Saturday, May 26, 2012

Baseball How To #1

Baseball How To #1: Getting A Ball

Hey guys - I haven't written in a long time, but playing a game every day does put just the slightest damper on my free time; so when I actually get some time for myself I usually just sink into my couch and yell at small children on Xbox Live.

But that is not the case today. I am sitting in the hotel restaurant in Lansing, MI and I have a couple hours before the bus leaves for the field that I plan on filling by entertaining the good people of the internet with what I consider to be humorous writing (I may even teach one or two of you something).

I plan on doing a three part, "Baseball How To" series that will consist of, "How to get a baseball", "How to get ejected" and "How to get free tickets". In my head they will be both informative and funny, but as anyone who has ever envisioned something before can tell you - the idea doesn't always match the reality. But I am in the make-dreams-come-true business, so hopefully I can do a  fair job of putting fingers to keys and cranking these out as close to perfect as I had imagined.


1. "The Old Fashioned"

You guessed it, "the old fashioned" is when you're in the right place at the right time and that magical 6 ounce crystal of leather and red lacing just happens to come close enough to reach out and snag. It's a beautiful moment, and to take advantage you're gonna have to have your eyes open and your hands free. 

If you're half way down either line in the first section of seats, you're in prime foul ball real estate. Wait till a hitter comes up that is facing you (thats a righty for those on the first base line and a lefty for those on the third base line) more often than not, a hitter will hit foul balls the other way into that first section. We call it "spoiling pitches" or "being-really-late-cause-the-pitcher-is-awesome-and-he-owns-you-look-out-for-the-slider-in-the-dirt-you're-out-but-don't-even-know-it-yet". 

Another key to getting a foul ball is paying attention, some of these balls are coming off the bat pretty hot, and if you're tweeting about how good your seats are, you're gonna need to keep that phone out to call the paramedics. 

Finally, watch the bounce, just call a ball lands somewhere else doesn't mean it's next stop isn't in your nachos. When balls hit the roof- they usually come back down. When balls bounce on solid concrete - they're going to travel a long ways. If a ball has more spin than a Russian figure skater - it's gonna hit the ground and redirect like a sidewinder missile. The first bounce doesn't mean the death of a foul ball, usually it means the exact opposite.

2. "Puppy Eyes"

(Yes, the title is puppy eyes and I put a picture of an animated kitten. I see the irony, leave me alone.)

Kids can be super cute, and we're not monsters - if a little kid somehow reminds of a youthful joy that stirred in us when we first set out playing the game, more often than not that kid is getting a baseball. For me, if I see someone being a good dad and holding his kid up to catch a foul ball, I'll take fate out of the equation and make sure that kid goes home happy. If I kid is standing by our bullpen for four innings just watching the game silently and respectfully, that kid is getting a ball from me every time. As a little brother I have a bit of a soft spot for the underdog. 

WARNING - not everyone is cute. Nothing is less interesting than a kid "putting the moves on me" for a ball. Just like bad acting, a kid making fake dough eyes at me is completely uninteresting and unconvincing. I have no patience for an 8 year old trying to outsmart me. I don't care how cute your family thinks you are - that act doesn't play with me, buster, move it along. 

3. "The Magic Word"

PLEASE! Simple manners will get you so far in this world. We are asked for a baseball upwards of 100 times a game and the fact of the matter is we are both not interested, and not capable of giving every person in the park a baseball. I know its your birthday, I know that this is your first game, I know that all your friends have one, I know that you've never seen a baseball before, I know that you're a HUGE Tribe fan (nice Detroit shirt), and I know that you like the "Lake Counties" way better than your home team - I don't care. 

Yelling "Gimme a ball". "Can I get a ball?". "I want a ball." Or my favorite, "BALL BALL BALL BALL!" Is going to piss us off more than anything, then I'll give a ball to the kid right next to you just to make you mad. (Ya, I'm vindictive and petty - so what?)

If a kid comes up to us and asks politely, "Excuse me, may I please have a ball?" 9 times out of 10 he's gonna get one. The balls are free, we can give out a half dozen or so a game, that kid is both respectful and kind - he's a winner. 

P.S. In reference to what I'm assuming is the book cover image I used for this section - unless "The Power of the Magic Word" is about how the little blond kid is getting routinely abused by the rest of his family, they should really rethink the cover art. 

4. "The Shameless"

Yes - groups of attractive women are going to get a ball at a baseball game. Sue us. They will not get one each and can quickly become far more annoying than a horde of screaming children, but cute girls are a guys Achilles Heal. And so, if they can catch, they're going home with a souvenir.

Wish I had more for you on this topic, but it's really quite self explanatory.

5. "Right Place, Right Time"

Sometimes you're gonna catch us on the right day. We're gonna walk past you and see an opportunity to make someones day a little better and take advantage of it. We're human beings, on and off the field, so when we feel a compulsion to brighten the lives of others, we will act on it. Little kids are usually the ones who benefit from these random acts of kindness - I believe it's because we see ourselves or our siblings in them and that makes for a better connection. There isn't a much cooler feeling than putting a baseball in the hands of a toddler, who holds it like a basketball, and watch the rest of the world dissolve away as that pearl becomes his only focus in the universe. 

We are put in a very special situation where we can make people happy simply by extending them the kindness of giving them a piece of the game that we take for granted every day. So every now and again, usually walking off the field after a win, you will get a real prize - a broken bat, a whole bat, a hat, the game ball, who knows? I do know that asking for something will almost surely ruin the chances of you getting anything.

So there you go - a basic outline for getting a ball at a baseball game. In recap, don't lie to us, be polite, use your god given femininity and keep your eye on the ball. 

Other than that - have a safe Memorial Day weekend. It's my little sister's birthday today - she is the lovely age of 19 and is amazing in every way. I will get around to some more of the reader emails I have started getting - Rachel S. was the basis for this series. She asked about ejections a couple of weeks ago, and it got me thinking, and I cooked this up. If you don't already, follow me on Twitter (@C_M_Cook) or email with comments, questions, hate mail, professions of undying love, treasure maps or the numbers for the mega millions at 

Have a great day and GO TRIBE.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

8 Hours In Columbus

For my Twitter followers, you may have heard that I was called up to AAA Columbus Friday to fill out their bullpen as they were light on arms. You also may have figured out that my stay there was just short term call-up and I was heading back to join the Captains that very night.

For you guys today, I'm going to (as the title would suggest) break down my 8 hours in Columbus.

I was driven from Dayton, where we were playing the Dragons, to Columbus to join up with the team. We pulled in just after one and I found my way down to the clubhouse. When I get into the Clippers Clubhouse, I realize this is a far cry from Low A. There's a pool table on one side of the room, a Golden Tee video game plugged into another wall, and murals of the 2010 and 2011 championships adorning each wall -- and I'm just in the dining room. I set down my stuff, and head into the Manager's office to introduce myself to the staff.

The staff in Columbus was warm and welcoming, greeting me with friendly handshakes even though I was only supposed to be there for a night or so. The pitching coach, Ruben Niebla, shook my hand and added, "You're here to throw strikes. I don't care if you get hit around or not - but if you walk the world you're of no help to us. And trust the catchers - they're pretty good here." The message was clear - I was here to chew on innings to protect the AAA arms. I couldn't have been happier. I wasn't disillusioned about my call up, but any reason to get into a Clippers game was amazing.

2 PM
I go into the clubby's room and get decked out in everything Columbus - hats, jersey's, pants, everything and anything you see on the field, filled my locker. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't exploring the possibilities of "what if". What if I get in the game and throw well and then they take me on the 10 day roadie they have starting tomorrow? Maybe I get in the game a couple more times and they decide to keep me around for good - I'll be one of those crazy minor league stories that flutter around the minor leagues and land on the ears of Low A pitchers like little droplets of hopeful sunshine.

There are players in the clubhouse with me, milling around, playing cards, getting into their pre game routine. Some of them notice I'm new and say hi - others just get ready for the game. I try to keep as low of a profile as I can. I remember the advice my father told me the first day I made varsity as a Freshman in high school, "Be seen and not heard."

Once everything was settled, I did my usual pre stretch routine. A bit of yoga to shake off the rust of an hour in a car, a bit of love from the training staff to get loose before BP, and I was ready to go. I got dressed in the batting practice attire (official issue shorts and a shirt for Columbus) and headed out.

3 PM
I was the first one on the field for a 3:15 stretch. As much as I tried to stay calm and collected, it was hard to keep my heart from beating through my chest - it's not every day you get called up to AAA. Team stretch with Columbus is the same as it is with Lake County (the same as it is the entirety of Spring Training, for that matter) and the continuity gives me a sense of stability in an otherwise tumultuous day. Stretch is hot, the air is heavy, and sweat comes freely from me even though all we're doing is toe touches.

The team is foreign to me, the faces unfamiliar, and without the last names - I'm bad at recognizing which of these future and past big leaguers I already know by reputation. The conversation is about fatigue, and every now and then I'm asked a question. "New guy." (Thats me) "You can give us 5 tonight?" I assure them I can. Today there is no such thing as fatigue for me, my arm has never felt better and I'm not tired from short sleep the night before - I am ready to give everything I have to this game and this team. "New guy - you better pound that strike zone. I don't have the energy to watch you walk your way through this game." I laugh, there's no malice behind the comment (at least I hope not), and I trust in my ability to fill up the strike zone anyway.

4 PM
I take left field for BP, the rest of the team lazily drift into clusters or 2 to 4, I suppose the conversations they are having are no different than the ones I have daily with my teammates in Lake County - girls, last night, call ups, send downs, and maybe an argument over pure opinion, "There's no way you could rob a bank and get away with it bro - you're too tall." I stand by myself, something I actually have no problem with - I was drinking in the stadium. Trying to be present in this moment, wearing Columbus colors and standing in that outfield as part of the team.

After the first group of BP gets done (which is made up of the first 5 hitters in the lineup) Matt LaPorta came out to take some balls in left. I took a couple steps back toward the warning track - the last thing I wanted was to get in the way of this guy while he was tracking a ball. As I was walking back, he asked my name, introducing himself as Matt. Maybe he's just that good of a guy, maybe he likes conversation, maybe he saw me all alone and figured he'd throw me a line. Either way, for the next 30 minutes we talked about family, where we were from, and (if you can believe it) art. The conversation never once turned to baseball, we just got to know each other. Of all the many memories of that day, that one is probably my favorite - it made me feel most like I was actually part of the time, not just there on loan.

5 PM
Coming in from BP, I wait for everyone else to hit the spread before I sneak up to the table - I am trying to avoid crossing a line at all costs. Ruben (the pitching coach) taps me on the shoulder, "We have a tradition here - all the new guys have to stand up and give a brief backstory and then answer some questions. Maybe tell a joke or sing a song. You ready?" I didn't really have a choice did I? Ready or not - I was heading into the main room of the clubhouse and Ruben gathered the team. For those who know me - this isn't exactly my nightmare, standing up in front of a group and entertaining is actually something I would normally look forward to. But it's different when the audience the AAA team.

I gave my backstory, and there were comments from all directions at just about everything I said - it's time like this when I'm happy I'm a little brother and I can hold me ground against some shouting and jeering. For the sake of the keeping this blog PG, and also to keep the sanctity of the clubhouse honor code (what happens in the locker room - stays in the locker room), I will keep most of what was said and done to myself - but I will say that it ended with me in tree and eagle pose, while the whole team watched and laughed. I can't tell you how happy I was that I was able to keep my balance.

After my introduction, I went to my locker to watch some Netflix and almost as soon as I sat down, I came to a realization: this is most likely going to be my only day in this clubhouse (until I make up again that is) and I'm not going to spend it watching stupid TV shows. I grabbed my plate and walked around the clubhouse, trying to take it all in. The three TVs, the surround sound system that just played "Somebody That I Used To Know" on repeat. There are three card games on simultaneously - from the looks of it, the game of choice is Rummy. A couple relievers are playing darts on one side of the room, as a handful of infielders play shuffleboard. The day's starter and catcher are comparing notes on the lineup - how they want to attack certain hitters and so on. There are some people playing Golden Tee, and I see a pool game rapping up. I sit down and watch as the last shots are made. I get handed a cue and I start playing against an intern - who had won the game previously. We split a couple of games, and it's 6:00 - time for me to get mentally prepared for whats about to come.

6 PM
I put on my headphone, play a playlist of ambient nature noises (crashing waves, babbling brook, rainforest, rainfall etc) and sit down to read "Wherever You Go There You Are". It's a book my brother suggested about mindfulness and meditation - I read studiously for 30 minutes, focusing my mind. At 6:30, I get up and find a quiet corner (in this case, the weight room attached to the clubhouse), and do my pre game meditation.

By 6:45 I'm back in the clubhouse and I suit up. No one is really getting ready, and I figure it's just cause these guys are in AAA and they do things their own way. But just to be sure - I ask Hector Ambriz when first pitch is. "Holding pattern," he says. "We got the tarp on - waiting for this rain to pass."

I had no idea there was even rain - I was oblivious to rest of the world for the hour previous to the scheduled first pitch, and didn't hear.

I take off my cleats and jersey, slipping back into sandals as I prepare to wait it out.

7 PM
I grab my iPad and sit down to watch TV, looking at the weather report. I had heard that there might be rain coming, but I hadn't thought about what it meant if rain were to come. The time basically passed itself, and I didn't think we were going to get it in. The doppler had far too much rain in the forecast, and it had been coming down steadily for an hour already.

It may be hard to believe, but I wasn't really that depressed that we weren't going to get a game. I knew that this promotion wasn't supposed to be for more than a day, and I was fine just being part of the team for the time I was invited to be.

8 PM
It's getting more and more obvious that tonight isn't going to happen, and I don't feel any sadness. I was so happy to get the opportunity to be up with that team, and as amazing as it would have been to take the ball and get out on the mound, the experience was in no way a waste of time.

I sit watching TV with the team, checking the weather on my iPad absentmindedly. I look up and the field manager comes into the clubhouse, soaking wet from the outside - he makes a cutthroat motion across his neck and people start applauding, slipping out of their gear and heading for the shower.

I find the manager and ask what they wear on the road, if they require button downs or if just a regular collared golf type shirt it okay. What I want to ask is if I'll be with the team the next day as they take off to Toledo - but I figure if that's what he's going to tell me I'll hear it now.

I do hear, he answers the question, takes about two steps toward his office and turns back, beckoning me to come with him. He tells me with sincere remorse that with the rain out I will no longer be needed and that I'll be catching a ride back to Dayton to meet up with Lake County. I saw the news coming, and I wasn't let down at all. I would be lying if I told you I didn't want to stay, or that the news didn't suck. But I wasn't expecting anything else. It was a glorious 8 hours - and I thanked them for the time I was allowed to spend with the team.

9 PM
I shower and pack my things along with the rest of the team, saying goodbye to the handful of guys I met while I was there. Then head upstairs to get in a car back to Dayton and reality.

In the brilliant words of Ron Shelton (the writer of "Bull Durham"), "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains."

This time it rained. Next time I'm up there I hope to win.