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Tales from Exit 138: Baseball as a Surreality

At times, I have referred to baseball as a type of pseudo-reality. But there are certain special moments where it is more of a surreality than anything else. Sometimes my experiences seem unreal to me because they are completely unexpected. Although I certainly have a memory for certain plays, specific pitching performances, and first major-league hits that I like to bring up when I’m talking with a player; it seems that my fondest memories of the game come from my experiences off the field.

Monday was my third trip to Fort Myers in a week, and when I came to think about it, three trips to Fort Myers already equals half my total of last year. I think that I am especially eager to spend as much time as possible there this year because it is my last spring in which I have the liberty to go up almost whenever I want. The funny part is that games haven’t even started yet; and even though 90% of the workouts is simply watching drills, I really don’t mind. I think that I developed even more of an appreciation for these meticulous drills after having attended the Fall Instructional League

The last two times I was at the complex, I took a mental note on where the best places were to stand for picture opportunities (these mental notes were taken while I was standing in what was probably the most inconvenient place possible). I stationed myself close to where most of the position players walk out to stretch. My observations paid off as I was able to snag what I like to call “good morning pictures” with Nate Spears, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden.
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Andrew Miller
Michael Bowden 2I will always have a specific affinity towards Michael Bowden because he was my first interview, and that interview really inspired everything I do today.

As I was doing my rounds and watching the early morning drills, I was approached by Colin, a camera man for WEEI. He asked if I wrote a blog about the Red Sox, and the reason why he recognized me is because every time he googles a Red Sox prospect, my blog comes up. We talked for a bit, and he asked me if I would be interested in doing an interview for WEEI later. It is always a surreal experience to be recognized from my blog or twitter.

One of the drills I enjoyed watching the most was the situational run down drills. A runner would be placed at one of the bases, and the ball would be hit to a random spot in the infield, and everyone had to adjust accordingly. I was happy to see Junichi Tazawa participating after having Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago.
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Then, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Peter Gammons. Mr. Gammons follows me on twitter, so I introduced myself as “@redsoxgirl46” before introducing myself as Elizabeth. I actually find it quite amusing that some people recognize me more by my twitter name than my actual name, and I think that this is indicative of the changing times. A similar experience happened when I met Mike Antonellis, the radio broadcaster for the Sea Dogs, when I was working in Portland. Mr. Cameron introduced me as Elizabeth, which I clarified as “redsoxgirl46 from Twitter,” and Mike was immediately familiar.

Mr. Gammons and I actually talked a lot about the changing industry and how everything is moving towards the online medium. We also talked about the importance of networking in this day and age. It was definitely interesting to hear his perspective on this shift because he has been a pioneer in the sports writing industry. I really appreciated his taking the time to talk to me.

Nearly all of the pitchers went in earlier than usual today (around 10:30), but many of the position players took extended batting practice until nearly 12:30. While this was going on, I was interviewed by Robert Bradford of WEEI about what I enjoy about spring training and my blog and its goals. It was kind of surreal being interviewed out of the blue like that, but now that I think about it, I guess that’s how the players feel when I approach them. The interview will be up sometime next week.

The last batting practice drill of the day was a situational hitting drill, which I had never seen before. Before my interview with Anthony Rizzo this summer, I hadn’t really realized that guys try to hit to certain areas of the ballpark depending on where the runners are. When there was a runner on third, it was incredible for me to see the hitter try to get under the ball a little bit more to induce a sacrifice fly.
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Lars Anderson 2
After they finished, Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson were kind enough to stop to take pictures with me. I was able to congratulate Anderson on his first major-league hit, which came on a 94-mph fastball off of Matt Garza.

After that, the workout was essentially done, so my dad and I headed back to the stadium for autographs (and by that I mean pictures) with some of the minor league players. We were on the last bus. Kyle Weiland, Daniel Nava, Tim Federowciz, Luis Exposito, and Che-Hsuan Lin were signing. I had some special stuff to show Weiland and Nava. For Weiland, I had my score sheet from the game where he struck out eight batters and retired 20 straight, and for Nava, I had my notes from his Double-A debut. 

The line moved at a glacially slow pa
ce, but it was worth the wait. I always assume that players won’t remember me, but there are few things in this world that make me happier when they stop me mid-explanation of who I am, implying that they remember me.
Kyle Weiland 2
It was great to see Weiland again and just tell him that I was really looking forward to his season. He is working on adding a cutter (or bringing it back from his college days) to his already fabulous arsenal of a fastball, changeup, and slider. I offered him the scorecard for sentimental value, but he said that the Sea Dogs keep books and books of statistics. He said that he really appreciated it though.
Daniel Nava
I could tell that Daniel Nava was really into my game notes once he finally figured out what it was, and read through them a bit.
Tim Federowicz
It was great to meet Tim Federowicz, though we didn’t get a chance to chat for long. I asked him how to pronounce his last name for future reference, but I think that will always be a name that I will have my own pronunciation for.
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It was great to see Luis Expostio again. I already have his signature so I just shook his hand. We were being rushed along so I only got to shake Che-Hsuan Lin’s hand, and I proceeded to drop some of my papers all over the place.

Something that I especially enjoy is meeting and talking to people who
read my blog (which doesn’t happen that often). This spring I have had the pleasure of meeting Helen,
Melissa, and her son Christopher. And talking to them has really shown
me baseball’s perpetual ability to foster connections and unite people. 

One of the things that I love about spring training is that it always reminds me why I write, and this has been especially important this year with all of the discouraging college news. It has made me realize that I could not care less about their opinions about me. I’ll take Lars Anderson asking “How’s your blog?” or a recognition from Kyle Weiland or a “your blog comes up every time I google a prospect” over a college acceptance letter any day of the week. I didn’t start this blog so I could put it on my college application; I started this blog because I love baseball.

I probably won’t get up to anymore major league squad workouts, but I am very excited to start covering the minor league workouts as soon as next weekend.    

Tales from Exit 138: Fog on the Barrow Downs

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Another 5:30 am wake up call and on a Saturday morning no less. But it was a small price to pay to go watch the first official full-squad workout. Since it was a Saturday, I went with my dad, and we were on the road by 6. We left so early that there was still some fog on the sides of the alley, and we were able to watch the sun rise behind us and the moon fade in front of us.

I had all of the essentials packed, which includes my big notebook which I have been using since my first Portland Sea Dogs game in 2009 against the Altoona Curve. It was Daniel Nava’s Double-A debut, Luis Exposito DH’d, Adam Mills pitched, and Ryan Kalish had reached base in 18 straight games–not to mention the fact that he hit a two-run homer. Normally my notebook is full of all the papers I accumulated over the summer: scorecards, game notes, etc, but I had put that in a file so I wouldn’t get confused between those and my spring training papers.

For the pitchers and catchers workout, I had made a spread sheet full of statistics for all of the minor league players that I intend on scouting this spring. I also had a document with their mugshots because I memorize statistics, not faces. This time, I brought a list of players that the website “Sox Prospects” wants me to get pictures of. Hardly any of the minor league players on my list were present, but they will be by this time next week.

I was going to bring a scooter this time so that I would be more evenly matched with the complex, but I decided not to since I would be carrying my dad’s fancy camera around. This ended up being good intuition because I finally noticed this sign with some rules on it right before I walked into the complex. Among them was “No skateboarding.”

Initially, I had planned on attempting to kill two birds with one stone: I wanted to check out the minor league workout at the stadium, and then check out the normal one at the Player’s Development Complex. But when I asked the security guards if the minor league players were at the stadium, they did not seem to know what I was talking about. I further investigated this dilemma when I got home, and multiple twitter accounts have corroborated my theory that they had the weekend off.
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We arrived at the complex no later than 8:30, but I started to become suspicious around 9:15 when not even the catchers had emerged from the clubhouse. But it was nice to simply walk around the complex in the early morning and feel the wet grass between my toes. It smelled like baseball. Luis Tiant walked out to one of the fields about a half an hour before the players came out, and Jim Rice went up to the NESN booth with Peter Gammons & co.
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When the players finally did come out, I was on the wrong side of things. Not that it really mattered much, anyway, as only Lars Anderson stopped to sign on the way out. The catchers did pass where I was standing though.

Again, it was not the best day for autographs and pictures with players because it was the first full squad workout and everyone was figuring out the rotation. While I certainly do enjoy getting pictures with the players, that’s not the reason why I go: I go because I find the drills fascinating.

The players were split up by position, and it even seemed like the everyday players were kept together. I mainly watched the pitching and infield drills. What fascinates me is that these are essentially the same drills that you do in little league, high school, and college. The level of difficulty my change, but the game itself always stays the same.

I think that we take advantage of how good these players really are because they make everything look so easy: whether it is completing a 6-4-3 double play or something as simple as catching a fly ball, it’s not as easy as it seems.
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The infield drill that I enjoyed the most was the slow roller one. Lars Anderson was at first base, and Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, and Nate Spears had to charge the ball and get it over to first.
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Then I watched batting practice for a while. I completely ignored the regulars like Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez taking batting practice and instead focused on Josh Reddick, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Yamaico Navarro, and Jose Iglesias taking batting practice.

At one point I was between two fields, hoping to catch players between them, and I said hello to Darnell McDonald as he walked by. I was completely shocked that he remembered me from Tampa. It was a quick “Oh yeah, I remember you,” but it was still a cool moment.

I anticipated the players going back in around 12, so I intended on getting a spot around 11:30. Little did I know that the players were going in around 11:30 instead, so I ended up in a pretty poor spot. After a while, a cleanly-shaven Kevin Youkilis came over and signed for nearly everybody down the line, and I was nearly smushed on my way out.
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I was on my way out of the complex when I noticed Jose Iglesias getting his stuff together. A few people were going over for autographs, but by no means was it a mob-scene, so I decided to go over and ask for a picture.
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There was, however, a rather large mob of people on my way out, and Mike Cameron was signing autographs for everyone. It was kind of a weird angle for a picture, but he quickly posed for one nonetheless.

So as you can see, the whole getting-pictures-with-players proces
s at the workouts is kind of random, and it has a lot to do with luck. I was able to gauge, however, where they go between drills, so I will do my best to position myself wisely when I go up again tomorrow (Monday). It’s an open house tomorrow, so regardless of whether or not I get anything done at the complex, there will definitely be autograph opportunities (which I will turn into photo opportunities). There are activities all day on the field for little kids, and let’s get real: we all know that the slime making booth at first base is the real reason why I’m going. 

I did have my very expired press pass with me on Saturday, but I did not put it to any use. I had intended to try and attend a press conference at the end, but they all seemed to be held at the beginning. Plus the security guards remembered me despite my attempted disguise of straight hair.  Honestly, I should just try some these-are-not-the-droids-you’re-looking-for Jedi mind tricks, and see how far I can get.

More stories to come from the Fort tomorrow!

Tales from Exit 138: First Official Pitchers & Catchers Workout

Mark Twain once said, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” (This quote was brought to my attention by Will of The Smiler’s Dugout).

Despite the fact that I think Mark Twain is highly overrated, I decided to take his advice on Tuesday because it worked in my favor. Don’t get me wrong: I think that schooling is fundamental; but at the same time, school does not teach you some of the most important lessons of life–the things you learn in the real world: how to love, how to forgive, how to maintain a friendship, etc. Nor does it teach you how to pursue a passion. Passion can’t be taught: it is something that strikes when we least expect it to. School can only take you so far, and I think the rest has a lot to do with passion.

This is why I skipped school on Tuesday and went to Fort Myers to see the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Baseball is my education, and it actually has taught me a lot. I did not let my schooling interfere with my education.

I woke up at 5:30 am, and was on the road a little after 6, with the intention of arriving around 8:30. The last time I left my house this early was for the Fall Instructional League. I don’t even think I have left for class that early.

It was actually my first time driving up to Fort Myers by myself. It’s not a hard drive, but it is a bit lengthy: especially the mundane stretch of Alligator Alley. I’ve made the drive so many times, that I could probably make it with my eyes closed. Even though I did not have anyone to keep me company, I kept myself entertained by rocking out to Journey on the way up. And, of course, I kept Tolkien’s advice in the back of my head:

“It’s a dangerous business: going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

I arrived at the stadium around 8:15, and arrived at the complex via shuttle bus before 8:30. I forget how much I love baseball during the off season, but it certainly did not take me long to remember. I think that a fan’s love for the game is almost like muscle memory: “when a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for the task, allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.” And even if we are away from the game for a while, it does not take long to pick it back up.
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The catchers were the first group to come out just after 9. Among them, of course, were Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They were going through a series of drills, and one of the things I really noticed was how much of a leader Saltalamacchia has become. He was the one leading all of the guys from station to station.

This is not to say that Jason Varitek is not the leader he used to be. But I think that for the spring, he is letting Saltalamacchia take the reigns. The catching situation is still a little bit vague, but I think that Saltalamacchia and Varitek will split responsibilities a little more evenly than Varitek and Martinez did, but I think that Saltalamacchia will be the primary catcher. That being said, this is probably why Salty is acting as the leader out there. I was really glad to see that because catchers are the guys who control the game, and Saltalamacchia looks like he is becoming really comfortable with his new team.
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Since it was not a full-squad workout (ie. with the position players too), the pitchers were split up into small groups of five and split up around the fields. That being said. the minor league complex has an unfair advantage over me: there are five fields and one of me. It was nearly impossible to keep tabs on everyone. Kyle Weiland and Michael Bowden were on Field 5, while Alex Wilson was on Field 4, while Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront are on Field 3. I kept losing people (I lost the catchers completely at one point).

I would station myself diligently between fields hoping to catch guys between rotations, but the second I left to go watch Luis Exposito hit in the cages, the pitchers switched stations. I just couldn’t win. But it’s not like the players were signing/able to stop and take pictures, anyway. It was the first day, so like me, they were figuring things out too. I’m sure that they will sign and stop for pictures more once they are used to the whole atmosphere.

However, I am resolved to defeat the complex’s unfair advantage over me. I began to weigh my options, and since neither cloning myself nor time travel is a feasible option, I think I’m going to bring a scooter next time.

There were a lot of position players at camp too: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Iglesias, and Josh Reddick were just a few of the many guys taking batting practice and shagging balls in the outfield.
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Lars stopped to sign for some people before he went into the clubhouse, so I was able to say hello. He recognized me immediately and asked how my blog was, and we briefly talked about our respective off seasons.

I wanted to say hello to Michael Bowden and Kyle Weiland, but I wasn’t able to get a good spot. I was only able to say hello as they were walking in to the clubhouse, but I’m pretty sure they recognized me.

It seemed like everything was done for the day, and I was beginning to think that hope was lost for a picture. But after Jarrod Saltalamacchia finished an interview, he came over and signed down the line for every last person, and he was even nice enough to pose for a quick picture with me.
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Hideki Okajima, whose situation on the roster is uncertain, also signed for a lot of people. What really surprised me, though, was that Jason Varitek was actually signing because an autograph from him is hard to come by. There was a huge crowd of people, and I thought any attempt would be futile, but patience was indeed a virtue.

He was not the happiest of guys when I got up there, though. People wanted multiple things signed, and he was getting frustrated with it. He said, “You guys have come back two or three times, and it’s not fair to the other fans. I don’t appreciate it.” It did not surprise me that Jason Varitek was promoting fairness–just as any good captain should.

This whole process was 90% standing around doing nothing/watching drills and 10% getting pictures, autographs, etc. But it’s not like time was completely wasted during that 90%. Brian MacPherson, the writer that I shadowed when I was in Pawtucket, was around, so I got to catch up with him,
and he was encouraging despite the not-so-good college news.

So it was not the best day for photos and small conversations with players, but it was a great day nonetheless just because baseball is back. Nearly all of my senses were invigorated: watching the drills, smelling the grass and the dirt, the sound of the glove snapping over the ball, and holding a baseball–which fits perfectly in the palm. I have no doubt that I will have more luck as the spring goes on.

My next pilgrimage will be Saturday: the first full-squad workout. I was serious about bringing a scooter. I’m also planning on wearing an old press pass backwards and seeing how much access I can get. Let’s see how far audacity can take me this year.

Spring Training: My Coming of Age

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is obviously that spring training–in its most basic form–is here. The bad news is that UNC Chapel Hill was not my pitch either. Another strike, but I am neither out nor in the hole: for I have been accepted into both Marquette and the University of Maryland. I have not been lucky when it comes to the crapshoot that we call the college admissions process, but hard as it has been, I have done my best to keep some degree of faith. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” My road has darkened considerably, but I’m hoping that I’ll end up in the right place. Having two strikes is certainly a precarious and uncomfortable position to be in, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Tolkien also says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” No matter where I end up going to school, I figure as long as I take advantage of my resources and spend my time wisely, I will still achieve my goals.

Baseball is a bizarre game, and college admissions is a bizarre process. You can look at and measure statistics, but you can never truly predict the end. You can’t try to figure out what the next pitch is going to be. Baseball players have to adapt. Sometimes a pitcher’s curveball isn’t working, so they have to make an adjustment. Similarly, I’m adapting to what is being thrown at me.

Let’s focus on the good news, though: baseball officially returns today. Baseball fans are crazy because not only do we get excited over games that don’t even count, but we also get excited over workouts. For the rest of February, we will get excited over essential, but otherwise monotonous fundamental drills, batting practice, and bullpen sessions.

Spring Training has been a sort of coming-of-age process for me. My intentions seem to change ever year. I’m pretty sure my first spring training game ever was a Red Sox vs Marlins game at Roger Dean Stadium in 2005. I had not yet developed a passion for minor league baseball, so I was only looking forward to seeing the big-league stars. That being said, I was really disappointed when, after a two hour rain delay, I had no idea who was in the lineup.

Then spring training became more about getting autographs. I would always get to games early to watch batting practice, but then I started to realize that I could spend that time getting autographs. And then I became more interested in the minor league players than the regulars. And I think that this interest actually stemmed from my pursuit of autographs.

Once you begin to collect autographs, you realize that it’s an art–especially during spring training when the jersey numbers are between the 50s-90s, and there are new ones everyday. It was always necessary to have a roster at hand to match the number with the name. The guys that were the best about signing were the non-roster invitees. Spring training for them is obviously quite a different experience than it is for the regulars: it is their chance to make an impression. Not only do they go above and beyond on the field, but also off the field. I really appreciated as small of a gesture as a signature, and it made me want to know more. I got especially excited when they came up to bat because they had signed my ball.

The non-roster invitees may not have secured a spot on the 25-man roster, but they had certainly succeeded in making a lasting impression. I wanted to continue to follow them in the minor leagues, so I started my project program. Essentially, if a player impressed me during the spring, he became my project: a guy whom I thought could have an impact on the club come September or injury.

And what if I had the opportunity to talk to one of my projects? I never anticipated that opportunity, but in the summer of 2009, when I was in Pawtucket, I spent an entire baseball game talking to my favorite pitching project, Michael Bowden. That conversation literally changed my life. If Bowden had not been so friendly and willing to talk to me, I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today in approaching other players. I learned more about the game in those three hours with him than I had learned in a whole lifetime of watching the game. He literally changed the way I watched the game.

Again, what may have seemed like a small gesture to him changed everything for me. I became even more enthralled with minor league baseball than I already was. I took more interest in the draft, and especially the lower levels of baseball.

Last year during spring training, I decided to go to the minor league complex instead of going to watch the regulars take batting practice before the game. I realized that I had been missing something. Sure, these games are even less relevant than the major league ones are, but there was still something that absolutely enthralled me. I would not have left had I not had tickets for the major league game. The ability to simply walk and talk with players after their workouts was thrilling for me because I could ask whatever I wanted. So that experience not only inspired me to seek opportunities with the Pawtucket Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs this past summer, but also inspired me to approach spring training from a completely different angle this year.

This year, I have decided that I do not want to go to any major league spring training games at City of Palms Park. I am resolved to attend exclusively minor league spring training games at the player’s development complex. I plan on making my first pilgramage tomorrow: for the first official workouts for pitchers and catchers that is open to the public.

I want to share with you a few of the minor league prospects I plan on focusing on this spring that will not be in big league camp:  Alex Hassan, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Bryce Brentz, Chris Hernandez, David Renfroe, Derrik Gibson, Drake Britton, Felix Sanchez, Garin Cecchini, Jason Garcia, Kolbrin Vitek, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Lucas Leblanc, Madison Younginer, Pete Hissey, Ryan Westmoreland, Sean Coyle, Swen Huijer, and Will Middlebrooks.

Of course, I can’t forget about the guys who are lucky enough to be in major league camp. I know they will be working hard to leave an impression. From the 40-man roster, I suggest you keep an eye out for Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Stolmy Pimentel, Luis Exposito, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.

From the non-roster invitees, I suggest keeping an eye on all of them. The ones I am already familiar with are Andrew Miller, Jason Rice, Kyle Weiland, Alex Wilson, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, and Che-Hsuan Lin.

Anthony Ranaudo is a guy whom I am really excited about because his 2009 campaign at LSU was incredible. He is a guy that is getting a lot of hype right now, but I don’t think that we should set our expectations too high simply because this will be his first year in professional ball. Same mentality applies for Brandon Jacobs. 

Drake Britton is certainly a name to start getting familiar with. He had a fantastic campaign in Greenville last year (Single-A affiliate). Again, we should not set the bar too high because he will be advancing to another level. It is possible that he could go straight to Portland, but I would like to see him dominate Salem for at least a bit because after speaking with Kyle Weiland this past summer, it seems very hard for a pitcher to skip levels.

I think Madison Younginer is going to break onto a lot of people’s radars this season. He posted pretty decent numbers for his first professional season in Lowell (shortseason, Single-A affiliate), and I think he will continue to adjust
this season. Drake Britton won the Sox Prospects Breakout Player of the Year Award last year, and I predict that either Younginer or Ranaudo will win it this year.

Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, and Will Middlebrooks are the infielders that I look forward the most to covering this spring.

I think that this will be Kyle Weiland’s season to break onto everyone’s radar. When I was in Portland, not only did I get to interview him, but I also got to cover one of his starts, and it was one of the best pitching performances I have ever seen. I’d like to see him dominate in Portland a little bit more, get promoted to Pawtucket, do some work there, and then I hope to see him up in September.

This spring, I plan on taking Tolkein’s advice. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I have decided to spend my time pursuing minor league spring training, and I hope that this will be my best spring training yet. And I hope especially that those of you that read this blog can live vicariously through my experiences. If you have any specific requests for what you would like me to cover during the spring–whether it be particular questions for particular players–please let me know by either leaving a comment below or e-mailing me.

And for real time updates while I’m at the complex with quotes, pictures, and more, please follow me on Twitter

A Soothing Stress

I am a rookie stepping into the batter’s box for the first time. I have worked hard for my entire professional career to prove myself. I put up more than respectable statistics in the minors. The pitcher has read my scouting report, but he does not know how hard I have worked to get to this point. He does not care that I have worked to improve every aspect of my batting stance. Being a good baseball player is not just about good statistics. You have to have the work ethic too, not to mention the passion. Right? …Right?

“He’s gonna throw me a fastball,” I thought. “I know he is gonna throw me a fastball, and I’m gonna hit it out of the park. Opposite field, too.” Here is the pitch.

Swing and a miss.

The count is 0-1.

I started to panic. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t help it. That was the first pitch I saw in the majors, and I missed. I did not put all that hard work in for that.

“Just because you didn’t hit the first pitch out of the park, doesn’t mean it’s over.” That’s what my manager in Triple-A said to me yesterday after I got called up. He knows me really well.

“He threw a curveball at you, that’s all,” I thought to myself. I don’t have any kind of control over the type of pitch he throws. I can’t make him throw a fastball just because I want it to be one. I know I can hit the off-speed stuff. The pitcher went back into his windup.

Did I hit the second pitch? Did I look in the indifferent, almost cruel pitcher’s eyes? Maybe even wink at him? Did I keep my hands in, my head down? Maybe. But I wasn’t thinking about my mechanics when I swung. That was my mistake the first time. I just have to feel it. If the ball comes to my bat, my bat hits the ball. Mechanics, statistics, they’re all irrelevant at this point. It has to be the right pitch. “Wait for your pitch,” they say. Was this my pitch? You will find out in about eight days when I hear back from UNC Chapel Hill.

I like baseball for a lot of reasons, but perhaps what I like most is that it takes your mind off things. Baseball is perfect because you can truly care about it even though it does not directly affect you. It indirectly affects you. Yes, baseball certainly affects my mood, and sometimes when I talk about the Red Sox, I use the pronoun “we.” But in reality, whether the Red Sox win or lose does not affect weather I win or lose.

For a lot of people baseball is a security blanket because it will be there for 162 days from spring to fall. It’s something you can count on, and that’s comforting when we live in a world where the only thing that is certain is that things are uncertain. Baseball calms me down, but not really. It’s a soothing stress. I stress out about the game instead of stressing out about five page papers. When I watch baseball, I flee my harsh reality, and I’m transported to this almost pseudo-reality.

Watching baseball is like reading fiction. You follow nine protagonists. A player’s career is his character development. We all fall in love with the players, the team, and above all the game itself. Their adventures become yours and it becomes life and death. There are heroes, there are villains, and there are obstacles. Like us, they are human, and we are able to relate to them on some level. We follow them until the end of their careers, and we are ecstatic when there is an epilogue. When you read, you are transported to this fantastical land that you only wish was real. When you watch a baseball game, you are transported to the pseudo-reality. When I watch a baseball game, the field is my Middle Earth.

There is no baseball when I hear back from the majority of my schools. It has been there during AP weeks, final exams, paper deadlines, and collapsed-Physics-bridges. Perhaps most importantly, it served as an inspiration for many of my college essays. It kept me sane on the verge of insanity. But it has abandoned me when I need it most.

I had to face rejection on my own. Baseball was not there to distract me. I cannot escape the panic attacks, lack of appetite, and restless nights. I have not been able to flee to my pseudo-reality. I have not been able to follow my protagonists’ problems instead of my own.

Angelo Bartlett Giamatti once said, “It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

It is cruel that there is no baseball this time of year. I have faced the cruelties of the fall alone, and I look forward to the spring. Baseball will restore my sanity–and all of yours–when it begins again. Hope will be renewed, and perhaps mine will be too. And until then, I’m just waiting for my pitch.

The Color Purple

Dear Elizabeth:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.

They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.

Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.

Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.  

Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.

If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.

I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.

In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).

Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.

If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about. 

A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:

“Too Short.
Too Weak.
Too Slow. 
 Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”

In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.

*************************************************************************************************************

In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a  huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.

The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.

Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.

However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.

Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.

It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.

Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.

Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.

Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.

Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.

The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.

The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.

The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.

The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.

If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.

The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.

As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.

This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.

It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
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I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
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I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.

I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.

Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.

Adrian Gonzalez  will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.

I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.

1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate. 

2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
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I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs. 

What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.

The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.

The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move. 

Even though it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that all of these guys are going to have great careers. After all, they are my projects. In fact, I would be willing to be that one day, these are the guys that teams are going to be trading their big minor league prospects for. I wish them nothing but the best in their careers, which I will still monitor closely. As for Adrian Gonzalez, I look forward to seeing him rake in a Red Sox uniform.

Snowflakes & Fingerprints

The mouse lingered over the “submit” button; my thumb hovered over the mouse, waiting to click it. I had spent the last two months filling out tedious applications and agonizing over essays. I had spent this entire year looking at my statistics and comparing them with others. I SAT’d once and ACT’d three times. I was ready. Tim Lincecum was ready too. He walked out of the Giants dugout ready to throw the first pitch of the 2010 World Series. I was nervous. He was probably nervous. Tim Lincecum went into his windup. Submit. Strike.

And now we wait.

Applications may have prevented me from blogging, but they certainly did not prevent me from watching at least part of every single postseason game. I wrote nearly all of my essays on my passion for baseball, so to stop watching baseball would have been counter-intuitive.

Despite the Red Sox falling short, I still had a lot of fun watching baseball during the regular season. Little did I know that the postseason was going to be even better. Considering that the Red Sox were not in the playoffs, I decided to temporarily adopt both an American League team and a National League team. Little did I know that the teams I picked would end up facing each other in the World Series.

I want to start at the beginning, though. The first day of the playoffs happened to coincide with the first day of my whirlwind college tour. I was in the air when Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter. I remember I actually got on the plane around the fourth inning, and a small part of me hoped that he would wait until his next start to throw one so that I could actually watch. I’m a very selfish baseball fan. A much bigger part of me was happy when I checked the score during my layover flight in Charlotte, NC: Roy Halladay had thrown a no-hitter in his postseason debut.

Nobody could have written it better. Halladay was not fazed by the pressures that come with the postseason, nor was he fazed by the daunting Cincinnati Reds lineup, considered by many to be the best in baseball. Halladay threw the first no-hitter in baseball since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956. It amazes me that there was that long of a drought between postseason no-hitters, but it makes the feat all the more remarkable.

I would certainly watch the games in the hotel room at night, after the tours. And let me tell you, nothing complements a good baseball game like an authentic Chicago pizza. However, I think I actually had more fun watching the games while lingering outside a bar in various airports. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: baseball’s most unique quality is its ability to unite.

This may have been a completely empty threat, but I would not have watched the World Series had it been a Phillies vs Yankees matchup again. So you can imagine how happy I was when both Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard struck out looking to send the Rangers and the Giants to face each other in the World Series.

That matchup caused me some agony because I had had fun rooting for my adopted teams. I just didn’t plan far enough ahead to decide whom I would be rooting for in the World Series. I had adopted the claws and antlers: I clawed with every extra base hit, and I would do antlers with every bag the Rangers swiped. While rooting for the Giants, I did my best to come up with creative hashtags or at least make them trend on Twitter. When they faced each other in the World Series, it was very difficult for me to decide who to root for.

Who expected a Rangers vs Giants World Series at the beginning of the season? Although helped by the long ball, these teams did not rely exclusively on it. The Giants won because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher. Both his postseason debut and his performance in game five of the World Series will go down as some of the most remarkable pitching performances in baseball’s history. Matt Cain did not allow a run for the entire postseason. Madison Bumgarner is a 22 year old rookie pitching like a postseason veteran. Even though Jonathan Sanchez underperformed, I could not help noticing how perfect his eyebrows are. 

What I really liked about the Rangers was their defense. They have perhaps the best, yet previously underrated infield in baseball: Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Michael Young (3B). I am fairly certain that Ian Kinsler defied the laws of physics with some of the plays he made. Michael Young has a gun for an arm. Even when a guy like Cliff Lee is pitching, I enjoy watching the defense make plays as much as I enjoy watching 76 mph curveballs fool batters.

W.P. Kinsella said, “Baseball games are like snowflakes and fingerprints. No two are ever alike.” I think the prime examples of this came in games one and two. Many expected game one to be the pitcher’s duel of the century because of the matchup: Cliff Lee vs Tim Lincecum. However, it ended up being more about the offense. The next game between Matt Cain and CJ Wilson provided the pitcher’s duel that everyone was waiting for. This is what made this World Series so great. It was so different from World Series’ of the past. I think that the fact that the World Series was between the Rangers and the Giants indicates that baseball is shifting from its focus on offense to a focus on pitching and defense. I am hoping for the era of the pitcher. As the San Francisco Giants announcers might say, these games were “torture.” But who knew torture could be so fun?

If you are interested in where I applied early, feel free to e-mail me or tweet me

Baseball Without Rules: Instrux 2010

Clearly, I’m not cut out for using any kind of technology besides a computer. I bought a new toy last weekend from Best Buy: an audio recorder. This past weekend at the Red Sox’s Fall Instructional League I was able to get two interviews, and I’ve already managed to delete one of them. You see, I had done a test recording of nothing to make sure I knew which buttons to press. So, at the end of the day I had three files on my small, silver toy: a “post-game interview” with starter Jacob Dahlstrand, the most useless file in the world, and an interview with the next top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization, Reymond Fuentes. Guess which one I deleted? The last one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what he said, but I won’t put words in his mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I had really great conversations with both Dahlstrand and Fuentes because they were both very open and friendly, but I do feel like a recorder takes something away from the conversation. I think what I’ve learned this year is that there is a fine line between an interview and a conversation. I always say that I like to interview players, but really, I enjoy having conversations with them because it’s so much easier for me to hear the human element of baseball, which is really the angle I’m going for in my career (?) at this point. I know that I’m going to have to use recorders when I start writing professionally, but instead of interviews, I want to have conversations. The recorder is small enough that I could stick it inconspicuously in my back pocket, but that’s probably unethical and perhaps even illegal.

Once again, I had no idea what I was in for this past weekend. I’ve never heard of a baseball game being played earlier than 12:05 pm, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. This game started at 10 a.m. If I wanted to be there on time, that meant I needed to leave my house by at least 7:30. Of course, I wanted to be there before the game started, so that I could get situated, so I left my house at 7 am, which is earlier than I typically wake up for class.

I had never been to the Twins complex before, but it was hard to miss, and very well organized: it includes the Minnesota Twins major league spring training facility (Hammond Field) as well as five or so fields for the minor league teams. There is only one problem I could possibly see with this kind of facility. I would have to pay some ridiculous sum for parking even if I was not going to the major league game. I didn’t have to this time, though. I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, and I followed a group of scouts into the complex. I was the only female there for a while.

From what I can tell, the Fall Instructional League does not have to follow typical baseball rules. The Red Sox had 10 people in their batting lineup: two designated hitters. They could also bat out of order without any penalties whatsoever. If someone grounded out, they could get another shot if they needed to. This made score keeping nearly impossible, so I gave up after a while because I was so confused as to why Ryan Dent was batting again when I could have sworn that he had just gotten to first on an error from the shortstop. I don’t even know what the final score was. 

In other words, these games are designed merely for players to get their work in. They don’t want to see Ryan Dent get on base because of an error because that’s going to happen less and less as he advances from level to level. They want to see him get on base because he gets a hit through the gap.

Around the second inning, I transferred to the bleachers behind home plate to see a different angle of the movement on Dahlstrand’s pitches. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jason Garcia, who was drafted in the 17th round (533rd overall) of the 2010 draft. He had pitched the game before, so he was on charting duty from what I could tell. He said he was happy with his outing, and that his fastball was working for him. He hopes to be in Lowell next year. I enjoyed his often facetious commentary on the game.

I went back to my original spot because I had trouble seeing over the pitchers sitting in front of me with the radar guns. Here is some of the stuff that I noted from the game.

-Jacob Dahlstrand really used the outside corner well, but he needs to incorporate other parts of the plate as well.
 
-John Killen was topping out around 90 according the the various radar guns around me. He did have some command issues, but I think those could be easily fixed if he slowed it down a little bit because it seemed like he was rushing his pitches. He definitely has good movement on his pitches, so once he refines his command a bit, and finalizes his arsenal, his offspeed stuff will be nasty. I think I might have seen a splitter and a curveball, but I’m horrible at judging what kind of pitch it is. One thing I think he needs to focus on is not getting frustrated.

-Sean Coyle has a really nice swing, and a fairly good eye from what I could tell. It looks like he struggles a little bit with the offspeed stuff, but that’s completely normal at this stage. His infield mechanics are nearly flawless, quite possibly the best I saw that day.

-Christian Vazquez had a solid pickoff throw.

-Tyler Wilson had a quick delivery and an impressive fastball that was fooling guys all over the place.

-Felix Sanchez was fouling a lot of pitches off, which I think is indicative of a good eye and solid plate discipline with some minor issues in timing.

Jose Iglesias (soon heading off to the Arizona Fall League), Bryce Brentz, and Miles Head each connected for a double. Brentz actually had a multi-hit game. Others probably did as well, but as I said, I stopped keeping score.

One of the reasons I stopped keeping score was because I kept getting distracted by conversations/interviews. I interviewed Jacob Dahlstrand right behind the dugout. He had a big ice pack on his shoulder. Here are some of the highlights.

Dahlstrand was born in Houston, roots for the Rays, and his favorite player is Josh Beckett. His repertoire includes a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, which he is pretty happy with right now.  He wants to work on his fastball command because that has been his biggest challenge so far. Pitching from the stretch is starting to get easier for him. The reason that it is so hard for pitchers is because they don’t have to worry about pitching from the stretch in high school since they never put anybody on base.

He was drafted out of high school, and had he not signed, he would have gone to the University of Houston and probably majored in business. He only played two games in the Gulf Coast League this year because he stressed something in his back.

Reymond Fuentes had played the day before, so he had the day off today. He agreed to an interview after the game, and he certainly held his word. He is originally from Puerto Rico, and his favorite player is his cousin, Carlos Beltran. He looks up to him a lot, and he works out with him in the off-season. Fuentes skipped Lowell (short season-A) and went straight from the Gulf Coast League (rookie league) to the Greenville Drive (Single-A). He said he was really happy about that. His biggest challenge so far has been the long season. He played 40 games with GCL, and in his very next year he played significantly more. His goal for this year is to stay healthy. He attributes his greatest strength to his legs because he has a lot of speed, and he would like to stay in center field for his career.

I don’t think Fuentes is on a lot of people’s radars quite yet, but he is certainly someone to keep your eye on. I think that he has a lot of potential, and I would not be surprised to see him in the Red Sox outfield in 3-4 years.

Unfortunately, that was my last time at Instrux. I had heard that it was going to go until late October, but it
turns out to be only a three week program. This is coming weekend is the last, and I will be touring Syracuse, Northwestern, Marquette, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The deadline for early applications is quickly approaching, and I have a big decision to make as to where I want to apply Early Decision, if at all. I had a really fun time at Instrux, and I can’t wait to see these guys during Spring Training, or maybe before if they’re there earlier.  

Red Sox Instrux 2010

I swear, every time I go to a baseball game, I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing. I go to baseball games with the sole purpose of interacting with at least one player, but it’s not like I have some strategic plan that I follow each time I go to a baseball game. To be honest, going to baseball games has become kind of a stressful experience (in the absolute best of ways) for me because I never know what to expect going in. The outcome is certainly worth the uncertainty.

The Fall Instructional League is essentially a rookie league populated by guys from the Dominican Summer League, the Gulf Coast League, and the Lowell Spinners (short season Signle-A ball). In other words, there are a lot of draft picks. This is absolutely raw, unrefined baseball talent, and this league serves to refine essential baseball fundamentals. Many of the draft picks signed late, so they have little to no experience in professional baseball–maybe nine games in the Gulf Coast League (a rookie league).

Here is a brief look at the 2010 Red Sox Draft:
First Round:
-Kolbrin Vitek (20th overall)
Compensatory Picks
-Bryce Brentz (36th overall)
-Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall)
Round 2
-Brandon Workman (57th overall)
Round 3
-Sean Coyle (110th overall)
Round 4
-Garin Cecchini (143rd overall)
-Round 5
-Henry Ramos (173rd overall)
Round 6
-Kendrick Perkins (203rd overall)
Round 7
-Chris Hernandez (233rd overall)
…Round 10
-Jacob Dahlstrand (323rd overall)
Round 11
-Lucas LeBlanc (353rd overall)

The only guys who weren’t at the Fall Instructional League on Sunday when I was there were Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman. Workman was to arrive the next day for a slightly different strength conditioning program.

There was very little information regarding the Fall Instructional League. There were some rumors regarding who would be there. Casey Kelly, Ryan Dent, and Ryan Westmoreland all confirmed via their Twitter accounts. An actual roster was posted a few days before the league began by Sox Prospects. This helped me out because I was able to do some basic research, and perhaps more importantly, figure out where these practices (and games) were taking place. The only thing it didn’t tell me was what time everything was taking place. I basically had to blindly assume that the practices would start some time between nine and ten. All I could hope was that I was not embarking on a five hour round trip for nothing.

As I drove into the Red Sox Minor League Complex–a place I had not been to for five months–I noticed a sea of red uniforms a couple of fields over. The grueling two-and-a-half hour drive over boring alligator alley suddenly became a small price to pay.
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I was absolutely enthralled from the moment I set foot upon the complex. The majority of the players were gathered on one field, focused on an intricate drill that focused on what I would call situational fundamentals. The coaches would yell out a situation. “One and two with two outs,” for example. The pitcher would pretend to throw home, and then the coach would hit the ball somewhere. It was up to the players to adjust accordingly, and make the call as to what should happen.

The coaches would get angry if the players weren’t communicating with each other. The players would switch out nearly every play, and then would wait in line until next time. This was far from fundamentally sound. In fact, first base was overthrown more than once, and the cutoff man was occasionally missed. This observation is not meant to criticize–far from it. This observation made me realize the point of this league: to refine the fundamentals. As I said before, a lot of these guys have little to no experience with even the lowest level of professional baseball. This league is to prepare them for it.

On the other fields, the pitchers were working on pick-off drills. This was perhaps my favorite drill of the day because I had never seen anything like it. Even though I have heard from more than one pitcher that pitching from the stretch is something that is far from natural, I had no idea that this was how they learned. I assumed that it just came from in-game practice, but these guys were working on both how they turned and their pick off throws. It was absolutely fascinating.

I was very patient when it came to talking with players. I did not want to be rude and interrupt their practice, so I waited until they were at least en route to another field. I was familiar with names, but unfortunately I was not as familiar with faces. I decided not to risk embarrassing myself by addressing somebody by a name that was not his own, so I ended up asking for everyone’s name. I hope that they weren’t offended that I didn’t know exactly who they were or what they had done up to this point. Most of them were extremely friendly. I suppose the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes didn’t hurt.

The first guy I talked to was Garin Cecchini. I did not get a chance to talk to him for a long time because he was en route to another drill. He said he was really happy to be there, and I could tell that he was absolutely thrilled. He had only played about nine games in the Gulf Coast League, so he was clearly there to get more experience under his belt. He was wearing a brace around his knee, and I noticed that he was experiencing some pain during the infield drills. He said that he had had surgery recently, but he felt fine. I’ll ask him more next weekend.

Then I talked to Lucas LeBlanc. He hasn’t played in any GCL games because he signed so late, but he had played in a summer league. He was committed to LSU following the draft, but chose to play professionally. He said that he still had some angry voice messages and text messages saved on his phone. He had no regrets, and he said that he was really happy with his decision so far.

I had the longest conversation with Sean Coyle, and we spoke for about five minutes. He is a utility infielder, but projects to play second base in the organization. He likes to hit first or second in the batting order, and is confident with his speed on the base paths. He is projected to go to Greenville next year, and played very briefly in the GCL. I asked him the biggest thing he has learned so far and he said to just stay relaxed. He said that he anxious a lot this year (understandably so) and that he just needs to relax and take it easier. He also mentioned that he had played in summer leagues for the past four or five years with wooden bats, so the transition hasn’t been too hard. His brother is currently at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is one of the schools I’m applying to.
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I missed a couple of the players going in after batting practice, but some stayed behind to kill a snake and tie it to a bat. Miles Head was kind enough to pose for a picture with his prize.

The last guy I talked to was Bryce Brentz. He is a pretty funny guy. Since he was drafted out of college, I also brought up the difference between aluminum and metal bats. He said something to the effect of that the outfielders are able to position themselves better when it comes to hits off wooden bats. That’s something I had not heard before.

On my way home, I f
ound it kind of odd that I had bought an audio recorder the day before, yet I didn’t use it once that day. I didn’t even ask for a picture with any of these guys. I guess it just did not feel right at the time, and I’m glad that I didn’t. Sunday was a day for me to put myself out there, and merely introduce myself to the players. It would have been awfully awkward to whip out a recorder and tape these informal interviews. I’ve decided that I only want to use the recorder during a formal interview or a press conference. Otherwise, I feel like the presence of a recorder would take something away from the conversation.

Overall, I was impressed–not with their fundamentals, but with their attitudes. From what I could tell, they were all very driven and ambitious. I could tell that it was absolutely surreal for the guys who didn’t have professional experience yet. I’m sure this feeling wares off after a while, but it was just a pleasant ambiance to be a part of.

They have a game against the Twins (at the Twins) next Saturday, and I will be going back. I plan on scoring the game, and I will sit next to somebody with a radar gun and track pitches. I would also like to conduct a formal interview with one of them (or all of them), if they oblige. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to look into the strength conditioning program as well. 

I am also hoping to get a chance to say hello to Ryan Westmoreland, who is also rehabbing. I didn’t see him on Sunday because I think he had gone in relatively early. I think it is absolutely remarkable that he is there, but I have to say, I’m not surprised. The second he got out of surgery, he pretty much had himself convinced that he was going to be back on a baseball field, and he has worked hard to make it happen. Judging from his tweets, he seems absolutely thrilled to be there, and that’s all that matters.

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