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


Clubbies, Food, and Atmosphere…OH MY!

Working in a different country certainly as its boundaries and limitations with adjusting to the cuisine, culture, and the ever-present language barrier. When I first landed in Venezuela, I tried to remember everything my high school Spanish teacher taught me, and I am sure she would be ashamed of how much I actually remembered if she could see me now.  I feel I have learned more about the Venezuelan culture than I could have ever read or learned on my own and it all has to do with being thrust into the culture and being forced to learn to survive.

I want to address some of the small problems I faced when I got down to the country but have come to conquer to a certain degree.  One of the first things that I was interested about was the clubhouse culture and how that would differ from the United States. What I have actually found is that it really doesn’t differ at all, there is the traditional card playing, loud music, and people with headphones and laptops buried in their locker both in affiliated clubhouses and LVBP clubhouses. I would say the one major difference is that we have a pure tile floor in the clubhouse so if you come stomping around in your cleats after a particularly bad outing you are liable to end up on your butt. This particular scenario has accounted for quite a few sidesplitting laughs as you watch someone go from pure anger to embarrassment in about two seconds. All in all the clubbies, personnel, players and surroundings are the same as they are in the states.

The next barrier I thought about was the food issue; I was extremely worried I was going to lose a ton of weight because I am an extremely picky eater. I don’t like most fruit, or vegetables and ask anyone who knows me personally and they can tell you that I am one of the hardest people to get to try new food on the planet! I am stuck in my ways, and I know what I like and I do not stray too far from it. I was fortunate to be on the same flight from Miami to Caracas as a guy who played here last year so he was able to help me with some basic food items that were good. We are told right off the bat to avoid the fruit and vegetables (no problem there!) in Venezuela because they wash them off with the water, and apparently there is some strand of Montezuma’s revenge in Venezuela.  I found a few staples that I really enjoyed; foods like Arepas, Parilla, and tacos. There is a taco stand inside of the stadium that knows me by first name, and I must say I am no connoisseur but they might have the best steak tacos on the planet! I eat three for lunch and three for dinner every home game! (hint, squirt lime on tacos). On the off days we are pretty much on our own for food with the meal money that the team gives us, and if you travel to any mall you can find American staples as Churches chicken, burger king, KFC, Quiznos, and McDonalds. Although the traditional food choices are all there (in Spanish of course) you can get some things down here that you cannot get in the states. Things like the Chicken Mac from McDonalds, which is a big mac but instead of beef its got chicken patties on it (and yes they are good!). Another thing I have noticed down here in Venezuela too, is that the food portions are a lot smaller you have to ask for large size things, which is the equivalent to what they give you normally in the states. Portion size alone will cause you to lose those last 10 to 15 lbs unless you are like this blogger who just orders more food (haha). I found out tha the reason that all drinks are served in smaller sizes is that because it is so hot and humid down here that the larger sizes will get too warm for you to drink before you can finish it.

I try and stay away from the American food unless I am really craving it, I truly want to experience the culture and I am forcing myself to open myself to the culinary delights this country has too offer because they are numerous. The fish down here as well as the sushi are amazing and fresh, although I am still not used to have complete fish served to me with the head and tail still attached, that might be something I never get used too. Overall I would have to give the food here a huge A+, everything I have forced myself to try has been delicious.

I have to be honest and say I didn’t quite know what to expect about the language barrier, but when I landed I was pleasantly surprised. Immediately you learn to say “Habla espanol muy poquito, lo siento” meaning in rough US translation “I speak very little Spanish, I’m sorry” but I have found that as long as you try at restaurants, the field, with the guys or just around the island people will bend over backwards to help you find or get what you need. A lot of the time I’ve found that with myself trying to work on my Spanish they want to work on their English so we more times that not have a spanglish conversation, each learning from each other. Most of my teammates down here have played in the United States at one time or another so they all know very good English and they are always willing to help us when we go out. The Americans or “gringos” usually do not go out on the streets without one or two Venezuelan friends to help us translate just in case, and when there is that time you and someone are just not communicating they step right in and order for you or find out what you have been asking or just take charge and help you. I for one couldn’t be more grateful because there have been a few times where the language barrier was just too much and a teammate stepped in and helped me out or else I would still be standing at that arepa stand in Caracas trying to find out what happened to my order!

The more you are in the country, and the more you acclimate yourself the better things become. I will admit that when I first landed I was a bit overwhelmed by everything, but throughout the days the countrymen and women as well as my teammates have made it a priority to make all right of us feel at home and make sure we have everything we need. I cannot thank my teammates everyone at the Margarita Bravos enough because they truly have done everything they can to make us feel like we are at home and are taken care of. This experience has been a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I cannot wait to keep taking it all in and have stories for many more years to come.

Until next time

Ryan

LVBP Security and Safety

In light of the recent events that have transpired, there was a lot of interest regarding winter ball in Venezuela. I hope that I can clear some things up for people and shed some light about what it is like off the field. I am only speaking from a vantage point being with the Margarita Bravos and what it is like for us on Margarita Island and traveling to the mainland when we have to go on the “road.” What it is like for us might not necessarily be true of other teams, as I have not had extensive conversations with friends on other teams or have traveled with them.

Before I got down to Margarita Island, I was told that it was the safest place in Venezuela, and when I landed I had a few doubts, but through the past few week, the island has grown on me and done nothing but solidify its holding as the safest place in Venezuela. The team (Margarita Bravos) puts all of its American players in “five star resort.” Now it might not be five stars, but let me assure you it is every bit of four stars pushing five based on American standards. We are about fifteen to twenty minutes away from the downtown area and field, pushed off in a remote section of the island. In order to get into the hotel one must pass through a gate that has a security guard standing at it 24 hours a day and they radio in to make sure you have a reservation to pass through. Once you are inside the sprawling property, there are multiple hotel towers that we can stay at. The property has about 4 private pools, 4 restaurants, a private beach, along with spa and workout area inside the property.

When it is time to leave and head to the field, we have a designated driver that takes the Americans and coaches everywhere. You cannot miss this van, it has our team name emblazoned on the all sides of it and the driver has been with the team for multiple years so he is very much connected with the team and trusted.  When we want to go off the of the hotel to go to the mall or get something to eat off the property, the hotel helps us find cab companies that are trusted with the hotel and are known for quality service, they really do take care of us down here. There are about eight or nine of us “gringos” down here on the team and whenever one person wants to do something, we ask around to see if a group of us want to go, I cannot remember a time when anyone has ever traveled alone anywhere at anytime! The hotel truly makes you forget where you are at since the facilities are so nice where we are staying; we are truly spoiled!

The Venezuelan guys really try and make you feel comfortable, I am always being asked how I am doing, if I am feeling all right or if my girlfriend is in need of anything. The guys understand how they felt when they played affiliated ball for the first time in the United States so my teammates truly go out of their way to make sure that we all feel safe and secure at all times. When we have to leave to go on the road, we always fly due to the fact that we are on an island. We have flown commercial a few times, but most of the time we take a chartered plane to make sure that it is extra safe. We always travel with a few plain-clothes security guards, a traveling secretary and an assistant general manager along with our own clubhouse guys. The security guards are constantly with us off the field and in the dugout just in case anything happens. With them, each team provides stadium security on the field during pitching changes, in between innings, and overall through the game. They also offer protection walking to the buses, guard the clubhouse doors, and make sure no crazed fan gets near the field or dugout.

We have been almost everywhere, and from just talking with some of the guys you distinguish the safer cities from the not so safe ones. There is no secret down here that Caracas can be dangerous if you are out on your own or out after dark, you just have to have your wits about you.  Whenever we travel off the island, the team makes sure we stay in nice hotels that either has room service 24/7 or has a safe restaurant within walking distance.  90% of the cities are fine to go out in with a group of guys during the day, and there is usually a mall nearby that you can walk too that has American comfort food or any other Venezuelan food you might want that day.

Food carts are usually your cheapest options down here, and when you are interested in going to one there is no shortage of teammates willing to help you with picking out the right one (possible food poisoning) or picking out the right food and translating.  Caracas is in a class of its own, there is a bit of nervousness with the guys when we go there, and when we play them we only play 1 game and leave that night to head to the next opponent and stay there, we stayed in Caracas one night and we legitimately stayed in the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at outside of Vegas.

As far as what has transpired in Valencia, we play Aragua all the time during the year, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the city, stadium, and its fans. I have flown into Valencia to play in the minor league game when I was strengthening my arm for starts and I loved the airport as well. Whatever that is transpiring in Valencia is an extreme, isolated incident. I pray for him and for his family, although I have never met him we are all family in this game, especially in the Nationals organization.

I can legitimately say that on the island and off I have never had one second of fear about where we are or how the team is handling things. The LVBP and Margarita Bravos are first class institutions, and I know first hand they do everything they can to protect their players, spouses and coaches.

Everyone down here is following the story as it transpires, and we wish nothing but best for outcome. From me personally, I offer all my thoughts and prayers, as I could never imagine this happening.

I hope this blog shed a little light on the security and the efforts that the LVBP and Margarita Bravos go through to make sure their players are the safest they can be.

Ryan

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