Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hang 'em up

In my 3.5 month hiatus from my blog (due to laziness), quite a bit has happened. I finally made a decision about my professional baseball career. Us baseball players would say that I've officially "hung 'em up." In layman's terms, I've decided to end my career as a professional baseball player. After going through the emotional ups and downs of last season with the Armada, I've finally decided to call it quits. The decision was made back in September after the season had ended. A lot of people keep telling me that I should still play and that I still have the skills and talent to play professionally. Albeit that might be true, there are tons of guys just like me who have the talent and skills to play, but never get the opportunity or if they do, somehow wind up with the short end of the stick.

Professional baseball is all about opportunity. Politics also plays a role in this game as well. The game of professional baseball is a BUSINESS first and game second. Not many people know the business side of baseball and let me tell you it's not pretty. I'd have to say the most difficult thing about this game is getting the right opportunity to play. Unless you are a "bonus baby" (a.k.a. top draft pick), you need to put up some serious numbers to get noticed. One great season could guarantee you a job for years to come, but are few and far between for late round picks. It's the only job I know of where all your friends and bonds you've made over the years can disappear in an instant. Trades are a part of the game, although I've never been traded, as well as releases. Every year trades and releases claim hundreds of victims throughout every system in baseball. After a release, the first thing that comes to mind is, "Who is looking for a *pitcher/position player*? Who can I call that knows somebody? How can I get to another team?" That all happens after the initial shock wears off and you pack your bags and say your goodbyes. Everybody knows that cuts need to be made every year at spring training and hope they do enough to keep their job for the coming season. For some of those, me included, that didn't happen on many occasions. I made good friends on a few teams only to have the rug snatched from under my feet and sent packing my bags and heading home once again.

The next thoughts that pop into the head of a freshly released minor leaguer are "What am I going to do? Go back to school? Hang 'em up? Get a job?" The young and determined first or second year minor leaguer would shed these thoughts in an instant, but the seasoned minor leaguer with a knowledge of how the system works would take a step back to assess his situation and determine what would be the next best option. Families, wives, sons, and daughters all factor into the decision process of whether or not to continue pursuing the dream. For some, the dream continues and they do whatever it takes. Others hang 'em up and get different jobs to take care of their families.

The grind of a 142 game season can wear a player out, especially on a team that's not in playoff contention. Being away from home and on the road living in a hotel can really begin to wear on a player and can also be rough on relationships with loved ones. For some, the end of the season can't come quicker. For others, the reality of the off-season looming and getting a job to pay the rent is overwhelming. Either way you look at it, a player is always on the go, whether it be spring training or during the season. Traveling is part of the gig when you sign up to be a pro ball player. It's a lifestyle that can take some time to get adjusted to and for some can make or break a relationship. The uncertainty of not being able to control your future is a little scary as well. In the drop of a hat you could be traded or released, which adds pressure to your performance. Out of all sports, I think baseball has to be the toughest both mentally and physically. I can sum it up with one word: performance. If you don't perform you might as well pack your bags and go home.

As for myself, I won't say I've given up, rather, I'll say that I'm officially retiring. When you're 25, not in an organization, and know how the system works, it's a pretty clear decision. As much as the kid in me didn't want to hang 'em up and keep pursuing the dream, the right decision was made. You've got a hell of an uphill battle to fight with about a 1% chance to make it to the big leagues when you're 25 years old and switching positions. I gave it everything I had and came up short. Thus is the story with thousands of other guys trying to do the same thing. Not many people can say they've played professionally as a hitter and pitcher. I feel honored and privileged to have played this game for as long as I did. It's time for me to join the rest of the real world and pursue a different career. It's finally time for this player to "hang 'em up."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

...And that's the way it was

So, here we are again, back at square one. Only 24 measly at-bats into my professional outfielding career I was brought back down to earth by the harsh reality of baseball. After I hit my homerun, I went 0 for 12 in the games following. My final game; a marathon 15 inning heartbreaker against the Tucson Toros, I went 0 for 6 with 4 strikeouts. For those of you who don't know, we in the baseball world call that the "Golden Sombrero". Three strikeouts is called the hat trick, but only those privileged enough to have four can don the Golden Sombrero. I was privileged enough to sport it in my final game. We had a day off after the final game against Tucson in which I relaxed and did some things around the house. I arrived about an hour and a half early Tuesday afternoon to the clubhouse and start getting ready to head to the cages. Low and behold, Tempe (our manager) walks in with a new player. My first thought was "Maybe he's a pitcher," to which I then saw him carrying bats and a left handed outfielder's glove. I knew then that something was up and started worrying. I knew that somebody had to either be put on the inactive list or get released and I knew that I hadn't been swinging the bat well. I put two and two together and went outside to try to calm my nerves. I called my wife, who was on her way down to the field, to let her know that I might not be playing because a new player had arrived. I went back into the clubhouse and G2 (Tempe's son and also the hitting coach) told me that Tempe wanted to see me in his office.

I've gone through this too many times to know what was happening. Obviously the target was on my back and Tempe had set his crosshair on me. As soon as I walked in Tempe told me "I'm putting you on the inactive list." Understanding the given conditions I don't blame him for doing so, however, I don't think I was given a fair shot. That being said, I also didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I wasn't performing like I knew I could and like Tempe knew I could, so he did something about it. Independent ball is all performance based, which means if you don't perform then you're next in line to pack your bags and go home. It's never something a manager wants to do or likes to do, but it must be done. I was told that I was over-challenged pitching wise and that I was a one dimensional hitter, which means I can only hit one pitch. I knew my swing had been off and tried to correct it myself in the cages but that got me nowhere. I made plans to see my hitting coach for a lesson on Wednesday, but it was too late. My spot was already given to somebody else. I went to my hitting coach anyways and corrected my swing in hopes of being able to rejoin the team. In the mean time, while I was busy correcting my swing, Long Beach signed an alum from last year in Steve Moss. To make room for Steve, Tempe needed to make another roster move. Unfortunately, Casey Garrison was next on the list. Only a day after I left the team the same thing happened to him. I tried to call him but only got his voicemail, so I left a message asking him to call me back. It's sad to see a good friend and teammate leave the clubhouse for good; especially when you know they're not coming back.

If I'm being honest here, I'm really starting to get tired of baseball. I'm not tired of playing but just tired of everything else, mainly the business aspect of the game. Baseball is a fun game in itself, but professional baseball is a business first and a game second. Every year the managerial team and front office staff invite both old and new faces to spring training to select the cream of the crop to fill their rosters in hopes of bringing a championship to their local city. That's their job. They're not supposed to worry about the feelings of a ball player after he's been cut from the team because they're looking at the bigger picture; putting a winning team out on the field. It's sad to hear that but it couldn't be more true. I've made good friends with a lot of people on many different teams and it doesn't change. Either I was the one to get released or one of my friends was the newest victim of the business. It happens all the time in the Independent Leagues. You make really good friends with someone and the next day you're shipped off to another team or sent home packing. It's the most cutthroat and ruthless business I know.

The thing I hate most about baseball is the unknown. Anything can happen at any given moment. Someone can get injured, promoted, demoted, or released at the drop of a hat. In my short time in the game, I've learned that the front office really doesn't care about the feelings of a player. A lot of lifelong friendships are made playing pro ball, however, the feelings of a baseball player are never taken into consideration when making a business proposal. As players, we're oblivious to what goes on in the front office. Our only concern is to win ball games. It's sad to see the business side of baseball and I was none the wiser to it until I became a victim and was released from the Astros. I had no idea what was coming and it was such a shock to me and just took me by surprise. Only then did the harsh realities of professional baseball really sink in. I was on my way home while everybody else got the opportunity to continue playing, which was very frustrating and hard to handle. I feel bad for any player that gets released because I've been there before and it's not fun. I would be curious to see how the front office staff would feel if they traded places with the players and had to go through what they go through.

I'm reminded of a quote from the movie Bull Durham, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball." It really is that simple, but yet like the Transformers, there's more than meets the eye. There are so many minute details and little nuances that the average fan may not be able to grasp, such as what to do in certain situations and what pitches to throw in a certain count with or without runners on base, etc. Baseball is a game of inches. An inch here or an inch there can make all the difference in the world. For example, say I hit a fly ball on the handle of the bat. If I hit that ball an inch or two higher on the sweet spot of the bat, it's a home run. The same thing goes with making a diving catch, stealing a base, or throwing a fastball an inch off the dish. Every inch counts.

The dream of any little kid playing baseball is to be in the Major Leagues. I, along with millions of other kids, had the same dream. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to experience the thrill of being drafted by a professional team. Not many people can say that. Every year 1500 baseball players out of the tens of thousands all across the United States playing in college and high school are drafted. To be drafted is an accomplishment in itself because it means that someone thinks you have the talent and ability to play baseball at the professional level. However, only a small percentage of the players in the minor leagues will actually get the opportunity to play at the big league level and live the life of luxury. To many, the dream is always alive and within reach; not wanting to give up hope because maybe it could happen next year. To others, the day to day grind of life in the minors takes its toll and forces them out of the game and into the real world where a 9-5 job awaits them. I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to play professional baseball as both a pitcher and hitter. Not many people can say they've done that. It's been the culmination of 18 years of hard work and dedication to the sport which has given so much to me and given me opportunities that I never thought possible. However, as much as baseball has given to me it's also been the bearer of bad news and has crushed my dreams more than a few times. I honestly don't know how much more heartbreak I can take. It starts to take its toll emotionally and I'm not sure how much more torture I can endure. I don't know what direction I'll go when the season is over but I know that a decision will have to be made whether or not I'll continue to pursue the dream. I know whatever decision is made will be the right one. It's hard to give up on your childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues, but as cliche as it might be, when one door closes another one opens.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Living the dream!

Well, alas I can say I'm living the dream once again. I received a text message last Thursday night from my friend on the Long Beach Armada, Sean Buller, asking me where I was, to which I replied "At home. Why?" He texted back saying one of the outfielders, J.J. Sherrill, just went down with a hamstring injury and that he would talk to the coach and let me know if they wanted to sign me. To my suprise I received a phone call from Sean about an hour or so later. He asked me, "What are you doing tomorrow? Do you think you'd have time to come down and sign a contract?" As soon as I heard him say that my face lit up with a smile from ear to ear. Of course I would have time! I was partly shocked and relieved, but mostly excited. I was shocked because I was starting to think that me signing with a team wouldn't actually happen. To my suprise though it did. All the contacts I had made and people I tried to get hooked up with hadn't come through but this time it actually happened. I was even happier to know that I was joining the team I had gone to spring training with and actually knew everybody on the team. It seemed like everybody on the team was really happy to have me back, so to speak. They'd been telling me about how they missed my bat in the lineup. It was good to hear the positive feedback from everybody and to know that they all really cared about me.

I sat out the first day I came in just to get myself adjusted and settled in and then I was in the lineup the next night against the Tucson Toros. I made my debut in right field Friday night and was hitting 6th in the lineup. In my first professional at-bat I sliced a ball between the first and second basemen for a base hit. I couldn't believe it. My first hit as a professional in my first at-bat. I had visions of hitting a home run, like any other player would, but hey, a single is just as good in my book. It was kind of reminiscent of my college days. I got a base hit in my one and only collegiate at-bat. Here I was standing on first base after my first hit. I felt a sense of relief as well as a sense of confidence; to know that I can actually make this transition from pitcher to outfielder.

A little off the topic, but I just read an article about a guy I know who pitched for the Rockies named Scott Beerer. He ended his pitching career in 2006 and was out of baseball as far as I knew. I was surfing around Minor League Baseball's website, milb.com, and saw an article featuring Scott Beerer with a picture of him pitching and hitting. Apparently he's made the transition and is hitting the crap out of the ball. He was sent to Short-Season A ball with the Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies minor league affiliate) and hit .558 in 43 at-bats. It made me realize that this really is possible. He's 27 years old albeit, but he's doing what I'm doing. He was a two way player in college and chose pitching because he thought that's where he'd have the most success. It just goes to show that it can be done and it's an inspirational story as well.

So after my first hit I was really excited but settled in as the game went on. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be during my first at-bat, but the nerves were definitely there. I almost hit a home run in my second at-bat, but fell just short and lined out to the center fielder on the warning track. I finished the night 1 for 4 with a single and 2 runs scored. Not bad for a debut I don't think. Last night (July 11th) I went 0 for 4 with 2 Ks, a groundout and a fly out. I was a little frustrated but figured out what I was doing wrong and corrected it today. I felt pretty good going into the game today knowing what I had to do at the plate, which was to just relax. Tempe (our manager Gary Templeton) told me last night as he was leaving the clubhouse, "Good hitters are slow and bad hitters are fast." He meant that good hitters slow everything down and see the ball and react. In 2 of my at-bats last night I felt like I was pressing and really anxious, which showed. Everything in my swing was rushed and just didn't feel right, so I took that attitude into the game today and tried to relax at the plate and see the pitch. My first AB went alright. I fouled off two pitches that were right there and just missed them but ended up striking out on a 2-2 fastball inside. My next AB I was a little more aggresive and swung at the first pitch but missed. The second pitch came in and I sure as hell didn't plan on missing it. I hit a line drive into left field for a single and was back on track and feeling good. My third AB of the night went horribly. I took the first two pitches for strikes and swung at an 0-2 slider inside for strike three. I was visibly upset and frustrated on the inside. I just have to realize that it's only going to be a matter of time before I get adjusted to hitting professionally. I'll get my timing down and be able to adjust the more ABs I get, so I'm not worried. I just get frustrated sometimes when I miss pitches I know I should hit, but hey, that's baseball. My last AB of the night came in the bottom of the 8th inning with two outs and us trailing by 3 runs. I worked the count to 2-1 and then it happened. I saw a fastball about chest high and swung at it. By the feel of it I knew I had put a good swing on it and hit it hard. The ball shot off my bat into the evening sky headed for left-center field. I knew I had hit it hard but didn't know if I had hit it hard enough to go out. I thought maybe it would land at the warning track because I hit it too high. To my delightful suprise just before I rounded second base I saw it go over the wall for my first professional home run. I gave a small fist pump as I rounded second base and a shot of adrenaline ran throughout my entire body giving me the chills. I had done it. I'd hit a home run in a professional game. I was so happy and excited inside, yet calm and cool on the outside. I was greeted by my teammates in the dugout with cheers, high fives, and fist pumps. It was such an exciting moment for me and one that I'll never forget. It was the culmination of all my hard work from the past year of making the transition. I knew I had it in me but it feels good to actually see it happen and know that I can hit and can make this transition. We ended up losing the game 4-2, but it won't be a game I'll soon forget.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The title says it all. It sums up the way I feel and what I've been feeling for the past month. Since too much has happened and I don't feel like typing it all out, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version. I can sum it up in one sentence:


Yep. Profound I know. I've done nothing wrong. I hit .351 in 8 spring training games with 4 of my 8 hits being extra base hits (1 HR, (2) 2B, (1) 3B). What's wrong with that you ask? Nothing. I hit the ball as well as I could have and here I am today, a month into the season without a job. I was promised a spot on the team and was asked to wait 2 weeks for that spot to open up and I did. My reward: practice. I practiced on every off day the team had practice and still received a swift kick to the groin. I played the waiting game as much as I could but just couldn't handle anymore torture. It was apparent that Long Beach wasn't working out as I had planned. As much as I wanted it to happen and workout for the best, alas, nothing came of it. Everybody on the team wanted me there but there was no spot for me. I'm a little bitter that I had to wait so long to find out that there wasn't a spot for me on the team. I could've easily gone to another team but no, I wanted to make it work with Long Beach. I endured as much waiting as possible but it still didn't work out.

Not only is it trying on myself but my wife as well. Having to come home everyday only to tell her "Well he said this and this and it's supposed to happen on this day." That's no fun. To be honest, I think this is my last go at it. I don't think I can endure another year of this crap. The baseball system has wore me down. There's no stability, no pay, and right now, no opportunity. I've been told by so many people, "It'll happen, it'll happen." Yes, I believe it'll happen this year, but will I have enough time to show scouts that I'm the real deal and I deserve a real chance to play organizational ball? I've proved all the local skeptics wrong and even fooled guys in spring training who didn't know I was a pitcher. The ones who did know now respect me as a hitter, which is all gravy, but I need the opportunity to show everybody else. I don't like having to wait for a phone call for weeks on end. I want it to happen this week but I fear that my phone won't ring with good news until next week or even two weeks. The All-Star break (mid-July) might be the first chance I have at playing, which is unfortunate. Everybody and their mother knows I should be playing right now but again, I've become a victim of unfortunate circumstances, AKA baseball.

So what happens if I play half a season, do well, and don't get signed to an organization? Do I attempt to try to get an invitation to spring training or do I just give it up? Both thoughts have certainly crossed my mind and I don't know what I'm going to do. As much as I don't want to give it up, I have to be real with myself. What are the odds that a 25-year old pitcher-converted-to-outfielder has a legitimate chance of playing the in the big leagues? The odds are definitely not in my favor. At least when Rick Ankiel did it he had already been a big league pitcher. Me? I've got nothing. A few years of pitching experience to my name. Do I think it's possible? Yes, but time is not on my side right now. If it's going to happen it has to happen now. I can't wait any longer. Unfortunately, I don't have any control over that, which is VERY frustrating. So until that happens, I'll just be here waiting for my phone to ring.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spring is in the air

Sorry for the long delay in postings. I've been really lazy. My bad. Anyways, as always, a lot has happened in the past month that I haven't posted anything. Actually, a lot of the same has happened. I've just been working and doing my thing and getting ready for spring training with the Long Beach Armada. Wait, spring training has already started. I'll give you a quick rundown of what we've done.

Last Saturday, May 9th, we had a team meeting and physicals at Blair Field in Long Beach, which is where we'll be playing our home games. Since the Cal State Long Beach won't let us use the field for spring training, we had to find somewhere close that wouldn't charge us an arm and a leg to use their field. Thus, we ended up at Cal State Dominguez Hills located at the wonderful Home Depot Center. We started Sunday morning, Mother's Day, at 9am and started with the usual stretching and warmups to get our bodies loose. After we played catch we took what we baseball players call an "innie outtie"; otherwise known as an Infield/Outfield to you non-baseball players. After our innie outtie we went into batting practice. Now batting practice with 3 groups can be long if you're a pitcher (and believe me I know how long it can be), but we had 5 groups to get through since there were about 50 guys in camp. After batting practice we took a lunch break before heading into a 12 inning intersquad game. They made two teams with 10 hitters each and halfway through the game switched in guys who hadn't started. I played the first half of the game in right field. I went 1 for 4 in my spring training debut with a single and two strikeouts. Of course, who else would I face in my first at-bat but salted Major League veteran Jose Lima and of course I struck out.

Although my spring may have started on a sour note on Sunday I turned it around on Monday going 3 for 4 with a single, double, and home run. Tuesday I went 0 for 3 with 2 K and yesterday I turned it on again going 2 for 3 with a single, double, and walk with 3 RBIs. I've made the first round of cuts for position players, which is quite exciting. I think I'm gaining the respect of my fellow players because of the way I've been hitting the ball. I think a lot of guys who knew I used to pitch thought that I wouldn't be able to hit the ball as well as I have been, but I've definitely suprised them. It makes me feel good to know that all the hard work I've put in for the past year is paying off in dividens. The manager, Gary Templeton, told me today that I've been doing a hell of a job so far. That means a lot to me and makes me want to work harder to earn a spot on the team.

It's always fun to have guys with Major League experience out on the field because not only do they know how to have a good time, but they give valuable advice to us young'uns to help make us better ball players. Lima is no exception. He's a fun loving guy who loves to be out on the field. He's always telling a story or making the team laugh, which is a vital thing to have in the clubhouse. There's one on every team and Lima is our guy.