Friday, February 25, 2011

New Gloves and Old Gloves

Yesterday was one of those days that you love as a baseball player. New Stuff Day!!

Whether it's the smell of fresh glove leather, picking stuffed tissue paper out of the toes of new cleats, or even a brand new pair of (unworn and therefore un-smelly) sliding shorts, getting new stuff does something to us. As a minor leaguer especially, there aren't a whole lot of perks, and the separation between you and Mr. Big Leaguer is quite vast. But not on this day...on this day both of you are on the same level. The orange Nike shoe box is just as bright. The gloves are just as pleasantly unbroken-in. Whether, like me, your stuff gets in before Spring Training so that you relish it on your own, or they get sent straight to your locker at ST so that players all around you crane their necks to get a peek at your surprise, it's quite a rush.

My new glove got in yesterday. Wilson A2000. Same model as last year's mit, just shinier and less pliable. I'm gonna be honest, I bought last year's glove because I saw Greg Maddux wearing it in a braves photo magazine. Nostalgia, I guess. Anyway, I've come to realize that this glove makes all other gloves obsolete. It's the perfect weight (not too heavy, not to light), perfect length (11.75 in.), perfect color (All Black), and the perfect fit because of it's adjustable dial. It's got a great pocket that neither you nor the hitter can see through. The brilliant yellow "W" on the front shines having yet to see dirt, pine tar, or opposing hitters. It's untested in the battlefield, but if it's anything like its older'll do just fine.

Last year's model broke in almost instantly. It fit my hand like, well, a glove. A week into ST last season and the old guy was ready for game action. A real trooper. He gave up a couple home runs and saw more than his fair share of strike outs. Year before that I had a real gem of a glove. It was my first mit with my name embroidered on the side. I was excited to get my hand in it (insert inappropriate comment here). Unfortunately, it was no more than 2 weeks into the season that it began to fall apart. The lining began to separate from the inside stitching and the pocket grew too deep.
I was afraid that every throw would come straight through the webbing and hit me in the mouth. I had to put him down. My first year in Pro ball I was still using the Wilson A200 that I used in College. I couldn't part with it. It saw me get a scholarship, get drafted, and get my first pro hitter out. I still use it every once in a while, but the leather has gotten so stiff that it cracks a little bit more every time out.

We all remember our old gloves. I remember my first glove. Dark red and black. 12 inches. smushed together like a pancake. Run over with a car. Rubbed with shaving cream. Anything that would get it to close just right. I'd put a ball in it and put it under my mattress at night. I'd throw a ball into it constantly until someone in the house would tell me to shut up. It was kinda crappy, probably about $25 from the local Sports Authority, but it suited me just fine. I think deep down inside every ball player wants to grow up and show all his old things to his children and grandchildren. I can't wait to whip out these 4 beauties and start telling the stories.

"There was this one time. I was just 20 years old. Nervous as I could be..."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who Do You Wanna Be?

As a baseball player (or any professional for that matter) I think we have to choose what kind of ballplayer/person we want to be. If I truly believe that i'm going to be a big leaguer, I have to prepare myself for that day by figuring out who I want to model my game and myself after.

As I mentioned before, I'm watching the Baseball documentary by Ken Burns. I think i'm through 1930, so I have a ways to go, but so far I've encountered some of baseball's greatest talents and personalities. Guys with nicknames like Tug, Rube, The Christian Gentleman, Iron Horse, and of course, The Babe fill the pages of Baseball's lore. It seems like these men perfectly encapsulate some aspect of America. None of them are perfect, but neither is Uncle Sam.

John McGraw was manager of the NY Giants through the first decades of the century, and made sure his team played smart/small ball. It wasn't exciting, but it was effective. He always said, even though the owner's wouldn't allow it, that he'd hire any black player who had more talent than his white counterpart. Christy Mathewson was a mild mannered pitcher on McGraw's team all those years. The only thing that rivaled his great talent was his great big heart. No ballplayer, even the notoriously hard-ass Ty Cobb, had a bad word to say about Mathewson his entire career. He died after breathing poison gas in Europe while serving his country in WWI. Georgia native, Ty Cobb, was a dirty player by just about every standard imaginable. He was a racist. He deliberately injured players on the other team. He once beat up a handicapped person in the stands. He was a real ass. But he was, statistically, the best hitter the game's ever seen. He wouldn't stand to be second in anything. Respectable. There is story after story in the annals of Baseball about men who stood out in a crowd. Will I stand out in the crowd? What will I look like if I do?

I was thinking about it and I want to be a little bit like all of them. I'd like to be as old-school as McGraw, as genuinely well-liked as Mathewson, as dedicated as Cobb, as durable as Gehrig, and as big (figuratively) as Ruth. There's something timeless about these men and there's something timeless about this game. I know I won't be everything that they were, but it's nice to have something to aim at!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Blog Features for 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

My First Bullpen Of The Decade

Sometimes I forget how easy pitching really is.

I mean, the physics of it are pretty complicated, and trying to get people out consistently can be fairly challenging. But the fact of the matter is, pitching in and of itself isn't about those things. It's about throwing a 9 oz. leather encased cork 60 ft. 6 in. over a 5 sided piece of rubber that is 18 inches across.

It was the first time I've thrown off a mound in 5 months, so I was expecting rust...lots of rust. I was expecting it to go as smoothly as peeling a wet sticker off of a new plate. It would be difficult and leave behind traces of that gross sticky paper (or in my case, gross sticky thoughts of inadequacy). The thought was deep down in me that maybe I have forgotten how to pitch. That 5 month off would erode my skills to the point of my high schools practice companions. The truth is, however, it wasn't like that at all. It was more like taking a large flimsy magnet off the fridge (weird analogies today, i know). You just grab it and it comes off smoothly like nothing was ever there before.

Toeing the rubber was as normal as anything i've ever done. My delivery, while not flawless, was smooth and natural. As stated before, the goal of pitching is to throw strikes, and I threw about 75% strikes without even thinking about. Or maybe BECAUSE I wasn't thinking about it. Us pitchers tend to make things more complicated than they ought to be. Honestly, the only thing I was thinking was "don't make a fool of yourself in front of 30 high schoolers."

I didn't.

Onward and upward. Hopefully into some warmer weather. I'll keep you updated.