C’Mon Man!!! Its just a Game!!

Being in the bullpen there is one thing that is for certain….you’re going to have some down time. Now there are a lot of things you can do to entertain yourself aside from watching the game. One of the things we do is play games. Word association games, physical games, all sorts. Here are just a few things that keep us occupied.
The first game I played a lot at the lower levels, not so much at AA and above, but the game is called “2 Ball” and it goes a little something like this:
The players who are in the game make a circle, with one person holding two baseballs in their bare hands. That player throws both baseballs with one hand at another pitcher higher than his knees. The pitcher receiving the toss has a job to catch both baseballs, if he does then he’s safe. If he misses one or both of the baseballs he gets a strike (3 strikes you’re out……get it??). If he catches both baseballs in one hand, the person who threw the baseballs is out no matter how many strikes he has. Strikes are kept on the honor system. Throwing the balls is where this game gets tricky and involves the skill, there are ways to make the balls stay together so it’s hard to catch, you can put backspin on them to make them spread out far so it’s out of visual range. You can also go “no look” and change the speed to how hard you throw it.
There is a version of the game that is commonly played at the lower levels as well.
Players make a circle again and instead of throwing both baseballs to one guy, you throw one to one person and one to another. Once you catch a baseball you have to get rid of it right away, and you cannot throw the baseballs to your neighbors until there are 4 players or less. If you drop a ball when it comes into you, don’t worry you still have time to grab it and get rid of it before they throw the next baseball at you or to your spot where you were standing. If that happens, then you get a strike. This variation of the game is commonly referred to as “speedball” because sometimes players get a little too excited at the action and tend to put a little umpf in their tosses around the circle.
A third game that is played with a baseball, usually pre-game while guys are finishing warming up is called “flip” or “flips”
Again guys get in a circle but this time with one baseball and their gloves, and the object of the game is to keep the ball in the air again using your only your glove and “1 volley.” The baseball must be tossed between the other player’s knees and shoulders. Again you cannot “flip” it to your partner until there are 4 people left but if someone flips you the ball you can bounce it off your chest, head, knee, as long as the ball is touched by your glove only 1 times. The goal is to flip the ball to the other player so he cannot volley it to anyone else in the circle. Again 3 strikes and you’re out. Players here have to be on their toes in the circle because when the person next to you and he flips the ball between the person’s legs standing next to him them its 2 strikes to that person, and if he happens to get behind that personal and volley it between that person’s legs from behind them then that person is out of the game! This is one of my favorite games to play because it’s fun and fast paced, but does require a bit of hand eye coordination!
Now these games are fun when you got a little down time or during a rain delay, but there are some mental and word association games that can be played when you’re paying attention to the game in the bullpen. First game is commonly referred to as “The Hat Game”
I’m going to warn you know, this game is pretty dull but it’s still fun to mess with people who don’t know what’s going on. “Ok. I can play the hat game, hat game, hat game. I can play the hat game, can you?” The way it works is you have to say ok before you say anything or do anything with your hat. If you say ok before you go on to your moves then you know how to play the hat game. You will get everyone aggravated and trying to figure out how to play. Basically you take your hat in your hand and do all kinds of crazy tricks with it, do WHATEVER YOU WANT!! As long as you say OK before you start then your good in the game, pass it along when you’re done with your tricks and watch them go. It’s pretty funny to watch people get so frustrated at this game because it’s so simple.
Now we come to my favorite word game, this called “The Travel Game” and for some people is baffles them for years trying to figure out how it works! I will try and explain it the best I can. The travel game goes like this:
How it works is a person gets a city name from someone random and they spell out a team from that city using places they travel too. The number of days you stay in a place refers to a vowel; 1 day = A 2; E 3; I 4; O 5; U. For example let’s use Chicago as the city someone says. Here is how a typical dialogue would go. “I got up one morning and went to California and I really liked it there so I stayed for 5 days (U) then I decided I wants to go to Boston then immediately to Sacramento. Where am I? As you can see the first letters of each place spell out CUBS so you match the team with the city and voila! You have Chicago! This game is really fun if you want to mess with people, because it usually blows them away and they can’t understand it the first few times they hear it!

Although it things tend to get a little groundhogs day-ish just like in every job, we find ways to keep ourselves entertained a little bit and those are just of the few games we play with people too keep ourselves entertained!

What in a Nickname?

                Thanks for reading after a long hiatus. I wanted to write about something comical, and one of things that is everywhere in life that is…nicknames. Nicknames can be funny, telling but can also be mean spirited as well but I want to talk about the fun ones, the ones that make you wonder where they came from.

                There are some nicknames in the world that need no explanation and are instantaneously recognizable; names like “The Great Bambino” “The Big Hurt” or “The Ryan Express” these are etched in the souls and minds of every baseball fan young and old. Some people might not even know the first names of these people but as soon as you mention the nickname it brings them right back into your memory. Nicknames are fun, it’s something that gives you a sense of identity just like your names do; it could be because you did something funny or dumb and you got stuck with a nickname or it could be based off your last name (which is the most common) but some could be completely out of the blue.

                I have many nicknames that come off my last name, with the most popular being ‘Tusk.’ This variation has been around with me and I honestly can’t remember exactly when it got started, but I know it was because someone couldn’t pronounce my last name properly and they just took the easiest part of it, said it and it stuck. One of the funniest nicknames I think I have is the nick name of “Tahti” this started last year when a Latin pitching coach couldn’t pronounce my name (weird I know)  and I was pitching in an extended spring training game and he kept yelling “Tahti” “Tahti” from the dugout and I have no idea who he was yelling at so I just kept pitching for about an inning. When the inning was over and I came back into the dugout he came up to me and said “When I yell at you I want you to look over here!” you can tell he was obviously upset I wasn’t looking but I guess he could tell by the look on my face that I had no clue what he was talking about. He’s how this conversation went in a roundabout way. 

“Didn’t you hear me?” he asked once me, to that I kindly replied

“I heard you yelling something, but I have zero idea what you were saying.”

“Tahti” he says “That’s you!” “Tah-Too-Sko….tahti”

“Oh, I didn’t know that was me, I’m sorry”

“Ok well from now on that’s you!”

“No problem skip, what’s up?”

                That my dear reader is a roundabout way how a nickname, that sticks till this day, was created. Nick names are fun and can come from any situation and you have no idea what will stick and what won’t. Even in everyday, family situations nicknames come into play. You have grandma, grandpa, possibly a mimi, pop, maw-maw, me-maw, papa-aw. It seems like the grandparents get to have the most fun with a nickname in the family dynamic and it seems that every family has something special they call their dear grandparents.

                Sometimes nicknames are so common that you might not even know someone’s first name, I’m pretty sure some people who know me well in this organization don’t even know my first simply because I’ve never heard anyone call me “Ryan” in the baseball world its just “Tusk” or “Tat.” Nicknames can take over your first name, I myself have been guilty of not knowing someone’s name because their nickname takes them over. No matter what name you got, embrace it and have fun with it! It is who you are after all!

 

I leave you with this video….http://www.cmt.com/videos/misc/724635/bayou-billionaires-meet-albert-or-carl-or-jimi.jhtml

Extended Spring Training

                Ahh Extended, the mythical “bone yard” if you will, when everyone goes to their affiliate some people are left down here for various reasons, and it gets really lonely down here. There are various reasons people are down here as opposed to breaking with an affiliate club, and with this being my first time in Extended Spring Training I am again learning new things about the whole process of being a professional. They say once you think you have this game figured out; you get humbled in a major way.

                There are some people down here that are injured and they are working through those ailments and usually have a time table of when they are going to be out of Florida but for us guys down here that are down here for other purposes we have no idea about when we will be moving up and out of extended.  I’ve wrote in the past about the failures I had last year due to a lack of control and that was something that was addressed with me from the coaching staff and it was definitely something that needed to be changed. They asked me to stay back and work on things in a “non-pressure environment” so that I can get everything ironed out and then when I am ready they will move me out and I can begin my 2012 season.

                I started working on some mechanical changes with one of the pitching coaches in spring training, and they liked the direction I was going but just felt that I needed more work which I understood. My mechanics got really out of whack somehow last year, and I am glad that the problem was addressed and I am even more grateful that fix was found extremely fast and I was able to work on things with a purpose. Extended challenges you in a different way, we are still down here day and in and day out just like you are at the affiliate but instead of going at things in the afternoon we do everything from about 7am-2pm which games starting at about 1pm daily. We go through our daily routines of pitchers fielding practice, team defense, and individual defense. There are some players down here who weren’t invited to normal spring training; which consist of extremely young Latin players that are getting their first taste of the United States and possible first time on an affiliated ball roster.

                Going through drills and things can get difficult at times, but it being down here helps a lot of the Americans with leadership qualities because the young guys are eager to learn and figure things out so it provides plenty of opportunities to help out and get things figured out. One main difference of extended is that each person is down here doing something specific as I mentioned before. Some people are working on mechanical changes, maybe a new pitch, or rehabbing an injury and there is a lot of time dedicated to working on those specific things so guys can get better and out of here to join a team and start their season.

                There are multiple ways we are working on our craft down here with individual coaching before and during practice, as well as honing things in during games. We play games against each other and against other extended teams from different affiliates so you get the feeling of the game situations yet if you fail or still need a feeling for things it would hurt you in the statistics. Although the days can get long and sometimes bleak, the road to your dreams sometimes isn’t a straight line and if this is what it takes then so be it all you can do is clear your head, listen, and get better.  Something that a very smart person told me is that “All you can do it work harder” and this little saying has helped me a lot putting things in the right perspective, although you start to antsy being down here when you start to see a little progress you have to realize certain things are a process and if you stick with that process and not deter from the plan, you will be rewarded in the end.

 

QnA

I wanted to start off and say that I really appreciate all the positive feedback that I received from the community.  With all the positive feedback, it has reassured me that I made the right decision to write this journal, and I hope that everyone continues to love what I have to say. I asked for questions on message boards and on twitter, here are the responses! Thanks for participating!

Q:  What is the draft process like? What is it like to find out you were drafted? Do you care who drafts you? Then, what is the process after the draft. Who contacts you? Where do you go? When and whom do you report to?

The entire draft process can be very nerve racking. The scouting process really starts to pick up during the off-season prior to your draft year.  Scouts are continually sending you questionnaires in the mail, and they all ask the same questions! So you would figure that you could just go online and fill it out one time and they could put it in a database somewhere, and all the scouts could just look at it.  During the season the scouts cannot have much contact with you, as it is penalty with all amateur athletic government agencies, but they are always seen and they make sure that they come up and say “hello” to you.  During the season I got a visit from someone with the MLB scouting bureau, they ran me through some eye tests, hearing tests, and a 450 question aptitude test online.  The MLB scouting bureau is perennially called the 31st team because all teams can check their information with the scouting bureau to make sure that everything is correct. During the season the scouts are pretty much at every game.  The more an area scout likes you, the more they call their boss which is also called a cross checker. Sometimes the GM or some other high ranking staff members will come if it involves a higher round pick or a high school player.  After the season is over, the phone calls start coming in about whether or not you are healthy, if you have an advisor, and what bonus demands are, among a plethora of other questions.  A few days leading up to the draft you start to get an idea of where you might be taken in the draft, and although the teams do give you a rough estimate, it’s not always exact because some guys fall and other guys get taken earlier.     The morning of the draft is one of the most exciting and nervous times of a young ballplayers life. You hardly get sleep the night before (as least I didn’t) and you wake up anxious and making sure your cell phone is charged. Right before the draft you might get a few more phone calls about how you are feeling and what you are expecting money wise, and then the draft process happens.  Right before your name is called, you will get a phone call from a representative from the team congratulating you on being picked. After being picked there are so many emotions that rush through you, feelings of joy and achievement, but also knowing the true work is just beginning. Tools that were once considered “very good” are now just average or slightly above, because now the playing field is even.  After you negotiate and sign, they send you a plane ticket and off you go to your short season team which is my case was Spokane. You have no idea about professional baseball or what to expect, and honestly it’s a “learn as you go” process. Spokane set up each player with a host family to make sure that we didn’t need to find anywhere to live. As you play in short season ball, it serves as a learning process on how to handle yourself as a professional; and the coaching staff is there to guide you to help make sure that things are done properly.  You are expected to learn fast and do everything right the first time; things like wearing a collared shirt wherever you go, handling yourself in a professional manner, and how to handle yourself when your off the field.   The first few months are filled with excitement because now you are truly a professional, but you also have to understand that so many more things are expected of you now. There is a fantastic table that I found on hsbaseballweb.com that breaks it down perfectly.

High School Athletes

455,300

High School Senior Athletes

130,100

NCAA Athletes

25,700

NCAA Freshman Athletes

7,300

NCAA Senior Athletes

5,700

NCAA Athletes Drafted

600

High School to NCAA

5.6%

NCAA to Professional

10.5%

High School to Professional

.5%

 

As you can see, although it’s an extreme honor to be drafted by a professional team, you truly have to go the extra mile to make it to the big leagues, because no-one gets drafted to be a minor leaguer!

Q: Talk about some of the baseball parks that you have been too so far, and what do you think about them?

Constantly playing in cold weather states, I have never had the opportunity to play baseball in front of large crowds. When I was in Spokane (Short Season), we continually played in front of 6,000+ people a night and that brought about an adrenaline rush that was unlike anything that I have ever experienced.  The parks in the northwest league weren’t bad as they were in towns that didn’t have NBA, NFL, or NHL teams, so the minor league parks offered something to do that was fun and cheap for the entire family.

In Low-A; Dayton sold out their entire season before the first pitch was even thrown, they draw over 9,000 fans a game and if they added one more tier to their stadium it could definitely be a big league stadium! Other stadiums that I really enjoyed were Lansing’s stadium and West Michigan.  Ballparks such as Clinton, Beloit, and Quad Cities give you that down home, intimate feel. Anyone who has played in the California league knows that it is a grind; I played in Bakersfield which didn’t draw the biggest crowds but the people who came where die-hard. The Texas League in AA was great, there were a few bad ballparks but for the most part its where the parks got nicer and the crowds starting getting bigger.  The best ballpark I’ve ever been too was Frisco, the AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers, it’s widely regarded as the best ballpark in minor league baseball. I really like Harrisburg (AA Nats) and Syracuse (AAA nats) as well. Harrisburg does an amazing job to bring fans in and they are very intense and into every pitch. Syracuse mixes a large ballpark with a very “homey” which is great. I would say all the parks in the International League are great; the traveling can get a little long when you fly but the cities and parks are awesome. It’s weird to go to cities and see which ones draw crowds and which ones don’t. It’s usually bigger cities draw the smaller crowds because there is so many things to do, and the smaller ones where there is nothing to do draw the bigger crowds.

 

Q:  What’s a day in the life like for a minor league baseball player?

                A typical day in usually goes like this: we have weight lifting at about 9am (if you pitched the night before) at the local gym and that lasted about an hour to an hour and a half.  After we finished lifting, we usually try to find food (since are usually just a few food places that are close). After that, the players went back to their apartment or house to hang out for a little bit, and we normally show up at the ballpark at about 1pm, and then the “work starts.” We go out onto the field early and either run some bunt defenses, pickoffs and rundowns, the hitters would get a little extra hitting in, and pitchers get a little mechanics work in.  Those things last about an hour or two before we move on to batting practice (BP). Batting practice usually lasts forty-five minutes to an hour, and then we would go back into the clubhouse so the other team could take BP. After BP we would all change out of our batting practice tops and into our game uniforms. With a start time of about 7:00pm or 7:15pm we would go out to the field at about 6:30 and the pitcher would go out at about 6:50 to go through their individual pitching routine to get ready for the game.  After the game we had a post game meal, and after showering and talking about the game, we got home at about midnight, just to start it all over again the next day!

Q:  What is spring training like for minor leaguers?

                The coaches, managers, and coordinators try and make sure that the work gets done and it gets done in the most efficient way possible. Nobody wants to be out in the hot Arizona heat all day, so everyone gets the work done as quickly as possible.  The complex has 12 diamonds, a running field, and a ½ field that just has an infield for people to take ground balls. The first field that you come to is the big league field, the rest of the fields in the back of the complex are used for the minor leaguers (hence the name Back Field Diaries!). A usual day consists of getting picked up or driving to the complex and getting there around 6:45am where you have breakfast in clubhouse. After breakfast, you head out to the back diamonds and stretch; those pitchers who are going to throw pens that day will throw them and get their running in. Then you go back to the clubhouse and get in your weight lifting routine, after that you’re usually done for the day. The pitchers who do not throw bullpens will be separated into groups and each of the back diamonds will have a group of coaches and coordinators and a specific drill will be emphasized for 15 to 25 minutes. The usual drills are: covering first base on a ball that takes the first baseman off the bag, turning the 1-6-3 and 3-6-1 double play, fielding bunts, and fielding comebackers. After the frill period is done, the pitchers report to the running field and you get your conditioning in before heading into the clubhouse to get your lifting in and getting your lunch. The hitters are usually later than the pitchers, and although I cannot speak directly as to what they do, I know it consists of fielding grounders and fly balls and a lot of batting practice. When games actually start, they break up the players into the various teams (WHICH IS NO INDICATION OF WHERE YOU ARE HEADED) and you go and play other teams from around the Grapefruit League. When you play a game you treat it exactly like a game that you would be playing in season, and when it’s not your turn to play then you stay back and go through your normal everyday routine. At the beginning of spring training you finish up about 2 PM, and when the games are going on, if you are not playing, you are encouraged to stay after your workout to support your other teammates that are playing. A great majority, if not all players stay and watch the games. Coordinators and coaches emphasize that spring training is not a time for you to get into shape, as you should already be in shape. This time is used to refine what you have already done and get you ready for the season.

Q:  Do you and/or other minor leaguers follow college baseball much?   How much are you able to keep up with guys you played with in HS or college?  How much do you and other minor leaguers follow the Newberg Report and other outlets that are similar?

A few of the guys will follow what their college or high school team is doing, but for the most part, the guys really don’t follow college baseball intensely because we are too involved with what we are doing and making sure that we are giving our all to our team.  A few of the guys might go to an Arizona State game to watch them play if it happens to be a good match up, or if Arizona State  is ranked high.  Personally, I am able to keep up with my college teammates that have gone on and played.  Social mediums such as Facebook and Myspace have made it so much easier to keep in contact with former teammates that are still playing and those that are not as well.  I can’t speak for all the guys on whether or not they follow the Newberg report and other media outlets, but personally I will check it out and see what the other teams did that day, which players had a good day, and what the outcome was of the other games.  As your former teammates get dispersed throughout the system, it’s nice to keep up with them to see how they are doing. Even though they are at another level, they are still your friends and everyone tries to root for everyone else. Media outlets can be very tricky; reporters can make you sound amazing or terrible depending on the adjective that is used.  Sometimes you can’t but read about yourself, but you always have to remember that no matter how hot you are or how big of a slump you’re in, it can change in a heartbeat. I do believe that the media outlets give the other players an opportunity to follow fellow teammates and to stay on top with what’s going on outside of your team and in your organization.

Q: I’d be interested to hear your take on the instruction given by the coaching staff.  What they focus on, how they communicate guidance for younger guys on off-field issues, etc

The instruction that is given is very technical and is very specific to the individual person. When you are in college and in high school, everyone does the same drills and they try and focus on the big things in your mechanics. When you get to the professional level, there is more emphasis on the little things as those are the things that are going to get a person to the big leagues. I wouldn’t say that overly technical advice that is given to us, but advice about the little things that might have been overlooked in amateur levels.  There is breakdown with film in previous games, although I have done this when I was getting instruction when I was younger, I have never really broken down game footage; and I have found this to be an invaluable tool! They don’t just focus on the younger guys when they are talking about off-field issues because they affect us all. In spring training they bring in various professionals and we have symposiums with them on how to handle yourself when you are off the field and what to do if you find yourself in a situation that might possibly get you in trouble, no matter what it might be. We have certain lines of communication open to us that help us out when we need help with something; they are able to help us down the correct path.

Q: What do you do on an off day?

Off days are few and far between, but when we do get them people do a plethora of things. My roommate last year loved to go and play golf, and the other usual activities include going to the movies, fishing, and playing XBOX/Playstation. Off-days are kind of weird because sometimes you are looking forward to them all week and when they finally get there you don’t know what to do during the day because you are so used to playing! Personally last year, I just became a bum for that day and did nothing! I figured that since I was going 9am-x everyday then your body just needs a day of doing nothing!

Q:  Where do you learn/ experience the most, on the field playing or watching?

Personally I found that watching is where I learn the most. Watching people and the successes and failures they may have, can help you learn from their mistakes and let you see how they handled a specific situation. I think another great tool for success is communication. Talking with other players and pitchers about the success or failure they are having with certain batters and pitchers can be an invaluable tool to help you with your hot streak or break you out of your slump.  You are always learning about the game and about yourself, and when you think you have the game figured it, baseball will find a way to humble you and make it known that you still have a lot to learn. I firmly believe that whether you are the greatest or Ryan Tatusko, you can always learn something from being around the game.

Q:  What do you think about when a hitter gets in the box?

                Honestly, when a hitter steps in the box you don’t think anything, you just execute! Usually on game day the pitching coach will go through and talk about each hitter and what their weaknesses are and who is hot and who is not in their lineup. I firmly believe that it is possible to over study a pitcher or hitter. We have a large number of scouting reports at our disposal, but I believe that you have to play to your strength first and to their weakness second. Your strength (as a pitcher) will usually out-trump their strength as a hitter. A .300 hitter is going to fail 70% of the time; I will take those odds any day! However, there are times that your strengths are the same as the hitter’s weakness or the hitter’s strength is the same as your weakness. Before the game your pitching coach will usually sit down and go over a game plan, you stick to it unless something starts to unravel, at that point you have to adapt on the fly, so to speak, during the game.

Q:  Have you read any of Dirk Hayhursts’ books?

                Yes, I have read his first one. I thought it was really well written and I enjoyed it. It’s very refreshing to read about people achieving their dream(s).  I really look forward to reading his second one, one of the greatest things about baseball and sports in general is that 99.9% of the people who play them don’t have the same story of how they got to their goal so it is fun to read about how they went to achieve their dreams.

Q:  Favorite Place to eat on the road

We really don’t get a lot of meal money when we are on the road, and usually when we pull over there aren’t a lot of choices available so you got to eat whatever is in walking distance. But I would say if I had a choice as to where I would go everyday it would be Texas Roadhouse! Their rolls are amazing and so are their ribs!

 

Thank you for all the great questions, I know question and answer sessions are fairly common but I hope I gave you a perspective that is always seen but hardly talked about. I am willing to do more of these if everyone liked this one. As always please feel free to email me any questions, comments, or concerns that you may have to mailto:Ryan.Tatusko@gmail.com

A Day in Spring Training

                And were off!  Spring training is starting filled with hopes and dreams of what the season ahead will bring.  Spring training used to be a place where the athletes came to get in shape and work the rust off to get ready for the season but with a recent paradigm shift it has not became a sort of proving grounds for us, the players to show that we deserve to play one more year with our organization and that we have what it takes to play at the level we think we are capable of playing at for the organization whether it is Short Season or MLB.

                Derek Jeter had a great quote that says “You gotta have fun. Regardless of how you look at it, we’re playing a game. It’s a business, it’s our job, but I don’t think you can do well unless you’re having fun.” There is a lot of truth in that quote, Spring Training is a time to have fun and be with friends that you might not have seen in the off-season but it is also time to get to business.  Spring Training is a lot like groundhogs day, it’s a lot of the same stuff but it is also things that have to get done in order for you to be successful for the upcoming season. I will try and run down a typical day for you so you can understand.

                Right now it’s just pitchers and catchers that have reported so the position players aren’t down here so most of the things that we do revolve around our jobs and responsibilities after we have delivered the ball. We start the day with a talk from one of the coordinators about what is to be expected of us that day and what they want accomplished for the day. Usually we focus on a few core things to master for the day, and then the next day we will focus on a few things I really like this way because you are not being thrown tons of information to try and process but you are able to focus on a few key things each day and get them mastered. After the talk we stretch with all the strength and condition coordinators which lasts for about 15-20 minutes and then it’s on to our throwing program for the day which is contingent on if you have a bullpen that day or not.  Usually we throw about 12 to 15 minutes a day, and it is up to you to go however far you want, usually the guys go to about 120-140 on a nice arc to get the blood flowing.

                After the throwing program is when we break up into different stations. Since there are so many pitchers there is an A and a B group (means absolutely nothing, it’s a blind draw) then in those A and B groups we were further broken down to groups of 6 that are numbered 1 thru 4 (again completely random and mean nothing). Depending on the day, you will throw a bullpen that is on your own pace for about 7 to 9 minutes in length at the intensity you want, these bullpens are for guys to get there arms ready for throwing down a slope again and to let some of the cold weather guys get outdoors since it is almost impossible for us to get outdoors. During the bullpens it is up to you, the individual, to pick the order of your pitches and how many you throw but the coaches and coordinators do ask that you try and split your time equally among the stretch and the windup.

                After you throw your bullpens you start to go into your field rotations, out in the backfields we have 4 diamonds in the shape of a clover and then a half diamond that has a fence go around it just outside the infield dirt. On this half field we will work on our signals from the catcher pertaining to various pitches, and pitchouts and things then we will also work on bunt defenses and what our responsibilities are during situations when a bunt might happen. Activities that go on in other fields include but aren’t limited too: base running, bunting, backing up bases when there are runners on, what to do on a pass ball with a runner coming home, covering first base on a “in-betweener” hit and turning double plays. Like I mentioned earlier, we focus on just a few of these things each day and cover others on different days. We don’t spend much time on each field covering a topic, but the Nationals get A LOT of work done during the limited time we have.

                After the hour and a half or two we spend on all these, it’s time for conditioning and core work with the strength and conditioning coaches. If you had a bullpen that day, then you usually do a long distance run like continuous poles or a mile and half run, if you didn’t its more sprint work and agility work.  When that is said and done, we head in and depending on what day it is you get a full body workout weight lifting session in.

                That’s pretty much each day in an nutshell while we are at pitchers and catchers right now, when the position players show up we will incorporate drills with them to get everyone on the same page and to get ready for games. Although the workouts don’t seem very long, there is definitely a lot of work to be done and it gets done with a stern purpose there is no downtime during the day.

                I hope this gives you, the reader, a little insight as to what we do to get prepared.  If you have any topics you would like to see covered or to just drop a comment please feel free to contact me at Ryan.Tatusko@gmail.com or on my twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RyanTatusko

Until next time

Ryan

Welcome to 2012!

I apologize for the long delay in blog postings, but the off-season doesn’t lend itself too very many exciting things, but with the 2012 season that means the Backfield Diaries are back! I love reading everybody’s twitter posts counting down the days to pitchers and catchers and when they are coming to spring training and how excited it gets people as whole.

For us, the players, we are just excited but with that excitement comes an insight that it is time to go back to work, yes this fun GAME we all love is also work for some of us. For the nationals pitchers and catchers officially report on March 2nd, but it’s customary that most of the players come to spring training about a week early to get their feet wet, get back into the groove of things so that when things get going full throttle we already have a feel of what’s going on. Spring Training is full of hopes, dreams, and the possibility of what might be in the up-coming season but also for some of us it is also an end. There are always more people in spring training than roster spots, and unfortunately some of us have to go home and either try again with another team or think of different avenues to take.

I believe the off-season is where you make your season as an athlete. All the coordinators, coaches, and managers harp on the off-season and how important it is for the individual player.  The off-season is funny in a way because no-body cares that you did 15 wind sprints in under :45 or that you are doing your rotator cuff exercises, but the moment you strike out with runners on 2nd and 3rd down by 1 or you walk three in a row people want to point fingers, but I believe that’s where the off-season comes into play. The off-season is really a time of pushing yourself, no-one tells you that you have to be somewhere at a certain time and if you miss a lift or running no-one is there to tell you that you missed it. I believe that a lot of mental toughness is attained in the off-season since you are the only one that you have to report to for a few months and it’s all about how you can push yourself and get the most out of yourself.

Having the pleasure to talk with some players who played in the 80s and 90s they talked about how spring training was used to get the body in shape, and get everything going and how it’s since changed. Both the Nationals and the Rangers have a comprehensive workout schedule for their players in the off-season so we can come into camp ready to go bull bore in drills, games, and playing every day. For us, the players, there are no guarantees that we will have a roster spot or where we played at last year is where we will start the new year. Every year coming into spring training there is anticipation and willingness to impress and show how much you have improved over last year, which would be extremely easy for me to want to do since I didn’t have the best year. I struggled, and self-admittedly I struggled mightily, but I put more pressure on myself this off-season to become a better player, but most importantly I became a student again.

I came back to my hometown and worked with a pitching coach that I have worked with for many years, and I got back to watching video of myself throwing well in 2010 and what the differences were between that and some video I have of myself in 2011, and I found I got myself into some bad habits that caused me to have some control problems, and leave the ball up in the zone and ultimately have a terrible year. Being able to get into a training facility where I was familiar, and being able to train and workout 5 days a week has allowed me to put more pressure on myself than anyone else could exude, so instead of trying to do more than I am capable of and being a pitcher that I’m not like I tried to do in 2011, I am now more confident and calm heading into this 2012 year that begins for me in 10 days.

With 2011 firmly behind me, I am out to prove to myself that the pitcher that took the mound wasn’t me, and I am able to bounce back and be the pitcher I was before that year.

Let me unofficially welcome you to the 2012 season! Here’s to a fantastic year, because as a person who is much smarter than me told me “It doesn’t matter where you start, but end up that matters, compete for a jersey in spring training and if it’s not the one you wanted, then prove yourself in season”

PLAY BALL!

Reflecting on 2011 and Preparing for 2012

It seems like VZL winter ball just ended and already we are talking about Spring training and how that is just around the corner! I had an absolute blast of a time in the VZL and I learned a lot of things, although my numbers really don’t show it. I was able to work on some things with the help of a pitching coach that has never seen me before; and thus he was able to look at me with a fresh set of eyes and help me out. What was great about still playing that late is that not only did I get to hear those suggestions, but I was able to use them in a game situation right away and test them out and continue to work on them. I am extremely thankful that I had that opportunity as I think it is going to be vital for me going into the 2012 season.

Alas, another season approaches and I am extremely excited for 2012 and to put 2011 behind me. For me, 2011 was a season that was filled with a lot of learning and going through new experiences and dealing with a lot of adversity and failure on the mound. I did have my bright spots and I really feel like I started to make a turn around the corner when the season was coming to an end. So I am eager to get 2012 started. I spent most of the year last year as a reliever, and I believe that is what I am going to do this year as well, although I am not too sure. Preparing to be a reliever is not much different from being a starter for me. I have my routine and what I like to do in terms of lifting weights and running. But when it comes to throwing, I might have to tweak it a little bit.

After the season ends, the Nationals send all of its players a manual it really wants us to follow in terms of running, core work, lifting, and a strict throwing schedule. This is extremely helpful in terms of them making it a step-by-step program for the players and easy to follow. Right now, I am taking some time off from throwing since I technically just got done with my season about 2 weeks ago. I will pick it back up once the new year starts, but that doesn’t mean the other aspects of my training have stopped either. I feel like if I stop running, it will be really hard for me to get to get back to where I currently am before spring training starts.

My mindset right now is to do everything I can to make it to the next level in 2012. I really feel like I lost myself a little bit in 2011 and tried to do too many things and over think myself. I just didn’t allow myself to be as successful as I was in 2010. I learned a lot about myself and my own mental game down in the VZL and I think that will pay dividends for me this year. What I personally need to do to get to the big leagues this year is to attack the strike zone more and stop nibbling around the plate. I had a horrible tendency to try to make a perfect pitch every time and I wound up falling behind in the count and getting hit or walking people. When I walk people is when I truly get into trouble. I was able to work with Calvin Maduro with the Baltimore Orioles down in Venezuela and we just talked about the mental aspect of pitching. Just being able to do that and get a new view on things really helped me.

Overall, I am very excited for the 2012 season to start and to get ready for spring training. Although I am technically just starting my “offseason” right now, I have a few more weeks of letting my body rest. Then it’s back at it for about a month and a half before its time to report back to Florida!

Art of throwing a ball

Recently I asked for suggestions on my twitter page (@RyanTatusko) about blog topics people wanted to hear about and MASN.com contributing writer suggested on the “art of throwing a ball” I wrote it specifically for him and MASN.com but I loved the article so much I re-produced it here. I hope you enjoy it.

 

When a pitcher is taught his whole career to throw strikes, how difficult is it to throw a pitch out the zone sometimes when you have been programmed to always throw strikes?

He loved the idea and sent us this exclusive blog to MASNsports.com:

“I know this topic probably had one or two readers doing a double take as to the title, but I think this might be one of the most important aspects of pitching that is continually overlooked. How many times have you sat in front of the TV or watched a game live only to yell “How can you swing at that? Seriously!? Come on!” You slump back into your seat disgusted that your team’s best hitter just chased a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt to kill the rally. That pitcher… knew the art of throwing a ball.

“As young baseball players across the country and the world trot off to their respective baseball fields and start practice, the first thing the coach always reiterates to their pitchers is throw strikes. It’s the thing that gets pitching coaches pulling their hair out, what scouts grade big league talent on and what separates the good players from the immortally great. But why, when the count goes 0-2 or 1-2, do coaches shift paradigms and want curveballs bounced in the dirt, fastballs suddenly are asked for chest high or sometimes three inches off the plate?

“If you sit and watch any baseball game on TV or live, I invite you to watch and notice how many times marginal pitches are called strikes or balls and start looking into why. You think of names like Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia as some exceptional talents in the game and fans and writers alike comment, “Oh, he’s a veteran he’s going to get those marginal pitches.” But why do they get those pitches? Is it because they have just been in the league a long time, or because they are well respected in the baseball community? It’s because for their entire career, they have been around the strike zone, they are known as strike throwers and aren’t known for walks. The examples I have given are just a few of the names of people who throw a tremendous amount of strikes and when it comes to throw that marginal pitch, they will most likely get the call they are looking for in crucial situations because of their previous reputations.

“There is not a pitcher alive who can sit in the strike zone with every pitch and not get hit. If you want the exceptional fastballs of Henry Rodriguez, Ardolis Chapman and Joel Zumaya, even though these guys are throwing 100-plus mph; they are not immune to hits and occasional big innings. As this topic states, there is an art in throwing a ball – you cannot just fling it up toward the plate and accomplish something. There must be a purpose as to why you are throwing the pitch. If you throw it over the batter’s head, that does nothing for you or for him; all you did was put him one step closer to first base. That fastball chest-high that changes his eye level, the back-foot slider or the curveball that bounces right behind the plate are examples of pitches that setup a purpose. The art of throwing a ball is a delicate one – you cannot just give the pitch away and although they may not swing at the ball, you could have done something a lot more mentally to the batter.

“These ‘purpose pitches’ are also known as set-up pitches in some circles because they set up your next pitch, which might be that strikeout or groundball double play you have been looking for to squash a rally. If, as a pitcher, you become good at throwing quality balls, eventually the batter will open his strike zone up and start swinging at those pitches and that is what we are looking for. Any time you can make the hitter uncomfortable in the batter’s box, you have gained an advantage as a pitcher. Umpires are human beings, as well, and they tend to miss a few pitches, and no one here has ever experienced a game where there has never been a marginal pitch thrown. Sometimes you sit and watch umpires or hear players talking about umpires opening up their zones in the later innings and, although it could be something else, it could also be credited to the pitcher being around the strike zone all game.

“They say the art of hitting is timing, and the art of pitching is disrupting that timing and throwing quality balls can surely help you with that cause. When you are pitching, you should have a reason and purpose behind every pitch, but that thought is especially true once you get ahead in the count. You have a reason why you want to bounce the 0-2 curve or elevate the fastball and knowing what you want to do with the next pitch if he doesn’t chase is just as important in this game as keeping the ball in the strike zone. Pitchers who can master the art of throwing quality balls when they have to will certainly have more success pitching and will pitch longer in games than players who can’t master this delicate art.

“I hope this gives you some food for thought and the next time you find yourself watching a game or coaching. I hope you take this part of the game a little more seriously or pay attention to it a little more. Until next time.”

Learning in Pro Ball vs College Ball

In order to be a great player at any level you have to constantly adapt to your surroundings, the level you are playing at but the way you learn in professional ball as opposed to college ball are way different. When you enter college at eighteen or so years old, as a male you could still be maturing and are figuring out your limbs and how to get everything in sync, this can be hard enough let alone trying to get better at a sport to possibly get drafted. When I first stepped onto Indiana St, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to practice, I heard the many stories of what it was like but I didn’t fully comprehend what it truly was like until I was there. We practiced, and practiced A LOT!

 

One of the best quotes that have ever been spoken to me as an athlete came from my high school coach and he said “Sometimes you just do things because they are hard. There is no rhyme or reason coaches make you do certain things but then to test you and see what you’re made out of.” This quote has constantly come up in my mind throughout my collegiate career and my experience as a professional ball player. When I was in college, we started practiced almost immediately when school started up in the fall. We had to schedule our classes so they let out before two o’clock pm and then we would practice anywhere from three to four hours a day five days a week until Christmas break. When you practice you practice in college the coaches try to find any time they can to squeeze in a few more sessions within the NCAA requirements. Sometimes we would practice at 6am, sometimes it was after school or on the weekends. Balancing your studies and practice was hard, as they both take an equal amount of dedication and focus.

 

When Christmas break hit, we were given a workout sheet, much like the one the Rangers and Nationals have given me throughout my career, and we had to follow that to be ready to go when Christmas break ended. The learning you do is based upon countless repetitions. Whatever the skill set was that day you would practice it until you were blue in the face or could do it in your sleep. But I believe it is this type of coaching that is necessary in the collegiate levels, as you have people coming straight from high school and although coaches are usually building upon basic principles and taking them to the next level. There were a few things you would cover just a bit, but everyday we were going through defensive scenarios, covering bunts, first and thirds, and batting practice. I would be the first to admit I wasn’t too keen on doing so many reps in college, and I kept wondering why we had to constantly do certain things but when I got drafted I became thankful for what the coaches put me thru in the three years I played as a Sycamore.

 

When you have an outing, as a pitcher in college whether you do well or not, there really isn’t opportunity to break down video at the collegiate level like there is in the professional ranks.  Most of the time, when are looking at an outing you are taking in what the pitching coach saw that day and what the various charts said you did. In professional ball, there is always opportunity for you to look at yourself on video, which I think is an invaluable too IF YOU USE IT CORRECTLY. I like to focus on a few batters or remember a few pitches that felt extremely good coming out of my hand and see what I did right in that scenario or if I was bad I would look for what was causing the poor performance. You can spend too much time dissecting video, and cause yourself too much trouble by trying to pick apart things that aren’t there. There are two golden words that I have come to live by as a professional athlete, GO COMPETE. Meaning, whatever it is you do, however you do it go out in between the lines and let yourself be successful. If you start thinking of too many things out there you will out think yourself right into a poor performance. Let your mind work during practice, and with enough correct repetitions and focus during practice it will shine in he game without the player having to put much thought into it.

 

If you are a nit-picker you can drive yourself crazy with all the negative things you can find even though you might have thrown six shutout innings.  Ask any coach, and I certainly tend to fall in this category and this is something I strive to work on. In college there is a lot of talking with pitching coaches, and going through your mechanics constantly to re-iterate certain points or fix certain flaws. When you get to the professional ranks, you are there for a reason and unless a coördinator or coach sees a massive problem in your delivery they will tend to leave you alone and just suggest things but it is up to the person to implament them or not, because it has now become your career and not theirs.

 

People always talk about the differences between the wood and aluminum bat issue in college and professional ranks, but what I figured is that you have these big, burly hitters swinging aluminum and you learn very quickly to learn to throw the ball down in the zone if you don’t want to get tattooed around the ballpark which can only be beneficial to you down the road in the professional ranks. Although the bats might change, the players start to develop more the higher you go up in the ranks and it all evens out in the end anyway. I view pitching to aluminum bats in college a beneficial thing for me, because it gave me a better understanding of pitching in the professional levels and learning to keep the ball on the ground.

 

Although the information is always the same no mater where you go to learn this great game, the people who can learn to take what they know and adapt it to their own playing style are the ones who truly succeed in this game and that is a tough lesson for people to learn but those who do ultimately become the greats in this game. One of the benefits of being in professional baseball, is that multiple coaches are able to converse on a flaw you might have and if someone cannot get through to you to fix the problem, someone else might be able to re-iterate it to you a different way that makes you ultimately see the light.

 

Overall, I think college baseball is about establishing what kind of ballplayer you are and finding out about you, and fine-tuning those tools. When you get drafted talent evaluators already know what you’re about and barring a position change there is not much revamping needed just some minor tweaks and changes throughout the year. There comes a point where you got to understand yourself, and what you can do better than any coach and when you are in tune enough with your body to make changes on a pitch to pitch basis based off feel then you will truly become an élite player in this game.

My First 30 Days

Unable to sleep on our four hour bus ride from Barquisimeto, VZ to Azulia, VZ I resorted to setting my IPOD upon slow songs in hopes to relax and drift off to that dreamy, fantasy world where the grass is a little greener, the sun shines a little brighter and the air has the thick smell of hot dogs, stale beer and freshly raked dirt but alas that did nothing for me either. As I sit here listening to the Casey Donahew Band, watching the blackened landscape rush past me as we make our way down another endless highway to another small city only to get in at about sunrise to just get up a few short hours later and play a baseball game that very same day I’ve caught myself thinking about the last month and what I feel about it deep down.

With the bus an eery quiet except for a very bad version of Captain America playing on our DVD screens at mind numbing volumes, I decided to plug in my IPOD and just think about my last month so far. It’s hard to think that I have been at this winter ball thing just a month as I have had a lot of ups and down’s so far but I can truly say that this has been a giant learning experience for me. As I have stated in previous blogs during last season, the roller-coaster swings that my season took would make even the most solid stomach feel a little queasy as it made me several times. I feel like last year my season was a tale of two different Ryan’s with the first half not being so good, and turning it around the second half to make it a little respectable. With that being the case, I decided that I wanted to venture into the realm of winter ball for the first time to straighten some things out for the 2012 season.

With that being the case, I had no idea what to expect when I came down here. What was the completion like? Would I adapt? Would I be successful? Would I even like it? Now everyone has their opinion on what makes someone successful, and whether or not someone is doing well down here. Most people point to statistics as the blatant answer, but I feel there is so much more to the ink stat lines that are produced every night. I know that I am sitting at 0-4 right now, but I feel like I have (except for an exception) thrown the heck out of the ball and I could easily be 3-1 but this 0-4 is another learning experience for me, one of many things I have to learn and adapt too if I want to be successful in the big leagues.  Its learning to bounce back and not pay attention to things you cannot control, very wise coaches have told me numerous times that the more time you spend about worrying about things you can’t control the more the things you can will go haywire and I have learned that lesson down here. I had a pretty bad outing tonight, no qualms about it and yes that happens to every pitcher and I can sit here and talk about why it happens, mechanics this, and pitch selection that but the fact is I was bad tonight that’s all, it happens. I believe that is only a failure of an outing if you didn’t learn anything from it, there is a lesson to be learned in everything we do; even baseball and tonight the lesson I learned is the value of attacking batters with what I believe is my best.

I fell behind a lot of batters tonight because I tried to trick batters with what I was throwing and when It came time to throw a strike to get even, it got hit or I wasn’t able to bounce back and I walked people and before I knew it I was down 3-0 with only recording 1 out. When I was given the hook with 2 outs in the 2nd inning, I was more mad at myself because just five days prior I held this EXACT SAME lineup to 1 hit in 6 innings of work, but this time I out thought myself. I thought “well man this is back to back outings against the same people….hmm, maybe I need to change up with I did previously.” This was a big slap in the face of reality for me, not only did it backfire, it back fired horribly and taught me a very valuable lesson. The lesson for me showed up right in my face, no matter how many times you face a team or a specific batter stick with your strengths and not what you think their weaknesses are.

Besides the outing tonight, I have also had a lot of very successful outings and I feel really good about the progress that is being made with myself down here. I know the things that the ‘nats want me to work on and I am diligently working on them to make myself a 100% better pitcher than I was last year, but not only that this league is making me familiar with other things as well. Things like pitching in front of big crowds, now I had big crowds when I played in AA in the Texas League where frisco can and did draw as much as 10,000 people on a weekend night but this crowd down here is different as I have covered and shown you before in video. The noise, chanting, drums, and chants are enough to throw anyone off their game so it truly makes you focus about what is going on. For someone who doesn’t have much experience with the noise like this, this is an invaluable lesson to me on what it is to deal with crowd hostility and backing and how to channel it out and focus on the task at hand.

I’m also getting taught invaluable lessons from big leaguers that I haven’t previously been exposed too. Being battery mates with Henry Blanco the outing previously was an experience that I won’t forget. He encouraged me to pick his brain in between innings, and for anyone who knows me in any shape knows that I love to talk so I took him up on that offer. Which by the end of the game I’m sure he was sorry he offered in the first place. I get to watch him, Alberto Gonzalez, Jose Castillo, Don Baylor amongst other go about their business and for someone like me who has never been to the big leagues it’s a lesson on how to handle the good things and the bad that get thrown your way and it has been very fun watching how each one goes about things.

When I originally contemplated coming down here, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I could go back to giving to pitching lessons just like every other MiLB player does in the off-season and spend some very valuable time with my friends and family but I decided to come down here and work on Ryan the ballplayer and man am I glad I did. I have been very fortunate as my significant other has been able to travel with me and is staying down here for the duration so I have her to lean on and  be a sounding board whether she wants to be one or not (haha). But seriously, I feel like my first month here I have learned and absorbed things that would have been thrown at me in a trial by fire at the next level but I feel I know now a little about what to expect and go about things.

With another month to go in the season, I know I got a lot more to learn as you never stop learning in this game. Many smart coaches have repeated the same saying to me and it always holds true that “Once you think you have this game figured out, it will come back and bite you in the rear end and show you that you still have a lot to learn.” I firmly believe that to be true, as I got bit tonight when I thought I knew I had the Lara team figured out and what I had to do. With another lesson learned under my belt, I am eager to see what the last month of the season will throw at me before heading back stateside. I firmly believe that this is the best preparation I could be doing for the 2012 season and I look forward to working on things to become a piece of the Washington Nationals puzzle at some point in the 2012 season.

It’s now 330am and I have zero idea where we are even at, or how much further we have to go. Captain America has come to a stop and all that is left are the porch lights flying past the bus window and Zac Brown Band – Colder Weather on my IPod, I bid you reader’s adieu until next time. Off to contemplate some more on what I have to do to become a piece of that puzzle. Until next time

 

Ryan


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