Hey what's going on everybody? I just finally got internet back in my hotel today so I'm sorry I haven't been able to post anything over the last week or so. I really hate hotels.
Since the NFL draft is one of my favorite times of the year I have been spending most of my days outside of the field thinking of draft strategies for the Patriots to employ. I'm still not really sure why I waste my time doing this, considering I have no say whatever in what Belichick decides to do, but it still feels fun to me. I guess it's good practice for my fantasy football season coming up in a few months.
Anyways, a few weeks ago I wrote a little story for The Biz of Baseball about my 2011 Spring Training with the Washington Nationals. I cover a bunch of topics including what it was like being the new guy on a new team, the differences in Spring Trainings, and a bunch of other random stuff. I hope you enjoy.
After spending my entire five year professional career with the San Diego Padres, arriving in Viera, Florida for my first Spring Training with the Washington Nationals was definitely a strange situation. Most baseball players look forward to routines, the same thing day in and day out. We like things to be the same when we arrive to the ballpark each day. Comfort comes in knowing where we will hit in the batting order and what position we will play that night. After playing for so many years with the same team, you know what your day is going to look like. You know what you will eat when arriving at the clubhouse that morning, and who will join you for company. You know where "cage two" is for early batting practice, which shower head has the best water pressure, and who to go to for help if your jock strap doesn't want to cooperate.
My first day walking into a new clubhouse felt a lot like that first day of high school, expect I was a transfer student and everyone else had already been giving the freshman atomic wedgies for the past two years. I didn't know anyone. Not one coach, one player, one training staff member, not a janitor, nobody. Luckily for me, all baseball players have experienced it at one time or another in their career. We've all played on dozens of teams throughout our journey in professional baseball. We've all been the "new kid" at one time or another. The first day you feel like the odd man out, when nobody knows your name or where you came from, but a week into Spring you feel like you've been there your whole life. I spent the first few days meeting teammates and coaches, learning how the Nationals do things on and off the field, and understanding the schematics of the clubhouse. It's never cool when you're looking for the bathroom and half the team witnesses the new guy mistakenly stroll into a storage closet.
You may think that all organizations are the same, follow similar plans, and have identical rules and goals. But many teams have different ways of doing things. During the first day with my new club I met with management to understand the rules and regulations I had to adhere by. Next up was to get with my coaches to understand our team philosophies. Each organization will teach hitting, base running, and fielding a little differently. Some teams want you to be extremely aggressive at the plate, while others may want you to be more selective. Some may bunt, steal, and use situational hitting to account for most of the offense, while others will wait around for the three run homer. It is important to understand how your team plays and how your game fits into the system.
When practice started I quickly learned a few things about my new team. They like to teach, and take pride in developing their own players. As I said earlier, all organizations are different. Some have big budgets, using free agency year after year to put together most of their big league club, while others look to the farm system to develop their future stars. One of the reasons I chose the Nationals was because of their commitment to their minor league program and how they want their minor leaguers to one day make up their Major League roster. You can see this by the way they teach, their attention to detail, and the hard work the staff puts in day in and day out. In a lot of ways it is very similar to the way the Padres did things with their minor league system.
Most Spring Trainings are used to dust off the cobwebs resulting from the three to four months away from baseball. For me, this Spring Training was much different from those of the past. The last time I had played in a baseball game was March, 2010, almost a full year ago. The last time I had played in a baseball game where stats were kept and would displayed on the back of my baseball card was the beginning of August, 2009. Baseball is one of those sports where a week off feels like a month off, a month off feels like a year off, and a year off feels like you might as well be playing a foreign sport. I think I took for granted how quickly I would be able to get my swing back and start playing like I had never stepped off the field. After hitting batting practice with the team the first few days I realized it would be harder than I had thought. Reality was setting in, and I knew I had to be patient about getting back into form. I can honestly say that even after a month into Spring I still did not feel comfortable at the plate. Curve balls seemed to be moving way more than I had remembered. Change-ups didn't seem to be fair. And when the hell did they decide to widen the standard seventeen inch plate?
The toughest part for me to deal with was the fact that I knew it would take time to get back to playing good baseball, but I was with a new organization and wanted to do everything I could to assure them that signing me was a good decision. This was the most frustrating part of joining my new team. Like they say, you never get to make a first impression twice, and I didn't want my first impression to be one that resembled my skills back in tee ball. I decided I would do my best, take my lumps, and in the end, Spring Training was still what it always was, a month and a half to shake off the rust.
As Spring Training neared an end I was called into the office and informed that I would be starting the year with our Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators. I had spent the last three years playing either Triple-A ball or briefly in the Major Leagues, so many might see this as a demotion. The truth is, I haven't been healthy in almost two years, and when I was healthy I didn't play well. I've said it hundreds of times, baseball is a "what have you done for me lately" business, and I haven't done much except get out or get hurt. I have to prove to not only my team but to all thirty teams around baseball that this is the beginning of a new career for me and the best is yet to come. In the end it doesn't matter if my opportunity came in Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A, or in the California Penal League, it is an opportunity to display my baseball skills, and after being out of the game for two years that is really all you can ask for. I'm looking forward to joining my new team in the next few days and getting my game back to where it should be.
Here is the article on The Biz of Baseball if you would like to read it here Matt Antonelli and the Road Back to the Show