March 2009

1 Minute Monday, March 30th

Today I hthrew in another minor league spring training game and it wasn not one of those days where it seemed easy to pitch.  i felt like i was using balls that didn’t want to be caught and i had to pitch with those.  some days it just doesn’t go the way you’d like and i wasn’t as sharp as normal.  we are alsmost done with spring training and break camp her ein a few days.  not exactly sure where i’m going yet, but i hope i get another outing before we break camp later this w

Big Leagues to Bean Bags

Today I threw for the “Bean Bags”.  28% of that makes no sense to me.  Ha.  I just made myself laugh writing that.  If you didn’t chuckle, you should read my blog more frequently.  It’s the best thing going right now on the Internet aside from that laughing baby on YouTube.

The Bean Bags is the name given to one of the teams that forms an extra group of players in our minor league camp.  They play the Bomb Squad every day.  Each day instead of having a group of players on the bench in a AAA, AA, or A-ball game, we create an extra game typically with younger players.  So on Tuesday, I was living out a dream of pitching in the Bigs, by Friday, I’m getting work in for the Bags.

I was excited despite the surroundings being less sexy and there being no prospect of Wilbert Harrison serenading us after the win, it was still a blast to throw.  Once the catcher starts giving signs, it’s still the same game wherever you’re standing.  Some days pitching seems like the hardest thing in the world.  Other
times it’s completely simple and reaffirms why you spend so much time
and effort playing baseball. I’m grateful today was one of those days for many reasons.

Spring Debut

I threw in my first big league spring training game.  80% of that sentence is spectacular.  20% makes it slightly less spectacular, but still, quite exciting.  “Spring Training.”  It means so many great things to so many people.  Many baseball fans see spring training as a symbol of the end of snow and more importantly the end of every sports station doing its best imitation of the NFL Network.  For thousands of baseball fans, it means a vacation to a sunny location and a seemingly all-access pass to their favorite team’s games and practices.  It means a baseball atmosphere that truly feels like a “pastime”.

It also means games with players you’ve never heard of, some of whom couldn’t even get a name on their jersey.

On Tuesday, I was one of those players.

During the regular season, our pastime can easily be clouded by high beer prices, busy parking lots, boo birds, player and managerial ejections, slammed bats, and helmets tossed.  The relaxing 3 hour break from real life and immersion into an alternate world of keeping score by hand while listening to the familiar voice of your stadium’s PA announcer fade into the sunset is too often a pipe dream for baseball purists.  In spring training, though, it is more evident than ever that the game is just that: a game.  You won’t see bats broken over knees or managers kicking dirt and throwing bases.  You probably won’t hear any “boos” and you many times will see fans cheering for players they like on the opposing team.  That’s not to say bat breaking and managerial disputes don’t add to the drama and suspense that makes exciting baseball great, but if the post season is baseball on Red Bull, spring training is baseball on sun tea.

When I found out I would be “backing up” the Major League game, a rush of excitement and nerves flushed through my body.  For 3 years I have been walking past the Big League locker room, batting cages, and stadium to get to the comparative dungeon of our Minor League camp (and may I add we are blessed with the nicest minor league spring training facility in all of baseball, but still…it’s not the bigs!).  Simply the thought I would have the outside chance of pitching in the Major League game was riveting.

For those of you not familiar with the term “backing up” it refers to pitchers that come from the minor league camp to be a safety valve for the big league game.  Each big leaguer has a throwing schedule that dictates how many innings he will throw.  On a given day, for example, the starter may be expected to go 4-5 innings, a middle reliever will go 2-3 and then two late inning guys will go 1 inning.  If all goes as planned, say the first two combine for 7 innings, then the late relievers will finish 8 and 9.  What if it goes extras, though?  Or what if the starter runs up his pitch count and doesn’t get out of the 3rd?  This is where the minor league “backups” come in to play to eat up the remaining innings.  If you are a casual fan, the backup will usually come in after the game is 3.5 hours old or is out of hand and you stand up and ask the rest of your party if they’ve had enough sun and want to head home.  You may even point out that some guy who didn’t get a name on his jersey is pitching, it’s a nobody, so let’s head out.  And you’d be right.  It is a nobody.  The outcome of the game doesn’t really matter.  As long as everybody got their AB’s and IP’s and no one got hurt, it’s a successful spring training game.

When you were standing up to leave because nothing important was about to happen, my heart was racing and to me, seemingly the entire world was standing right before my eyes.

By Arizona standards, Tuesday was a slightly chilly night with a bit of a breeze.  By my mid-western standards, it was a beautiful, glorious night!  Though, I’m pretty sure even if it was 10 below with sleet this night would still have been amazing.  As the national anthem played, I stood on the left field line with the rest of my bullpen teammates.  I’m used to pitchers being taller than me, but these guys were all way taller than me.  I’m pretty sure no one from the stands could see me amongst the trees and I’m certain I couldn’t see the flag down the line.  They were all about the same height and all kinda looked alike.  As Greinke warmed up for the first pitch, I introduced myself to the guys I hadn’t met yet.  Everyone was extremely nice and accommodating, perhaps because I was blatantly the new guy evidenced by my constant ear to ear grin.  The first few innings flew by and despite a small bump in the road, Zach was cruising.  Given the inning breakdowns and the number of pitchers scheduled to throw, after the first 5 innings, I was afraid my chances of getting the all-important back-up inning were slimming.

When the 8th inning rolled around, Jamey Wright was in the game and throwing well.  He had pitched the 7th without running up his pitch count too much, so he went out for the 8th.  As he was facing the lead-off hitter, the bullpen phone rang.  As it had all game, my heart jumped when the phone rang.  For the first time, now, it was for good reason.  Our bullpen coach hung up the phone and said, “Hayes, go ahead and start throwing, if he gets in trouble, you’re going in.”

Goosebumps.  

I took my jacket off and walked over to the bullpen mound.  I began throwing as I always do by having the catcher stand up for the first three throws and then have him squat down behind the plate.  By my fourth throw, I was ready.  In an effort to make my routine as normal as possible, I kept throwing.  As I watched the inning unfold, the A’s managed a runner on first with one out through the first two batters, but both had worked long counts.  Our catcher, John Buck went out to the mound and I hoped they were giving me more time to get loose and then bring me in.  Little did they know adrenaline had gotten me ready well in advance, so no extra time was needed on my account.

When I left the clubhouse to go to the field hours prior, the MLB Network was on and was showing a replay of the 2007 home run derby.  As I walked from my locker to the exit, I passed the TV and heard Chris Berman screaming “back, back, back” on a ball Matt Holliday crushed over the wall.  Now a few hours later, with one out in the top of the 8th, Matt Holliday stepped to the plate with a runner at first.  It appeared as though I was going to take my turn at getting him to keep the ball in the field of play.  Let’s hope Berman has the night off.

I stared like a hawk at our manager, Trey Hillman, to see if he’d budge off his seat to bring me in to the game.  To my excitement, he got up!  I told the bullpen catcher, “2 more” and was going to get my final warm-ups in prior to entering the game. Matt Holliday!

Trey took a step to his right, picked something up off the ground and then sat back down.  Sat back down!  If he had so much as scratched his ear, I would have anticipated him making a call to the pen.  A full-blown departure from the seat was enough to make my heart skip a beat.  I think that bubble gum wrapper (or whatever it was) took a year off my life.  Wright got Holliday to hit into a double play and I was told to stop throwing so Anthony Lerew could get ready to go in for the 9th.

Now, I have had a number of “dry humps” throughout my pitching career, but this one stands out as the ultimate.  You can’t make this stuff up, but to prove it, here’s a video.  As you can see, Buck is talking to Wright and just as he drops back, you can see Trey in the lower right hand corner of the video get up out of his seat and then.. well, you see what happens. I asked our b
ullpen coach if I had a chance to pitch in the 9th and he said no, I did my job by scaring the A’s into a double play.  Somehow I hadn’t pictured my debut game being in the role of scarecrow.

By the way, I should clarify what a “dry hump” is.  It’s a bullpen term.  When I asked a fellow bullpen member how to describe it he asked to remain anonymous but aptly said, “It’s the term for getting all warmed up but not being able to go in.”

Lerew went in to throw the 9th and I was told I wouldn’t have a chance to pitch in the game anymore.  I asked if I could just throw a little bit more in the bullpen to get some practice.  The downside of backing up a MLB game is you’re a guy who is due to get a few innings in, but more than likely, you won’t get to throw.  I hadn’t pitched for 3 days, so decided to keep throwing to a catcher as if I was pitching in a game.  Another guy decided to do the same on the rubber behind me in the pen.  After only a few pitches in the game, Lerew got 2 outs with a guy on first.  

Out of the corner of my eye, much to my surprise and excitement again, I noticed Trey walking on to the field towards the pitcher.  Sure enough, he pointed to his right arm, which was at hip level.  My first thought was, “Huh? Interesting he always signals to the bullpen with such a low arm angle.”  I turned around to find out who was throwing behind me to see who was going in to the game.  But to my shock and amazement, it was a lefty!  It seemed like it took 10 seconds to process, but in reality it was probably .10 seconds:  I was going in the game!

I asked the bullpen coach if I was in the game, but he seemed as confused as I was and shook his head no.  Lerew was essentially cruising; he didn’t need back-up.  But sure enough, he was walking off the field.  

I was going in the game.  At least I hoped it was me they were waiting for.

Just in case, I threw another pitch and cautiously walked to the gate to enter the field.  All signs pointed to me going in, but for some reason, I wasn’t certain enough.  I completely expected to open the gate, my heart racing with excitement and anticipation, only to find everyone with their hands up in the air telling me to stop and turn around because I wasn’t supposed to enter.  At this point, I would turn around and run back to the bullpen and make it clear to everyone in the stands why I was so confused and overly anxious:  I didn’t even have a name on my jersey.  And number 72 may be immortalized by Carton Fisk (ironically my favorite player growing up), but it’s not exactly commonplace amongst superstar pitchers.

Thankfully, none of my fears came true and sure enough, they wanted to see me pitch so I kept on running towards the mound.

In the minor leagues, all Royals players are required to pull their pants up and show at least 6″ of stirrup above the shoe tops.  Since I was in T-Ball, for whatever reason, I’ve always worn my pants up at my knees.  Even when I wasn’t required to, I always preferred it.  In 2006, when I started with the Royals, it wasn’t a requirement and I was always the only guy to wear my pants with socks showing.   It seems everyone else hates it.  Manny Ramirez has done to baseball lower-half attire what Michael Jordan did in basketball.  It is now “cool” to have baggy pants down to your shoes if not over them.  I’m convinced there are some minor league guys who yearn for big league pants more than the big league paychecks.

This past season, I was talking with former Royals catcher Duke Wathan and he told me when he used to catch Dan Quisenberry, some hitters would say they lost the ball in his pants and socks.  Our arm angle is quite unique and after releasing the ball, instead of the batter’s eye being the background, we actually assume the role.  After googling pictures of how Quiz wore his jersey, I noticed his stirrups were so long, he had white socks showing, which gave the batter a white backdrop to pick up the white ball as it spun towards them.  And he seemed to have some decent success throughout his career… So, do I stick with my roots, steer clear of vanity, and wear the pants up?  Do I give in to the “big league style” and wear them down?  If I wear them up, am I missing out on a tiny edge Quiz took advantage of for years?  After a long internal debate, I came up with a solution: gray pants up on the road, white pants down at home.  Best of both worlds.

This night was a home game and so, for the first time since I can remember, I ran onto a baseball field with my pants down by my shoes.

I had always pictured the gate opening up to a Major League field awaiting my arrival to be one of the greatest thrills of my life.  I had always dreamed of what my thoughts would be for the half a minute I would have to myself as I jog across the outfield to the mound.  Tonight, the gate opening was filled with confusion and my thoughts were of long pants and their feel on my ankles and how they looked.  Regardless, I ended up on the mound without tripping over my pant legs or having to get sent back to the bullpen because it wasn’t my turn.

After my 8 warm up pitches, the PA announcer said my name.  A group of probably 10 friends along with my beautiful wife, Tracy, and my brother-in-law erupted in applause (if you couldn’t tell, my wife proof reads these). The stands had been silent up until this point and clearly I had my own little fan club (even if it was only family and friends).  Gregorio Petit stepped up to the plate and my first big league appearance was under way.  The first pitch was a fastball that split the plate perfectly.  Next pitch, fastball on the outer half of the plate, flied out to right.

2 pitches. My big league debut lasted only about 45 seconds, but I’ll gratefully and elatedly take it!

It’s hard to imagine how much fun 2 pitches could be.  I don’t know how to describe it for you.  As I was high-fiving the team and the coaching staff I was on cloud nine.  We had won.  And I realized I just played in my first game where they play “Going to Kansas City” after a win.  I couldn’t help but sing “I might take a train, or I might take a plane, but if I have to walk, I’m goin just the same.” (And no, I didn’t have to look those lyrics up, I really do know the song…I blasted it in the car the entire day after the Royals called me and offered me my first contract)  Obviously I hope there’s many more of those lyrics during my departure from a baseball field, but I’m so grateful to have been there for that moment and enjoyed it as much as possible.  If only I had a memento or some sort of keepsake from the game…

Shane Costa caught the last out of the game and turned to the beer garden and chucked the ball into the stands.  Usually on the last out of the game, the fielder brings the ball in and gives it to the pitcher.  Add the fact it was my first ever big-league game and this offense is even more egregious.  If I ever get a name on my jersey, maybe I’ll give Costa a hard time about it so he at least knows who’s giving him crap.

PS. If you’ve made it this far on the blog, you’re obviously enthralled by me and wanting more, so here’s a video some lady in the stands took of me and then sent my way.

1 Minute Monday, March 23rd

Oh boy this one’s gonna be tough to fit in to one minute.  Got my first call-up to back up a big league game today.  that means if the big league game goes in to extras or any of our pitchers gets hurt or has a high pitch count, some poor minor league guy with a number above 70 and no name on his back comes in to clean up the innings.  i was that guy today!  but i didn’t get in.  sounds like i will have the opportunity again tomorrow, so i can’t wait.  it’s fun to just 

1 Minute Monday, March 16th

Spring training is finally in full swing.   games have started. today we played canada.  or at least a team representing the country.  we won.  tomorrow is the first time i throw in a real game and i believe we play the rangers.  we play them about 20 times during camp because we share teh complex with them.  a thought that has been with me all day: do you signal when you drive througha  roundabout?  there’s one near our house and i’m always so confused on what to do

1 Minute Monday, March 9th

Every Monday from here on I plan to give a recap of what’s going on in my life both on and off the baseball field in under a minute.  I have a timer set up next to the computer and it’s ticking as we speak.  So enjoy the typos and terrible capilatization on mondays, because iwon’t have time to go back and fix antyhing.  Today was the first day of spring training.  about a thousand guys out there it seems.  i threw a bullpen and it went pretty well, that’s about all i can think of.  oh yeah, in my last post, if you caught it, i know how to spell “bawl”, it was a pu

Dear Shower Shoes,


It’s been a good run. For eight years
now you have kept me that oh-so-important inch away from the
primordial ooze that runs across the locker room shower floor.
Though you may have been doused with fungus after fungus, you have
taken it all in stride for
my own well being. I’m going to estimate over 1500 times we have
walked into the battlefield of a minor league shower and because of
you, I’ve avoided the obligatory flow of urine across the tiled floor
and have walked out to the real world free of athletes foot without
fail. Your single strap has held strong for so long now, and despite
the fact when we first met and embraced in 2001 you would irritate me
slightly, our friendship has molded to a level of comfort I could
only hope to find again. You have made a bigger impression on me
than I have made on you.

They named you “13” with a sharpie
when I got you so I could tell you apart from the rest, but you’ve
stayed loyal to me even when I changed to 26, 10, 55, 6, back to 55,
18, 55 again, 6 once more, and 56. I changed, but you were not
forgotten. I knew at my sole I was with “13”. At first I
remember wondering why your name was “B” but was so excited when
I realized you were, fittingly, just a smushed 13. It fit you so
well. And you, me.

It’s not that I’ve found someone
better. It’s that you’ve started to gross me out. Your smooth
neoprene surface has wicked away the blood, sweat, and tears that
have defined me for so many years, but recently, I’ve been noticing
you have been taking that all to heart and it’s been building up
inside you. Or at least it’s evident on the surface. Specifically
underneath your strap and in the fabric creating your Adidas logo.
For close to 200 showers per year, I have asked you to foot the bill
in places like Clinton, IA, Beloit, WI, Albuquerque, NM, Dothan, AL,
Salem, VA, Florence, KY, and countless other hell holes with a hose
mounted on the wall and a rusty drain in the tiled floor.

This isn’t easy for me, as I’m sure
it’s not for you either. But our equipment manager opened my eyes to
a whole new world of Crocs shower shoes. Since your birth in 2001,
our national debt has risen more than $4 trillion and judging by the
material used in these Crocs, I think most of it has gone to their
development. They have holes in the sides and bottoms so soap suds
don’t build up like they did on you. I have an optional heel strap I
can deploy if the floor is extra slippery. [sniffle] And they are
Royal Blue and have the Royals logo on the strap…twice actually,
both the crown and Kansas City in script and they are so comfortable
and they kinda squeak now when I walk because they are still new and
I can even wear them outside because this rubber-like plastic
material is so amazing and they are royal blue and people think I’m
so cool when I wear them and they are so jealous they make fun of the
outrageously colorful shower shoes, but then they see the logo and
think maybe it’s kinda cool, and then they look around the other
people in the shower to see if they approve and they go with the
general consensus, but we all know that even if they are making fun,
it’s just cause they are jealous they don’t have a pair. Oh, this is
so hard. But I can’t go back to you. You smell now.

You were around before Segways and
iPhones. You have outlasted generations of my “outside” shoes.
You and I aren’t friends on Facebook because we go back to a time
when we all survived (somehow) without it. Like all good things,
unfortunately our relationship has come to an end. You have toed the
line of disgusting me for a long time now. Oh, please don’t ball.
This new shower shoe has comforted me from the time we met, and it
feels good to be cared for in a new way. It’s unfair to ask you to
compare. You will always be my first. No one will take that away.

Love always,

Feet

Steroids (part 2)