Spring Training continues to chug along at what seems to be a breakneck pace, the days all passing by as we get closer and closer to Opening Day. I’ve been asked by a thousand different people if I know where I’ll play this season, a topic I really haven’t addressed. The reason is simple, I have almost no idea where I’m going to be on Opening Day April 3rd. I’ve fished around in conversations with coaches, searching for any clue, but they’ve done a great job of keeping everything quiet. I normally wouldn’t bother trying to find out, but being that I’m new to both the organization the position I’m completely lost in terms of knowing what team I’ll be with, and what my role will be. I spoke with Jared Sandberg, last years Bowling Green manager (and manager in Charlotte this summer), after our game on Saturday and told him it was really the first time in my career that I’d felt that lost. He was understanding, but was unable to give me any answers. I’m now just going into wait and see mode, with just under a week left in camp I’m just going to buckle down and try to keep swinging the bat well, and keep developing my skills behind the plate.
Since my last post I’ve continued my streak of playing every day which has been absolutely awesome, there is nothing better as a hitter than coming to the ballpark expecting to be in the lineup. I think that has definitely played a part in my success, I’m getting to see live pitching every day, I’m getting to sort out my daily routines and I’m staying focused. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m focusing a lot on my mental skills this year, and that too has helped me in the day to day grind of playing. I had a discussion with one of the coaches recently in which I mentioned how I felt like I was doing a much better job of “letting go” of things that would otherwise sidetrack me. His answer surprised me at first, but then made sense as I thought about it. He suggested that part of the reason is that as a catcher there isn’t time to dwell on a lousy at bat, a questionable call or any other distraction. I noticed this for the first time the other day when I was catching in our game against the Orioles on Friday. I had a bad at bat, leaving the bases loaded after swinging at a changeup that wasn’t in any way, shape or form a hittable pitch. I got my gear on and ran out to the plate and before the pitcher threw his first pitch I made a conscious effort to “wipe” away the negative thoughts, and actually took my bare hand and swept the dirt, reminding myself to get back into the zone and refocused. In past years I’ve tried little techniques like that, but they’ve always been just a motion, they’ve never had any sort of impact, or anchor. I was impressed by how quickly I got back to thinking straight, ignoring the bad at bat, and getting back to call a good inning for my pitcher.
In terms of game calling, I’ve been learning a lot recently also, mostly from small mistakes I’ve made. There have been a few different times when I’ve called a sequence of pitches that seemed to make sense, only to have a hitter make solid contact. In between innings one of the coaches, or Hoov will come and ask me about the sequence, and talk through what I did, versus what a more advanced catcher might call. Even when I’ve made these mistakes the conversations have been more about learning what I’m thinking pitch to pitch. It has been really interesting to listen to and think about some of the combinations of pitches, all the while remembering back to at bats last year when the Bowling Green staff used those exact combinations against me. It’s interesting to know that all these things I’m learning have really been used in game action and are successful. I had another conversation with Sandberg in the batting cage recently during which he told me that he had two completely different spray charts on me last season. He told me that one chart showed I was almost always going to hit the ball to left-center, and that this chart was based on all the swing data from games against all teams other than Bowling Green. My spray chart against Bowling Green said I almost always hit the ball on the ground to the right side, something I didn’t realize at the time, but thinking back on the year I’ve begun to notice that he was right. Again, we talked about some of the pitch sequences, and the types of pitchers that I faced last year and he sort of talked me through how I ended up with that kind of weird split. I’ve always loved learning about the intricacies of baseball and this spring I’ve had plenty of time to go over all the minutia that I enjoy.
Today was a really short day because of the torrential downpour that seemed to just wait for us to get loose before dumping on us. We tried to change the schedule to beat the rain, but mother nature had no plan to watch baseball today and as we started the 2nd inning of our intersquad game she cut loose a crazy amount of rain and we headed for the cover of the clubhouse. I spent a few minutes talking to Steve Campbell who was my baseball coach back in Peewee (13/14 yrs old). He’s down here with some friends watching Spring Training games up and down the stretch of I75 between Fort Myers in the south and Dunedin in the north. It was nice to get to see him and talk about everything that’s going on down here. I’m going to see him and his buddies for dinner one of the next few nights, so that will definitely be a fun night of baseball banter. I also recently got a visit from John Jepson, the General Manager of the Toronto Mets, the travel team I played for in high school. JJ has always been a great baseball person, and definitely played a large part in my getting to where I am today. He built the Toronto Mets program to be one that fostered an environment that would promote growth both on the field and in the classroom. I was able to play elite level baseball, including the two National Championship in 2007 and 2008 while also having time and space to get my school work done, study for exams etc. I’m incredibly happy that he was able to come and see me play, even if he saw me on a day that I was 1 for 3 with a bloop single as the DH. It wasn’t an impressive performance by any means, but it was great to be able to have him see me play in a professional game, having had such an impact on my career.
Hopefully the weather maps are all wrong and we’ll get some nice weather in the next few days because I’d love to get some more games in before the end of Spring Training. As nice as it is to get into the cage and just swing it and relax a little I know how important it is to stay in proper every day game shape. Hopefully next time I post I’ll be able to answer that question we’re all dying to know the answer to, where will I be on April 3rd? Until then, it’s time to just keep hitting, blocking and throwing.