Sunday, May 27, 2012

What I learned around the ballpark...

It's been awhile since I've written anything here, but lately I've been thinking about my upcoming season with the Batavia Muckdogs, single-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Thing is, last year was my first experience showing up at the ballpark every day as part of a team. When you are a journalist working for an outside source, it's more difficult to get your hands on candid conversations. Everyone thinks you are going to run and tell the world. But when you are a play-by-play broadcaster, folks around the game assume you won't be revealing too much on the air. And to be perfectly honest, they probably figure nobody important is listening even if you do.

In my time hanging around scouts, coaches, roving instructors and even some high-ranking executives, I was privy to many interesting conversations. The amount I learned from these people about the game of baseball, I couldn't possibly put a value on how much it helped me do my job.

The most interesting aspect of being a sponge, soaking up knowledge from those whose careers depend on knowing the game, was that there are many different ways of looking at the same thing. So, I figured I'd pass along, with no names mentioned, the some interesting parts of chats I had with these people. Keep in mind, this is the stuff these guys would say to pretty much anybody, I kept any information that would be harmful to anyone off the record where it belongs.

I'll start out with my favorite quote, coming from a former major leaguer:

"I tell these young players, if you want to make it to the show, it's not about hitting, running or pitching. Who can't do that stuff? Fuck, man, everybody has tools. If you want to play every day in The Show, you have to be like The Wizard of Oz. I say, if you want to make it, you better have fucking heart, you better have fucking courage and you better have fucking brains."

Same guy, on what it takes to hit in the big leagues:

"I don't care one bit if you can hit a curve ball or slider or change. Don't care. Nobody cares. There are 100 guys in The Show who can't hit a curve. It's all about the fast ball. You won't make it past double-A if you can't turn around a 95 mph fastball. You know why? Because guys in the majors don't make too many mistakes with the fastball, and when they do, you better hit it. Hit those, wait on the hanging breaking stuff and you can do it."

Staying with the same theme, another ex-MLB'er turned scout on why so many young players fail:

"It's a boring game. Think about it, if you play in the outfield, you spend most of the time looking around, staring at the grass, singing a little song to yourself. It's boring. Then, you get three, maybe four chances to do something in a whole game. And you have to keep your concentration. After awhile, you are riding five hours on a bus to stand in the outfield looking at the grass and you say to yourself, 'why am I doing this?' See, you better freeking love this game or you will lose motivation quickly."

Another scout on players' competitive nature:

"I've thrown BP to the (MLB team) before. (two star players) were sitting there competing on who could rip it off which sign in the outfield or who could hit a one-hop line drive on the edge of the grass. They were kind of betting each other like, 'I bet you can't do this.' Those are two guys making millions and millions of dollars and they are so obsessed with competition that they are competing in BP in August on a Thursday. That's what I look for."

AL scout:

"Watching Jamie Moyer pitch is fucking poetry, man."

 Another scout on whether leadership matters:

"(a current MLB star) invited (the team's No. 1 draft pick) over to his house for dinner a week after the kid got drafted. That's the guy who's supposed to some day take your job and you are inviting him to dinner. Think about what that means when other guys see that. They know that in this franchise, the team is bigger than anyone and it's all class. And that if you don't act like a professional here, you can go somewhere else."

 Another scout on how his job has changed the way he looks at the game:

"It's funny, doing this job kind of ruins baseball for you a little. I was watching a game with my son, he's 12, and a guy threw a runner out at second base. My son says, 'dad, that guy has a great arm.' I said, 'yes he does, buddy.' I couldn't help but think, 'meh, that was only a 55 or 60 at best.' Then I thought, where did the fun go of thinking everybody was great?"

Scout on judging "make up"

"We ask a lot of guys like you, 'how is this guy in the club house? Is he a nice guy?' And you know what? If a player is a nice guy, good, but we don't care at all. The biggest jerk ever was Barry Bonds. He was also the best player ever. You know what I care about? If the guy wants to be the best that ever played. If he has a killer instinct. Honestly, not too many nice guys also want to kill you for taking them out of the lineup."

NL scout on judging an outfielder's arm:

"If the first thing you say about a guy is: 'he's got a good arm' then I know he can't hit for shit."

Executive on statistics:

"I used to play strat-o-matic. Who knew that would come in handy, huh."

Scout on statistics:

"In the minors, stats are like a report card. If a kid brings his report card home and he's smart enough to have A's but he's got all C's, you wonder about him because you know he should have A's, or say, be hitting .350 instead of .200. You don't give up on him, just wonder if he can ever get A's. In the big leagues, stats are everything. You are a .300 hitter or you aren't."

A different scout on stats:

"I don't give a fuck about your stupid numbers."

Scout on range:

"I'd take Jeter over someone like Furcal all day. You know when the game is on the line, Jeter is going to make the play."

Scout on why a particular player was traded:

"He's an idiot. We don't put up with idiots."

Scout on judging fielding range:

"I look at who has the best range in the game and I count down from there. BJ Upton has the best range in center in the majors. His reads are flawless, speed incredible. When I see a guy going after a ball, I say, 'is he as good as BJ Upton?' Nope. He ain't an 80 then."

Coach walking by a scout (not 100 percent sure he was joking):

"I'll tell you what my wife says about scouts...she says you assholes get paid to write down your stupid numbers. Oh, 55? 45? Who gives a shit. You must laugh yourself to sleep every night thinking you get paid to write down stupid numbers."

Another scout on making it:

"I knew a guy with average everything, but that sonofabitch showed up hours before everyone else and asking every day for help on his swing, his throwing, everything. You can absolutely outwork your talent, no question."

Two scouts on the same pitcher:

Scout one: "He's tipping all of his pitches, they'll kill him at the next level"

Scout two: "He's got good deception, I think he could be a real good pitcher"











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