Category Archives: Maxx Tissenbaum

I’m Maxx. I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and I’ve been a baseball player and fan for as long as I’ve been alive. My parents have told me that the first movie I ever actually requested to see was “Back 2 Back” a documentary about the Blue Jays 1992 and 1993 World Series Champion teams. The story goes that I would sit in front of the tv for hours watching Robbie Alomar, John Olerud and of course Joe Carter while constantly trying to impersonate their swings, or the plays they made in the video.

My Off Season

Hey everybody, it’s Maxx again.  I’m back after a LONG while, and I’m going to make sure I stay on top of this more as we get through the off season and closer to Spring Training.  So far this winter has been a crazy one in the world of baseball, who really saw Robinson Cano leaving the Yankees? I sure didn’t.  Prince is now in Texas, Kinsler’s a Tiger and Brad Ausmus who was one of my coaches during Instructs this year is the manager of the Tigers.  There has been plenty of excitement at the big league level and as a minor league player seeing all these HUGE contracts being signed I can’t help but think about what it will take to get myself one of those.  That’s getting a little ahead of myself though as I’m in a bit of a transition this winter.

At the end of the season I was invited to Instructional League in Dominican Republic. I was invited down and the idea behind my second straight year at Instructs was to begin converting me to being a catcher.  I spent the month down there learning as much as I could, working with a cast of coaches including our AZL Manager Michael Collins, our AAA manager Pat Murphy, a DSL coach Jhonaldo Pozo and now Manager of the Detroit Tigers Brad Ausmus.  I tried to be as much of a sponge as I could, soaking up all the lessons that their years of experience could offer me.  I actually enjoyed learning to catch way more than I thought I would, and it was a great experience being down there.

Now that I’m home for the winter I’m continuing to work hard at my new position, every Saturday my Dad and I make the two hour drive southwest to London, Ontario and Centrefield Sports.  Centrefield Sports is an enormous indoor training facility owned by Adam Stern.  I go out there to work with Chris Robinson, who caught for the Padres in the big leagues at the end of last year.  He made his big league debut, and his first hit was actually a home run.  When I was finishing up in Dominican, Murph told me it would be worth it to work with Chris over the off season not only because of his baseball abilities but because of his insights into life as a minor league player.  We’ve had some interesting discussions about the grind that is a minor league year, and I’ve learned a few things that have certainly made my receiving much better.

During the week I’ve got the same job as I did last off season as an assistant in the purchasing department of Splash International Marketing.  A former teammate’s dad owns the company and having worked there last winter I felt like going back this year was worthwhile.  I’ve had to take on a little more responsibility given that it’s my second year and I understand the whole process of what Splash does a little better. I’m currently working on bringing in sample items for our Christmas line for next year.  I spend the morning emailing with all the factories in China that we buy products from, arranging shipping, invoicing and other minor details.  We’re about half way through the process and by the time we finish we will have gone from getting samples from 150 factories to having our final Christmas line for 2014.  It’s pretty cool to watch the process unfold as all the products go from being just a picture in an emailed price quote, to a sample, then an order and finally a display at our upcoming trade show.

I’m also hard at work baseball wise during the week, traveling across the city from my office to The Baseball Zone and SST Mississauga where I work out and practice.  Three to five nights a week I’m out at the Zone hitting, throwing doing catching drills and working out.  My lifts are really tough right now, but I know from the progress I made last off season that I’ll be in great shape when Spring Training arrives.  Last week, Boots, my trainer, had me do a series of sprints pushing the 45 pound plates.  Each sprint was 20 yards and the sequence was

  • 3 plates in a triangle – 20 yards
  • 2 plates side by side – 20 yards
  • 1 plate by itself -  20 yards
  • 2 plates side by side – 20 yards

That was one rep.  It sucked! My legs were jello by the time I was finished all my sets.  Even though I absolutely hate the feeling of being sore and tired I know it’s all worth it because eventually I’ll get to that point in the season where my body will have to fight all those same things and get through a critical game.

I’ve also managed to get to see a whole bunch of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games since I’ve been home.  I’m a huge hockey fan, and to be able to get down to some games has been absolutely awesome! I’m 3 and 3 on the year so far, including a win over the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhaws and an INSANE shootout win over Phoenix on Thursday night.

That’s pretty much all that’s going on right now, but I’ll keep you guys posted as things go.

Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating this week, I wish you and your families all the best during your holiday! I’m looking forward to this last week of 2013, and getting ready for 2014 to get started with my Leafs playing in the NHL Winter Classic on New Years day.  So Go Leafs Go, keep working hard, and Spring Training is just a month and a half away!

The Two Worst Letters

Well it has been a while, both since I last wrote, and since I last played.  For the first time in my career I’ve managed to attach the two worst letters in the world to the end of my player page on MiLB.com.  On their own the letters D and L aren’t all that awful, losses suck, but in baseball you get another opportunity to win the next day.  Put the two together and you have yourself a problem, an ugly, annoying, frustrating problem.

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Last Saturday during our series with Lansing, Dwight Smith Jr hit a hard ground ball to my left that I made a diving attempt on. I was trying to keep the runner on second from scoring more than anything else, knowing the Smith runs very well. Instead of keeping the run from scoring, or getting an out, the ball scooted past me into right field and I landed really hard on my shoulder, jarring it loose.  I immediately knew something wasn’t right, recalling the feeling I had when I hurt my shoulder the same way during my Junior season at Stony Brook.  I kept moving it, swinging it, lifting it up and down, doing any form of the chicken dance to keep it from stiffening up and preventing me from finishing the game.  I iced it down after the game, headed home and hoped for the best, waking up the next morning to a splitting pain, and basically no range of motion.  Standing with my arms hanging at my side, I could move my arm about 5 inches away from my hip before it felt like it hit a wall, one that included a brutal pain.  My immediate thought scared the hell out of me, I didn’t remember ever having pain like this before, I remembered the dead, heavy arm sensation but never the pain.  My first thought as I rolled around in bed that morning was the worst case scenario. What if I’d torn something, needed to get it fixed and would be done for the year? I really did fear the worst.  Nothing changed for a couple of days which made me even more worried.

By the middle of the week, I began to get some range of motion back and the pain wasn’t as bad as it had been.  I had done everything I could within that first three day window, icing it as often as possible to bring down the swelling and inflammation.  I got a phone call on Wednesday telling me I had an MRI scheduled for Thursday morning, something I had been waiting for, since Ricky talked to the doctor a few days earlier.  Having had an MRI before I was less than thrilled, but I knew that I needed to get a firm understanding on what I had done, if I had done anything serious.  I headed over to the imaging center early Thursday morning knowing not only that I’d be stuck in the noisy, claustrophobic tube for 40 minutes, but that I’d get to make the experience more pleasant by adding an enormous needle with contrast dye.  When I walked back to get the shot done I immediately started to freak out, I hate needles more than anything in the world, and I made the mistake of looking at the tray of tools the doctor had laid out.  There were three small needles and one that I imagined was better suited to an elephant than a human.  The first shot, one of the small ones was an anesthetic to help make the huge one less painful.  The doctor told me I’d feel “a little pinch” as the big one went into my shoulder. “Tell my wife and kids I love them and I died in battle,” flashed through my mind as the shot went in, I felt like I’d been shot. (Note, I don’t have a wife or kids but that was somehow what I imagined being the right thing to say) The doctor didn’t like where the tip of the needle was, and so he took it out, and put it back in, finding a better spot, at which point he injected the contrast dye.  People have told me that they felt a cool swishing sensation when the dye goes in, but I was too focused on trying to breathe and not move to recognize if I felt anything other than lonely and sore.   The MRI wasn’t as awful as I expected, I was given headphones that were connected to the radio so I had music playing which helped me pass the time.  When I was done I headed home, met up with Walker and went for lunch.  The whole day my shoulder felt heavy, awkward and really sore from the shots.  I didn’t even end up traveling to South Bend for our final game of the series.

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I found out the MRI was negative, there was no damage to the structure of my shoulder which was a huge relief considering my immediate thoughts.  On Friday my shoulder felt better, having had the 24 hours to rest after the shot and having iced pretty well all day, so I started to go at moving it with our trainer Ricky.  Pat told me I had to do my lower body lift, so my rehab was going to wait.  I rode the bike for 15 minutes as conditioning, then did my weights.  Instead of using dumbbells I wore a weighted vest so as to not pull at my shoulder.  I knocked out the lift, and my legs felt sore having not done much over the previous week.  I then headed into the training room to do my shoulder warm up on the arm bike, yes an arm bike.  For those of you who haven’t experienced one, these are like stationary bikes, except you pedal with your hands, they’re a grind of a workout.  I did 8 minutes going forward, and 8 going backward to warm up before doing some strength tests, and stability exercises with Ricky.  I asked if I could play catch and take ground balls since my shoulder reacted surprisingly well to being used.  Ricky told me that as long as there was no pain I could do it.  It was awesome to be back on the field during batting practice, taking ground balls, turning double plays and throwing a few balls across the diamond.  Having spent 6 days watching BP from the dugout, mostly by myself, it was awesome to be on the infield dirt flipping balls to Rodney, throwing to Tejada and just being around the guys again.  Yesterday I got to take my first swings, doing a short round of tee work, and then 4 rounds of front toss in the batting cage.  My swing felt screwy having not been used in a full week, but again it was great to be back in the cage.   Today I’ll do the same cage routine, and also take front toss on the field, my favorite part of pregame every day.  Hopefully everything will go according to plan and I’ll be taking full BP after our off day.

I’m not going to pull an A-Rod and start saying that I’m ready to go and waiting on the all clear, because we all know how that turned out.  I trust that the training staff and coaches are giving me time, and extra days to make sure I come back healthy, and not in a situation where I’m likely to re-injure myself. I will however say I want to kick those two stupid letters as soon as possible because I’m so tired of coaching first base and watching my team play every day.

Climbing Out

Losing sucks. Losing consecutive games sucks. Losing five games in a row? You guessed right, it SUCKS. Capital letters, that’s how bad five straight losses SUCK, and that really doesn’t even begin to cover it.  After dropping our first game in Bowling Green, another game that we lead early, and proceeded to fall asleep we were all incredibly frustrated. Jose came into the locker room and gave a long speech on getting the job done.  He talked about guys missing signs, not executing in key situations (as I beat myself up for the 7th inning rally killer double play I hit into) and backing down from the fight.  We hung our heads, searching for answers and not wanting to look one another in the face.  It was a desperate, dismal feeling.

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I loved this quote, we all felt like everything we were doing was just getting more impossible every inning. Reading it, and thinking on it before I headed out to the field helped me relax, stay present, and focused.

Game two was scheduled for a 2:05 first pitch, meaning we’d have an early morning.  We hopped on the bus at 10 am and drove to the stadium.  I skipped early cage work, opting instead to have our trainer Ricky help me fit a new EvoShield ankle guard since the velcro on mine had stopped holding, and there were no hits left in it.  I sat with my leg wrapped up in what looked like a cast, as is the standard procedure for fitting those guards.  I sat by the water fountain because it had electrical outlets for me to charge my phone and Ipod and chatted on Facebook with a few friends.  I received a message that resonated with me, and sort of gave me a bit of an answer to all of the questions that we’d all been asking over the course of the losing streak.  I thought about the words, I thought about the way that we’d lost every night. It just hit home.  I headed to the field for the game with a new sense of urgency, one that wasn’t desperate, but one that was controlled and aggressive.  We jumped out to an early 3-0 when Quintana hit an absolute missile to left field for his 5th home run.  He told me before the game that he’d hit three, so he was well on his way.  As the game wore on we fell into our mid game slumber, unable to get runners on base, unable to keep the opposition from scoring.  As quickly as we had jumped out to the lead we were suddenly tied, and then behind and in a dogfight not to lose our sixth straight.

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Front page of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette sports section. Gotta love when your month long slump gets written up on the cover!

Trailing 5-4 in the top of the 8th I came up with Mallex on second base.  I was facing a lefty, Molina, who we’d faced in our first series with Bowling Green.  Burkie had some good notes on him in his book, and I glanced over them before heading out to the on deck circle.  I told myself “be the guy” and thought again about my pregame quote.  “Get stronger, get more resilient, get it done” I told myself walking to the plate.  He started me off with a cut fastball down and in, located well, and I took it for a strike.  I stepped out and had a feeling he’d go right back to the same spot.  He did, and that was a mistake. I launched the 0-1 pitch deep to right center and according to Shepherd, pimped it to death, watching it go out and flipping my bat before taking my trot around the bases.  I was fired up coming back to the dugout knowing we’d taken the lead again.  I was sick of being behind, losing and felt like it was about time we broke out. We managed to get through the 8th inning, and took our 6-5 lead into the bottom of the 9th.  Roman came on and gave up a lead off single, and all of a sudden all of the doubt was right back.  We walked on egg shells trying to get that third out, but when we did smiles lit up our dugout, our line as we shook each others hands, and our clubhouse.  We had done it.  We played better, we stayed in the game late, and we pulled out what could only be called a “gut check” win.

Game three we jumped ahead 3-0 again, only to find that by the 5th inning we were again tied 4-4. We weren’t at the point yet where we could get an easy win, it was going to be another grind day.  Brian Adams had a big day for us, with 3 hits, and an RBI, Baltzy had four knocks, and Scooter picked up a game winning RBI of his own with an 8th inning SAC fly.  We again did what we needed to do to win.  We weren’t great, but when the time came, we rose to the occasion and figured out a way to get the job done.  We took the series 2-1 over Bowling Green to move to 1.5 games behind them for the Wild Card spot.  We still weren’t where we needed to be as a team, but as Jose had said after our game 1 loss, we needed to start getting better, and this was a start.  Our hitting was better, our base running was better, our pitching was better, and we managed to be far more aggressive, taking seizing our opportunities en route to the win.

Last night we played a goofy game against Lansing, in the first of our seven game home stand.  We made stupid errors, and struggled to get on base all night.  It looked as though we were right back to square one in our losing streak mode.  Magically in the 8th inning we put it all back together and scored three runs to tie the game.  We forced extra innings, where again it looked like we had made just enough mistakes to lose.  Chris Nunn, who threw really well overall, left a pitch up to the lead off guy who doubled.  A couple batters later with two on and two out a grounder got by Goris at third, allowing the go ahead run to score.  We all had that WTF moment watching the ball skitter into left field.

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Hold that finish!! Walk off wins, get some seriously pretty celebrations.

The bottom of the 10th started out poorly, two quick outs left us down to Baltzy as our last chance.  He skied a ball to short left field and they felt like recreating a play Adams and I botched earlier in the game, allowing the easy out to fall.  After a single up the middle by Phillips, Goris walked to the plate with the chance to rewrite the ending.  Boy did he come through! He absolutely CRUSHED a ball to right field on the first pitch he saw, and absolutely did not move, holding his finish before trotting to first with a walk off double off the top of the wall! We had done it again, hung around long enough to provide the most entertainment value for the fans that paid for tickets. After all, it is a spectator sport, we have to keep the fans interested.

Tonight we’re back at it against Lansing in a 7:05 game at Parkview Field.  Hopefully we don’t wait around for the last out to score some runs, but if it comes down to that, don’t count us out at home, we LOVE walk offs!

Go Tincaps!!

Stuff Nobody Wants To Talk About

A number of things have contributed to my not posting for a while, so I apologize for that.  It has been a bit of a crazy few weeks for me, or more accurately month. I went through what I think may be one of my worst slumps ever, I lost my seat on a bus trip, I had my family drive down for a series and as a team we just fell victim to our first home sweep of the season. Needless to say it hasn’t been a fun 25 days, it has absolutely been a grind. I’m going to address the slump in this post only because I’ve managed to dance around it and I feel that my writing wouldn’t properly reflect my life, and the life of a minor league player if I didn’t acknowledge the negatives like I do the positives.

Slumps have been around for as long as baseball has. They are inevitable, they are miserable, they screw with your head and they seem to never end.  This month I endured what may have been my worst slump ever, and definitely my longest recorded slump, considering I never went 6 or 7 games without a hit in college.  After having an awesome first month I felt great to start May.  I was safely above .300, I was seeing the ball really well, and my confidence was following me to the plate even after my at bats when I did make an out.  I was able to reflect on my at bats from a detached, analytic distance which allowed me to feed off of the good, and correct the bad.  I walked up to the plate KNOWING there was nothing any pitcher could do to get me out, the only way he’d get me is if somebody on his team made some miraculous play.

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A startling contrast between April and May’s stat lines, I fell off the face of the earth for the better part of May.

Then it happened.  Line drives started to get caught, ground balls didn’t find holes, and fly balls didn’t get to the gaps. I still felt confident, aggressive and locked in at the plate, and I knew sooner or later one would drop.I got after it in the cage with Burkie just like we had all April, drilling myself on staying through the ball, staying back and being explosive. Another 0 for 4 went on my MiLB bio page.  I focused on hitting the ball hard and not worrying about the results because I knew my process was good. Another night passed, 0 for 3. All of a sudden my .324 batting average that I had put up in April was gone, I had continued to have good at bats and I didn’t get anything for it.  Six games passed and the only thing I consistently did in any at bat was turn right at first base and head back to the dugout. I began to wonder when I’d get lucky and have one fall, and that’s when it really went sideways.  During the next three games I was able to break the 0 for 20 or whatever it was, but I lost everything.  I swung wildly at everything; I rolled over 3-1 fastballs.  My approach was gone, my patience was gone and my confidence? That was completely out the window, I had none left.  I began to wonder whether or not I’d be in the lineup every day, instead of expecting to be in there.

 

During our last road series in Lake County I was given a day off, which given my fragile state of mind I thought was a really bad sign.  I went to the cage feeling awful, and let all the guys who were playing hit while I just sat and stared blankly at my bat wondering what the hell had happened.  The guys went about their daily banter, messing around between rounds, laughing at Rodney’s absurd comments and getting ready to play.  I was totally tuned out of the world, trying to search my head for something to latch on to. I went into the cage with Burkie to figure something out, anything really.  What he suggested was to try and bring my contact point back, to reset my eyes so that I’d be more on time with my swings.  We worked on a series of drills to try and get me to stay back, and be able to stay through the ball.  I worked for probably half an hour before going inside to change into my fleece to go watch the game.

The next day I was back in the lineup, and went about doing the same drills in the cage.  I focused on them in batting practice and I made damn sure to tell myself to stay back in the game.  The result was exactly what I needed, a hit and an RBI in my first at bat, another hit and RBI in my last at bat, with a solidly hit out in the middle.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was lost, I had a point to start building on.  Granted, that point was somewhere around .240 but I was on my way back.  I grinded through the last game at Lake County picking up another hit and starting to feel more like me again.

 

When we came back to start our four game series with South Bend at home this week I felt refreshed.  I had played well in Lake County, we had an off day and I had my new bats. I ran up to the cage and felt incredible, better than I had all year really.  In our Wednesday afternoon game, which we ended up losing 4-2 I did something I hadn’t done since just after my 21st birthday last summer.  I lead off the third inning with our team trailing 3-0. I normally don’t spend our defensive half inning thinking about hitting home runs, but for whatever reason I had a feeling I was going to get one.  I walked up to the plate with my new intro song playing, and felt all too comfortable in the batter’s box.  Then it happened. I launched a 1-0 fastball to right field, had a solid look at it and proceeded to take my trot around the bases having hit my first homer of the year.  I kept the stupid little kid grin in as I rounded the bases, trying to look professional, but when I came back to the plate and Baltzy gave me a high five and said “okay Tiss” I lost it.  I probably looked really goofy with the big smile on, but it felt awesome to finally get one. I had two good at bats after that, with nothing to show for them, but then I came through with a 9th inning RBI single to make my line for the day 2/4 with a HR and 2 RBI.  Like I said, we lost, but I felt as though I had finally locked back in.

Game Recap (South Bend 4 – Fort Wayne 2)

We went out and got swept in a double header the next night, and even though I only went 1 for 6 I smashed two more balls that on a night that didn’t have gale force winds blowing in from CF probably both get out.  Knowing that I was swinging well again I was able to be positive about the process, and feel and the result that I can control. For all the times I’ve seen tweets from Steve Springer (@qualityatbats)2 saying “HitBallHardUWin” I was able to be positive about my night.

Yesterday, South Bend completed the sweep against us in a 7-3 win.  We really were never in it, as the team continues to struggle having good at bats.  It seems as though the issues I was experiencing over the first part of the month have somehow found their way into our lineup as everyone has stopped having really good at bats.  Everybody is frustrated, losing sucks, and not being able to contribute is even worse. The majority of our recent losses have been incredibly frustrating, we’ve either been completely shut down, or we’ve managed to get ourselves out with silly mistakes on the bases (myself included) bat at bats, or balls just not finding safe landing spots.

Knowing what I do about baseball, I know that we’ll get back to our form from late April, when nobody wanted to face us and we were close to the top of the league in every offensive category. Mallex will be back on base 3 times a night, Marty’s fly balls will start finding the seats again and Baltz will be back to peppering the gaps with doubles.  It’s inevitable, we will be every pitcher’s nightmare and hopefully that WON’T end for a while!

Go Tincaps!

Road Struggles, more of the Same

Good morning, or afternoon depending on where you are when you read this,

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A Spider Roll, Spicy Salmon and Hawaii 5-0 Roll for dinner always works for me!

Last night ended our 6 day 5 game road trip with stops in Burlington, Iowa and Peoria, Illinois.  We arrived in Peoria on Friday afternoon because of the rain out at Burlington, so we got an evening off.  We checked in at the Quality Inn, and Shepherd and I went to our room to check to the internet connection, our PlayStation and of course find all of the ESPN channels.  It was the middle of the afternoon, and we were all relatively hungry so we ran back down to the lobby and got on the bus with a few other guys and headed over to a place around the corner for sushi.  The bus drove us (Brian Adams, Walker Weickel and I) through the rain to Sushigawa, a small joint in a little strip plaza.  When we tried to go get a table we realized the place was closed, the sign out front reading “Closed 2-5:30 Daily.”  We not only had a major let down in terms of what we would eat for lunch, but the bus had already left us, meaning we’d have to walk somewhere in the rain.  I gave Walker a real hard time about the place being closed because he had found it on his phone, and therefore he had to take the fall. I think more of the heckling came from the fact that I was trying to ignore the fact that I was getting soaked walking around in the rain.  We ended up eating at Chipotle, a Minor League favorite before Adams and I walked back to the hotel.  We used our new favorite social media outlet, Vine, to document the trip. (Walking in the rain)  When we got back, I scheduled the hotel shuttle to take us back to Sushigawa for dinner at 7.  Shepherd and I passed the couple hours (he never left the hotel room) playing NHL13 as usual and then I headed back out.  Dinner was good, but not like the sushi places I normally go back home, when Dad and I GO TO TOWN at Matsu back home.

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Fireworks over left field at O’Brien Field

The first game of our series at Peoria we faced Kurt Heyer, a friend of mine from summer ball my sophomore year summer in Cape Cod.  Kurt and I played together in Orleans, and worked together at the Orleans Firebirds Kids Baseball Clinic.  Kurt was part of last year’s University of Arizona National Championship team.  He’s a righty with good stuff, and an incredible ability to make hitters uncomfortable.  I found that out in a hurry, striking out looking on three straight pitches without even getting settled into the batters box.  We were shut down all night, and then got sent to a 38 minute rain delay.  When we came out of the delay Dane Phillips hit a ball over the fence in left field, but it somehow bounced back into left field and the umpires ruled it a double.  That lead to Jose’s first ejection of the year.  We lost the game, and continued to struggle having good at bats all game. After the game the Chiefs hosted a fireworks display which I caught the end of.

Game two was an afternoon game on Sunday that had a true Sunday “Getaway Day” feel to it as it only took 1:47 minutes to complete.  We lost 1-0 in a frustrating game. We had very few base runners, and just couldn’t break through.  I had a hit, and played SS again for the second time in three starts.  The opposing pitcher threw just 97 pitches en route to a complete game shutout.  We once again were forced to fight to salvage a game in our final day of the trip, something we haven’t been good at this year.   Again we were a little snake bitten in the final game, having hits that lead to no runs, bloop hits against us that lead to long innings and another loss.  We lost 4-1, and I think only 1 of their runs was actually scored on a hard hit ball.  The rest were grounders or broken bat doinkers that just found the ground.  We were swept out of town, and sent packing with a disappointing 2-3 record on the trip.

Our bus ride home was a long overnight trip, across a timezone and we got in around4:30 am. We rushed home and went to sleep, again I moved my mattress into the closet and slept in the dark, waking up around 11.  We went for lunch at a sushi place (yes, again) that Brian Adams recommended.  Adams, Dane, Baltz, Walker, Fried, Shepherd and I drove across town to Koto and had some really good food, made better by the good company.  It was a lot of fun to spend time with the guys away from the ballpark and just get to relax.  Tonight we’re having a barbeque and will throw some steaks, potatoes and corn on our new grill.  I’m sure they’ll go great with whichever hockey game is on tv tonight!

Go Leafs Go (yes, I’m finishing all my posts with that until they’re eliminated!)

The Wonderful State of Iowa

I first have to apologize for the fact that I haven’t posted in a while, I was under the impression that I was able to post to two places at once, and have my personal blog and the Viper Bats one done at the same time.  I found out last night that this isn’t the case, so I do apologize for the lack of updates I didn’t realize it was not working.  That being said, I’ll just drop you guys into my latest post, because it would be a nightmare for you to read, and for me to write about the weeks since my last post.  I had a solid first month of the season hitting .329 with 11 RBI’s and our team played well enough to finish above .500 for the month. So here we go, back to the blog posts

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We left home on Wednesday morning just after 6am to head out on our six game, two city road trip.  I made sure to drop my personal stuff off on the bus before packing my baseball bag, and getting breakfast to make sure I got my own seats.  I made sure to put my fully packed snack bag on one chair and my bag with my clothes on the other, then ran downstairs to throw my baseball stuff together.  I packed, and did my usual double check to make sure I didn’t forget anything.  Max and I then jumped in my car and drove to McDonalds to get some breakfast, and I ended up bringing back an order for Baltz and Carmon also.

When we pulled out of Parkview Field I immediately threw myself on the floor of the bus to go back to sleep.  I always bring my pillow on the trips so it’s actually pretty comfortable.  I tried to fall asleep, but couldn’t help but hear the movie that was playing over the bus televisions.  I popped my head up and asked someone, “this is Skyfall right?”  I was right, I recognized the sound of the opening scene somehow and so I jumped back up into my seat to watch because there is no better way to start a morning than a 6:30 am showing of James Bond.  I watched as he saved the day, and then struggled to stay awake the rest of the ride.  We pulled into The PZAZZ hotel and resort just after lunch, and walked through the many lobbies past the casino, spa, arcade and indoor water park before going upstairs to our rooms.   Me and Shepherd played a quick game of NHL13, and I finally broke my 17 game losing streak in a 3-2 victory by the London Knights over the Kitchener Rangers.

We headed over to the ballpark before the first bus, to take a look around at the stadium we’d be playing in for the next three days.  I walked with Shepherd, Eflin and John Hussey, an Australian pitcher who recently rejoined the Padres organization after being out of baseball for a couple years. We snapped some pictures, and walked around wondering aloud how anyone could possibly play in the old stadium that plays host to the Angels affiliate. We realized just how spoiled we are to have a world class facility like we do in Fort Wayne.  The stadium was extremely small, with bleachers about 20 rows high between the two dugouts. There was no upper deck, no suites, no video board, no radar gun display, no padded benches, and certainly no advertisements in the dugouts. It was the truest “Minor League” field we’d experienced so far this season, it was really just a field with a grandstand, consisting mostly of metal bench seating. We headed into the clubhouse, which had no air conditioning and got ready for either early work or conditioning and then headed out to our respective jobs.  I took some rounds of front toss with Burkie in the cage, which was surprisingly spacious and a good work space.

The game was a bit of a mess, we scored, then gave up runs. They scored, then gave up runs.  We made an error and they returned the favor.  It ended with us coming away with an ugly win in the first of our three game series.  At one point I counted exactly 68 people watching the game, it was a morbid atmosphere.  There is no worse way to play a game than in front of a tiny crowd in a dark blustery field.  By the time the 8th inning rolled around we encountered what I called the “Iowapocalypse” a combination of freezing cold 85 mph winds and a stadium that made an eerie ghost noise.  It was BRUTAL.

Our next game was at 11:30 am the next morning, so we were at the ballpark at just after 8:30.  We ate peanut butter sandwiches in the clubhouse, and traded complaints about how miserable it was to wake up early for a game.  We walked out to the field after cage work for batting practice and realized it was kids day.  Seven or eight local schools brought school buses full of screaming kids and the place was pretty well filled up.  We joked about how a full house at Community Field wouldn’t fill a single section at our place, and again we were pretty snobbish about it.  We managed another win and survived kids day with very little annoyance.  We headed back to the hotel around 2 and had an entire afternoon to waste.  We ate lunch at the Boogaloo Cafe in the hotel and then headed to the arcade for the afternoon.  We played Skee-Ball, basketball, went on the Go-Karts, and played 4 on 4 Lazer Tag.  We killed about two hours then went back to our rooms and played NHL again before dinner.

I went to sleep early last night because we had a 9 am lift in the morning.  I woke up, and headed to the bus.  We went to the local YMCA and did a quick lift, I did a bunch of TRX stuff, some light leg stuff and then core.  We packed up and headed back to the hotel for some breakfast.  Walker and I went to the buffet together and had some steak and eggs, a favorite of mine.  Our trainer Ricky came and told us that the game tonight was cancelled and that we’d leave early for Peoria.  So here we are, driving through a pretty hard rain en route to Illinois.

Opening Week

The last two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind, between the end of spring training and the start of the regular season there are too many things for a person to actually process at one time.  I’ve written this post from notes that I wrote myself either in my phone or on my Ipod because quiet frankly as the stories unfolded they changed, and changed again and then finally became something solid.  That being said, bare with me if some of this seems like disjointed mambo-jambo.

As Spring Training drew to its final week we were reassigned to our likely Opening Day rosters.  We began to play as a unit that would eventually fly north together, to get a feel for each other on the diamond. Our team got a huge boost when Scooter (Stephen Carmon, from my Eugene team last summer) was taken off the rehab roster and given the go ahead to participate in full. Scooter and I developed very solid chemistry last season, and turned a lot of big double plays as the season wound down.  I was really excited to have him back because knowing my SS’s tendencies becomes a major issue when a giant first baseman is barreling down on me as I try to turn two. We started talking half jokingly that we were going to try and break the league record for double plays turned. I say half jokingly because he is very sarcastic in his nature, and we’re both very confident in each other up the middle.

Then there were the last minute cuts, which obviously were a major bummer.  Again, the last four days had proven to be a similar series of highs and lows.  Guys we were pulling for to make our team going both ways, some making the team and others being reassigned to Extended Spring Training.  We saw Ronnie Richardson who lead us on so many huge comebacks last summer slide off our roster, but he handled it like a true professional and I have no doubt that he’ll be up here soon doing his patented walk off home run trot.

As this whole juggling act went on we began to form groups of players that would eventually become roommates once we arrived. I originally was going to live with Dane Phillips, Brian Adams and Scooter, but when Baltz got moved back to our team from the Lake Elsinore roster he had been playing with all spring that changed.  Rosters then began to dictate living arrangements. Matt Shepherd and I agreed to live together, and had talked to Matt Chabot from our Eugene team about joining us.  When he was reassigned the plan changed again and we chose to get an apartment with Walker Weickel and Max Fried.  We had all discussed rooming together earlier in the spring, and somehow had come full circle and were now agreeing upon being roommates.

The last day of Spring Training we played a morning game against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch and we got no hit.  The game seemed to be totally secondary as everyone seemed to be more focused on our flights north the next morning.  We showered back at the complex and then emptied our lockers.  The garbage cans were overflowing with half empty bags of sunflower seeds, empty cans of dip, old cleats, batting gloves and broken bats that had managed to stick around for locker room games. I went to sleep at 8:30 because we were scheduled to leave the hotel at 2:30 am for our 5 am flight.  We flew in typical Minor League fashion hopping between cities on connecting flights from Phoenix to Houston to Chicago and finally Fort Wayne.

ImageWalking in the North Gate into the CF area of the stadium

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and were told that the ballpark/clubhouse would be closed. As soon as Shepherd and I dropped off our bags we headed to the ballpark to walk around and take in our new home. To say the ballpark blew us away is the understatement of the century.  Walking up to the center field gate we immediately were able to see our new stadium’s most notable feature.  In right field there is a parking garage beyond the outfield seating and built onto the side of the building is the scoreboard and a seating area called “The Treetops.” We each pulled out our cameras and began snapping pictures of everything.  I wish I knew how to post a bunch of pictures in an album because I have about 30 that really show every part of the ballpark, from its intricate angles in the outfield, to the seating bowl and everything in between. We eventually made our way down to the dugout where we met up with Mallex, and Joe Ross.  Right as we were about to leave our trainer Ricky showed up to drop his stuff off in the “closed” clubhouse.  We followed him into the clubhouse knowing it would be open for him and so we piled into the labyrinth beneath the stadium.  We got our first glimpse of the locker room, weight room, players lounge and training room.  We met AJ, who is our clubhouse manager and got to discuss the important things like jersey numbers and pant sizes.  We immediately got a good vibe from AJ who was quickly joking around with Joe picking up on stories from last year when Joe made his debut here.  I picked a locker that would give me optimal access to one of the TV’s on the wall of the locker room.  I avoided corner lockers, because as I found out last year they always become overcrowded.  We threw some of our stuff that we had shipped to Fort Wayne into our lockers and then went back to the hotel for dinner.  Our next few days consisted of practices, media day and an autograph session which were all a lot of fun.  We got to do those tv introductions that the big league guys always do staring into the camera and giving our best “Hi I’m ____ and this is Fort Wayne Tincaps baseball on Xfinity!”  We goofed around like we always do when any of us is in front of a camera.  Before we knew it we were packed and on the road for our first trip of the year.

ImageA panorama of Dow Diamond, from the visitors 3rd base dugout

Panorama of Fifth Third Field in Grand Rapids Michigan

Panorama of Fifth Third Field in Grand Rapids Michigan

Opening Day was in Michigan at the home of the Great Lakes Loons, the Class A affiliate of the Dodgers. We played a four game series in freezing cold weather which included wind, rain and even a little bit of snow.  We took the first three games, including one awesome 9th inning comeback in which we went from down 2-0 to winning 6-2 in what seemed like a matter of 30 seconds.  The final game was a bad one, we didn’t hit, pitch or defend the way we are clearly capable and we got thumped pretty bad.  The highlight of the series for me was having my Dad there to finally get to see me play in a professional uniform.  When I signed, I immediately went to Arizona and then off to Oregon for the summer so I had never been anywhere close enough for him to make the trip.  It was really cool for me to be able to leave him tickets at Will Call (even though I totally forgot the 2nd time to rewrite the pass list) and to have him see me play.  It was interesting that just 5 years earlier we had stumbled across the exact stadium en route to a recruiting visit at Central Michigan University.  Baseball has a funny way of writing stories that all end up tying together.  This was a pretty special one for me, and I am incredibly thankful that he was able to come down for the weekend. Hopefully, next time the weather won’t be so awful and there might be a better crowd to have a little atmosphere.

We’re currently in Grand Rapids, Michigan finishing up this 7 game road trip tomorrow night with another game against the West Michigan Whitecaps (Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers).  We will then hop back on the bus and head home to Fort Wayne where we open up our home schedule Thursday night at Parkview Field. I put a reminder in my phone to write every third day starting Friday when I’ll recap our trip home and our Home Opener! Until then, its back to waiting out the rain here in Grand Rapids, as our middle game has been washed out for the day.  Back at it tomorrow, Go Tincaps!

Welcome to Arizona!

Hey everybody,

First off I have to apologize for not giving any kind of update for the last couple of weeks, between the travel and our hotel internet it has been a struggle.  That said, it’s time to catch you all up on what is going on down here.

I’ll backtrack a little here. Padres Mini Camp began on February 22 with our report day.  My first Spring Training experience began 5 days earlier when my mom, gramma and I set out on one of the most epic 5 day trips across the continent, leaving Toronto, crossing an international border and passing through (or stopping) in 10 states.  We saw a few really amazing country bands in Nashville, Tennessee, ate at a 4 time World Champion Barbeque restaurant in Horn Lake, Mississippi and encountered snow in, of all places, Arizona.  We put 3,600 plus miles on my Jeep but it was a very cool experience to see what we did, and visit places I had previously only known from country songs.  We arrived Thursday night in Peoria, Arizona ahead of my Friday report date.

I called up my buddy Max Fried, who like me was eager enough to get started that he arrived the night before as well.  We met up and went to a cool sports bar called Santisi Brothers to meet a few of the guys we knew who were here for Major League camp. We had wings and garlic knots, thanks to Austin Hedges recommendation. It was awesome to get back with the guys and have the older guys to get a little feedback from on how this whole thing works.

Friday was our report day and we figured we would just throw our stuff into our lockers and head to the team hotel.  We were wrong.  We ran into a group of pitchers and hitters and just like that we were right into the thick of things.  Max took off and went to throw and run with the pitchers and I split off with the hitters and spent the morning in the cage doing our usual tee work and front toss.  Again, it was great to be back with the boys and sharing in our favorite activity, batting practice.  I was happy to find Varo, our Dominican Summer League Coordinator in the cages with us because he was extremely helpful last year during my time in Arizona during Instructional League.  After our morning of work we checked into the hotel and I went back to the hotel my mom and gramma were at to have dinner with them.

Saturday was our first official workout.  Now in the interest of saving you all from a post that could cover 11 days and probably take 3 weeks to read I’ll go through Saturday in detail and then you can sort of project the other 10 days since they are all very similar.  We met on Field 5 at just before 10 am for our opening meeting with all the coaches and staff.  The meeting took forever, as they always do but it seemed to not bother anyone as we were all just excited to be back together on a baseball field (I’m sure this was less of a factor for some of the southern guys who probably had access to fields all winter, but for someone leaving a snowstorm behind it was AWESOME!)

We stretched, doing a completely new routine of exercises put together by our new strength and conditioning staff.  When we finished, the pitchers went to Field 4 to warm up their arms and we played pepper to loosen up our arms, swings and get a bit of time to chat it up and get to know the guys we didn’t know from last summer.  We then threw and got loose, I partnered up with Stephen Carmon who was the SS in Eugene last summer.  When we finished we broke into our IPS, a fancy way for us to sound really professional about doing our Individual Position Defense.  Jonesy, Eas and Deano took the infielders and we did an easy round of ground balls.  In the days since then we’ve covered everything from double plays to forehands and backhands to slow rollers and choppers.  Jonesy always keeps us doing different things so that when each situation presents itself in a game we are confident in our preparation.  After IPS we broke into our BP rotation groups and I was grouped with Travis Jankowski (my CF from Stony Brook), Cory Spangenberg and Luis Domoromo, a group we would later refer to as the Long Name Lefties. We started on Field 5 at “Bark’s School of Bunting” with Glen Barker, then headed to the cage to get loose.  Next was live bp on the field, followed by live defense (we go to our positions and play the batted ball from the live hitting group) and then base running.

Each day the routine is the same, but the drills and topics we cover change.  For example, each day we do base running at a different base.  We cover our lead offs, situational reads of when to run and when not to, our angles coming around the bags etc.  Our cage work changes from tee rounds to soft toss, from working on opposite field hitting to driving the ball into our pull gap.  We have been extremely lucky to get these couple of weeks to get really advanced coaching from our staff and to get the time to work 1 on 1 with guys who have played for 10 plus years in the big leagues.  One of the cool things that we have been tasked with doing every morning is for a group of players to give a quick presentation of a specific coach so we all get to know their playing background.  Each morning before stretch 3-5 players will get up and talk about one coach and discuss the coach’s stats in the big leagues, memorable baseball moments, favorite teammates etc.

It has so far been an awesome experience getting back into the swing of things and getting ready for this season.  I am enjoying every day, and trying to get as much as I can from everything we work on.  As Eas (Damion Easley) told me the other day “If you have something you can do in your sleep that’s great, but you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone every day and get better at those things you aren’t as confident in.” I have taken that to heart, and am using every day as an opportunity to get closer to my ultimate goal.  It may seem routine, and it may seem like Opening Day is still weeks away, but there will come a time when something I worked on down here will happen in a game and it will be the difference between a win and a loss.  I’m looking forward to those nights when my teammates and I can look back and say with 100% confidence that the work we put in in Arizona was the reason for our success.

I’ll be posting more regularly now that things have settled down a little and I know where the Starbucks closest to our complex is and I can get some quality internet access. Keep swinging, keep throwing and stay hungry!

 

Wrapping up the Off Season

Hey everyone, It’s finally that time of year again, baseball is back! Well, sort of. Pitchers and catchers have begun to report for all of our MLB teams marks the beginning of a long standing tradition, Spring Training.  2013 will be my first Spring Training, so I am extremely excited to get down to Peoria and get this season underway!

Hopefully this post will sort of tie up all the loose ends that are the off season and get everybody as excited for Spring Training as I am.  I’ve spent the winter splitting time between my desk job at Splash (see previous post) and my off season baseball job of hitting, throwing and working out. Throughout the process my trainer “Boots” has done all sorts of testing so we are able to establish how I’m progressing toward my goals.  Today was the biggest day for me, as we finally re-tested my sprints, the area of my game that absolutely needed the most work.  We are only able to run 30 yards at the Baseball Zone where I’ve been working out, maxing out the space by pulling all the batting cages out of the way.  When I started to work with Boots in November I ran my 40 in 4.11 seconds.  Today, I ran the same sprint in 3.88! I may not be the fastest guy in camp, but I am incredibly proud of the hard work I’ve put in in the last few months to get my times down.  Like I said in my post about off season workouts, there is nothing better than competing with yourself and trying to better your scores and times.  I know now that all of the hours I put in not only at the Baseball Zone, but at home stretching, foam rolling etc have paid off in a tangible way.  It all adds up to 0.23 seconds!

I’ve been feeling great lately in the cage, my swing is starting to really feel like its ready to go.  In the last week I’ve been able to stand in against some pitchers throwing bullpens, something I find incredibly helpful in getting my timing and my eye back.  Last Thursday I stood in and saw 30 pitch bullpens from my college teammate turned Chicago Cub Jas Rakkar, and two guys who I’ve become friends with over the off season, Jamie Richmond (Royals) and John Marriotti (Team Italy, WBC).  Over the weekend I was back practicing with my former high school elite team and was able to stand in against a whole bunch of 18U pitchers, both left and right handed.  Tomorrow will be a big day for me as I’m going to actually take live batting practice swings off Jas, Jamie and John.

In wrapping up my off season I decided to FINALLY break out a new bat.  Since I received my order of Vipers last fall at Instructional League (September 12, 2012)

I have used 1 bat exclusively, every single day.  Exactly 5 months have passed, 153 days of which I probably hit on 140. I finally managed to chip the barrel, nothing serious enough that it won’t continue to be my BP bat, but enough to know it was time to break out a new one. So, here it is, my fresh out of the plastic wrap M-320 maple.

New BatThis will be the first time I’m using Viper’s Maple. If it’s anywhere close to as good as the Birch I know it will last a long time, have serious pop, and if you ask me, it will look pretty sharp too!

Now we can all go back to counting down the days until Opening Day.  Keep working hard, keep swinging and let’s play some ball!

The Offseason, The Holiday Season and The New Year

Good Evening!!

It has been a while since I posted on here but I wanted to write for all of you and let you know what has been going on lately.  It has been a crazy month for me!  Unlike what a lot of people think (myself included when I was younger) minor league ball players normally have to have some sort of secondary job in the offseason.  In a world of small salaries, and paychecks that are only being earned through half the year we need to find a way to have a life when we’re at home.  Offseason jobs come in all sorts of different forms, teammates of mine from the Padres organization are doing everything from teaching at schools, and running baseball clinics to working in warehouses and offices.  I am doing the last of those things, and let me just throw it out there for any of the younger guys DESK JOBS SUCK when you have a regular job that includes taking ground balls and batting practice 6 days a week.

I am working at a marketing company here in Toronto called Splash, we import home decor and gift ware items from China and sell them all across the country. How does a minor league player get a job at a company like that? Connections definitely help!  A former teammate of mine’s dad owns the company, and in the past I have done various school projects about the business so when I got home I felt like it was natural to call him and see if I could pick up some warehouse work, it’s unglamorous, but its physical labor which I figured couldn’t be bad in addition to our workout program.  We agreed on a schedule and the next thing I knew I was back on the phone with him being told that I would be bored working in the warehouse and so I ended up in a “flex” position, one that has gotten me some work experience in everything from Accounts Receivable to being a secretary.

Lately, I have been firmly rooted in the Purchasing department, I even have my own company email address!  My job has been to prepare spreadsheets for my boss that show all of the different items any one of the factories produces along with all of the buying information.  He then chooses the items we would like samples of, and that’s when the fun begins.  I’ve been emailing back and forth with more than 50 different factories in China arranging for delivery of all of these items.  Every day I receive around 20 emails from different factories about the sample orders and I’ve had to keep track of all of them through FedEx’s website as well as on Excel Spreadsheets.  It has been a pretty cool experience to see the whole process unfold, as the emails slowly turn into a sample room filled with over 500 items!

You’re all probably thinking “this is a baseball blog where’s the baseball?” That is where the friendly boss comes into play.  He has allowed me to take Tuesday and Thursday as a half days which allows me to drive across the city to The Baseball Zone to hit, throw and work out!  Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work 8:45 am – 5 pm, but those precious Tuesdays and Thursdays have been critical in allowing me to continue to my training on a regular basis.  In addition, I am at The Baseball Zone Monday nights, and Saturday afternoons.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of friends who are back from Junior College who I’ve been able to hit and workout with which has made it far more enjoyable than doing it all alone.

In this video, my buddy Robert Grilli and I are going through a “functional” workout.  Its not necessarily your traditional dumbell/barbell workout, but its a series of exercises that really is tough to get through.  Our workout included:

  • Sled pulls
  • Battle Ropes (In video)
  • Tire Flips (In video)
  • Sled Pushes
  • Sledgehammer smashes
  • Russian Twists
  • Curl/Presses (In video)
  • Ab hang

Each day I am at The Zone I go through my tee work routine, starting with my one hand swing drills and moving on to normal tee work.  After a little while I move into front or side toss and work on keeping my bat path, my hand path and swing plane all correct.  I find that these “slower” drills allow me to better understand my swing and how it’s supposed to feel, so that when I’m in the heat of July facing a reliever throwing 98 I know exactly what I need to do to have success.  I finish off my day with some light throwing, and some defensive work.  I work with all my gloves so that whether I’m told to do drills at Spring Training as a 2nd baseman, 3rd baseman or 1st baseman I’ll be ready.  A scout once told me, the more gloves you have in your bag, the more valuable you are, so I continue to try and learn my non primary positions.

I’m working as hard as I ever have both at my job at Splash and on my body, my swing and my other baseball abilities and it’s a great feeling knowing that in a few short months I will get a chance to put all of my physical work on display at Spring Training.  I hate to be that guy, since last time I wrote I mentioned Halloween candy, but during the Christmas season we can do a lot of harm to our biggest asset, our bodies.  Lets all think twice before that extra piece of cake, those extra cookies or that extra dessert that grandma made. Its awesome, we all know how tempting it is, but the reward for not having it will far outweigh the delicious food.  Be smart during this holiday season, and let the other guy be the player that shows up next baseball season a step too slow, and a step behind the game.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year filled with lots of hits, RBI’s and a few majestic home runs!  Enjoy your time off from school, or work and spend it with family and friends, but remember there are only 100 days until Opening Day.  Pitchers and catchers will be reporting soon, and our REAL lives will start up again.