Baseball Games in Venezuela (part 2)

I wrote in part one about the atmosphere around Venezuela and how it is different than America, now I want to talk about how the game is different and the same down here. When I thought about how I wanted to word this blog post, I kept reverting back to the movie Hoosiers, when the kids from Hickory, IN find themselves in the state title game. The coach has them come out to the court and measure basket, the distance from the free throw line and as well as a few others and all the measurements come out the same, and that’s what I felt like down here. When I got here, I didn’t quite know what to expect and I don’t know what I was expecting. Seventy foot mound distance? Hundred foot base paths? Or was there going to be a field at all? But that is the greatest thing about baseball, and sport in general. No matter when you go, no matter what corner of the globe you are in it doesn’t change. The equipment, players, coaches, and fans might but the basic rules of the game will forever remain the same.

The biggest difference I have noticed down here in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League is that game times are usually around the three to four-hour mark every game. I don’t know what people are talking about but man are there a lot of mound visits down here! I think I counted a total of 26 in a regulation nine inning game between both teams, it seemed like there was one every three pitches! Like I said, I got no idea what they were talking about but man it must have been important to not forget! The other major difference I have seen is the crowd! The crowd is a mix between a world cup soccer game and a good college football rivalry what I mean by that is there is every type of noise maker that has ever been produced at the game, combine that with the occasional vuvuzela blasting away you get some serious noise reverberating off these concrete stadiums. Then if that wasn’t enough you got the chanting and a drum line in the stands, that the college football side. It seems every time has a few chants that the fans love to yell every 4.6 seconds and then the fans for the other team will retaliate with theirs, although sometimes you really can’t understand what they are saying because for one they are in Spanish and too there are usually fifteen to twenty noise makers clogging my ears drums at any given moment. If you want to see examples of the noises during the games click the links. The first one is in Caracas before the start of the game, and the 2nd video is during a game at home in Margarita. http://www.twitvid.com/KPEV2    http://www.twitvid.com/SH21Z

I can honestly say that these are some of the most passionate fans I have ever seen! Yankees/Red Sox try Leones vs  Magallanes there is a reason, which you will see in the videos that there are about thirty police officers on the field during ANY down time at all. I have heard stories of calls being over turned and people throwing glass bottles on the field the same way King Leonides was bombarded with arrows in 300! People do not come to baseball games to sit and chat and hang out with their friends, they stay locked in to every single pitch of every batter, it seems like they are more in tune with the game sometimes than the players in the dugout are. For the most part from what I have seen the fans are very passionate about the sport but things don’t get too out of hand, although I did see a few fights in the stands in Caracas.

The similarities in the game will always be there, although I have never been to the big leagues this is the most intimidating crowd and environment that I have been in on a baseball field, but I think it will be a good thing in the long run for me because if I am one of the fortunate few to make it to the greatest stage I know I will be better prepared.

The players down here are pretty good, you are allowed about 8 “imports” as they call us from the United States and usually those are guys from affiliated ball, we are sprinkled in with the Venezuelans that are in affiliated ball, and some who play in Italy, Mexico, and Japan. It seems to me that every team has an “older guy” that has been around for a while. Although I mentioned before that the games seem to last forever, with the mix of competition down here of some old, some young, sprinkled in with a few savvy vets I think there is no better place for me to be now to help me make my big league push in 2012.

 

Until next time!

My First Baseball Card

“I’ll trade you one Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and this guy, I don’t know who he is but the card looks cool, for your Nolan Ryan’s.” I had these conversations countless times with my friends in their rooms, on front porches, or wherever else we could find to sprawl out our massive allotment of baseball cards each weekend. My allowance, much like every other kid in America was spent on baseball cards. I would look forward to the weekend because that’s when I knew I would be able to go with my dad to a baseball card convention. We would spend all day, just him and I, passing through countless hundreds of vendors and their cards, looking in amazement. For every Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, and Williams card I saw there were countless cards that looked neat but were stuffed in the $1 bin. I would spend countless hours scouring through those bins looking for the Nolan Ryan gem that I was hoping they mistakenly put in the bin. Even to this day I am an avid collector of Nolan Ryan cards.

You see, growing up I was, and still am a big Nolan Ryan collector. There was something about him, the way he attacked batters, the way he pitched, I was him in countless pickup games with my friends. I didn’t care about any other card until two days ago. Two days ago Topps released a series of cards called “2011 Bowman Chrome” and if you happen to get yourself a box or a pack and open it, you just might come across card #BCP127. You might not recognize the name, its not going to be worth $100 in Beckett, but that card right there signifies one of the proudest moments in my baseball career. That card, number BCP127 is the first rookie card of yours truly, Ryan Tatusko.

I had no idea I was going to be in this particular set of cards, and as a matter of fact I found out through an email. Someone posted on my twitter account that they “found a Ryan Tatusko card in the wild.” As you can assume, I was as confused as ever because I knew I didn’t have any cards out (besides the ones that each individual minor league team comes out with), and unless you knew someone close to me or my mother (who I think owns 50 of every card I’ve got), there was a very slim chance you were coming across my card, and why would you want one anyway? I did a little digging and to my astonishment I was a part of this 2011 Bowman Chrome series.

I don’t know what the selection process is for these cards, or who decides what players go on or if it’s just a joke to put me on card, but I am one of the extremely lucky few who are forever immortalized in cardboard. I saw the card for the first time, and I have to admit the first thing I thought of was “Wow, I got to get a better autograph, that thing is terrible.” But I have to admit its one of the coolest feelings as a baseball player. I know the “prospect” guys sign baseball card deals right away and sign 1000-2500 cards and they put them in sets. But everyone who gets drafted doesn’t necessarily get a “legit” baseball card. Like I said, everyone gets immortalized in a team set, but not everyone gets put on a Topps, Bowman, Fleer, or Leaf card. I never thought in a million years, I would have been given the opportunity to be collected.

I know the Ryan Tatusko card market isn’t surging with interest, and I am most likely bound for the 3-ring binders, coffee cans, and the as the throw-in for almost every kid in America, but I still hold solace that maybe one kid might say “Hey that one looks kind of cool, throw that one in and we have a deal.”

Another very cool factor is that for some reason Bowman decided to issue limited editions of my card as well. It’s the same picture, but the border around the card is different. I’ve seen the normal base one which is white then there is blue, purple, red, and green edged cards and then other cards that are completely yellow, green, and super reflective and they even released the printing plates which I do believe they only release one of. Its crazy for me to think that there is a limited edition card floating around that only one of is made. So if you are reading this right now and you buy a box of Bowman Chrome and you pull a card that is a 1/1 of me, I am sorry it couldn’t be someone worth more (ha ha). Also to the man that pulled the super refractor of me that is also a 1/1, again I’m sorry it wasn’t someone more important, but if you’re ever looking to get rid of it you know where to look (ha-ha).

It’s been pretty neat to see people direct message me on twitter or talk to me on message boards about pulling my card out of packs, to which again I apologize :) . The coolest story I have found so far, is a man who messaged me saying that he lives in my hometown and he frequents a card shop that my father and I used to go too all the time when I was a kid. In that shop he bought a few packs of the cards and out popped a Ryan Tatusko orange bordered card that was numbered /25. That was a very big “whoa” moment for me that one of my cards made it all the way back to my hometown, out of all the places in the world.

So here I am now, just smiling as I see random people messaging me saying they pulled my card out of their pack. Although I am currently in Venezuela playing winter ball for the Margarita Bravos if anyone reading this pulls me out of a pack and wants an autograph please don’t hesitate to ask me on TwitterFacebook or the various message boards I frequent. I would be happy to give you an address you can send them too once I get back.

To the little kid who now sits in his room and his front porch trading with his friend dreaming of one day being on a baseball card, I say to you never lose that dream because if no-one believed they could do it, all those coffee cans, 3-ring binders and tire spokes would be empty and a passion of millions of kids and grown ups around the world would be lost.

Its More Than a Game

This blog is actually going to be in two parts, I want to separate between what the country is like from a cultural aspect and the what it is like from a baseball perspective. I have been in Venezuela for about a week now, and I must admit that when I first landed I couldn’t have been more lost. I stepped out of the gates of the Caracas airport with my luggage in tow and all I could do was stare I don’t know exactly what I was staring at where it was the barrage of motor scooters that were whipping by us at a feverish pace, or if it was the majestic scenery with cloud covered mountain tops or if I was just staring into blank space comprehending where I was right at that second. Whatever was going through my mind all I could do was let out a certain girl school giggle and say “are you kidding me?” but in an awe-struck sort of way. (Link to pictures of Venezuela scenery)

We sat in the terminal, each of the four of us incomplete silence as we had visions of what this journey was going to be like ahead of us. Was it going to be what we expected? But what did I expect? Did I expect Maui with a baseball field with plush grass and the locals showering us everywhere we went or did I expect us to be in a barren wasteland where the people would mug us as quick as look at us. After touching down in Margarita and getting our bearings about us, we headed straight to the field for the first practice of our winter ball career. Driving through the streets, each one of us stared out that van window in awe with what we were seeing, no matter how much we tried to prepare yourself for the sights and the sounds we still sat there dumb-founded. We flew down the street honking our horn as passer-byes as motor scooters went wherever they wanted weaving in and out of traffic and even going down the median. I’ve seen fire jugglers in the median during red lights, people selling lottery tickets and other various items such as ice cream, rope, and sandwiches.

Pulling up to the field, I would be remiss to say that I wasn’t impressed with it. It was a massive concrete structure that holds about 15,000 people and we immediately headed to the in the clubhouse to claim our little share of locker room space. We were immediately greeted by our Latin American teammates, with “hellos” “Que Paso’s” “Que lo Ques” and “How you doin’s?” We got out to the field and was immediately greeted with the intense head and profuse sweating humidity. This is a funny thing this game of baseball, once we stepped on that field is didn’t matter where we all came from whether we played Independent ball, or were a big name prospect, or just a guy trying to create a name for yourself we put on that Bravos jersey and instanteously this sweet, harsh, yet satisfying game made us all instant family.

We all stay in the same hotel, and the Latin American’s all know we don’t speak much English but we all try, and I have noticed that if you try to talk Spanish the people will smile at you say “AHHH Americano” and be willing to take their time with you as we try and piece-meal our sentences together spliced with the occasional “Como se Dice?” (How do you say?) Every time we have been eating and another Latin family member sees us struggling with things they immediately come over and help us an order for us or translate. It’s like there is an unspoken bond that is between us that says “Hey, we know you guys help us when we are in the states playing ball now you understand how we feel and we will help you.” Our prides wouldn’t let us ask for this help, but it goes without saying that we would do anything for each other.

Having played our first game today against a sold out crowd in Caracas, you got a feeling of the pride and passion that the fans and players have for this game, it is both mind numbing and heart melting. Every time there was a run scored, a runner went from 1st to 3rd or a great play is made there was a thunderous uproar that would occur that would register on any rector scale. You can tell there is much more at stake here that going to the Caribbean world series, this is about winning for your town, proving you’re the best against your countrymen, this is the big leagues and you are a star no matter what team you are on. What I find the most fascinating is that people around the island of Margarita know the baseball players, and when over 6 foot tall white guys walk around they know why exactly we are there. I think I have taken more pictures with people in the last week than I have ever in my 4.5 years in the minor leagues.

So as I sit here and watch the lights of the shanty towns lining the sheer rock cliffs of Caracas, I can’t help but reflect if I truly understand what I am doing here, why I have been blessed with this incredible opportunity. Down here there is nothing else but these games, this is a matter of pride, this is a matter of bragging rights, or being able to say “We are better than you.” and tomorrow I take the first step in a journey of this season. I toe the rubber for the first time this season, tonight, and I will be  in one of the most competitive seasons I have ever been a part of aside from stateside baseball. All these games are Game 7 of the world series, and tonight I own the hill.

Reflections of 2011/Hopes for 2012

It’s a weird thing, silence. On one hand it can take you to places of your brain that you haven’t explored in an extremely long time, which could have positive and negative qualities depending on the mindset you are in. On the other hand it can force you to reflect on what you think the future holds for you, and imagining circumstances that life might come at you with, you just seem lose yourself in thought with no recollection of how or why you got there, you just did.

As I sit on yet another hotel bed, just like the countless ones I have before in my career, listening to the sound of jets taking off from the airport I can’t help but imagine what this step in my baseball journey is going to be like. What are the fans like? Is this just like MiLB? Or maybe is this what the big leagues are like? How is the competition? How am I going to handle being a starter again? Are we going to be good? Am I going to be good? Will I master what the Nationals want me to work on? These are just a few of the countless questions that are floating in my head, and as each one pops up in my brain seemingly from nowhere I am again trying to figure out this crazy journey we are all on called “life”.

Starting out in pro ball I never knew that opportunities like this were possible, I knew that some guys went overseas trying to hold on to the last moments of their career as long as possible but I knew nothing of the winter ball opportunities that are available to us until this year when I got to AAA. When I was first approached about the possibility of playing I balked heavily at it because I was un-aware of how things were handled down in these various leagues but after learning more about them I grew more and more anxious about wanting to play. When I heard the scout for the Bravos de los Margarita was in the stands to watch me play for a possible recommendation it felt like I was in college all over again with the scouts watching my every move, I was a little nervous.

Luckily for me things worked out and here I am now. This year was filled with incredible swings for me, the first half of the season I struggled extremely badly with some adjustments I was trying to make to my pitching style and my numbers showed it. After a promotion to AAA, things started to turn around. It’s a crazy thing this game is, people judge you by numbers and by what you are producing as it is very hard to see the work and the sweat and the struggles that occur daily in the mechanics work to try to find that exact fit. I had amazing coached and coordinators who helped me along and adapted suggestions to my pitching style, and in the second half things clicked for me a lot better than they did for me in the first half.

The best piece of advice I received while I was playing was when someone told me to “grade you from the second half on, forget the first half that never happened. Your season begins in the second half. Everyone has to have their worst season ever and best season ever just don’t constantly beat your own record for the worst.” I took that to heart and made the second half the beginning of my season and I think it worked as my numbers were a big turnaround” I really learned a lot about myself this year as a pitcher from all my struggles. I truly learned that no matter how low you get, no matter how many times you get hit hard there is a chance to redeem yourself. I believe you learn the most when you are at your lowest point, and as ballplayer I got there this year and that’s when revelations hit me and I started making that turn. My grandma had a great quote that she always lived by and she said “Everything happens for a reason”. And I truly believe my struggles happened to me to learn, and boy did I.

Now that being said, its brings me again to this point sitting on a bed in another chain hotel listening to those planes thinking of what this experience holds in store for me (which I should know already you can never actually know exactly what life has in store for you, that’s the fun of it). But I know what I need to work on, which for me is attacking hitters and staying in favorable counts. When I walk people, things snowball on me and big innings happen when I feel like I am in control of things and I am constantly getting ahead is when I am at my greatest. My goal in Venezuela is to reduce my walks and attack hitters, and be more pitch efficient. Since the team in Margarita and Washington both decided that I could be a starter for the winter ball team I really want to try to be as efficient as possible with my pitches, and throw as many innings as I can.

I learned many things this year in the bullpen which I know will help me in the long run with being a pitcher, starting has always been my comfort zone but being in the bullpen really helped me expand my talents and to sit and learn from the guys who have been in the big leagues in the bullpen. I know that going down to Venezuela will just add to my arsenal for when I get to make my MLB debut. I sit and look at guys on TV who were fast tracked to the big leagues in a whole lot less time that it has taken me, but the path that has so far been laid out for me has been filled with turns, trades, bumps, and pitfalls but in the end as long as that gold is at the end of my path it is all worth it in the end. I know age (26) works against me, but that’s ok because one day when I toe the rubber of a big league mound, even for just one batter it was all worth it in the end.

I will continue to update my blog with videos, pictures, and various insights as I am in Venezuela. I am extremely grateful that you readers are along on this journey with me and I hope you continue to come back and read my blog. I thank you all so very much, the next time you read this blog I will be with my new team. I thank you all for joining me, here’s to the next step in the journey.

A Professional’s view from the stands

I did a guest blog for http://www.thenatsblog.com about what it was like to be in the stands watching a professional game while I am still playing. It was a very surreal experience for me, even though I was there to see my best friend I had a ton of emotions running through me that day.

Recently I went to the Ballpark at Arlington to say hello to my best friend who played for the opposing team that day, I hadn’t seen him since we both got traded a little over a year ago so I was very excited to be able to see my friend to say the least. As I approached the front gates, and walked down to section 18, row 1, seat 8, a feeling came over me that was something that I am not accustomed too, like a wave that started in my toes and ending in my brain. 

As I glanced around the stadium before the game and read each jersey, I was instantly taken back to a time when I shared a clubhouse with no fewer than eight guys that were dressed out that day, and I instantly became jealous. Not jealous of the people on that field, nor of the accomplishments that each person had, but jealous of the experience of being on a baseball field that fateful late September day. I sat in mostly silence that day just watching my friends, noticing if they handled themselves any different that day, could I notice changes in their personality? Playing style? Little nuances like that.

I sat back in my blistering hot chair wondering if it felt as hot on the field in a MLB jersey, daydreaming of how amazing it would be to be taking the rubber that day in this scorching heat. Would I feel as warm? Or would I shrug it off like I have done a million times before in my career when I have pitched under the sun in games.

There are certain parts of the brain that as a professional athlete you cannot turn off when you are watching a game of your chosen sport. I sat and analyzed every pitch, wondering if I would throw that same pitch in that same situation, and if I did, would mine have been more effective than his that day?

I watched the game differently that day, I watched if outfielders shifted with two strikes, if the infielders instinctively moved up on guys who are notorious bunters, were the middle infielders shifting with each batter and if they did how much and to where? I did this without really having to think about doing it, it’s that part of my conscious that I cannot turn off after reading hundreds if not thousands of scouting reports in my career. To me, it’s just something you do now, like brushing your teeth.  I sat there in my seat, quietly watching through my shades switching from the field to the dugout and back again watching the best of the best and how they handled their business throughout the game, trying to pick up things that I may be lacking in my own game.

As the game progressed I listened to the people around me talking about “what an amazing play that so and so made” or “man what a home run that last hit was” or “why so and so didn’t make the play and what a bum he was.” I sat and listened trying to pick up what they were saying, and there were many of times I wanted to turn around and ask him if they truly thought if they could make that play, but I digressed. But to me I saw things a little differently, I saw that 0-2 slider hang after the catcher signaled he wanted it down in the dirt and how the hitter just capitalized on a hanging pitch which is what an MLB hitter should do and he hit the ball out of the ballpark or for extra bases. I watched the outfielder loaf after the ball in the outfield and the runner go from first to third on a dying quail and I wondered why people didn’t applaud the heads up base running like they did the 400 foot shot the inning before.  The game was chock-full of home runs and extra base hits that day, and the park seemed to come alive or go dead quiet with each play. It was fun to be a part of that atmosphere, I must admit, and it only got me wondering what it must be like in Nationals Park.

After the game we went down into the tunnel below the stadium to finally meet up with my friend and say hello, which before only consisted of smirks and head nods. Watching players, personnel, and staff walk in and out of those doors, it only heightened my curiosity of what it must be like in there. What would it be like to walk in and see my last name above a locker with all the amenities befitting a big league baseball player.

Beyond that door was my Mt Everest summit, Shangri-La, and Atlantis all rolled into one.  Underneath my calm exterior of trying not to show I cared about being down there, was that little leaguer yearning to be able to walk in and be a part of a baseball club, the realization of a dream that is 20+ years in the making knowing that once I am able to walk through those doors the real work begins on staying there. Again the wave of jealousy hit me watching the people coming and going freely through those doors, again not jealous of the people but the situation and wanting to be a part of that someday.

Being able to see my best friend was awesome, after more than a year of not seeing him except for catching his highlights on ESPN or mlb.tv but leaving the stadium that day as a spectator in my own car and not on the team bus it hit me that I still have a chance to make a dream a reality. The chance to take my destiny in my hands and make something out of it, the chance to change, tweak, and listen to make myself a better ballplayer and human being. Walking away from the stadium that day, among the 40,000+ people that were happy to see a home team win, I didn’t say many words but that fire that burned so deep inside me turned from Yellow-Orange to Blue and it re-affirmed to me that I am going to Venezuela this winter with a specific purpose, that is to make myself a big-league caliber baseball player and to put myself in the best position to be a part of something special that is starting to take place in Washington.

How to get a Baseball at a game

Being in the bullpen there is one thing that is a constant when you are sitting down there, EVERYONE asking for baseballs. Now there is a proper way to ask for one that will help your chances but not guarantee you anything. If you walk down to the bullpen and start screaming in our ears for a ball, you are going to be met with a mute response 100% of the time. Yes I do know that we have a bag full of baseball’s but what you, the fan, need to understand is that we (the bullpen) are allotted so many baseballs and they get scratched and scuffed extremely easily and when they do they are no good to throw with in the bullpen because they starting diving, cutting, sinking and having a mind of their own and we can’t be using that when we are on the mound warming up for the game.

 

            We hear all kinds of excuses to get a ball, the most common being “its my birthday” “my kid is too shy to come down and ask for the ball” or the ever “ball ball ball ball ball BALL BALL BALL BALL!!!.” Yes, we hear you and yes we are ignoring you, because I don’t think your parents would like it very much if I walked into your office or wherever they work and started screaming “stapler, stapler, STAPLER!!” in their ear as they are working. Trust me we want to give out baseballs, we don’t care that we have them and we would give every fan who asked for one a souvenir because we do remember being a kid at the game and all we wanted was a ball. I don’t have a physical attachment to these things nor do I care if you have one, but if you walk up to us and just start yelling at us for a ball it automatically ends your chances of a ball.

            So now that I have told you what doesn’t give you a baseball, let me give you some insider secrets about what will up your chances of getting a baseball. If you have a chance, come to batting practice, the hitters are hitting every third pitch over the fence and there is an extreme opportunity for you to get a ball or ten.  Nine times out of ten we do not have very many baseballs in our bag, and we need those to warm up with so we will only give up a ball if we get a foul ball down in the pen. When we do get a ball, we usually look for little kids that will be able to get a souvenir, please do not be a parent and walk down and say “my kid is too shy to come down.” If anything; accompany them down to the pen so we can talk to them, we are a sucker for cute little kids too and we will remember that and try to find them when we get a baseball down our way.

            Please do not have your son or daughter come down and yell at us or scream ball in our ear, if they want a baseball have them come down and kindly ask for a foul ball if we get one down out way and the ALWAYS say please and thank you. You don’t know how many times we get a baseball and we will sit and listen to the crowd and nobody remembers manners when they want a baseball. Sometimes we will just sit and listen for someone to say “Can I have a baseball, please?” and nobody does so we don’t give it out.

            Like I said we don’t have an attachment to any of these baseballs, but there are ways to go about getting one and I hope I have helped you a little bit in getting a souvenir at your next ball game. We are human beings too and we don’t like to be screamed at constantly either!

OH! If you are that guy who walked down to the bullpen with your girlfriend and yelled “BRO BALL ME!” “BALL ME BRO!” “NO SERIOUSLY BRO BALL ME” you have provided us with jokes for the last 100 games, and we thank you.

 

Off-Season

Well another minor-league season is almost in the books and it seems like yesterday I was getting set for spring training and packing my things to head to my first Nationals camp in Melbourne Florida. I really can’t believe how fast this season truly went, as any constant reader of my blog would know the season didn’t start off the way for me that I thought it was going to but I can’t say one thing I have learned more in this season, than I have any of my other past seasons with the Rangers or with the Nationals. This season was filled with a lot of ups and downs for me but I’m truly thankful for everything that I’ve been able to experience and accomplish throughout this year, and I feel like I have become a more polished pitcher this year and have done a lot of baseball “growing up.”

With this season coming to an end many of my readers have asked me what the plans are for us minor leaguers as we head into our offseason.  Although there really isn’t one thing that minor leaguers do in their off-season I can start to give you a bit of a glimpse of what it’s like for us to finally have some off time.  I know many my readers are thinking “man you play a game for living, how could you want an off-season?”  But just like any job it does take a lot out of your mind and your body and it does become very taxing. Some people like to get as far as they can from the field, and dive into some of their other hobbies which include hunting fishing and just being with their friends and family. For the people who just like to get away from the field this time is spent trying reflect on your past year and what you liked about it what you didn’t like about it and trying to make sure you know what you have to work on to prepare for the next season.  A lot of people just need the mental break of being away from the game and to get away from the scrutiny and the ups and downs. Sometimes, us players just need their families and be a “normal” person for a while. The game is a quite taxing experience especially when you play 140 games, and although there is a lot of weightlifting running swinging throwing  to be done in the off-season a lot of times in the beginning people just get away. Just like any regular job that has the weekends off we need these off-season months to be able to unwind and get away from everything for a while. Throughout the season you tend to wear your heart on your sleeve, and this game can make you crazy if you don’t have an even keel about everything.

Besides going home and relaxing in the off-season there is a second option which many minor leaguers choose to pursue as well. That option is to go play winter ball in a Caribbean country, there are many reasons why players would choose to go down play 70 more games during their off-season. Some people go down because they didn’t get enough at-bats during the regular season or they’re trying to show their skills for other teams because they’re minor-league free-agents next year. There are also a lot of big-league players that go down to Venezuela the Dominican Republic Columbia Nicaragua and Puerto Rico to continue to so they don’t get rusty. 

When it comes to playing winter ball there is a fine line that has to be walked by these teams in the off-season because they have to get permission from your major league team to talk to you to see if you have any interest in playing down there for them but the major league team may have some rules that the winter ball team has to follow to have one of their guys on their team.  Winter ball is a great experience because you get to play in front of packed stadiums vivacious crowds, and you also get to test yourself in different pressure situations against a high-caliber opponent.  I am very excited to say that the Los Bravos de Margarita of the Venezuelan professional baseball league extend an invitation for me to be a part of their 2012 pitching staff which I happily accepted.  I know that a lot of big-league baseball players go down there to play and I cannot wait to test myself against the competition. This season has been full of ups and downs for me and it has been no secret that I have had my fair share of struggles this year. There are many reasons why I chose to go play winter ball this year, which I’ll go over in my future blog posts. I guess I can add this to the list of off-season winter jobs I have had since I became a minor-league baseball player, although this is a bit better than being a blockbuster manager or Kohl’s shelf stock boy.

Although the season isn’t what I wanted it to be I did has had some success at certain points throughout the year I am very eager to capitalize on the success and to make a more consistent thing. Although this is my last blog post of this minor-league season I will continue to blog from Venezuela and give you the reader a first-hand look at the continuing journey that it is to get the major leagues. Some people’s road is a bit windier than others and they may take a few more detours, but in the end making it is all that matters.  I am very excited about the new challenge that has been given to me, and hopefully I will come back to the Nationals’ next spring training a more refined, smarter pitcher than I was in 2011.

I took a look at the page counter just a few days ago on my blog and I would just like to thank the 2000+ of you that have read my blog post or the one person that has read it two thousand times either way I cannot express to you all how thankful I am that you guys continue to read my blog, this is something along with being on the diamond that love to do very much and you guys keep giving me the inspiration to keep writing every time you visit the page. Thank you all very much!!

Just a fan

                There are things that will always stick with you for the duration of your life, they are the memories and the thoughts that shape our lives and whenever we look back on them they make us smile for a brief second as we reflect. On August, 21 2011 I was able to have one of those moments, I was extremely blessed to be able to play in the “Futures at Fenway.” This mini-series bringst he AA and AAA affiliates of the Red Sox to Fenway Park and they each play a game against a team in Fenway park in a double header. The Syracuse Chiefs were the lucky recipients of being able to play against the AAA Pawtucket Redsox, and in doing so it created a memory for me that I will always remember. I have been fortunate enough that this was my second big league stadium that I played in, as the AA and AAA Texas Rangers affiliates play a preseason game at the Ballpark at Arlington.

                People always talk about Red Sox nation and how crazy they are about their baseball, and you can listen to all the stories you want but actually being there you felt the heart and the emotion of the masses. Having the big club on the road, they came out strong for both games and gave some of us our first “big league” experience and maybe for some of us our last, and only one. The announced crowd was a little over 28,000 and it created an atmosphere for us MiLBers that was indescribable. I always tell people that I am a fan of the game first and then a player, I grew up a Cubs fan because that was the game that my great grandfather had on the TV every time I would visit him, and I remember sitting in the living room watching the game on mute because he didn’t like the way Harry Carey announced a game so would just sit and watch.  I have said on this blog many times, that we are extremely fortunate to be blessed with an amazing job, but we are also fans of the game and get humbled very easily just like anyone else would.  With the AA game being played before us, we arrived at Fenway and quickly scattered around the ballpark and some of us were traversing the concourse, on top of the monster, sitting in the outfield, or walking the concourse but we all had the same awestruck look on our faces as we first got there.

                Once we were able to get on the field, you had to act like a profession but deep inside that inner littler leaguer was yearning to yell “THIS IS AMAZING” but on the exterior you had to try and remain as calm and collective as possible. Although I didn’t get to pitch in the game, it was still amazing to catch the ambiance of the stadium, the fans, and the environment in general. After the game I immediately sprinted over to the green monster and asked the scorekeeper to step inside to which he obliged. I’ve been told it’s something that an extremely limited number of people get to do, and it is what will stick out the most for me about the experience.  I am always a fan of the game, I get awestruck at Ryne Sandburg while he manages the opposing Leigh Valley because I remember watching him win muted gold gloves with my grandfather when I was a kid, I also have run into the likes of Fergie Jenkins, Chili Davis, Charlie Hough, Roger Clemens, Ricky Henderson, and countless other big leaguers throughout my travels. I still try and get autographs from people I remember watching on TV, I love trading baseball cards and autographs with everyone, and I love talking to “old timers” about what it was like in their day and gaining their perspective.

                No matter if you are a player, coach, fan, or casual stat checker there is a passion that sticks with all of us, and I feel extremely blessed every single day that no only to I get to put that passion to use on the mound but maybe one day I can make a memory for someone else just like countless players have done for me because deep down we are just fans.

Below is a slideshow of some pictures I took around Fenway Park including various scenery shots from all angles, and the writing inside the green monster. I hope you enjoy it.

http://pf.kizoa.com/sflite.swf?did=1905794&k=4268256

Fenway Park Slideshowmake slideshow

Oh the lifestyle

I want to start off and thank everyone who keeps sending me submissions when I ask for them on twitter, I love writing but I also want to connect with everyone and write about things that interest the masses so thank you very much.

It seems that everyone wants to know more about the lifestyle of a minor league player from the suggestions that I have been getting. Yes, getting paid to play baseball is everything I wished and hoped it would be when I was a young kid in the side yard pitching to my dad. Although you are immersed with people from other cultures, the lifestyle can actually be pretty demanding. For starters, the pay isn’t that good and we only get paid during the season. For a first year AAA guy, we make less than $900 every two weeks, and in these checks we have to pay bills just like everyone else so when we pay everything there isn’t much left to have, when you add in lunches, groceries, gas, and living expenses I would tend to guess that 60% of us lose money throughout the season. Almost every minor league player that hasn’t been in the big leagues or signed a lucrative minor league free agent deal has to get a job in the off season. We try to find anything that will get us paid for the short time we are not in season. Most of the time we try and look for seasonal work, but it doesn’t always work out. I have teammates that have worked in Christmas tree lots, been a cashier at Lowes, and personally I have been a stock boy at Kohls, been a Blockbuster store manager, and also done the pitching lesson route. It truly is about finding anything to get you through and get some sort of little nest egg before the season starts.

Being a baseball player is something that I wouldn’t change for the world, there are so many amazing opportunities that are provided to us like being able to volunteer and get to know people whom you might not have ever had the opportunity before. I always try and volunteer whenever I have the opportunity to do so it just seems to make a bad day better when you see the joy in people’s faces. I have been incredibly blessed to visit a children’s hospital in Harrisburg where we made scrapbook pages with ill kids, I have been able to visit the most deployed base on American soil, Ft Drum and spend a day with or soldiers and get a sense of what they go through day in and day out, I have visited with a veterans hospital and spend sometime with senior citizens who bravely served in years past, as well as doing various kids clinics wit the chiefs and senators. Volunteering is just one way we try to give back, it’s amazing that since we are able to wear a uniform everyday that people seem to think we are super human and hold us on a plateau, but the fact is that we are average people who got extremely lucky to be able to play a kids game.

During the season it is hard to maintain a lifestyle, hopping from hotel to hotel in different cities. We play a 140 game schedule, wit not many off days in between and some of them are spent traveling to a city to play the next city, so things like working out, eating properly, and getting enough sleep gets difficult. When it comes to eating and maintaining our life we rely a lot on our “clubbies” they are honestly our moms at the ballpark. They are responsible for meals, snacks, doing our laundry, running errands, and just making sure that basic needs are being met at the park. These guys are an essential cog to us because we do spend so much time at the field, they make sure we aren’t stressing over unnecessary things. Although we do pay them (and tip), they still make less than we do and might have even harsher hours than we do. They got to stay at the park throughout the night to clean the clubhouse, restock things, order food, do the laundry, and just make sure everything is prepared for the guys to arrive to the park starting at about noon the next day. These guys truly work almost 20 hours a day when we are at home, and get little to no sleep. As far as being healthy and eating healthy, you are at the mercy of the clubby if you have a good one they will have a spread right after batting practice that consists of tons of lunch meat, tuna, chicken salad, and fruit to give us a snack before we head out for the game. After the game we have dinner at the field that can be anything from leftover ballpark food (more lower a ball levels) to catered food from restaurants. Not all clubbies are created equal so it truly varies to the level of service you get, I personally have had amazing ones and terrible ones as well but the majority are really good because their tip depends on it.

Overall the lifestyle is a great one, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything no matter how stressful it might get. The ability to play a game for a living to kids wanting autographs after the game it’s all apart of this lifestyle that is about creating memories for people and myself that hopefully will not be forgotten for a very long time. Because you never know when someone might stop actually wanting your autograph for memory purposes.

You’ve been traded……….

Let’s transport back one year to the date, the Frisco Roughriders are sitting in Springfield, MO waiting for the rain to pass and all the sudden an ESPN flash comes across the screen to let us know Cliff Lee has been acquired by the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak and ‘minor leaguers.’ Those minor leaguers turned out to be teammates of mine for 4+ years and more importantly friends. Although you are happy that they get a better opportunity in a different organization with a fresh start, you are sad to see them go as well. One of those people in that Cliff Lee trade was my roommate for many years both in season and during spring training and my best friend in the organization. Hearing about him leaving was extremely bittersweet for me, on one hand I knew I was going to lose a good friend but in the process I knew what an incredible opportunity this was for him. It was like watching your best friend, whom you played with all the time as a kid pack up and move away for good.  During the Lee deal and the Cantu deal we slowly watched our teammates pack up and leave one by one heading off to different pastures, and you always think the opportunities they are getting and if they are going to be in better situations, and as a player you always kind of wonder what it would like to be traded.

When I woke up the morning of my fateful day, I had an ESPN update message that the Rangers made a trade for Cristian Guzman, and I immediately had a bad feeling in my gut that I was somehow involved in it. Still till this day I don’t know why I had that feeling, but I just did. I was on the way to eat breakfast with my girlfriend when I got the text message, and I immediately told her to re-route the car and head to the field.  I got to the field and my agent called me and told me I needed to be by my phone in the next fifteen minutes because he had some news and right then I knew what was going on. I jumped on twitter immediately, and saw the confirmation from the Texas Rangers beat writers that I was heading to the Washington Nationals, but there was a problem there was also another player to be named. I sat at the field and waited around the clubhouse, slowly packing my stuff as my teammates filtered waiting to hear the “official word.” After a few hours manager Steve Buechele called Tanner Roark and I into his office where we were on a conference call with player development director Scott Servais who proceeded to tell us what we already knew. After all the goodbyes from the teammates, and subsequent packing of the locker it was time to head out.  Tanner and I stayed around that night in Frisco and watched a little bit of the game, and said goodbye to the “frequent fans” that always cheered us on, it was a very bittersweet moment for us.  We had to wait until the next morning to get our travel itinerary from the Nationals as to where we were to report.  The arrival in Harrisburg and getting ready to meet your new teammates is a very exciting, and very eerie feeling because not only did we have teammates and in the rangers organization, but they were guys that we have come up with every step of the way and they have become good friends to both Tanner and I. When we pulled up to the stadium, the starting catcher hit a walk-off HR for the win so everyone was in a great mood when we got the clubhouse. Everyone was really nice and welcoming when we got to the clubhouse and was asking us different questions about being traded, and what it felt like and it seemed that we were welcomed with open arms right away.

                As soon as we got to Harrisburg, everyone was asking if we had places to live and the team gave us a few night stay in a local hotel to try and get things situated and get our living situations together, once our couple of nights in the hotel were done we were responsible for subsequent days in the hotel. We wound up finding a place at a local extended stay that we stayed at for about six weeks. The move was very shocking, as soon as I found out I was traded I immediately called my parents to let them know the news and they were really excited for me, I also called my extended family to let them know about the news and overall people were genuinely excited for me because they knew how great the opportunity was for me. It’s a very odd feeling to be traded, on one hand you think that you are expendable to one team but on the other hand there is a team out there that picked you from all the minor leaguers in the organization so you feel special to your new team it’s almost conflicting. I can be totally honest and say I never thought I was going to be traded, so throughout the year it did not affect me. Usually the minor leaguers are the throw ins on the trade so we don’t know anything until it happens, scouts are at every game and so you just kind of ignore them and don’t think much about it.

                You definitely feel a little pressure when you arrive to your new team, because you are eager to prove to them that they got a good player and made the right decision by getting you but you also have to stay within yourself and play the way you were because that’s why they traded for you in the first place. You get adjusted fairly quickly to your new team, and I found it was extremely easy to make friends with the guys in the Nats organization and it continually has been. Overall it’s a whirlwind of an experience with a ton of emotions flying everywhere, but you find out what you are made of trying to keep those emotions in check. Because after all no matter what team you are with, you there are 29 other teams constantly watching you and it is the goal to get to the big leagues with someone and any coach will tell you that.

                I hope this gives you a little insight in the players world on what it’s like to be traded.

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