It has been 163 days since my last entry, but no one is allowed to yell at me for my hiatus because I am writing this on February 19th, 2010, my 24th birthday. The past 163 days have been a complete roller coaster ride for my life and baseball career.
After the AA playoffs came to an end with a loss to the Akron Aeros I packed up my car and drove back home to Alexandria VA. It had been 7 months of pure baseball, and I was happy to see my parents. I stayed there, enjoying delicious home cooked meals, watching football, and relaxing for a whole 10 days. It was 10 MUCH needed days. I took the last 7 days of my “vacation” to go to Austin Texas to visit a good friend of mine and watch the Texas vs. Texas Tech football game, at which I was part of a Texas state record crowd. If you know anything about Texas football, that is saying something. 17 days had passed and I was heading back to Clearwater to work out for a week before the Arizona Fall League.
In Clearwater the AZFL guys, Dominic Brown, Steve Susdorf, Troy Hanzawa, Scott Mathieson, Tuffy Goeswhich, Edgar Garcia, Mike Cisco, and myself worked out with the instructional league players in order to get our bodies in shape to play another 2 months of baseball. I remember looking at the clubhouse during morning orientation and thinking that one year ago I was sitting with all the instructional league players looking at all the people going to the AZFL and wanting to be on that side of the room. 7 days passed and we all flew to Arizona.
When I got to Arizona I met a man by the name of Dave Dubner. He is a Phuture Phillies reader that lives in Arizona and he was able to find a great deal on a beautiful place for me to live during my time in Arizona. My life outside of baseball in Arizona was stress free thanks to Dave.
Entering the Scottsdale Scorpions locker room for the first time was like my second birthday of the year. My locker was littered with all kinds of Phillies stuff. We got the big league uniforms, the big league jackets, shorts, shirts, long sleeves, pants, and other stuff that I am sure I am forgetting. Looking around the locker room I had recognized about half the team from either playing with or against them in college or the minor leagues. There were two players from the 2007 Orleans Cardinals (Cape Cod team) Chase D’Arnaud and Brandon Crawford, so I went and talked to them as we reminisced about stories from that team. Most of the anecdotes had to do with Ryan Perry, but that is another story for another time.
A few days into practice and we all were getting to know each other, and this was when my favorite conversation of the AZFL took place. I was shagging in right field with Joe Martinez, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants (Note: He was the guy that pitched in the big leagues and took a line drive off his head). So we talked for a while about baseball and he asked, “How much did you sign for?” I replied, “5 thousand dollars, I was a senior sign. What about you?” He said, “I got 2.5.” Me, “2.5!, damn that’s a lot of money, what round?” His response, “I got two thousand five hundred, but I like saying 2.5 because it sounds better.” I now wish the Phillies would have given me 4900 instead of 5000 so I could say the Phillies signed me for 4.9.
After throwing my first bullpen in Arizona, it was painfully clear to me that I had nothing left in the tank. My body and arm had this jelly-like feeling. It was a feeling I have never experienced before. My slider was loopy, my fastball was slow, but my change up was still there. No matter what I did to my body in terms of lifting or drinking a red bull before I pitched, nothing changed the fact that I had nothing left in 2009. My stuff hadn’t been this bad since high school, and that is no exaggeration. After a week of this feeling I came to the realization that it was not going away and I would have to learn to pitch like this and still try to be effective. I had a few decent outings, but mostly my outings were subpar. My brain and my body were not on the same page, there was one at bat that exemplified everything.
I came into a game with the bases loaded and one out. The first batter I faced popped up on a well located change up. 2 outs, bases loaded, Jon Gaston comes up to the plate. Jon Gaston was another member of the 2007 Orleans Cardinals, and I had seen him enough to know exactly how to pitch him. I started him off with a change up away, for a called strike. Tuffy called for another change up away, but I wanted to come inside with a good hard fastball. I shook off Tuffy 3 times until he finally put down inside fastball. I threw the pitch with everything I had, which at that time was probably 87mph, and left it middle in. He was able to turn on it and hit a grand slam to right field. There is no doubt in my mind that the fastball in was the right pitch if I was on top of my game. I would have either jammed him or throw it right by him. The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t on top of my game, and Tuffy knew it. He knew the right pitch to throw for me at that time was to repeat the change up away, but I was too stubborn to listen to a smart veteran catcher. That was just one of the many lessons I learned in Arizona.
The AZFL ended and I posted a 4.something ERA and had way too many walks (note: the league average was over 6.5). My stuff was way worse than my numbers suggest, but I was able to pitch off my change up to keep hitters off balance. Up until that point I had not used my change up more than 3 times in an outing so being able to use it effectively will help me coming into next year. In my opinion, you learn and get better by playing against the best competition. I learned way more from pitching 2 months in Arizona then pitching 5 months in Clearwater. However, if I were a scout that had never seen me pitch before Arizona, there is no doubt I would not consider myself a prospect of any magnitude.
November 21st, 2009 was the day I hopped on a plan to go home. I realized at that point that on November 21st, 2008 I was just starting my throwing program for the 2009 season. I had pitched for a full year straight (with 17 days off from throwing). I was proud of myself for being able to endure that length of time, but most of all I was happy to be home to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family.
Part 2 coming soon