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.