Saturday, 30 April 2011

Speaking English

The Minnesota Twins are widely known for going all around the world to find the next superstar. We have players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuala, Australia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, Taiwan, Korea and Canada. So sometimes it may be hard to communicate with your team mates.

There are a few latin players that speak good english, some that speak a little bit, and most of them have no idea what we are saying, same way I have no idea what they are saying to me when they speak spanish. Like most languages you learn, you usually get taught the swear words, so I guess you could say I'm fluent in spanish curse words. Every once in a while I may try and talk to a latino and try and learn some spanish phrases, but as fast as I learn it, is as quick as I forget it. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, an english class is run at the hotel for all latin players to attend.

A funny situation we have here is Hung-Yi Chen and Markus Solbach rooming together, Chen is from Taiwan and Markus is from Germany. I find this funny because I couldn't imagine the conversations these two would have in their room everyday. While Markus speaks good english, he also has a slight accent, and Chen speaks very limited english. Chen refers to Markus as his english teacher. I try to speak to Chen as often as I can and teach him many baseball sayings, and its fun talking with him because he is very eager to learn.

During the offseason I played with the Sydney Blue Sox in the new Australian Baseball League, and I was privileged to be part of a bullpen that included Koo Dae-Sung, who is a baseball legend in Korea. For people that are unfamiliar with his legendary status, he is the all time saves leader in the Korean Major Leagues, and also in In 1996, he won both a Gold Glove Award and the MVP of the Korean Major Leagues with a 1.88 ERA, 18 wins, 24 saves and 183 strikeouts in 139 innings pitched. He had a wealth of knowledge of the game, but one thing we always said amongst ourselves while watching him play and workout was, "I wish he could speak english". I'm sure we would of been overwhelmed with information he would provide us with.

Coaches always tell the international players that learning english is very important to their development as a professional baseball player. They say this because the players that can speak english are more coachable, and this will help them move up to the next level quicker.

                                        Hung Yi-Chen and Markus Solbach

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Early Days

Down here in Extended Spring, we have over 50 players, which is enough to make two teams. But seeing as we only play one game a day, not all 50 players will be in the game. Every second day, our team goes on the road to play the Orioles, Rays or Red Sox, so that means that about 30 players will get to stay back at the complex and work out instead of going on the road. Seeing as we don't have a game to play, we are usually done at the field before midday, which gets a lot of people excited.

When we get these early days at the field, I usually like to just go back to my room and relax, watch a movie or go for a swim in the pool. This is the best time to just sit back and enjoy the extra time off, seeing as these early days don't come around too often for players. Since Extended Spring has started, I've had 3 early days, on many occasions I have had to pitch in a road game, and also been sent to just chart the game on the road.

Guys with cars will usually go run some errands with the extra time they have, or even skip lunch at the field and go somewhere else to have a more enjoyable meal.

As I write this entry, my room mate Jacob Younis still isn't back from the road trip to Sarasota where he played the Orioles, I have been in my room since 12:45pm today. So I have had an extra 4 hours to relax, which I use to its full advantage.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Slumps and Streaks

In all sports, players go through slumps and streaks. It's hard to explain one single thing that may cause these streaks and slumps, but the only thing you can do is keep working hard, don't cheat yourself and hopefully the sporting gods will take care of you and repay you for all the hard work you put in.

I can honestly say right now, I am going through a bit of a cold streak but it's not quite a slump. During Spring Training I threw 7 innings, 1 hit, 1 run, 1 walk and struck out 12. The one hit I gave up was a solo home run. So everything ran smoothly for me in Spring Training. I kept doing the same routine everyday, hoping I could keep repeating every performance. But in Extended Spring Training now, I have thrown 10 2/3 innings, 12 hits, 6 runs, 4 walks and struck out 16. I have done all my routines the same, but the results have been different. All I can do is work harder in my bullpen sessions, put in while I'm in the gym, and make things turn around in my favour.

There is a difference between a slump and a cold streak, a cold streak is usually a lack of production over a small period of time, such as a hitter going 0 for 12 over 3 or 4 games. when a player starts to buy into their cold streak, then this may turn into a slump. A slump is when a hitter hits .100 in a month. Slumping can cause a player to change their own workouts, and they start to press. This pressing can lead to behavior that sometimes borders on maniacal. A player in a slump can often be found asking anyone and everyone what they are doing wrong. Just recently I was speaking with another pitcher here asking how I could improve my curveball since mine has lost a bit of bite to it. There is one good thing about slumps, they are great teachers. No player can avoid a slump. Slumps allow a player to learn more about their own mechanics or just themselves so in the future they will know what to look or feel for when things aren’t feeling just quite right

The behavior that accompanies a hot streak can be very similar to slump behavior because superstitions can start to pile up. When a guy gets hot or has a hitting streak going, or a pitcher has a scoreless innings streak, sometimes he begins to attribute his success to things that have nothing to do with it, like a pair of lucky socks or oddball routines, or wearing the same underwear. It can get pretty hilarious what people come up with as superstitions as you can see from my blog entry 'Superstitions and Habits'. I'm one person that is very guilty of following the same pre game routine if I had a successful outing with that routine. 

While on a cold streak, it may look like the entire field is a big glove, but while on a hot streak, the ball may look like the size of a watermelon. 

Friday, 22 April 2011

Australian Sports

While living in America for 6 months is pretty awesome, there's still one thing missing that would make living here absolutely perfect, that is being able to watch all the Australian sports back home. I am a big Brisbane Broncos fan, have been ever since I was 9, and I find myself waking up a little earlier on weekends, just to log on to and watch the live play by plays, and also listen to the games live online.

Just today I woke up at 6:30am to listen to the Broncos vs Tigers game online, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Broncos were winning 25-6 at half time. But as I started listening to the game, things began to get more intense, as the Tigers scored 2 tries in the space of 10 minutes. It took every ounce of energy within me to not want to yell at my computer as my room mate Jacob was still asleep. Jacob woke up not too long after, and I sat in my bed all tensed up for the next 20 minutes until Darren Lockyer scored for the Broncos, when he scored I started clapping and fist pumping, Jacob asked me what was going on, and I just told him "Lockyer scored". Corey Parker converted to put the Broncos up 31-18, after that I relaxed and started to get ready for my day.

Last week when the Broncos played the Roosters, I skype called my mum, and she faced her computer towards the television at home. I was able to watch the last 5 minutes of the game, which was really fun, made me feel like I was in my lounge room for a little while.

Next week the Broncos play the Bulldogs, who is Jacob's favourite team, and I have no doubt he will be waking up early with me to listen to the game. Might be a few tense moments in the room that morning.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Superstitions and Habits

In many sports, athletes would have their own superstitions or habits they following before a game or during a game, and if you ask any baseball player, they will tell you they have a routine they follow. There are some basic unwritten rules that many players follow, just because they feel it may give them bad luck if they break them, such as not stepping on the foul lines, and not running over the pitcher's mound on the way back to the dugout.

Adam O'Neill is an Australian pitcher with the New York Mets, and he jumps over the foul lines on his way to and from the mound. Also before every game, he likes to put the headphones in and listen to a bit of Eminem.

Jarryd Sullivan who is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, makes sure he puts his left sock on and left cleat on first all the time before he goes out on the field for the day. While he's taking his warm up pitches before the start of each inning, he throw's his 8 pitches in a specific sequence that he always follows. That is 2 fastballs, 2 changeups, 2 curveballs then back to 2 fastballs.

My room mate Jacob Younis, waits until he gets out of the dugout before putting his helmet on, and has his batting gloves undone until he gets up the batters box, he then tightens them up, and as he gets into the box he draws a cross on the plate before facing the pitcher. He does this routine for every pitch, he will step out of the batters box, undo his batting gloves, retighten them and get back in the box and draws the cross on the plate.

Mark Trau likes to clean the plate before the start of every inning, and also by habit, he hitches his belt in between every pitch.

Tyler Herr who has already made an appearance in my United Nations blog, likes to read a book on nights before he knows he will be pitching. He also has a specific hat, glove and pair of cleats he uses on game day.

Kelvin Silvania, who is a 1st basemen with the Twins, likes to hit off the tee every morning in the batting cages and while he walks up to the batters box in games, he holds his cup (protector/box, whatever you want to call  it) and does a 'funky leg kick' as he liked to explain it.

I could write a book on all my superstitions and routines that I follow, but I will only write about a few of them. In the dugout in between innings, my glove and hat always sit to the left of me, with my hat sitting on top of my glove. When I go out to the mound in to start an inning, I put my hat on first, carry my glove in my right hand, then start to walk to the mound, when I get half way between the dugout and foul line I start to jog out, once I get to the foul line, I take a big leap over it, I put my glove onto my left hand, then start to walk over to pick up the ball. I only pick up the baseball on the 3rd base side of the mound, sometimes I will have to kick the ball over from the first base side, or if the ball is on the mound, I ask a position player to kick the ball off the mound for me. While playing for the Ryde-Eastwood Hawks in Sydney, my 3rd and 1st basemen have been asked multiple times to please kick the ball off the mound for me.

If you ask all of us why we do this, we may not have a reason for you, it's just what a wacky routine that we have gotten into over time, and some people think its why they may be successful on that day.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bus Rides

In the Major Leagues they travel everywhere on private charter flights, but down here in the Minor Leagues, we travel by bus. For us here in Extended Spring Training, our longest bus ride is only 90 minutes to Sarasota, which is where the Baltimore Orioles complex is and the shortest one being a 15 minute ride across town to the Boston Red Sox complex.

As you move up in the minors, these bus rides getting longer and longer. In many leagues the bus ride can be as long as 14 hours, and these trips are made right after you finish a night game, to make sure you're in the new town the next day to play another night game. I haven't yet experienced one of these long bus rides, but I couldn't imagine they would be much fun.

Firstly, there aren't assigned seats on the bus, everyone can choose to sit where they want, but everyone usually sits in the same seats nearly every time they get on the bus. Also, the seating is fairly segregated, with latin players usually taking up the back of the bus, and the American and other foreign players taking up the front of the bus. This may seems ugly and people may think that us and the latinos don't get along, but its just a case of wanting to sit with people who you can easily communicate with.

People usually tend to do the same things on every bus ride. Since our bus has Wi-Fi, I sit on Facebook for a little while and chat to people back home in Sydney before I put the headphones in, listen to music and hopefully have a quick nap before the ride is over. A few guys like to chat amongst themselves, and usually respect the other players who like to sleep by keeping the volume of their conversation to a minimum. Every once in a while we will travel on a bus that has tables in it, and you may see a deck of cards come out and guys would play any sort of card game for the entire trip. Also some of the guys just like to listen to their music and keep to themselves.

On bus rides when a lot of players have to go, and some people have to share seats, the starting pitcher for the day will usually have a seat to his own. There are some techniques you can use to get your own seat if you aren't the starting pitcher, one of this is to get on the bus early, and pretend to be asleep. This is pretty effective because no one likes to be 'that guy' who wakes up people that are asleep on the bus. Another one that works is having a whole bunch of stuff on the seat next to you, and once the bus starts moving, you move it all and stretch out.

You must beware if you fall asleep on the bus, as you may be prone to some pranks, such as finding an embarassing photo of yourself on Facebook when you get back to your hotel room that day. This happened today on the bus as one player was taking a seat next to players who were asleep, and was posing with them while another player took a photo. It's all in good fun though, as boys will be boys.

              A familiar scene on the bus, players trying to sleep in very awkward positions.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


In every professional organization, duties need to be done in every single game. at the Twins we have a pitching chart, a game chart and velocity chart. Each one of these charts is completed by a pitcher who is not pitching on that day. Other duties that need to be done are bat and ball boy, an honour that I've have had bestowed on me twice in the last 4 days, and also someone will be using a video camera during the game.

The pitching chart is used to document our pitchers for the game. Such things that are recorded on this chart are, balls and strikes, what type of pitches were thrown, the location of pitches in an at bat and how the hitter got on base or out. Once you get the hang of it, the pitching chart can be very easy, and very valuable to any pitcher who has the time to study opposing teams lineups. The pitching chart is usually done by the starting pitcher for the next day, so he can get a look at the team he will be facing the next day.

The game chart is much simpler then the pitching chart, and is used to document our hitters for the game. It is almost like doing a regular scorebook. We write down what the hitter did and what the count was they got on base or out. At the end of the game we have enough information to complete an entire box score on our own hitters.

The velocity chart is pretty self explanatory, it just records the velocity of every pitch thrown. People are more interested in this chart then the others, because everyone likes to know how hard they are throwing and whether their velocity is improving.

The least glamourous of these duties is being bat and ball boy. Basically, all you do is run back and forth from home plate all game, picking up bats, foul balls that go towards the back net, and give the umpire new baseballs when he is running low. Also on occasion I would run the umpire a cup of water in between innings, since they are also working hard back there, and if we want them to be at their best, they need to be hydrated as well.

The last duty that needs to performed is having someone on the video camera, the video recorded with the camera is used to see if the pitcher has any flaws in their mechanics, and if the pitching coach notices anything wrong, he would sit you down and show you what is going wrong, or work with you in your next bullpen session.

To someone who doesn't know much about baseball or a fan, these duties may seem very small in terms of playing baseball, but they are an important part of what makes the team, and an individual successful in professional baseball.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Down Time

In Extended Spring Training and Rookie Ball, everyone will always have a lot of down time. We get to the field around 8:15am every morning, and are usually back in our rooms around 3:00pm. I usually go to bed before 10:00pm, so that leaves me with 7 hours to kill before I go to sleep so keeping yourself entertained is a must if you want to keep your sanity.

Since I don't have a car here, I have to find ways to stay entertained at the hotel. On a sunny afternoon after coming back from the field, you may see me down at the pool cooling off or catching some rays. There's usually 2 or 3 guys already down at the pool, so you will have some company and someone to talk to, that is if they don't have their iPod in,

When my new room mate Jacob got here, he went out and bought a PS3 and so far, it has been a great success with the Australians we have in camp still. Now at any time there could be 4-5 guys in my room playing PS3, or being more specific, playing Call of Duty, which Jacob tells me is the best PS3 game ever. If you're not familiar with Call of Duty, it's a first-person shooter game. I'm not really any good at that game, cause as silly as it seems, I start to panic when someone's shooting at me. I enjoy playing sports games more, so luckily we have MLB11:The Show.

During Spring Training, the Australian boys and me would watch a movie almost every night. We didn't have a DVD player, so we put the movies on our laptop, placed the laptop on the table in front of the tv and crowd around it to watch the movie. Nearly every morning during breakfast, the boys would hear the familiar phrase from me "Sooo, What movie are we gonna watch tonight?".

I also just enjoy sitting in bed, with the headphones in listening to music, or watching TV Shows that I have loaded on to my computer, even if I watch the same episodes of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory over and over again, it stills keeps me entertained and gives me a good laugh. If you search anyones  laptop her, you will probably find folders and folders of movies. I have over 100 movies on my laptop, and another Australian, Mark Trau has an external hard drive with hundreds of movies.

Any opportunity we get to get out of the hotel, we usually take it, whether it be go to the mall, the beach, or even go out somewhere for dinner. Any one of those activities would kill 2-3 hours of your night. It's not all bad living in a hotel, at least you don't have to make your bed everyday :)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

New Room Mate

Once Extended Spring Training started, I was going to have a new room mate after rooming with Brad Tippett for the first 4 weeks. After rooming with Brad, who is a  6 year veteran in Minor League Baseball, I would be rooming with Jacob Younis, a 17yr old who was starting his 1st year in Pro Ball.

Jacob signed prior to the 2010 MLB Academy, something that remained a tight secret, as he signed his contract the day he had to fly out to the Gold Coast for the Academy.

I first saw Jacob play at the U/14 National Championships in 2007. There's always one stand out player at these tournaments, and he was easily the standout. At 13yrs old he was hitting balls to the warning track in left/center at Blacktown Olympic Park, which is something I still can't do today.

I actually pitched against Jacob the following year in the U/18 New South Wales Major League Grand Final, where he hit me for a double in the 8th inning, considering he was only 14, playing on that stage against some players 4 years older then him, he didn't look out of place at all and was very comfortable playing at a higher level. In recent times, he hasn't had much success against me, which I jokingly like to remind him about every once in a while.

Two days ago Jacob made his pro debut starting at 3rd base against the Tampa Bay Rays, which is a position not familiar to him. He went 1 for 2 with a single, with a perfectly executed hit and run, he also stole a base and scored a run. A pretty productive first game. He's still only 17, playing against some guys 4-5 years older then him, and he still doesn't look out of place at all. I was ball boy for the game, so I was lucky enough to be able to get the ball from his first hit for him as little souvenir.

I've gotten to know him well over the last two years, and he's a really good kid, with tremendous talent and potential, and he has a genuine passion for the game, and hopefully that will take him far in his career.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Spring Training Done

With one day to go, I thought it be appropriate to write about Spring Training this year since I will be up to a lot more then sitting in my hotel room once I get my two days off. Coming into camp this year, I felt I had to make a  really good first impression since I signed as a free agent for no money.

I thought I made that good first impression in the first two days, as I passed both fitness tests. That being the 1 mile run which I did in 5 minutes 54 seconds, and also the 300yd shuttle run which I completed in 58 seconds. Hopefully that showed the Twins that I came into camp in good shape and was ready to work.

After a few days of working out on the field, going through the regular fundamentals and drills, it was finally time for me to pitch. I showed the Twins that my fitness level was up to scratch, now I had to show them I could pitch. I pitched against Boston, striking out the first hitter I faced, then got the next two guys to ground out. So after waiting since August 2009 to pitch in a professional uniform, I finally got my first inning under my belt with my new team.

After a 5 day rest, I had my second outing, against Freshwater College. I came on in the 8th inning, and got the first hitter to ground out, then struck out the next two hitters I faced. My velocity got up to 89mph, which was okay, but still not what I was hoping in my first outing where they used the radar gun.

I pitched again on 2 days rest, this time making my first trip to the Boston complex, which is also in Fort Myers. Playing on the Boston team was Boss Moanaroa, one of my good friends who I played with at the Sydney Blue Sox while we were back home. Boss hit a solo home run to left field in the 2nd inning to give the Red Sox a early lead. I came on to pitch the 6th and 7th inning, striking out 3 hitters, and getting 2 fly outs and 1 ground out. I was happier with this outing since my velocity got up to 91mph and I had good control of my changeup.

Three days later I had my next outing, this time I was making my first start, which I felt was a good sign, since my goal this season was to break into the starting rotation on one of the teams, whether it be the GCL or with the Elizabethton Twins. The start went well, as I struck out 5, and walked 1 in 2 innings of work, without giving up a hit. The hitter I walked was Boss, so I kind of let him go easy, that's what I told him at least. Another thing I was pleased about is that I got my velocity up to 92mph.

With one more day to go in Spring Training, I have thrown in 4 outings, a total of 6 innings, given up 0 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk and struck out 11. I have one more outing to go which is tomorrow against the Fort Myers Miracle, our Advanced A team, hopefully I can finish Spring Training on a high note.