Sunday, 29 May 2011

Umpires

On many occasions in Extended Spring Training a player may be called on to base umpire a game. Yesterday I was called upon with this responsibilty and I think it's very easy to say, both teams were not impressed by my performance. Having to umpire a professional baseball game has given me a new found respect for the job that these umpires have to do. If you ask any number of players about umpires, you will get an extreme variety of answers. Answers will range from derogatory to positive to neutral.


Just like the players down here in Extended Spring, the umpires are also rookies.It has been interesting, entertaining and even comforting to see these umpires make rookie mistakes as well. As you move up the the ranks in Minor League Baseball, so do the umpires and as the players and competition gets better, so do the umpires. Most of the umpires down here are just out of college and look around 22-23 years old so they are just a little older then some of the players. 


The umpires down here take some abuse because that is the nature of their job, they don’t get a pat on the back for making a good call, but when they mess one up, they get to hear about it. The fact that they are rookies means that they are making even more mistakes than you are used to seeing in the bigs and the coaches who are down here have been around for a while. So, you can imagine how intimidated a rookie umpire may feel when an argument breaks out. The coaches are generally pretty merciful with them, but at times tempers wear thin and confrontations occur. In Extended Spring you will rarely see a coach get angry at a bad call because we aren't playing for a championship, but once the season starts, our coaches will surely get more vocal.


Just like us, these umpires have a dream of one day going to the Major Leagues, and just like us, it will take years and years of hard work in the hot sun to achieve it.


This is a photo of my 2009 GCL Phillies coach during a game vs the GCL Yankees. We were 1 game behind the Yankees with a week to go in the season, and the Umpire made a questionable call. As you can see, my coach wasn't too happy

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Battery

The time honored term "battery" has come down to us through the years as a traditional baseball term to define the relationship between the pitcher and catcher. A battery in military terms describes a group of artillery pieces which by definition deliver missiles to a target, which is very relevant to a pitcher throwing to a catcher, but I'm going to focus more on the catching aspect of the battery.

If you ask any pitcher, they will tell you that they have a favorite catcher. In the 2 1/2 months I have been in Fort Myers, I have developed a good relationship with 2 of our catchers here. I feel most comfortable throwing with these 2 guys because I am confident they will call and catch a good game. Whenever I know I'm starting I like to check the starting lineup to see who my catcher will be. Without a doubt I do get a little excited when I see the names of my 2 favorite catchers on the lineup card.

Catchers have the tough job of keeping pitchers motivated and emotionally stable while on the mound. They are ultimately responsible for pitcher productivity. The pitching coach can help with advice and encouragement between innings as well, but the catcher and pitcher are the ones who have to do it during the game. It's the catcher who should call the signals. It's the catcher who can call time out, go to the mound, and talk to a wild pitcher without the threat of his pitching being removed from the game. A good catcher will know his pitcher's strengths and weaknesses and will be able to help a struggling pitcher with advice on mechanics or strategy.

Working together, a good battery can deliver its missile on target every time with maximum effect. Teamwork and communication are essential. As a pitcher's and catcher's relationship and trust in each other develop, game strategy discussions should and will become routine. If that confidence is missing, it will be a long season and chances of it being a winning one are slim and none. They must be able to communicate with each other and be able to work together with mutual respect.

When Roy Halladay won the 2010 Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in the National League, he also got an exact replica of the award made for his catcher Carlos Ruiz, who was behind the plate when Roy threw a perfect game and no-hitter. I'm sure the gesture was meant to say "I couldn't have done it without you".

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Jersey Numbers

As in many sports, a baseball player's or coach's uniform number has the purpose of identifying the player. However, it has come over time to have a much more significant meaning to the player and fans. A number can be symbolic of a player's legacy, and has resulted in all kinds of superstition.


I have 2 favourite numbers, they are #35 and #21. They are both my favourite for the same reason, because they were worn by my favourite pitcher Dontrelle Willis. After Spring Training ended we were able to pick our jerseys, I straight away went to look for #35, but got #49 instead. I then went on the hunt to see who had number #35. After a few minutes I found one of the latino players had it, and I asked him if we could trade, and he would of traded it if I gave him $10 as well. Since I'm not swimming in money down here, I thought it would be better to save the $10.


Here are a few fun cases on players jersey number.


-Bryce Harper who was the number 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft chose #34 as his jersey. The reason for this was because one baseball player that he idols is Mickey Mantle, and he wore #7. So Bryce decided that #34 would be his number, since 3 plus 4 equalled 7. 


-Ichiro Suzuki wore jersey #51 while he played in Japan, and when he went to the Mariners,  Ichiro was issued #51 . He was initially hesitant because it had previously been worn by pitching star Randy Johnson. To avoid insulting Johnson, Ichiro sent a personal message to Randy promising not to bring shame to the uniform.


-When Rickey Henderson was traded to the Blue Jays in 1993, he paid new teammate Turner Ward $25,000 for the #24. 



Joe Mauer

Down here at the moment we have the face of the franchise currently doing his rehab. If you're wondering who I'm talking about, you need to spend a bit more time on MLB.com. I'm talking of course about Joe Mauer. Today Joe played in his first game since early April when he was placed on the disabled list for leg soreness. He didn't play too long today, only participating in the first 3 innings as the designated hitter. He had 3 at bats, lining out to center field, hitting a ground ball to the right side that scored 2 runs and then walking in his 3rd plate appearance.

With him being down here, there have been small groups of people and even some members of the media starting to attend our workouts, in hope of getting an autograph, picture and in the medias case, an interview with him. Since we are the lowest level of Minor League Baseball not many people come to watch us play, so it's sometimes nice to have people at the field.

Since I was the starting pitcher in this game, it was a bit of a thrill for me to have Joe Mauer on the same lineup card as me as I'm sure it was for the other players in today's game. After I finished my outing and did my running, I went into the clubhouse to get treatment. While I was in there, Joe was there as well, I thought this would be a perfect time to get his autograph. So now I can add a MVP to my collection of signed baseballs.

                                                     Joe Mauer - #7
                                                

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Bench

In baseball and especially professional baseball, the bench is an inevitable part of your life, for some, like pitchers, sitting on the bench is more of a regular occurrence than actually playing in the game is. It is almost unheard of in pro ball to play every single inning of every single game. The season is just too long and those who do somehow achieve that accomplishment are just plain lucky or their name is Cal Ripken Jr. In nearly 2 years worth of pro ball, I have experienced there is not one player who is immune to spending time on the bench because everyone is getting moved in and out and the organization wants a look at everyone.


When I became a full time pitcher around 16 years old, it was quite hard having to deal with sitting on the bench instead of playing in the outfield. Over time I have gotten used to spending time on the bench watching the games. Down here in Extended Spring Training, I pitch once every 3-4 days, and even then I am only throwing 2-3 innings. So when you do the math, I might be lucky to throw 4-6 innings a week, and our team plays 9 games a week, with double headers on Fridays and Saturdays. So that is a total of 81 innings that our team plays during the week, and I only get to play in as much as 6 of them. That means I am getting very good at sitting on the benches and watching games. For a position player, they may play 3-4 games a week, and even then they will only play half a game so they can split game time up evenly.


Down here in Florida the guys on the bench are almost more interested in making the game as quick as possible as they are the outcome of the game. That's why there is a lot of eye rolling and sighs when opposing teams make a bunch of pitching changes and mound visits. That being said, everyone still loves winning, there is just more emphasis on winning by the most efficient means possible. An ideal game here would be winning a 1-0 game, with hits, walks and errors at a minimum.


I am not always sitting on the bench in the dugout during games down here. If I'm not throwing in the game  or I don't have a duty that day, I will be in the stands watching the game. If anyone has come down to watch an Extended Spring game, they aren't very exciting since we aren't actually playing for a record or for a championship, everyone's just trying to get their work in at the moment and make them self a better baseball player. It's also very hot in the middle of the day when we start our games, and the heat does tire you out while you are watching the game so at times it may get hard to concentrate when all you want to do is close your eyes and rest for a few minutes.


I'm sure every guy I play with here was used to being the star back home and playing every game, and once they got here it was a big shock that their name wasn't on the lineup all the time, but I can guarantee they wouldn't change a thing, since they get to put on a baseball uniform everyday and call it their job.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Quote of the Day

As I was warming up down right field line today before our game against the Red Sox, I could see all the Red Sox players crowding around 2 people, so I wondered for a second what was going on. I didn't pay much attention to it, until I heard this coming from within the crowd.



"Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora! 
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
          Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra"



Yes, you are correct, I did in fact hear the New Zealand Haka while on a baseball field in the middle of the day in Florida. I have pretty bad eyesight but I'm pretty sure it was Boss Moanaroa and his fellow New Zealand team mate Beau Bishop leading the war cry. It did get me a bit fired up for the game as it added a bit of  an Australia vs New Zealand feel to the game, luckily I didn't have to pitch to either Boss or Beau, because I'm sure they would have been just as pumped as I was.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Quote of the Day

Today our Minor League Field Coordinator, Joel Lepel came into our clubhouse and asked our pitching coach, Ivan Arteaga who was throwing bullpens today, Ivan told him there are no bullpens today unless A.J Achter wanted to throw one. This was the conversation that took place 5 seconds later.

"Hey A.J, do you want to throw a bullpen today?"
"Not really, I would rather throw it tomorrow"
"How about you throw one to Joe Mauer today?"
"Okay, that sounds good"

I found this funny because of how quickly A.J changed his mind about throwing a bullpen once he found out that Joe Mauer was going to be his catcher. Honestly, I would throw a bullpen in the middle of a game I was pitching in if I knew Joe Mauer was going to be the one catching me.

Fellow Aussies

I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by a number of Australians at the Minnesota Twins, at one point there in Spring Training we had 10 Australians here and now in Extended Spring, we have 5 Australians, with 1 more on his way, being Tim Atherton. For other Australian players like Darryl George, he isn't as lucky as us, being the only Australian in the Tampa Bay Rays organisation. Even though I only have to walk around the corner to hear another Aussie accent, I still enjoy seeing other players from back home whenever I visit their complex.

Today I travelled to Port Charlotte to chart our game against the Tampa Bay Rays. While I was there I got to catch up with Darryl for a few minutes near the end of our game. While I was sitting in the stands his team mates recognised my Australian accent, and asked me if I knew him, after I told them that Darryl and me were friends, they went on to say "Ahh Darryl, love that guy, he's just a big clown". So sounds like he is fitting in well there and is quite popular among his teammates. Below is a little chat I had to Darryl with what it's like being the only Australian at the Rays.

T - When you arrived at the Rays, were you nervous turning up there and not knowing anyone? 
D - Definitely, its' like your first day of school, you don't know anyone there and everything is a new experience, but being Australian, it's very easy to make friends quickly.

T - Being the only Australian there, have you been asked many things about Australia?
D - Yeah, the major one being "Does everyone drink Fosters beer in Australia?". They basically just go off what they've seen on t.v, such as beer commercials, Outback Steakhouse, Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin, they think all of us live in the outback.

T - Have you ever had to try and explain Australian sports to your teammates?
D - Yeah, tons of times, mainly cricket and footy (AFL). My teammates get so confused by it, but once I explain the rules, they start to understand. It takes a while to explain it though. They think footy is like a mix of basketball, soccer, rugby and NFL.

T - What's the best part about being the only Australian in the organisation?
D - I guess it sort of makes you feel like a celebrity, because everyone knows you. 


Across town where the Boston Red Sox complex is, I always run into Justin Erasmus and the Moanaroa brothers. I have pitched to both Boss and Moko while being here, walking Boss once, getting him to ground out to 1st base, and I struck out Moko once. Hopefully I haven't jinxed myself since I am pitching against the Red Sox tomorrow. It's fun facing these guys, especially when I think about the first time I pitched against Boss was in 2007 at our Under 16 National Championships, and now we are facing each other half way around the world. It is kind of surreal thinking about how far we have come in the last 4 years.

I'm sure whenever another Australian runs into another one at any level in the Minor Leagues, even if they don't really know each other, it must be nice just to hear another Aussie accent, and makes home feel that little bit closer.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Its Called Baseball

I came across this piece of writing a few years ago, and find it a very good read for anyone who loves baseball.

My Place It's my place 
It's my sanctuary and battle field. 
Where getting a ball thrown at you is normal, and getting one hit at you is expected. 
Where people establish identity by a number instead of a name. 
Where home has nothing to do with where you live. 
Where people fully capable of speaking, rely solely on signals. 
Where tiny little seeds are considered a balanced meal and the last thing you'd do with a cup is drink from it. 
Where common language consists of whatda say and atta way with every sentence ending in babe. 
Where the opposite of safe is not dangerous. 
Where getting dirty is finally a good thing and a spank on the butt constitutes respect. 
Where an alphabet without the letter E would work just fine. 
Its the only place where succeeding 3 times out of 10 can be considered good and 4 out of 10 great. 
Where 9 players can receive the ball in their glove, but only one is called a catcher. 
Where you can dip and dive, but its not a theme park 
Where a series of 90 mph pitches and balls that travel over 400 ft is still considered a slow game. 
Where running away only to return in the same spot at which you started at is an honor. 
Where crazy routines are both followed and respected. 
Where rituals and superstitions have never been taken more seriously. 
Where time is not measured by minutes, but by opportunities. 
Where power and finesse finally reach equality. 
Where a suicide causes celebration and stealing is encouraged. 

This is my place. 
Many dislike it and even more don't understand it, but none the less it is my place. 
I believe it was originally named the diamond due to its obvious shape; however it could have just as easily been called the crooked square. 
I do call it the diamond, but only because as promised it will last forever. 
This wonderful game of ours, called 

Baseball. 

Quote of the Day

In Extended Spring Training at the moment, we have Jim Thome here on rehab, who is no doubt a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yesterday he participated in a simulated game and was facing some Twins minor league pitchers. He struck out twice against one of our left handed pitchers, and when I asked that pitcher what his thought process was when Jim Thome came up to bat, and this is what he had to say:

"Well, I was going to take it easy on him since he's been injured, but I saw him come up to bat with the one ear piece helmet, his socks up and the elbow guard, so then I was like, this is on!"

He did say this as a joke, and in no way meant to disrespect Jim Thome, but it was one of the funnier statements I have heard since I have been in Florida.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Social Networking

When you live in a country that is 10,000km away from home, and the time difference is 14 hours behind, it may be hard to communicate with family and friends. Luckily with such websites and programs as Facebook, Twitter and Skype, staying in contact with family is easier then it would have been 10 years ago.

Facebook is the largest social networking site on the internet, it has over 600million active users and it allows us to leaves messages to friends and family and they can reply whenever they want to. So if I want to ask a friend something or just see how they are going, I will just leave them a message, and they can get back to me whenever they are online. Most mornings I will wake up and there could be up to 130 people online on Facebook, so It is fun being able to talk to all my friends and family. Like I said in a previous post, when I go on bus trips to Sarasota and Port Charlotte, I connect to the buses wi-fi using my iPhone, and spend some time talking to everyone back home before I have a little nap.

Twitter is relatively new, and it's not really used to communicate with people, it's used to let everyone know what you are up to. I do have a Twitter account, but rarely use it, because I don't have enough interesting things to say everyday. A lot of famous sports stars use Twitter, such as Australian Major League League Pitcher, Richard Thompson who has 4,000 followers.

Even though these social networking sides have their upside, they also have a downside. Since you are posting online, it is there for the world to see, so you always have to make sure you don't say anything or upload any pictures or videos that may upset anyone. In the past many athletes and celebrities have been caught complaining online, or have been shot in an unflattering picture, and have had to apologise publicly for their actions. Sometimes what has been put online in so severe it could ruin a players career and tarnish their reputation.

The internet isn't very good in our hotel, so I have to use Skype at certain times of the day when there aren't many people in the hotel. The best time for this is when you come back from the field early, and half the team is away on the road at a game. Since we are all away from home, when we are back at the hotel nearly everyone will be on the internet so the network gets a bit congested and if you want to have a good Skype call, you need to have a faster internet connection.

Without the help of Facebook this blog wouldn't have spread so easily, and I would like to thank the Facebook administrators for the Australian Baseball Digest and the Sydney Blue Sox for sharing my blog with everyone online.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Food

This post is inspired by the recent meal we were treated to during lunch yesterday. We have 4 Major Leaguers down here on rehab at the moment, they are Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jason Repko, Delmon Young and Jim Thome. It's almost an unwritten law that when a big leaguer comes down to Extended Spring or to the GCL, that they buy a meal for all the players. Yesterday Delmon Young bought our entire team a catered meal, with grilled fish, hamburgers, fried rice, and salads. Needless to say it was one of the best lunches I have had since I have been here.

We eat breakfast at the field every morning, and it's just a selection of different cereals and bagels and waffles, you don't have much time to eat in the morning unless you find a way to get there really early, so I usually just have a bowl of cereal and a bagel.

We get the same thing for lunch every week, on Monday we will have Subway, on Tuesdays we will have Chik-Fil-A, Wednesdays we have Pita Pit, Thursdays we have Chicken Grill, which is rice with cut up grilled chicken, on Friday we have pork sandwiches with cornbread casserole and on Saturday we have Moe's Burritoes.

Its usually enough food to get us through until dinner time, but on many occasions people will go buy a meal after the day is done, then have a later dinner. We get paid $105 a week to buy ourselves dinner. I usually try and eat dinner at the hotel's restaurant, or make my own meals in my room. There are a few restaurants that are within walking distance that me and the other Australian players go to when we feel like eating out.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Stats

If anyone knows me well, they would know that I do enjoy studying baseball stats. A lot of people probably wouldn't know that in 2002, Barry Bonds got walked 232 times, with 120 of those being intentional walk, or that Alex Rodriguez hit his 250th career home run of an Australian pitcher, Luke Prokopec. I find baseball statistics to be fascinating, I always refer to a quote from a baseball movie that makes baseball statistics one of a kind, where everything can be documented as a stat, this quote "Last year he was was 6th in the league against right handers, he was facing for the first time after the 7th inning, at home". Now even though it is a line from a movie that is meant to be comical, if someone had the time to keep this stat, I'm sure you would hear about it in a Major League game.

Since I have a love for stats, I decided to keep my own stats in Spring Training and Extended Spring Training. Some people think I'm crazy and obsessed, but I just find it fun to be able to look back on every outing I have had, and remember what went well, and what went wrong. If you remember reading my entry title "Slumps and Streaks" I spoke about going through a little cold streak, try and notice what I was talking about in my game log that I have kept.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Duties - Video

If you read my post 'Duties' you would know that we do video recording of pitchers, these are videos of all 4 pitches that I throw, my fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. Enjoy

video
Fastball


video
Changeup


video
Curveball


video
Slider


video
Side View

Friday, 6 May 2011

Strength and Conditioning

When playing a sport everyday, your body needs to be in peak physical performance. We maintain this level by following a specific strength and conditioning program. As a pitcher, we run everyday, and are in the weight on days after we pitch. A pitchers running program is as important as their bullpen sessions. When you're in the 5th inning, and your arm starts to feel tired, its your fitness and legs that will carry you into the 7th inning. We have many different running activities we do for conditioning, and what you do depends on when you will be throwing.

Every morning we have light weight drills, a thera band routine and agility drills. We use 1.5kg weights, and they are slow shoulder exercises to get us loose for the day. The thera band routine we do is pretty basic, just working on internal and external rotation of the shoulder and for the agility drills we either do work with ladders and we work on quick feet, or we have hurdles, and work on internal and external hip rotation. We don't actually run and jump over the hurdles, we step over them, just incase anyone was confused.

Here in Extended Spring training we all are pitching on 3 days rest. The day after you pitch, you will do the interval run. The easiest way to explain the interval run is pretend the outfield warning track, is split into 2 with the division being in centerfield. You run to centerfield, and that counts as 1, and then you walk 1, you then run 2, walk 1, run 3, walk 1. run 4, walk 1 and then work your way back down to 1. It's a pretty good workout when you run it hard. Also on the day after you pitch, you are required to go into the weight room at the end of the day, and do a leg workout. At the end of the day your legs usually feel like jelly.

Day 2 after you pitch you could do 8 3/4 poles, which is running 3/4 of a pole. If you're unfamiliar with what poles are, its just running from foul pole to foul pole on the warning track. You could also do 100's, when we do these we are being timed. We run from the foul line, and go in a straight line to centerfield and back. We have 1 minute to get there and back, and if we run it in 35 seconds, we will get 25 seconds break. Its one of the tougher runs that we have to do. The last thing you may do on your 2nd days rest is the 4-3-4. It is 4 3/4 poles, 3 100's and 4 90ft sprints. On this day as well you need to go into the weight room, and you need to do an upper body lift. You can choose whether to lift heavy or light, depending on how your arm feels and how much you think it may be able to handle.

Day 3 after you pitch, or the day before you pitch, you will have to do sprints, you will either do 8 120ft sprints, or 10 90ft sprints. These are the easier of all ours runs, but just because its easier doesn't mean you should take it lightly, you should make sure you put in 100% effort in all these sprints.

On the day you pitch, you will have to run after your outing. We always do 6 120ft sprints, followed by 6 3/4 poles. After your outing you may feel very tired, but its important that you get the most out of it and put in.

A lot of people think that all we do is throw the ball, but there is a lot more we do behind the scenes to help make us a better baseball player, and a better athlete.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

My Cleats

This is unrelated to playing in Minor League baseball, but thought it would be fun to share one of my many obsessions, my baseball cleats.

A lot of people who have played baseball with me, would know I own a lot of pairs of cleats. At home right now I have 14 pairs of cleats, all ranging in different colours. I have white, black, grey, black and white, grey and black, red, red and white, and Blue. While here in Florida, I have 5 pairs of cleats, 2 are black and white, 1 black, 1 black, red and grey and 1 pair that is black and red. I also have another pair of cleats on the way that are grey and black.

The reason I have so many cleats is that I like to match my cleats with every different uniform. While at home playing for the Ryde-Eastwood Hawks I will always be wearing a pair of cleats that are either white or red. With the Sydney Blue Sox I would wear white cleats, or my black and white ones with our home uniform, and my grey cleats with our away uniform.



                                     My small collection of cleats in my locker

                                   The cupboard back home that stores my cleats

Monday, 2 May 2011

Rehab

Since Fort Myers is the home of the Twins Minor League facility, all players that get injured and put on the disabled list get sent back to Fort Myers to do their rehab program. The extent of the injury would have to be pretty severe to get sent to do your rehab here, injuries such as a sprained ankle would not be considered severe, and you would stay with your team until your fit to play, but if a player pulls a hamstring or their arm blows out, then they would come to Fort Myers to get better.

The players on rehab will usually come to the field earlier and go to the training room to get treatment, and if needed they will go to the gym to work out. All their workouts are tightly monitored by a trainer. Each rehab player will have a timeline set for their return to games. Of course that timeline can be met only if they put in the work to get them self fit. Once they can see that the player is ready, he will be put in games.

When a pitcher comes off the disabled list, he will start the game and throw an inning, then the regular starter will throw after him. This has happened to me on 3 occasions in Extended Spring, having to pitch in relief of rehab pitchers when I was expected to start the game. If it's a position player coming off the disabled list, he may hit once every 2nd inning so they can get plenty of at bats, of course they can only do this in an Extended Spring game since they are not official games.

Often we will get a Major Leaguer down here to rehab, just recently we had Kevin Slowey here in Extended Spring Training, who has been part of the Minnesota Twins starting rotation the last 3 years. One day I was scheduled to start, but had to throw in relief as Slowey started that game.

It takes a lot of motivation to get out bed everyday when you're on the disabled list, and that's why I have a lot of respect for all the guys who are on rehab and come to the field everyday, knowing they can't play, throw, hit or run, they do everything they can to get back on the field as quick as they can.