Monday, May 30, 2011

The Grass is Always Greener in AA

I know that it's been a while since I posted last. I also know that I said I would try to be better keeping it up. 0 for 2.

Daytona: Jackie Robinson Ballpark

Anyway, It's been a roller coaster to say the least. This last week especially. Ashley left to go home to Atlanta as we left to go on an 8 day road trip to Tampa and Daytona. We had already lost our last 2 heading into the road trip, so we decided to keep that train rolling and lose 7 of our next 8. Losing sucks, but that's not the half of it. I can stand losing if we play well (more specifically, if I pitch well), but that's not the story of that road trip. We played pretty bad. Pitched inefficiently, hit anemically, made errors...it was rough. So we came home from the road trip ready to see our own beds, play in our own (non wind-aided) ballpark, and get back to playing well. And that's just what happened. We played the first 2 games against Dunedin like the team we are supposed to be. It was good to get back on track. But I digress...

As for me personally, it was a long long road trip. I got the start against Tampa in game 2 of the series. I threw 4 innings, 98 pitches. For any of you doing the math...that's not good. I gave up a few runs and we lost the game. It was my 3rd or 4th consecutive outing where I just didn't perform that well. I felt good. I was striking guys out. I felt "inspired" out there. But I just couldn't get the job done all the way. The first day of the Daytona series our pitching coach Phil Regan came to me and let me know that I would be moving to the bullpen for a while. "A while" in minor league terms ranges from "until tomorrow" to "you're never starting again". So that was not exactly comforting news. I threw in the bullpen that night. 3 innings, 3 runs...ugh To top it all off, Ashley was back in Atlanta for another 3 weeks and I was needing my best friend now more than ever. We talked on the phone, but I was ready to see her again. We had decided that she was gonna come down a couple days ago, a little bit early from her trip home...we needed it! I was excited about it and so was she. We got done with our second game back home and I sat down to eat just like I do every night. After winning the game the atmosphere was light in the clubhouse and our victory song was playing. Then I heard it...

"Is Mac gone yet?"
"No, he's right here."
"Mac, come see me in my office." Pedro said.

My heart dropped. The only thing that I could deserve at this point was a plane ticket to Savannah and a pity pat on the back. I walked in to see our pitching coordinator, pitching coach, and Pedro our manager sitting in the office. I knocked sheepishly, hoping that maybe no one would hear me and I could just slip out like this never happened. They heard. Pedro motioned me over, put his arm around my shoulder and said "You're going to be heading up to Binghamton."

WHAT!!??

They told me that I was pitching the second game of a double header on tuesday up there and then staying to help out in the bullpen for "a while". They told me that since I could pitch out of the pen and start, I would be an asset to the team up there. This was unexpected to say the least. My goal for the year was to end up in AA. It's May 30 and I'm already here. The grass isn't literally greener, in fact it's not as nice as PSL. But it is nice to see progress in a job where progress isn't always linear. Did I deserve it? Probably not. But you can be damn sure that I plan on taking full advantage of the opportunity. God works in strange ways. Well, strange ways to us. I'm sure they're perfectly normal ways to Him.

My new (old) house in Binghamton, NY

So here I am in Binghamton, NY. AA ball for the NY Mets. It's kinda surreal. Tomorrow it gets very real. More to come on this...much more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Month One Recap

Our game of cards on GetAwayDay

We're officially into the 2nd month of the 6 month-long season. It's kind of amazing that it's only been a month, what with all the winning...then losing. Yeah, we started out 17-2 and have skidded to a 4-8 record over our last 12. Not only has the team been on a roller coaster of sorts, but so have I.

I began my season with 2 solid 5 inning efforts giving up just 2 earned runs. Since then I've given up a few more (17 to be exact). What's changed, you say? To be honest, I'm not sure anything has. In fact, I feel better now about my stuff and my delivery than I have all year. I guess you have to chalk it up to baseball being baseball. "You win some. You lose some. Nobody's perfect."

It's such a cliché, but it's true. As ballplayers, we can't afford to get wrapped up in how good (or how bad) we're doing. The season is too long, the game is too difficult, and it's all just too damn unpredictable. We do our best to control the outcomes that are within our realm of control, but you just can't control everything. Talking to Phil Regan, our pitching coach, he said just that. "Mac, you can't control everything. I know you want to...just listen. All you can control is what pitch you wan to to throw, your delivery, and how the ball comes out of you hand." He was right. I can't control the flight of the ball through the air. The air exerts its own force on the ball to make it do something unique. I can't control how the catcher catches it. He's the one wearing the mit. I definitely can't control what the hitter does, whether he hits it over the fence or misses it by 2 feet. When I focus on the things I can control the game seems to slow down. It becomes easier and it allows me to focus more intensely on what I am doing. Mono e mono. Pitcher vs. hitter. The battle of good vs. evil. Ok, I'm a bit biased. Not all hitters are evil...just the ones in the lineup that day.

So let's chalk up the first month to a learning experience. Or a warm up. Or whatever. It's over and now it's time to get back to work. You know what they say. April showers bring May shutouts. Or something like that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Andy Hull, Manchester Orchestra, and Me

Ashley and I have been listening to Manchester Orchestra's new Album, Simple Math (listen to it here). It's good...really good. The album has depth, it's kinda hard to listen to, and it makes you stop what you're doing to just enjoy it. All good things when it comes to making an album. But it got me thinking about Andy, the band's front man, and his journey to where the band is now.

As a kind of chubby (ok, very chubby) 8th grader, I made friends immediately with the new kid from Toronto, Andy Hull. His dad and mine were both former pastors, we both played basketball, and we both had a love for music. We hung out over at his house and I got to listen to him play guitar renditions of Weezer...I sang back up. Even then, however, I knew that he was gonna be famous. He had that je ne sais quoi. He didn't really care what anyone said about his ego or his music, he just kept doing it...and it kept getting better. It's almost as if, despite his propensity to be an asshole, people fell in love with his music and, more specifically, his on-stage persona. Andy knew what he wanted to be. Everyone did.

At that time, I was playing JV baseball for Providence Christian Academy. I pitched, slowly. I ran, slowly. I played, rarely. As confident as Andy was in his music, I was equally self-conscious in my baseball abilities. Playing in the Big Leagues (Hell, even playing in college) seemed like a distant dream. After my 8th grade year I began to develop a little bit physically and as a ball player. I began throwing harder. I pitched in my first varsity game. I gave up my first varsity home run...on my first varsity pitch. Ouch! Andy and I began to drift into distinctly different groups. He started his first band (East on Autry, I think) and I started playing ball more competitively with the thought of actually playing in college somewhere. I got my scholarship to play at Berry College and Andy got his record deal and released his first album. I know that you can't really compare careers in such different areas, but it always felt like Andy was one step ahead of me.

I played in college, I played in Cape Cod, I started getting some hype. I felt like I was on my way to being famous (my not-so-secret desire). Then I looked around to see what Andy was up to. They had released their album to solid reviews, toured around around the country, around Europe, around Australia. They were getting good press and bad press...but they were getting it none-the-less. They were recording their second full length album. I heard some of the tracks, they were really good. I saw a couple of their shows. Andy was contagious on stage. His energy was palpable and his ego was very very visible. He spit on a guy in the crowd for talking. He was an ass, people loved it. Everything inside of me wanted to dislike the band. Andy and I weren't friends anymore. My new girlfriend, Ashley, was on the outs with him and his friends. He was beating me to famous. I hated it. But I couldn't help it, the music was too good and Andy was too interesting to me.

I got drafted in '08. I was now a pro ballplayer and on my way to the Bigs (it's a longer road than I originally thought). I got married to Ashley. Things were looking up! Andy got married too, they got their own record label, he released a solo album, I heard him on the radio for the first time. Ugh. Yet still, when any of my baseball buddies heard the band and asked about them, I always talked about them being old high school friends of mine. Do we talk still? No. Are we actually friends? No. But there was something about Andy and the band that made me want them to succeed. Maybe if they succeeded it meant that I would follow close behind. Whatever the reason, I was their biggest promoter in Minor League Baseball.

Now Andy and Manchester have released their 3rd full length album, their best yet in my opinion. I'm in High A with the Mets. Andy seems to have mellowed out a little bit, matured in his song writing, and still puts on a killer show. I think I'm learning how to pitch a little bit more and I'm closer than ever to being in the Bigs. He's famous, I'm not. But honestly, I couldn't be happier for him. I remember those days when he would play his Fender in the basement with the dream of selling out venues all over the world. He's accomplished that. His attitude, while off-putting at times, never accepted the idea that maybe it just wouldn't work out. He was focused, intense, and passionate about doing what he loved. As much as I wanted to hate him, he's inspired me to be better at what I do. Who knows, maybe one day we can be friends again. Maybe when we're both famous, sitting on our yachts, drinking and remembering when we were mere commoners (thanks for that reference Royal Family), we'll be friends again. Who knows.

Either way I want to take this opportunity to say...Thanks Andy. Best of luck. And this new album is great.