Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Spring Training Battle

I threw again today. It may very well be my last outing before the season gets up and running on the 6th. I was slated to go 4 innings if my pitch count allowed. I went all 4 in 46 pitches.

Looking at the line of the day (4 inn. 1 hit. 1 run. 3 BB. 1 HBP. 1 K. 8 groundball outs) you might be able to make some sort of judgement about the outing. Perhaps I was effectively wild? Maybe I was getting squeezed by the umpire yet still making good pitches? The truth is, I was all over the place.

My fastball was uncharacteristically wild, cutting on occasion and sinking out of sight on others. That's usually a good thing...if you know when it will happen. I didn't. I threw 3 balls to the backstop including 2 more in warmups. My curveball was decent at times and my change up got me a couple of weak swings, but my saving grace today was my newfound Cutter. I was able to throw it early in counts and get groundballs , late in the count getting my one punchout, and hang it over the heart of the plate for my lone hit. It was a tale of two outings...the line was good, the performance was shaky.

Pitching coach Ricky Bones said to us in a meeting last week that "if you have 30 starts a year the breakdown will look like this. 5 where you're untouchable. 5 where you can't get your own grandmother out. And 20 where your stuff is average, forcing you to battle for a W or roll over for an L."

Today was one of the starts in the middle. These are the days that define a season, a career even. You get 20 games every year where you are in a dog fight for pitch 1 to 100+. I didn't have great stuff today. In fact I would venture to say it was downright bad at times, but I was determined to make it through my 4 innings and give my team a chance to win this Spring Training game where they weren't even keeping score. I did my job and I was proud to do it. My bullpen session in a couple days will be my chance to refine and adjust, but on the hill in the game you aren't working on things...you're getting people out! I'll throw better in the future, but for today I did all I could.

This might be one of those weeks for you. You know, if you get 52 weeks in a year 12 will be great, 12 will be terrible and out of your control, but it's the other 28 weeks that you have the choice to make it good/bad. Don't let this year be a losing season for you. Go out and battle through the hard weeks and relish the good ones...This makes the bad ones that much more tolerable.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stick Your Landing

When I think of the phrase "stick your landing", I think of Kerri Strug in the Atlanta Olympics. She flew through the air, twisting and turning off of the vault, and landed perfectly on a broken ankle. She stuck it when she had to.

We use this phrase in pitching, too. When a pitcher finishes his delivery and lands out over his front leg, the best case scenario is to stick that landing and let your back leg fly over and land right next to it. Ideally landing you square to home plate. Some pitchers do this well. Greg Maddux. Kenny Rodgers. Chris Carpenter. Some pitchers don't.

Bob Gibson threw harder than most people ever have, but it wasn't always graceful like mad dog. He twisted and turned and when he landed he had so much momentum that his back side flung his entire body of to the first base side of the mound. He still managed to get guys out though. I'm not Bob Gibson. Although my landing has a tendency to be wild and exaggerated just like his, I would be better suited to stick my landing and improve my command. Don't worry...I'm working on it.

This made me think of life in those terms. Am I content to stick my landing when it comes to the decisions in my life, or am I always trying to get a little bit extra out of every situation, sending my life flailing out of direction? When I try to overthrow it doesn't do me any good. I don't throw any harder, I have worse command, worse movement, and find myself in a bad fielding position afterwards. Isn't that kinda what we do in life. We try for that extra little bit of money or temporary satisfaction only to sacrifice certain things. Deep fulfilling relationships. Loyalty. Rest. Love. We go go go and find ourselves in a bad position when life hits something back at us. Gaining something temporary has not only been futile, but it has also forfeited us the chance to make the play and get the out. I mean, isn't that what pitching is all about...getting outs?

Let's all do ourselves a favor. Slow it down. Be content with what you've been blessed with. Stick your landing. Make the play.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Who Cares?

I didn't throw so well today.

Who Cares?

1) It's Spring Training. 2) I've been throwing really well up until now. 3) Bad conditions. 4) IT'S SPRING TRAINING.

There are a couple things to work on when I get to the park tomorrow...just like there is everyday. So I threw badly today. Who cares? Let's try it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Training Outings #1 & 2

So I have waited until now to post on my first outings of Spring training. It's not that I'm superstitious, it's just nice to have a larger sample from which to make some observations.

Let's set some scenery for my performances thus far. After the position players got here on March 12 they split us up into four groups. There are 4 long season teams...four groups...you get where I'm going. I was placed in group 2 with most of the AA guys and a few guys slotted for A+ ball this year. In my mind it was pretty clear that I was in the latter category. Still, it was nice to be around some of the older guys in camp and become a sponge. I worked out and threw my bullpens and Live BP sessions with the AA group. I felt pretty good about that.

Onto the actual performances.

2 bullpens. Good command. Good level of effort (no bullpen should be more than 75% in my opinion). Decent action on my pitches, but who cares...it's early.

2 live BP sessions. First time throwing to minor league hitters (I threw to HS hitters before i got to ST. A big thanks to my Providence guys). Anxious to see how hitters would react to my stuff. I was better than I expected to be. Nothing makes you feel better than throwing to hitters who haven't seen live pitching in 6 months. Collin (1) - Hitters (0).

First outing. Against the Florida Marlins AA/A+ team in Jupiter, FL. I have been working on controlling my nerves by controlling my breathing. Long deep breaths. Focus on something small. I took the hill for my first 2 innings of the Spring remarkably calm and confident. My performance reflected the same. 2 innings. 0 runs. 1 hit. 0 BB. 2 K's. I threw all 4 of my pitches for strikes and attacked the hitters early. Oh, and my arm felt good not great.

Second outing. Against the St. Louis Cardinals AA team again in Jupiter, FL (they share a complex down there). This was a true AA team. I have now been bumped to group 3, or the A+ team. They created a 5th group for those players who will be in Extended Spring Training (woof...), so some players got bumped down from each group to more accurately reflect Opening Day rosters. As expected, I was moved to the A+ group. No bitterness. Only contentment. Anyway, it was nice to still pitch against AA hitters even if I wasn't in their group anymore. I had 3 innings this outing and was throwing after my buddy, Brandon Moore. He went his 3 and it was now my turn. 3 innings. 0 hits. 0 runs. 1 BB. 1 HBP. 1 K...Sorry 'bout it.

I'm two outings into camp and feeling very confident in my ability to pitch. More than that, however, I feel very content in the place God has me. He's been teaching my the importance of resting in Him and trusting where I cannot see the end...it's called Faith. I don't claim to be good at it, but I am getting more comfortable with it.

Isaiah 26:15 - "You have enlarged the nation, LORD; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land."


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rosa and I

Her name is Rosa.

She has been cleaning my room at the team hotel for the past 3 years. She's seen my dirty underwear. She's dusted under my hidden stash of Kit Kat bars. She's cleaned my throw-up sheets after a particularly rough night that first year. We have a special bond.

Rosa is from Havana, Cuba, loves the color pink, and LOVES the midday Spanish soap operas on univision. She speaks a little english and I speak even less Spanish, so we use a lot of sign language (not the real kind, but rather the universal ones like eat, clean, and throw-up) and spanglish. She wears big horn rimmed glasses and has a haircut that is a throwback to what I imagine Havana was like in the 20s. Wavy and shiny, always shimmering with a fancy looking brooch.

Today we saw each other for the first time this ST. We walked by each other going down the hallway. I'm sure each of us were thinking the same thing, "Do you think they remember who I am?" After a moment of courtesy smiles, she broke the awkwardness. She let out a big "Ooooooo!!" It kinda scared me, but I couldn't help but smile and say "Hola, seƱora!" I was expecting her to reply similarly and continue on her way. She didn't.

She cozied over to me in the middle of the hallway speaking softly to me in Spanish that I didn't understand. It sounded nice though. She put her tiny little arm around me and gave me a hug, not out of necessity but because we've shared some things. I like to think it's because I took the time to get to know as much about her as I could my first year, but it's far more likely that she's just a sweet woman.

Any woman that has seen my dirty undies and vomit sheets and can still give me a hug is OK in my book! Thanks for everything Rosa.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting Bumped

We had our first torrential downpour today. It lasted all of 20 minutes, but with the ferocity that Florida rains are known for the fields were drenched. Thankfully my group was done with our work for the day (minus a couple sprints, but who's gonna cry over that). Unfortunately though, some of the pitchers that were scheduled to throw their first live BP session got bumped.

To the untrained ear that might not seem like much of anything, but to a pitcher that's the sound of setbacks. As pitchers we are both blessed and cursed to be able to throw only once every few days. We can't take BP everyday like hitters. We can't catch 20 bullpens a day like catchers. We only get a certain time period (usually a very slim window) to get our "work" in. On non-game days that means simply picking up a ball and playing catch. On game/bullpen/live BP days, though, you hope beyond hope that everything will stay on track until you get your throwing in. Clouds start to creep in, the normally warm florida wind grabs a chill, and you know that your time is running out. There's a whole line of pitchers ahead of you who get to throw before you. Their palms aren't sweating, why would they be? They're going to be fine. But not you...you take the mound as the first drop of rain settles on the brim of your cap. Telling yourself it's nothing, you shake it off and continue your warm-up throws. The misty precipitation turns into beads, which turns into drops, which turns into sheets of rain. You scramble back to the clubhouse with the rest of the camp thinking "Damn, almost made it." In reality, you got bumped. You threw just enough not to be ready to go again tomorrow, but not enough to go on your regularly scheduled rest.

One time isn't that bad, you get back on your rotation after a week or so. But, if like so many of us, it happens multiple times during ST, you could conceivably lose an entire outing. You could've gotten pushed back so many times that you actually get a week behind. Which means one or two less outings than the next guy. In a world where we "work" only once every five days, losing an outing is miserable...not a death wish, but disheartening for sure.

On a bright note, I'm throwing tomorrow and it looks like 0% chance of rain. Funny how that happens. Thanks God!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Soreness

My legs hurt.

It's not that I didn't work out or prepare for Spring Training. In fact I prepared well, pitched well in my first bullpen, and out-ran most of my teammates in conditioning yesterday. It's just that you can't replicate standing around in spikes for 5 hours a day in the Florida heat, while you're sitting in your living room in Atlanta. I spent my last week in Atlanta spending time with my wonderful wife, not preparing my feet for the pounding that ST brings. Therefore, my legs hurt.

The great thing is that everyone is in the same boat. We're all shuffling around the hotel moaning and groaning with each step. Inevitably things will get easier. We'll get more used to the long days, and the fatigue will slowly melt away. My goal is simple...pitch well. Despite all soreness and distractions that could be used as a crutch for not pitching great, there is no excuse. There are roughly 80 pitchers fighting for 48 long season roster spots, and you can be sure no one is going to simply give one to me. I have to earn it just like everyone else.

So my sore legs may hobble my stride down the hall but they won't hobble my chances this season.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hello Again

I just got into town...Port St. Lucie, FL. Mets Minor League Spring Training 2011.

It's always interesting to me to see how ballplayers react to seeing each other for the first time after an entire offseason. Presumably life has been relatively the same for most guys. Same routine. Same hometown. Same haircut (baseball players tend to stick to what works for them when it comes to hair).

But it's very possible that things could've changed drastically. More than one guy got engaged over the 6 month break. Some have had surgery, moved across country, gotten a new car (usually bigger or gaudier). However, baseball players tend to gravitate toward what they know. Meaning that most guys greet each other for the first time the exact same way they said goodbye the year before. It's a handshake and a bro-hug. "Hey man!", "What's up bro?", "Que paso?", "Tranquilo!".

It's all the same. It's all familiar. That's the way we like it. It allows us to let go of all the baggage that builds up over an offseason and simply do what we know best. Play ball!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring Training Crash Course

Spring Training for us Minor Leaguers (pitchers and catchers) is just on the horizon...literally. Like tomorrow. I've been getting a lot of questions over the past month about what Spring Training is like.

"Who all is down there?"
"What team are you gonna be on this year?"
"Are you going back to Savannah again? I mean you liked it down there right?"
"When will you figure out where you're going?"

etc., etc., etc.

I think a Spring Training crash course is in order. Allow me to expound.

Spring Training (abbreviated ST from now on because I'm not a good typer) is roughly one month long; spanning from March 5 to April 3. The Mets ST complex is located in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It's 45 minutes north of West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side. 2 hours north of Miami for a South Beach reference. They've been there for over 25 years, every spring. At our complex we have 5 full size ball fields situated in a group behind the big stadium (where our High A team plays during the season). We have 2 smaller fields consisting of just an infield and pitcher's mound that we use for drills. There are 20 bullpen mounds scattered throughout the complex and 10 batting cages complete with pitching machines in each. We have a large locker room/training room/weight room/cafeteria for the 180 or so minor leaguers at camp, and the Major League guys stay in their locker room over at the big stadium.

The Big League guys do their workouts in the morning before 11, presumably so that they can play their games in the early afternoon. In reality though, they get their stuff done in the mornings so that they can play golf all afternoon and maybe catch some fish at the local ponds. Rough life. We do our workouts after them, usually about 10:30 to 4:30, in the heat of the Florida midday. You can usually count on a 15-20 minute rain shower somewhere in that time slot. We get our work in, eat lunch, and then come back out to play games in the afternoon. If we're not playing that day we usually have to watch the other games and do some sort of pitching chart for them. If we get to leave early...GOLF!! You can usually get 9 holes in if you leave at 4:00, but if you leave at 2:00 then 18 holes is a definite possibility.

We live in one of a few places. Either in the Hotel that the organization puts us up in, the condo complex just behind the hotel if we're big shots, or in our own apartment if we're married/really big shots. Yes, I'm married, but since my wife isn't coming down until the end of ST I'm living in the hotel. Trust me, it's easier than trying to find an apartment on our own for a month, then doing it all over again once the season starts. Truth #956 about the minor leagues: MOVING SUCKS.

So what team am I gonna be on? Believe me, If I knew I would tell you. The fact of the matter is that no one really knows what team they will be on until the day they post the rosters the last day of ST (kinda like in High School tryouts). You can try to guess where you'll be based on how you did last year, how you did during ST this year, and how you stack up against the competition, but the hard truth is no one knows for sure. People get hurt, traded, released, and retire. Any one of these things along with plenty more excuses have a ripple effect all the way down. If a big leaguer gets hurt then a AAA guy will replace him, then you need someone to replace the AAA guy...you get the progression. So I can say with about 0% certainty that I should start out in St. Lucie playing for our High A team this season, which is one level higher than Savannah where I played last season. But I guess we'll see.

All we can really do is play hard, try to stay healthy, and realize that God is the only one in control of this roller coaster. I truly believe that I will play Major League baseball, whether this year, the next, or a few down the road. I'm in good hands. That's enough for me now.

I'll keep posting from ST starting on Sunday. Like it or not, you're gonna get a first hand look at what it's like down there. Buckle in.