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!!

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Waiting room they put us in as we waited for the AA game to end

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Video from the Green Monster

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Video is when I first walked out of the concourse and out to Fenway Park.

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This is a Sweet Caroline being sung at the Futures at Fenway

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This is a panoramic shot around Fenway Park

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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.

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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.

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