March 2009

Notes from Scottsdale

I wasn’t able to watch Puerto Rico’s blowout over the USA on TV Saturday, but I followed it pitch-by-pitch on my cell phone. There’s a part of me, of course, that wishes I were there. But if I’m not going to get playing time, it doesn’t make sense to lose out on the work I’m getting here at spring training. That’s my first priority – getting ready for the season. I’m just so happy for Yadier and the rest of the guys. They’re playing really well, and it looks like they’re having a great time.

I did get to see Yadier’s heroics in the game against the Netherlands last week. He hit a two-run double in the eighth with Puerto Rico behind 1-0. When Yadier reached second, he pointed to the sky in tribute to our father. It was very special for me to see that. When I talked to him on the phone afterward, he said he had been watching the pitcher a day earlier against the Dominican and saw that he was throwing a lot of sliders. So he was waiting on a slider and there it was.

One of the small surprises of spring training so far is Randy Johnson. I knew he was a pro and a battler, and that, of course, is what I’ve seen so far. What I didn’t expect is how open and friendly he is. I thought he was a guy who just kept to himself. But he loves to talk baseball and he’s made himself available to the younger pitchers. What a great addition to the clubhouse.

Madison Bumgarner is one of the pitchers who has been watching Randy Johnson to learn whatever he can from the future Hall of Famer, and boy did he look good on the mound this weekend. He got into a little trouble early on but settled down nicely. He has great stuff. Electrifying stuff. He’s a left-hander who throws strikes. He’s got a good off-speed pitch but his greatest strength is he throws strikes. I loved what I saw.

Jamie and I are looking forward to moving into our rental house for the season, a terrific place in Lafayette with a pool and hot tub, a pool table and a movie theater. We lived in the city last year but because my two daughters spend so much time with us during the summer, we felt we were better off with a house with a yard and a pool.

The girls were with Jamie and me this weekend in Scottsdale, even though Kelsey’s soccer team was in the league championship game in Yuma. I felt bad that she missed it because she has been working so hard on soccer, but as a dad who adores his girls, it made me happy she chose to visit with me instead.

Both girls went with Jamie and me to the team dinner Friday night at the W Hotel in Scottsdale. They got all dressed up and looked beautiful. Their favorite player is one of my favorites, too: Pablo Sandoval. His parents from Venezuela are in Scottsdale for the first time, so Jamie and I have made them part of our extended family. We’ve been having them over for dinner and showing them around.

In the next couple weeks, my mother will be coming to stay with us and help us pack to move into the Lafayette house. She just had cataract surgery so she has to wait a little while before she can get on a plane. She is still mourning the loss of my father, but we have lots of family and friends in Puerto Rico to keep her company. I call her every morning on my way to the park and again on the way home.

Before I sign off, I’d like to ask you to pray for my aunt, my father’s sister. She is battling cancer and has been sent home from the hospital. There is nothing more the doctors can do. We are all so sad and are praying that she doesn’t suffer.

Coping with failure

The key to surviving Spring Training — to actually enjoying all the long days and hard work of Spring Training — is to make peace with failure.

look.jpgThat could be said about baseball in general, of course. There are tons of guys with amazing raw talent, but the ones who make it are the ones who aren’t crushed by the failure. Because there is a ton of failure, as any baseball fan knows.

Spring training is Ground Zero of failure.

You know you’re better than what you’re showing at the moment, but that’s where you are right now. You’re still getting in your groove, still getting your legs back, still getting your head back to focusing on all the little things that mean the difference between winning and losing.

So what I’ve learned over the years is to be patient with myself. But I see the frustration bubbling up now and then among the younger guys who are desperate to show everyone they’re big-league material. I tell them it’s OK, they don’t have to do everything all at once. They’re expected to make mistakes — though preferably not the same one twice. As long as they learn and keep improving, they’re doing their jobs.

As for me, my body is tired some days and energized others. Catchers tend to have more ups and downs as far as feeling tired during Spring Training because there’s so much wear and tear on our bodies behind the plate. Sunday I felt great for whatever reason and hit an inside cutter over the left-field fence for my first HR of the spring.

Randy Johnson pitched and even though he didn’t have his best stuff, he pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out three. That shows what kind of a pitcher he is, especially this early in the spring.

I got another chance to watch Buster Posey, who came in late in the game. He’s going to be a great catcher, a great player for many years in the league. I don’t know how soon, but he wants to learn. He’s pretty quiet by nature, really humble, but he asks questions and seems to be a fast learner.

daveroberts.jpgIt’s been a little sad around here, though, with the departure of Dave Roberts. We lost a great man, a great human being, a very loved teammate. Whatever reason the team decided to release him, that’s not for me to have an opinion on. They’re doing what they think they need to do to put the best team on the field come April.

But personally, it’s a great loss. He was like a brother to a lot of us. I remember last season when I was really struggling at the plate, and we had lost three games in a row, I was so down on myself. Dave came over to my locker and sat down next to me. He told me to go home that night and spend time with my family. Have dinner. Relax. Enjoy their company. Then come back tomorrow and start all over. He reminded me there is life beyond the baseball field, and that it didn’t help anybody for me to get so down on myself. He was absolutely right.

The next day, I went 3-for-4.

So even though I remind the younger players to not get too down on themselves in Spring Training, I need guys like Dave Roberts to remind me sometimes.

My daughters are coming to stay with me this coming weekend. We will go to miniature golf and go-karts and the batting cage. We’ll play a lot of Wii bowling and tennis, I’m sure. They always help me keep the game in perspective. As important as it is to be a great player, it’s more important to be a great human being. No one showed that better than Dave Roberts. He is already sorely missed.