, we are all looking out of the corner of our eye to see what they do, how they carry themselves, what they're "really" like. We ask them questions and see if we can get them to tell us a story or two. This year, at the end of Jason Bay's rehab stint, he was giving away some of his equipment to the guys (which is like Santa Clause on Christmas for us). He asked anyone if they needed an extra pair of pants. A teammate of mine piped up, saying "Yeah, I could use some." Jason tossed them in his direction with a smile, then my teammate said what all of us were thinking upon receiving a gift from a Big Leaguer..."Does this mean we're best friends?"

Any word when anthony rendon will join the fall league?

I'm going to assume that he is one of your favorite players or plays for your favorite team. Truthfully, I have no idea who he is. I bet he's a nice person. I'm sure he is, in fact. However, I seem to have misplaced the memo that the league commissioner sends me personally every week stating in great detail every transaction (past and future) that has been/can/will be made. If I find it, I will let you know for sure!

p.s. I joke. It's a bad habit. I'm trying to quit. Thanks for your question.

Also, are clubhouses as crazy as they seem in the movies? I've always been fascinated with players having personalities outside of the game because organizations always seem to try to smother that and turn the players into robots so they don't say anything stupid. That's why guys like Nick Swisher and Brian Wilson always seem so cool, because they have independent thoughts, which you clearly do as well.

Firstly, thank you. I can't say I'm on the level of Swish, Wilson, or Wilson's beard, but I do enjoy showing everyone that all of us are real people. Clubhouses aren't, by nature, crazy. As in any working environment, it is the people who make the place what it is. Baseball players tend to be kind of eccentric, so the clubhouse tends to reflect that. There's always music playing. Rap, Rock, Pop, Country, Reggaton, Salsa, Merengue. There's usually some sort of sports event on the TV...unless there's a top 100 countdown on VH1 (like the top songs on the 2000's right now). As far as interviews and social media go, players have been informed on how to not sound stupid or embarrass themselves or the team. Does that always happen? No. Like I said, we're all humans and we all say/do stupid things from time to time. It's the few of us that can make that into a full-fledged persona (and Taco Bell ad) that make the rest of us seem so vanilla. Thanks Brian Wilson's beard.


This was fun! Let's do it again some time. How about next week? It's a date then.













Thursday, October 6, 2011

Q & A

Hey everybody,

Just wanted to give you guys the opportunity to ask some questions. We will have stories of our Fall League experience to share with you, but I’m sure there are many things you’re curious about that we might not get to cover. We can think of this as a little “Mailbag” session. You can ask questions and i’ll pick the best 4 or 5 to answer each week in a post.

You can ask your questions a couple different ways…

1) Comment on this post with your question if you don’t mind everyone seeing it, or comment on the AFL Prospects Blog post here.

2) Ask a question anonymously via the “contact me” tab.

3) Come out and see a game. Flag me down. Ask away.

I’m looking forward to answering your questions and hopefully giving you a little insight into our lives here in the desert.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baseball In The Desert

The dry air had parched my lips. It’s a different kind of heat out here. Different from the wet Atlanta air I’m used to. Weatherman said we were in for a dust storm, mixed with some rain. Sounded kinda eerie if you ask me. Looking past the left center wall, the flags were stiff, blowing the wrong direction (if you’re a pitcher). Line ups were announced. It seemed as if every batter hit .35o with 25 homeruns this past season. Everyone was either a Top Prospect, just had the best season of their lives, or both. And there I was, standing on the bullpen mound awaiting my first Arizona Fall League game.

People warned me of the thin air. How the ball flies in the desert like nowhere else. People quoted statistics of how many of the hitters I would face make it to the bigs within a couple years. They read the characteristics of the Fall League like a resume. Bullet points of impressiveness that would “prepare” me to be out here, as if I were preparing for an exam. To some extent they were right. This is a test. I have never in my baseball career faced hitters consistently as good or polished as I will out here. I will be tested on all facets of the game, and stretched beyond my previous innings total for a season. Those facts are undeniable. However, I don’t look at my opportunity here as an exam. I look at this next 6 weeks as a privilege.

I have been given the privilege to play alongside and against some of the game’s best rising stars and the opportunity to count myself among them. Not everyone gets this chance. Very few, in fact. To be anything other than extraordinarily excited would be a tragedy. One thing I am looking forward to the most is meeting the other guys. Every organization is represented here, so I get a chance to, not only play against, but meet and become friends with guys from all over baseball. I’m sure those will be bonds I can carry for the rest of my playing days and beyond. I’m closer to my goal of pitching in the big leagues than ever before. It feels good.

So there I stood, chapped lips bent upwards in a smile. Who would have thought on April 1 that I would be pitching here on Oct. 4? Not many. But I’ve come to know that baseball has a way of bringing the unexpected to pass.

Strike one, first hit, first run, first walk, first game…in the books.

Continue to AFL Prospects Blog to read more

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011 in Ballpark Pics

I just landed here in sunny (hot) Arizona. "They" say it's a dry heat...still not sure who "they" are, though.

It has been a long, sometimes arduous, journey this season. Ashley and I have been lots of places, seen lots of people, and watched lots of baseball. I have a few pictures of the parks I've played in.

Hammond Stadium: Ft. Myers, FL

Jackie Robinson Ballpark: Daytona, FL

Easter Egg Hunt: Jupiter, FL

Captial Stadium: Akron, OH


NYSEG Stadium: Binghamton, NY


Gerry Uht Park: Erie, PA

Hadlock Field: Portland, ME

Fenway Park: Boston, MA

It really is a unique lifestyle. I move (at the least) every six months, leaving behind friends, family and on occasion even my wife. And all in the pursuit of a game. I get to meet new people and see places I wouldn't otherwise see. I eat crappy meals, sit on excruciatingly long bus rides and make a lousy paycheck. All in pursuit of a game. Now I'm here in Arizona, on a stage alongside some of the best ballplayers the world has to offer. Am I nervous? No chance! Like I said before, it's all in pursuit of a game.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Control What You Can Control

I was sitting at the locker room dining table, pen in hand, contemplating my pitching goals for the year. Our pitching coach, Phil, had challenged us to make a list of 5 goals for the year. He stressed the importance of having tangible milestones to continually look towards through a long a grinding season. Being a goal oriented person myself, I relished the opportunity. I thought of every possible goal. Wins, ERA, WHIP, K/BB ratio, Innings Pitched, etc. etc.

My List:
1) Win 10 Games
2) Throw 150 innings
3) Walk less than 38 guys (last year's total)
4) At least 9 k/9 innings
5) Not miss a start due to injury

I walked up confidently to the coaches office to turn in my goals that were inked in my best (still pretty mediocre) handwriting. Coach took a look at them, looked back up at me in his "are you sure about this?" look, and set the paper back down. Taking out a red pen, reminding me of my English 101 critiques, he marked out # 1, 2, & 5. He then said something so profound, yet so simple. "Control what you can control. Don't try to control things you have no control over." He was aware that I was not in control of the amount of wins I got, how often I pitched, or the health of my body. Those things were in someone else's hands for the most part, so to set goals based on things out of my control was setting myself up for disappointment.

This was not a new concept for me. Through my years as a hard-headed Berry College Viking, my pitching coach, Josh Hopper, tried to explain that very same thing in words that I would understand. Being a cocky college pitcher I always wanted to throw a no hitter every time out on the hill. I figured if I wasn't shooting for perfection then I was selling myself short. Hop (as we affectionately called him) wasn't interested in throwing no hitters, or throwing 95, or anything I deemed "cool". He was interested in throwing strikes...period. His philosophy, similar to my minor league coach, was that you could only control a few things on the mound. 1) Your tempo on the hill 2) How long you hold onto the ball to control the running game 3) Fielding your position 4) The pitch selection, and 5) The pitch itself. Everything beyond that was out of my hands as a pitcher. Whether it was a strike or not. Whether it was hit or not. Where it was hit. Whether a play was made or an error was committed. Whether a run was scored. Whether a game was won or lost. All of that was completely out of my control once the ball left my hand. So for me to concentrate on anything beyond making the best pitch I could with the most conviction I had, was once again setting myself up for disappointment.

I wish I could say that the issue of control was only a baseball thing. The truth is, however, we all struggle with this idea of trying to control things we cannot. In this day and age job security is anything but secure for most people. We do everything we can to retain our current positions, hoping that at the end of the day we've done enough to stay put. We worry, lose sleep, make secret resum├ęs. The things we can't control end up controlling us. The same process takes place in the minor leagues.

Clarity is a prized commodity in the MiLB. The vast majority of us have so little of it, that tomorrow itself is a surprise. Guys get moved up and down with a simple changing of the wind (or pulling of a hamstring). You hear locker room conversations constantly about which guys are probably going where, and if they do, what that means for the rest of us. I tend to call them the Locker Room GM's. Up until the middle of this summer, I was the worst of them. No one hypothesized more about what might happen, discussed what could happen, or debated what should happen more than myself. I didn't think it was a bad thing. After all, it was MY career so shouldn't I be interested in what direction it was heading? The perspective (Ah Ha moment) came this summer.

When I got moved from Port St. Lucie, FL to Binghamton, NY my wife was stuck in Limbo in Atlanta. The plan was for me to pitch only a week or two in Binghamton then return to FL. Well, after a couple quality starts I began to wonder if they were gonna send me back. Every day Ashley and I contemplated the variety of scenarios that would either send me back or leave me pitching in AA. Things out of our control were beginning to control our mindsets, our perspective, and our marriage. Time went by and I kept throwing pretty well. I stayed in Bingo and Ashley finally made her way to meet me in NY. Unfortunately, the struggle with control didn't stop there. As things between the lines began to improve, the question of offseason plans became our focus. If I was chosen to play Winter Ball then we wouldn't be able to have our Atlanta apartment for 6 months, and we would miss our friends, family, and favorite restaurants. Life was getting complicated before it actually even happened, and it was all our own doing.

Ashley and I were sitting in the car on the way to Philly during our All Star Break. Exhausted from our worry and nervous over things still on the horizon, we hit our breaking point. Ashley leaned over to me, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Let's just leave our stuff in storage. Let's forget about the what if's and just drink the punch!" Looking slightly amazed at my wife's revelation, I said "ok!" We decided then and there that whatever life threw at us (baseball included) we were going to look at it with fresh eyes. What earlier in the summer looked like hindrances to our normal way of life, now looked like exciting opportunities that few people ever get. It came down to exactly what both of my coaches had said. "Control what you can. Don't worry about the rest." We couldn't control where we were asked to go, how long they wanted us to be there, or what we got paid to do it. The only thing we could control was our perspective. The power we had to look at our baseball life as a deterrent to the life we wanted or as a gateway to a life we couldn't imagine. We shook hands in the car and agreed that from this point forward we were "all in." Ashley took a picture to commemorate.


Fast Forward.

I was selected to go play in the Arizona Fall League for 6 weeks this fall. It was kind of the perfect answer to our previous worries. We would be playing winter ball in one of the most prestigious leagues in the baseball world...and we'd be home for Thanksgiving, Ashley's birthday, and Christmas. It looks like I have a shot to be added to the 40 man roster this fall, but that's out of my hands, so it's out of my mind too. Ashley and I had a great last month to the season! I pitched in Fenway, played with Jose Reyes, and threw my first professional complete game. We picked apples and pears in our back yard, drove back home through a hurricane, and made it out better on the other side. Most importantly, we had fun. Pitching became fun again (maybe for the first time since high school). Marriage, which was so hard earlier in the summer, became exciting again. And worries got flushed down the drain.

I'm not saying life isn't gonna be hard again. Nor am I saying that I will never worry again. We're human. And it's life. But I like where we are now, and I like the direction we've chosen to head in. Life brings enough challenges our way every day, there's no need to worry about the ones we bring on ourselves.

Thanks Phil. Thanks Hop. I know it took long enough, but I'm starting to get it!







Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fenway Park: Futures at Fenway Game


It's not every day that you get to pitch a game at historic, Fenway Park. Actually, it's never for most people. Until the other day, I was "most people". I had never pitched in front of more than 9,000 people (Brooklyn opening day, 2009) in my life, and I assumed that pitching in a big league park was reserved for...well, big leaguers. Yet somehow, in the craziness of this season, I was given the opportunity to pitch the Futures at Fenway game.

Every year, two of the Boston Red Sox affiliates (usually AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket) play a game at Fenway Park as a treat for Red Sox nation to see their future Sox and for the players to get a taste of the Bigs. This year the B-Mets drew the game against Portland. Exciting! I realized that this game would be a good opportunity for Ashley to visit friends in Boston and to catch a game at Fenway, even if I wasn't going to be pitching. You see, I made the assumption that in a starting rotation stacked with 2 former Big League pitchers and 3 other top prospects, I would be at the end of the queue for this rare opportunity. Plans were set in place anyway. Ashley would be in Boston for that weekend, and I would be at Fenway. Again, exciting!

I tend to make declarations mid-season. Each year for the last 3 seasons I have looked myself in the eye and said "nobody will pitch better than you the second half of this season." It worked the first couple times I did it, so I figured why not do it again this year. Post all-star break this year I had actually thrown really well. Well enough to merit a start in Fenway? I assumed not.

Two weeks away from the big game, all the starters began to do the math in their heads. "If we are on a 5 man rotation then that would mean _____ would start". "If we decide to stick with a 6 man, then that would mean...McHugh?" Sure enough, the calendar was working in my favor. A week away, I waited for the coach to let me know I was in luck. The day grew closer and there was still no word from the coaching staff. So, casually, I walked into the coaches' office and said (in my best nonchalant voice) "So what does the rotation look like this week?" The pitching coach turned around in his chair and with a smirk on his face said that I had Saturday...I had Fenway.

We could talk about all the buildup to the game. The 8 hour bus ride from Bingo to Portland. The 2 hour bus ride from Portland to Boston, wherein our bus broke down a mile and a half from the park. The make-shift locker room that we shared with the opposing team. Walking around the park for a couple hours. But all of that pales in comparison to actually toeing the rubber at Historic Fenway Park. I don't consider myself a baseball historian by any means, but a student of the game? Absolutely. I know about Fenway. The oldest Major League stadium in the country. Pesky's pole. The Lone Red Seat. The Green Monster. I know about Fisk's homerun that he waived fair in the '75 series. Ted Williams going 6-8 on the last day of the season to ensure his .400 batting average. And, last but not least, "The Babe" pitching and hitting in his (pre-Yankees) uniform.

Roughly 25,000 strong, the stadium was filling quickly. As I began warming up on the same plot of ground as so many that had gone before me, I felt confident. If they could succeed here, why not me? It was, in fact, just like any other start this season. It was the 3rd time I had faced the Sea Dogs, each time pitching better than before. I was coming off one of my best starts of the year, and it was my turn. Taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulders, I threw my first warm up pitch. Right down the middle. I was really there. I was really pitching at Fenway Park. The noise was no longer a factor. The mystique of past heroes died away. It was me and the catcher. Time to go to work.


6 innings later with a two run lead I exited the game. It wasn't a sense of relief, nor accomplishment, that I felt. For the first time in my baseball career, I felt like I belonged. I had thrown in a big league stadium, in front of a big league crowd and performed well. The ghosts of Fenway past seemed more like comrades. I felt closer to the Bigs than ever. It was short lived.

After chatting with my wife, dad, and a few friends, it was time to get on the bus...again. 2 more hours, another bus malfunction and we were back in Portland, ME. Afternoon game the next day, then another 8 hours on the bus back to good ole' Bingo. Life was the same on the outside. Yet, nothing could take away the confidence and assuredness that I got from toeing it up next to The Babe and succeeding.

I don't pretend to know what the future holds for me and my baseball career. I don't know if I will ever have the chance to pitch at Fenway again. But for a brief moment my wife, my father and I got a glimpse of where I could go. What I could do. We came face to face with the reality of why we put in all the work. It felt good, natural even. At the very least, it was a story I shared with those closest to me, and one that I will continue to share with my kids and grandkids. I think we forget, in the day to day grind, that we are building a life's worth of memories here. This was one that I will never forget.


Monday, August 15, 2011

It's A Game Of Feel

It's a battle that every baseball player fights, and one that most of us have lost from time to time. Baseball, unlike football or basketball (but surprisingly similar to golf), is a game of feel. The way a ball leaves your fingers, or the way a bat feels clutched both firmly and loosely in your hands at the plate. The tenuous transfer of a ball from glove to bare hand. No matter how fast you can run a 60 yd. dash, how high your vertical is, or how many times you can bench 225 lbs., the "feel" of the game can be lost in the blink of an eye.

As professional baseball players, we are keenly aware of this struggle. All of us have seen someone get the "Yips". You know, when a guy can't seem to throw the ball 50 feet without airmailing it or skipping it 37 times. Or when a guy will literally swing at anything thrown within a mile radius of home plate. Everyday we set foot on the field there is a thought, crammed into the depths of our sub-conscious, that replays the phrase "I hope I haven't forgotten how to do this." It's a fragile thing, this baseball game. So in order to preserve our abilities we have adopted strict routines and absurd rituals (superstitions if you must) to shelter us from the harrowing reality that "feel" comes and goes.

Guys will go through the same stretching routine everyday. They will eat/drink the same concoction if it will get them closer to .300. Hitters will tighten their batting gloves exactly 5 times before heading up to the plate where they will execute the same practice swings before every pitch. Pitchers will pick up the rosin bag on their way counter clockwise around the mound, pat it twice and toss it to their right, clean the rubber and lick their fingers, all before delivering the first warm up pitch. These are just examples, but you get my drift. Personally, I have a few idiosyncrasies of my own. I will only turn gloveside when receiving a ball from the third baseman. I will wipe away the trail of dirt that my foot makes in front of the rubber after each pitch. I won't ever pick up the rosin bag...only touch it while it's resting on the ground. These started out as fidgets. After some success, though, they turned into superstitions. After enough time passed they turned into habits, which eventually bloom into routines.

Are baseball players superstitious? Yes. But more than anything, we are men of routine. It is our coping mechanism. Nothing is more important in the game of baseball than confidence. In a game so constructed around failure and the volatility of success, the ability to remain confident in the face of adversity is what sets players apart. I am sure that the most critical catalyst to confidence is a personalized and repeatable routine. For every routine that is visible on TV or on the field...Nomar's toe taps and glove tightening, Fidrych's antics on the rubber, Heath Bell sprinting in from the bullpen, Big Papi's spit and clap, Ichiro's Samuri-esque bat salute...there are countless more routines that go on behind closed doors. All of which serve to keep the "feel" of this fragile game firm within our grasp.

It's a funny thing how someone can lose it so quickly. How a hitter, after 500 at bats, can fall into an 0-40 slump. Or how a pitcher can throw so well for 4 innings and implode the following inning. Most of us have been playing this game since we were about 5 years old. Thousands upon thousands of throws, swings, grounders, pop flys. At some point you would think that muscle memory would take over, but there's a barrier to that...Us. I can go out and throw well 4 or 5 starts in a row, then in a mid-week bullpen throw a few pitches that "just don't feel right". After making a few small adjustments something else begins to feel a little askew. No worries, I can just make another adjustment and be fine. After 50 pitches I can make so many minor adjustments that I begin to feel lost in my mechanics. Focusing on when my hands are breaking, how high my leg is going, where my foot is landing. My muscles want to take over and do what they know how to do, but my mind won't let them. It's a slippery slope, and a self-induced one at that.

To eliminate the possibility of falling into that abyss, I have a bullpen routine. 32 pitches, good, bad, or indifferent. No more, no less. It's enough to feel comfortable on the mound again, but not enough to let me confuse myself. Hitters are the same way. Batting practice is 4 rounds with a certain amount of swings per round. If it's a bad round, it isn't enough to frustrate you too much. If all the rounds are bad then you just get to come back and do it all over again tomorrow. Setting limits on our routines protects us from ourselves, which in turn produces positive results more often. It's inevitable that "feel" will come and go. As ballplayers, we can only hope that our routines will see it stay longer than its gone.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Radar Guns

It's a conditioned response. The ball leaves the pitcher's hand striking the catcher's mitt, and before the echo of ball-hitting-mitt dies out heads all around the park turn and search for it. Perhaps it's hidden in the electronic maze of the scoreboard or camouflaged next to an advertisement. It might take you a minute or two to find it, but it's usually there. That damned radar gun.

Believe it or not, there was a time before the radar gun existed. Players, coaches, and fans alike would watch every pitch intently. The way it came out of the hand, the plane that it traveled along on its way home, the swing a hitter put on the ball, and the sound it made as it reached its destination. These were the only indicators of what kind of "stuff" a pitcher had. Whether it was 85 or 95 mph, a fastball was judged on its effectiveness and not only its velocity. Hitters would use terms like sneaky, deceptive, or just plain hard. I've heard coaches say that if they were playing in today's game they would never have gotten drafted. Their fastball never topped out as hard as most pitchers today, but they could pitch and get guys out. That mattered more.

I remember going to my first college showcase. Coming from a small high school where I was rarely, if ever, put on a gun, it was intimidating seeing 15 radar guns held high as I threw a bullpen session. Feeling like I threw well, I finished my bullpen expecting to talk to some of the big school coaches. No one budged. I then went over to look at a piece of paper that had been posted on a cork board near the locker room. It had 4 columns. Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Change-up and velocities for each. No fastball of mine topped 90 mph. Right then and there I realized my chances of playing SEC baseball were slim...to none. It was a bad feeling knowing that I had performed well in games, thrown all my pitches for strikes, and was probably heading to and NAIA or D2 school.

I made it through college, gained a couple mph, and was fortunate to get drafted (I like to think it was more on God and my ability to pitch and less on my 92 mph fastball). However, that was just the beginning of the radar gun circus. In pro ball, as I said earlier, there is a public gun at almost every park. It usually sits in plain sight for every Joe Schmo to see and judge. It's a shame, but if a guy goes out there now and throws his fastball 86 mph people snicker and use names like "poo baller" or the more polite, "crafty". I would be a hypocrite if I said that I never do that too. I can feel it in my bones. The pitch comes and my head, despite how hard I try to keep it still, turns to find the radar gun so that I can present my judgement of said pitcher. It's a disgusting habit. I'm trying to quit.

Don't let me trick you readers into believing that there is no value to having radar guns. They can be useful for many things. If a guy throws a cutter it can be effective to see the speed difference between that and the fastball since both stay on the same plane. Guns also serve, in some cases, to indicate injury or fatigue. Though not always, pitchers will sometimes drop velocity to protect their arms in nagging pain or in physical fatigue after a large workload. But the reliance on the radar gun as an indicator of future success makes the basest of assumptions and generalizes them out unfairly. For the slower throwing pitcher it creates a chasm over which he must leap to get to the major leagues. He must show "extra" ability to command and develop pitches because his fastball just won't cut it by itself. True statement, but incomplete. The fact is, even the flame thrower won't be able to make it on that pitch alone. He too must develop and learn how to pitch. This puts unreasonable pressure on him too. Simply because he has been given the ability to throw hard does not negate the fact that he must learn the nuances of pitching. Unfortunately, he usually must do so at higher levels, often exposing him to failure and waning confidence. You see it all the time.

More so than all of that, however, is the sheer annoyance of hearing "how hard was that one?" 85 times a game. I feel like we, as players especially, have lost the ability to watch a game the same way. We've forgotten how to appreciate a BP fastball in the mid 80's, or a mediocre fastball thrown to a good location on a downward plane. That's pitching, folks!

Ok, seeing this on a radar gun is kind of amazing, but let's get real. You're not going to see that very often. I vote that we fight our modern game instincts and our neck rotations, and watch one game without looking at the gun once. See if you find out anything new. It might surprise you.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Charting

If you've ever been to a minor league baseball game, chances are you've seen us out there. We're the ones who look conspicuously out of place 5 rows behind home plate. Sitting there with radar gun held high and clipboard in hand; we are charting.

Usually comprised of 2-3 starting pitchers from each team, this unit is charged with profiling each game (pitch by pitch) for their respective clubs. For us, it's the day 3 and 4 pitchers. Allow me to explain...

Day 1: Your start
Day 2: Flush run
Day 3: Bullpen, Chart
Day 4: Play catch, Chart
Day 5: Day before start, Play catch, In the dugout for game
Day 1: Start...again

We keep a chart for our pitchers and a separate one for our hitters. Every single pitch and velocity is accounted for. It's a tedious job, but we make the most of it. It is meant to give us a different angle to watch the other teams' hitters while also giving that day's pitcher a study guide for the next time he faces that team. There's not much to it, honestly. But the chart itself isn't the main focus of what I want to talk about...it's the atmosphere.


They stick you right in the middle of the "regulars". You know, those baseball fans who are at EVERY game, who know EVERY player by name, and who have something to say about EVERYthing. Don't get me wrong, these are the people who love baseball. The people who make our jobs worth it. They also just happen to make charting a game much more interesting. These aren't your normal hecklers. They don't get hammered and scream obscenities at the teams, rather they are the nay-sayers. They watch a team from beginning to end of a season, picking up on all the routines they fall into. For instance, if a team commits an error, you will probably hear "Oh, here we go again!" or "It was just a matter of time." They love the team, so it hurts them that much more when we fail to bring home a victory.

Then there are the "other" scouts. Those guys who bring their briefcase, stopwatch, and radar gun to scout the prospects from each club. You can always tell these guys apart from the rest of the bunch by their outfits. Some sort of lightweight sport material polo shirt, pleated khakis, white tube socks, and running shoes. The accessories vary from case to case. Sometimes you'll see them throw on a full-brimmed gardening hat, or a pair of fancy Oakleys or Ray Bans. I've even seen the occasional suspenders. No lie. If not given away by their attire, then you can always spot them by their "elevated" knowledge of the game. I mean, it is their job to watch and dissect baseball games, but do I really need to hear about it after every pitch?
"23 years I've spent around this game. I've seen the best and worst players to ever play the game...In Person! I've worked for 9 current GM's in the Major Leagues. I've scouted 10 first round picks. I think I know the difference between a curve ball and a change-up. And that, son, was a curve ball."

It was a change up.

There is also a set of rules that we, as charters, have to follow. There is no eating in the stands (unless it's seeds). There is no listening to music while charting (unless it's the national anthem or Cotton Eye Joe). You are not to sit next to your girlfriend, parents, or spouse. And you are to wear a collared shirt and pants. We take liberties with all of the rules here, but especially the last. I think most charters will fall into one of two categories when it comes to our wardrobe in the stands. We either do the bare minimum to pass while cutting a few corners. Like, an old polo shirt, some ratty cargo shorts with a hole right below the butt pocket, and a pair of flip flops. Or, my personal favorite, when a guy throws the charting rule book completely out the window. This is the guy wearing the v-neck Affliction t shirt with 3 chain necklaces. His hair standing surprisingly upright in the summer heat (perhaps you can see the gel dripping off his sweaty head). He is wearing, shorts? or pants? Ok, let's call them Capris just for explanation's sake. If you can't see him, you can smell him. His partner in the ratty cargo shorts lucked out because his B.O. smell is completely overshadowed by guy #2's pungent cologne. Armani? probably.

No matter which camp we are in, all of us are back there for the same reason. Putting in our work and paying our dues, so that hopefully one day soon, someone else will do it for us.

Happy Charting everybody!



Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Concept of Home

It was 10:45 and I had slept through 2 alarms already. Not that there was any real hurry. I mean, I was in a Holiday Inn Express in New Britain, CT. I always tell myself that I'll get up for the free continental breakfast...I never do. I rolled out of bed in my (purposefully) pitch black room and decided I better try to get something to eat. Throwing on my fake Ray Ban Wayfarers and some athletic shorts I began the trudge down the hill to the restaurants. Passing McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, I came to a favorite of mine, Dunkin Donuts. I walked in, alone. Sat down, alone. And ate my bagel and donut...alone. It got me thinking of my favorite coffee spots back home; back in Atlanta. Octane, the cool hipster hangout with coffee, beer, and local art. Java Vino, my meeting place with my guys on early Monday mornings. Even the local Starbucks by Ashley's mom's house. The one with the deck overlooking little Lake Lucerne. God, how it made me miss home! Thinking about it, though, home was a very transient thing for us at this point. In fact, all minor leaguers struggle with this concept to an extent. Allow me to explain.

Since I made the decision to play professional baseball I've had 13 different mailing addresses, not to mention the 6 different home ballparks that things get sent to as well. There's a list now. A list of every Bill/account we have to notify every time we move, so that we can continue living a semi-normal life. Right now, Ashley and I still have mail coming to at least 4 of those addresses. So which one do we call "Home"? Is it the one that we most recently lived in, have a deposit on, have bills in our name there? Is it the one we live in now, where we pay rent, have a lease, and a bed? Is it our parents' houses? When we aren't in our own apartments we are usually there. Couldn't that count? The point is, there is no such thing as a "home" for us right now. We are migrant, transient workers who call home wherever it is that we lay our heads.

Some guys get the privilege of living at home with their parents in the offseason. I say privilege because that residence isn't likely to change any time soon. They can buy stuff, keep it there, and not worry about paying for it to stay there. They can come back after the season and pick up exactly where they left off. It's not everybody, but it is a privileged few. Then there are those guys who live light. They carry a few bags full of clothes in their car and drive wherever they want to for the offseason. They usually end up staying with "buddies" in some city and workout/party there for a few months til it's time for the season once again. They have very few string attached anywhere and that's the way they like to keep it. Then there's me. I am married...very very happily I might add! So I don't have to think about one residence at a time. I have to think about 2. Where I lay my head at night is usually taken care of either in the form of a hotel or whatever place I can find a room in during the season. My wife, however, doesn't get that option. In order to preserve sanity and foster the remnants of a "normal" life, she has stayed at home during Spring Training the last couple years. She has been responsible for packing up/cleaning/moving out of our offseason apartments. Not just moving it, but putting it all in a storage unit that we pay for during the season. After I find a place for the season, she then comes to wherever I get assigned and lives there with me in our season home. This is still far from ideal, because we are away from friends, family, and local coffee shops. We're away from "home". But how about we throw a wrench in the situation and see what happens to this concept of home.

About a month and a half into the season we were going to head out on an 8 day road trip. Seeing this as an opportunity for Ashley to get home, see friends, and get some work done for her small business, we decided that she would go back to Atlanta and stay with her mom for the road trip. We got to the last day of the road trip and were excited about seeing each other again! Then the news came...I'm going to Double A. Great news, right? Sort of. On one hand we were excited that my career was moving forward and that we could see progress. On the other hand, it meant that Ashley was stuck in limbo between Atlanta, St. Lucie, and Binghamton. The fact that you never know how long you will be in one place didn't help either. I could've be there for one week, 2 weeks, or the rest of the year...you never know. So we decided that we would wait and see if I was staying or not before she packed up (again) and moved to a new home (again). One week turned into 2. Then 4. Then 6 weeks! Every time we thought "ok, we can move now" something else popped up and the reality that it might not be a good choice pushed back our timeline. This past week she finally got up here. She had to fly because she's going back to Atlanta in a couple weeks and driving 1000+ miles in two weeks just didn't seem like a good plan. So there we are, at a house in Binghamton, with no car, none of our friends from Atlanta, and no family. We felt pretty "homeless". But we have each other.

It's not always enough to simply be together. It doesn't change the fact that our stuff is in storage, or that we have a week at the end of the season to find another apartment in Atlanta. It doesn't change the fact that we've seen each other for a whopping 16% of the time since Spring Training. And it definitely doesn't guarantee that we won't have to move again before Sept. 7th. But as of right now, it is the closest thing we have to "home". You begin to realize that this concept of home can be easily attained by putting down physical roots, buying a house, getting a 9-5 job, and playing ALTA tennis. But there is something deeper and more permanent that you can do to realize what home is. You can invest your life in another person, so that wherever you go and whatever you do "home" is never more than a phone call away.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Good Guy Syndrome

There is no such thing as a good guy. For all of you economists out there, i'll shorten it to TINSTAAGG.

For my entire life, and especially my baseball career, I have been incorrectly labeled a good guy. I didn't drink until I was 21. I didn't smoke any sort of legal or illegal things until recently (still nothing illegal, just my tobacco pipe). I was not quick to start fights or arguments, raise my voice or throw a punch. In fact, I prided myself on the premise that I could be friends with just about anyone. I tried not to be intentionally hurtful to people and understand where they were coming from. A lot of this was from the way I was raised (Kudos to my parents for that), but still a lot of it came from a different place.

Somewhere inside of me was a need to be liked and accepted. This probably stems from being a middle child (yes, i'm aware of the stigmas associated). I was kind to people because of the prospect of them being kind back. I didn't drink, smoke, or fight because it wasn't legal for me at the time. It's almost as if not doing those things afforded me some sort of compensation to do other "less bad" things more often. In the end, it seemed like I was still on the good side of the spectrum. But i've realized as of late (and why I'm writing this) that there seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that goes along with this kind of mindset.

The truth about life is (Get ready for it!) bad things happen to people. Friends, family, spouses, neighbors, that guy on the bus; they all let you down at some point. No one, not even the best person, is perfect and incapable of falling short of expectations set on them. This was a problem for me. I spent so much of my time and effort being the "good" guy, that when things didn't go my way (and trust me, they didn't) I wash shocked and appalled. I kept telling myself over and over, "Why did this happen to ME. I'm trying so hard to do everything right and other people just keep screwing me over." Woe Is Me!!!!

I believe I would've been content to stay that way for a long time. But Alas, I could not.

In any and all situations Good Guy Syndrome forces the first thought you have to be about yourself. All other thoughts revolve around that one central thought. Because you spend so much time thinking about yourself (doing things right and making people happy), you lose the reality that the world doesn't revolve around you and your problems. For me, I had to see it in another person for me to realize this tough fact. I saw a person do bad things. I mean bad things that anyone would call bad. But for some reason, instead of calling it what it is and moving forward; they seemed to take 2 steps back and justify why the bad thing happened. As if justification in their wrongs would bring them back closer to "good" status. I saw that and finally realized what I had felt for so long. "I'm that guy!"

I had been trying so hard to do things right for so long. There was this persona...a "good guy"...that I had to live up to. The only problem is that I couldn't do enough good things to keep bad things from happening to me. And every time a bad thing happened it started this cycle of self-pity all over again.

-My job is unfair right now. I work so hard to do things the right way at work, but no one seems to care about that.
-My marriage is hard. I put so much work into making sure that we're doing well, and for whatever reason I just can't catch a break.
-My friends don't care about me as much as they should. I'm the best friend in the world to them and they can't even repay me with a little of their time.
-etc., etc., etc.

These images of my reactions started to play in my head as I realized my disease. It wasn't that I was unusual, or that my situations were worse than everyone else's. It was that when something happened to me, my first reaction was to wonder how that effects me and why it's not fair. It was exhausting!

So I was telling Ashley all of this the other day, relishing in the freeing truth that there is no such thing as a "good guy". I don't have to live like the world is against me. I can just keep doing things the best way I know how and understanding that life isn't always going to go exactly how you planned. I think the better test of a man and his "goodness" is how he can respond to the tough situations that will fall on him. No more self-pity, no more "Woe is me!!", no more disillusionment. I am not a good guy. Who needs all that pressure? I'm just Collin. And I'm ok with that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Winning and Losing: Part 2

Freedom.

There's something about this word that evokes emotion out of a man (or woman. I'm not sexist). We cherish the idea of freedom in this country. Freedom of press. Freedom of speech. Freedom to bear arms (thanks NRA). For whatever reason, we cling to this as our inherent right...To be free. But how many of us truly live in this reality?

As I was talking about in my last post, I've gotten a new sense of what it means to play baseball. To be free from the self-induced and outside stresses that make the game into something it was never meant to be. It's a refreshing realization that I'm hoping seeps into every aspect of my life. But i'll ask it again...How many of us really embrace the freedom we have in our lives? Jobs become something more than they were intended to be. Whereas you might have started working because you liked it and you felt like a part of something bigger than yourself. Perhaps now it's just a means to an end. A way for you to make some money and afford those vacations you've wanted. Think about it this way...if you work 8 hours a day 5 days a week 50 weeks a year, that's 2,000 hours a year. Can you look at that and say "I'm satisfied/fulfilled with the way i'm spending those 2000 hours?"

The idea of taking away the power Winning and Losing has over us isn't just a baseball concept for me right now. It's a HUGE part of my Marriage. I like to be right and I hate being wrong. Very similar to winning and losing, no? I do whatever I can to make Ashley happy and satisfied, hoping that my "score" is moving in the right direction. I figure if I can rack up enough good-husband points then she will be happy, and I will have won at marriage. Big Mistake. You see, I'm not very skilled at racking up good-husband points. And even if I was, the number I need to win keeps getting higher and higher and I keep falling more and more behind. Where's the freedom in being married like that? I've realized that the freedom comes, not in doing enough things to keep her happy, but in knowing her on a deeper level everyday. You see, when you take the time and effort to know someone more deeply, you figure out what makes them tick. Not flowers, candy, mushy letters (although those can be good things); But really seeing them. Taking time to remember they exist. Asking about their emotions. Listening. Being spontaneous when possible, not just when convenient.

I believe that these last few weeks have been hard for a reason. They've shown Ashley and I that baseball is a game. Our marriage is not. Winning and Losing happens, but who cares. God is good and gracious even though we can be really thick-headed. And that life is too short to worry about things out of your control. Who knows what will happen in the next week. I could be moved across the country...again. I could be released and head back home. I could get hurt. There are too many variables to make an accurate prediction on anything in Minor League baseball. But I know this; When it's over and I can look back at my career, I won't see how many championships I won or games that i've lost. I will see the relationships I formed and how I grew as man and as a husband.

That freedom is oh-so-satisfying.