Friday, January 27, 2012

Insight to what's Inside

As an athlete, there is nothing worse than having to watch your teammates compete without you. I’ve been in this position several times before.  In August 2007 while playing for the Colorado Rockies, I broke my fibula after being hit by a comebacker.  I was not able to recover in time and missed the 2007 playoffs and eventual World Series appearance.  In 2009 while pitching for the Scranton Yankees, I tore my plantar fascia tendon in my push off foot and missed the playoffs and our eventual championship appearance.  Finally in 2010 while playing for the same Yankees team, I missed the playoffs after tearing my rotator cuff and labrum in August.

All three of the instances I had been an effective pitcher during the regular season but was useless during the postseason due to injury.  I think there is no worse feeling for a competitor than that feeling useless when your teammates are giving their all on the field.  Sure you share in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat but  it’s just not the same.  In my heart of hearts all I wanted to do was be out there with my teammates and play but instead I was relegated to sitting in the dugout and cheering them on. 

I came to the ABL to prove to myself and MLB teams that I’m healthy and ready and willing to once again compete at the next level.  Having missed all the 2011 season rehabbing my shoulder, I was itching to face real competition again.  We as players work hard to maintain our bodies as they are our vehicles for success.  I for one, take this very seriously and dedicate many hours each day to preparing myself for the rigors of the game.  It took a few weeks to get my feet under me but I felt like I was off to a great start.  My arm was feeling amazing and my body was responding beautifully.  Unfortunately I can’t seem to shake the injury bug and sustained a few freak injuries that I had no control over; the last being a pinched nerve in my neck.  This is the one you could consider to be the straw that broke the camels back.  I was angry and dejected at the same time. When you work so hard to prepare yourself for a season, especially one following shoulder surgery and a year off from the game you love, it is frustrating to incur an injury to something that has never caused issue before. I felt like I was back on track and this freak injury late in the season sidelined me while my team was in a playoff hunt.  To compound my misery the season came down to the final game of the year, a game that I was scheduled to pitch in but was unable to.  The flood of emotions was strong that day because I really wanted to be out there and pitch my team into the playoffs.  I was heartbroken that I could not contribute.

I am trained as a professional athlete on how to deal with questions from the media and other public outlets.  You will never hear a player say, “I feel like crap” or “I’m depressed” because that shows weakness and can start some controversy.  It is also to maintain perspective of who we are as people and work through whatever is on our minds without outside influences.  True emotions, especially ones that bring us down are typically reserved for those closest to us, usually our wives, girlfriends, and sometimes even our athletic trainers.  (I have had some amazing ATC’s throughout my career) My wife, in our 9-year relationship, has heard everything under the sun, all the ups and downs and has shared in all my victories and defeats.   She is always ready with compassion when I’m down, and congratulations when I’m up, and a swift kick in the butt when I need it. These are things that the regular fan doesn’t get to see.

It is said that baseball is 10% physical and 90% mental. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve worked with a sports psychologist before.  He helped me through a tremendously tough time in my career in which I wanted to quit baseball because I never thought I would be healthy enough to compete at the level that I desired.  My time with him has been invaluable to me later in my career when dealing with other minor and major injuries.  Without getting into too much detail about our approach I will say that I remember back to what I learned from him and have applied those principles to my current situation. 

I will end this blog with a quote that I was given while playing in the Carolina league by my pitching coach Stan Borowski.  I had been going through a rough patch in my career, unsure of what my future held and one night on a bus trip he walked back to my seat and handed me a piece of paper with a quote on it that read:

"A wise man recognizes that although he cannot always control what happens to him, he can always control how he reacts to his failures. As long as he keeps his faith in God and in himself, nothing can permanently defeat him."
If you understand it as I understand it, you will understand why I continue to play baseball, continue to love the game, and continue to want to get better and get back to the big leagues.

(Special thanks to my wife Pam for helping write this one)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Tizzy in Brissy

To see more pictures from this trip and others click HERE

Our last road trip was to the beautiful city of Brisbane.  There was a lot of build up for this trip.  First it was passed around that the field in Brisbane was the worst in the league and second if we had a good showing and won the series we had a really good chance at making playoffs.

                        View from the dugout

Field view from the bleachers
Lets start with the field.  The Brisbane Bandits play at the RNA Showgrounds.  Like most stadiums in this league the field is temporarily placed in some open area with dirt cutouts for the bases and a dirt mound.  In this case the field is cut into a corner of circle of grass surrounded by a dirt track.  Home plate sits on the dirt track and the field spreads out around the circle.  I wouldn’t say this is the worst field in the league but it definitely was not laid out properly.  Whoever calls the shots on the field didn’t use much common sense.  The field could have been so much better had they used what was already in place.  Instead of utilizing the whole grass area for the field they pushed it back so home plate was on the track.  If the field had been pushed forward about 15 feet there could have been a proper backstop, proper foul territory and the fences could have been a realistic distance instead of the joke they are.  The fence distance is the opposite of what we have in Melbourne.  Its 280 to left, 350 to center and 260 to right.  The fences could easily have been pushed back another 20-30 feet and the ball park would have been proper, played fairly and been one of the jewels of the league.  Instead for some reason, common sense eluded whoever was in charge and the park is what it is.  Enough bashing of the park because it wasn’t all that bad, in fact they had the best mound in the league.

Real Brisbane Bandits
Lets move on to one of the most insane asinine and grotesque uses of in game entertainment I have ever witnessed on a baseball field.  During games 3 and 4 of our series there was another lapse of judgment and loss of common sense.  In the bottom of the 5th innings during both contests, they put the game on hold so they could parade around the field a line of cars.  The first night was Jaguars, old and new and the second night was Corvettes, old and new.  This isn’t Barrett Jackson or Mecum AutoAuctions, it’s a fucking baseball game.  If you want to have a car show, display the cars out front of the stadium in the parking lot so people can look at them, don’t stop a baseball game mid inning!  They wouldn’t stop a Footy game for 15 minutes to parade cars around would they? Hell no so why is it any different for baseball.  We are professionals playing at the highest level Australia has to offer, treat the game as such and not a fucking carnival!

Physio Alicia getting Nic Ungs ready
to pitch in the "Training Room"
As for the games, we ended up taking the first 2 games of the series, then dropping the next 3.  The first two games we had a brilliant pitching performance by fellow American Nic Ungs and even more brilliant offense from our hitters.   We took advantage of the short porch to left with some short and some monstrous homeruns.  The long ball of the series came off the bat of Brad Harman who mashed a first pitch fastball halfway up the seats in left field.  The whole ballpark was dead silent as soon as the ball was hit.  It was like the air had been sucked from everyone’s lungs by the impact off the bat.  We estimated the distance to be about 415 feet or 126 meters for my Aussie readers.  Unfortunately as much offense as we had the first two nights, we lacked the offense the last 3.  I started the 4th game of the series on Saturday night and didn’t have a great outing.  The first inning was marked with a few singles and a mistake fastball that was driven over the left field wall.  I had a bit of run in with the umpire that night as I thought his strike zone was unfair.  Both the catcher and I felt we were making good pitches that were not being called strikes, thus forcing me to throw pitches that I felt were too good for the hitters.  The umpire didn’t want to hear it.  Much like all the umpiring Ive witnessed in the ABL this year it appears that the guys in blue flip a coin behind home plate as to whether or not to call a ball or strike.  Don’t get me wrong there has been some good fair strike calling by a select few umpires around the league but for the most part I think the game moves too fast for these guys.
"Locker Room" more like
"Meat Locker"
They are not professional umpires, they are club ball or high school equivalent, in fact some have paternal relationships with players.  They often are not in the proper position to make a call or make calls that are so blatantly wrong everyone from both teams go irate.  I think for this league to be taken seriously MLB needs to institute professional level umpires that understand strike zones, rules and game speed.  (I could dig deeper on the umpiring but I think you get the point, if anyone from the league is reading this and has a problem with what Im saying feel free to email me or call)

Story Bridge
Anywho, back to the game.  The second inning I pitched I felt like something was wrong with my shoulder.  Being the stubborn person I am I pitched through it, struck out a few guys and got through the inning pretty quickly.  The third inning came around and what was bothering me in the second was taking over in the third.  My shoulder felt weak.  I was trying to throw the ball hard but nothing was coming out.  I felt as though I was lobbing grenades over hand at home plate.  I threw a curveball that was up in the zone and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I called for our Physio Alicia and she and our manager Phil Dale came to the mound.  The first thought running through my head was that my career was over.  I thought I had re-torn my shoulder and it was all over.  Ive always told myself that if I were to re-tear anything during my comeback it would be all over.  I have a family back home that I need to support and I cannot afford to be taking more time off rehabbing.  It’s difficult enough, even now, just trying to convince a team that Im healthy enough to perform again at that level.  I told Phil and Alicia that my shoulder felt weak and that It would be best to come out.  They both agreed and I walked off the mound to the dugout.  I took a seat on the bench, wiped the sweat from my brow, took a deep breath and prepared for the worst.  After taking some time to cool down and collect myself I answered a few questions from Alicia and then we began our testing.  To my surprise I passed all the strength tests for my cuff and labrum.  What a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders.  Now to determine what happened.  Alicia said she had a sneaking suspicion that I might have a pinched nerve in my neck because I was having some numbness in my hand and burning in my forearm.  After some testing and massage we determined that indeed I had a pinched nerve.  But why?  We both agreed that the beds at our hotel were rock hard and Im a side sleeper.  I tend to sleep on my shoulder and the combination of that with my overhand throwing and increased workload resulted in the nerve impingement.  I cant seem to buy a break over here.  First my freak knee collision and now this.  Its definitely not helping my chances of getting a job back home in the States.

South Bank Beach
Interestingly enough that night I was pitching against a friend who I met while with the Colorado Rockies.  Sean Jarrett (Follow his blog here) came out and joined the Brisbane Bandits earlier in the season for the same reason I came out in November.  He finished the previous season playing independent ball in the Atlantic League and was looking to get back into an MLB affiliated team.  He pitched a brilliant game, pitching into the seventh inning while holding our offense at bay.  I had dug our team too deep a hole to overcome and the Bandits were victorious for the second night in a row.

As a team we started off brilliantly but we definitely dropped off the last 3 games and came away disappointed.  A good showing would have all but guaranteed us a playoff spot and now we find ourselves in a battle having to win this up coming series against Canberra to work our way into the playoffs.

Beet Root Salad and Cider

Now onto the city of Brisbane.  Let me first start off by saying the city of Brisbane is beautiful.  The weather was superb the views were even better and the city showed us a great time.  We stayed at the Medina hotel right next to the Story Bridge.  If the Medina sounds familiar its because it is.  We stayed at a Medina in Canberra.  The room setup was similar to Canberra except that we were two people to a room and not four.  Our room was complete with kitchenette, laundry, living room and bedroom with two single beds (Rock hard as previously mentioned).  The pool deck outside the Medina offered stunning views of downtown Brisbane and the fabled Story Bridge.

Fortunately for us we had a Brisbane native with us in the form of our assistant trainer Trent.  He guided us around the city, and to some of the landmarks that make Brisbane what it is.  Our first stop was South Bank, a man made Oasis on the banks of the river.  It was a giant pool with real sand beaches, palm trees and spectacular views of city.  The water was cool and refreshing on a hot day in the sun and the sand offered a great retreat for working on my farmers tan.  Just behind the oasis were shops and pubs that offered their crafts and food to anyone interested.  We pulled up at a pub that looked fairly popular and ordered lunch.  I went with the beet root and feta salad and a Bulmers Pear Cider.  Ciders are becoming increasingly popular in Australia and Bulmers is a stunning example why.  It was a great crisp refreshing drink on a hot Brisbane day (Sounds like and advertisement, Bulmers can contact me via email or my agent for any future work).  The salad was equally delicious and filling.  The next day our bullpen catcher and team manager Chip Mauerer took myself and fellow Americans Kevin David and Jeff Jamnik to Wet N Wild, a water park located near the Gold Coast.  For obvious reasons I wasn’t able to get many pictures, but we had a blast.  We arrived just as the gates opened and found ourselves on rides in a few minutes.  Our first trip was down a giant water slide in a raft that ended with a big splash in the pool at the bottom.  Next we headed to the single rider water slide with a super steep drop off.  I was a bit nervous with this one because Im not much for steep drop offs but I gave it a try and was rewarded with an extremely thrilling ride!  We spent the rest of our time waiting in lines to get on rides and walking around the grounds.

Unfortunately we didn’t get on all the rides as the lines started getting ridiculously long, plus we had to get back in the vans and headed back to the field before our game.  The next day I was scheduled to pitch but I wanted to make sure and get up and walk around a bit to get the blood flowing.  To do this we went to Bookfest 2012 at the convention center.  Im not much of a book reader, in fact I cannot tell you the last book I read because I don’t remember, its been that long.  We walked into the convention center hall to rows of tables filled the brim with books, old and new.  I was mainly there to walk around and do some people watching but found myself thumbing throw the pages of some interesting books.  I did run across a book by long lost relative Odo Hirsch (Spelled differently of course) and managed to snap a picture of it but didn’t buy it.  We spent a few hours looking at book titles before we headed out to grab a bit to eat at one of the local eateries.
We decided to check out the nightlife on Saturday by catching a cab to the Story Bridge Hotel located, where else, below the Story Bridge.  We arrived just in time to order some pizzas and chips and of course sample some beers.  I had yet to try a Tassie beer and fortunately for me found one in the Moo Brew Pale Ale.  This beer rewarded us with a great fruity crisp flavor that everyone at the table enjoyed.  For the most part we just hung out at a table in front of some TVs drinking, eating pizza and watching some cricket.  That’s what I call a good time.  I would much rather chill out at a pub with some good friends and good beers than go to a night club where the music is so loud I cant hear myself talk.  The night was winding down and we decided to wrap things up.  We walked home over the Story Bridge to the other side of the river where our hotel was located and called it a night.
Story Bridge Hotel

Brisbane was heaps of fun, mostly away from the field but some fun was had at the field too.  The city showed us the best it had to offer while the showgrounds definitely left us wanting more. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Aussie Aussie Aussie!

This one goes out to all those Aussie players who have dedicated their lives to the beautiful game of baseball.  What I knew of Australian baseball before I arrived here was just what I learned from my interactions with guys that Ive played with.  As Americans we tend to think the rest of the world is just like us and that’s just how it is.  In reality the world is quite different from what we get at home.  Ive played baseball in 2 other countries besides my own during my career and the common bond between those countries is baseball.

I wanted to write this blog because of the passion and dedication that I've witnessed from my teammates with Aces.  Some of these guys are grown men with families, wives, kids, and real jobs.  Some are just out of club ball looking to take that next step to get to the big leagues.  When I first arrived I thought that the players on the Aces were there just to play for the Aces.  I thought that was their only job, play baseball, practice baseball and live baseball.    The truth is my perception was completely wrong.  Some of these guys hold regular 9-5 jobs during the week and play baseball for the Aces on the weekend.  If our series starts on a Thursday, they are taking the day off of work to play the game they love.  Its not like they are making a ton of money to play for the Aces either.  The average player makes about 200 bucks a series in the ABL.  Just for reference a waiter at a restaurant makes about 15 dollars an hour.  The jobs these guys are taking are not just desk jobs filing papers or typing on a computer all day.  Some of the jobs are manual labor jobs like driving heavy machinery or electricians.  In some cases they work all day in the blistering Melbourne sun and come straight to the field, change into their uniforms and practice or play.  In fact most nights of the week you will find club ball teams practicing all over the city.  If guys are not playing or practicing with they Aces, they are playing or practicing with their club teams.

The dedication doesn’t just happen at home either.  When we go on road trips, often times we have players that have to fly out at a later time or even a later day because they have commitments to work.  For example if we have a 5 games series starting on Wednesday in Perth we would have to leave early Wednesday morning.  For some guys they cannot afford or just cant get the time off to drop everything and fly out to play baseball.  They would fly out after work on Wednesday or a day or two later to join the team for the weekend.  Then we all would fly back Sunday night and they are back up Monday morning and back at work.  That’s dedication.

I think what impresses me most about my Australian teammates is their genuine kindness and helpfulness.  Everyone on our team is more than willing to help one another at any given time.  Whether its giving us a ride home or to the airport; trying endlessly to teach us the rules of cricket; or just answering our seemingly endless questions about Australia, everyone always has a smile on their face and a bounce in their step.  They make us feel like we are one of them and part of the family.  This is especially helpful for some of us who have families of our own back home and due to time differentials we are unable to keep in contact as much as we would like.

This type of commitment, kindness and helpfulness doesn’t just end with the Melbourne Aces.  All the Australian players that Ive had the privilege of meeting or playing beside are like this.  They all have smiles on their faces, kindness in their hearts and a passion for the game.  It goes to show that no matter what country you live in, no matter what language you speak, once you are between the white lines everyone knows the game of baseball.

The main purpose of this blog was for me to tip my cap and give a standing ovation to my teammates for their passion and dedication to the sport.  I think it goes a long way to show that Australian pride and passion is still very strong and the state of baseball in this country is just as strong as it has ever been.  The future of Major League Baseball in Australia will be just as bright and prosperous as the people are. 

Thank you guys for making my time in the ABL a very enjoyable one and showing me what hard work really is.  Thank you for allowing me to come to your country and partake in this game with you.  It helps keep my fire burning to dedicate myself to getting back to the Major Leagues. 

Cheers Mates!

This was the hardest blog to write so far because without witnessing or taking part in what is going on out here you will never fully understand what Ive seen and what Im trying to convey.  I hope some understanding of the commitment these guys make gets through to you the reader. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

This is NOT a Test!

This is the MCG
For more pictures from this trip and others view my Flickr: HERE

After learning the game and watching the 1st test match between Australia and India I finally got out to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) to witness my first ever cricket match.  This was no test match however.  I don’t think I could endure an all day affair unless I was getting pissed with some mates (Good Aussie talk right there I know, its rubbing off).  This was a new format called T20 Big Bash.  The basic rules are each team gets 20 overs to score as many runs as possible.  Matches generally last a few hours instead of a few days and the action is much more exciting as guys are generally swinging for the boundary every chance they get.  I know my American readers may not understand the terms Im throwing out, don’t feel bad, I did either when I first arrived.

Lets start at the basics of the game.  Cricket consists of 2 batters positioned at opposing ends of the playing ground.  Each end has a wicket which is 3 wooden poles (stumps) and sitting atop those stumps are two little wooden dowels (Wickets).  The object is to try and knock those wickets from the stumps.  A bowler runs up to the play area and throws the ball with a straight arm at one of the batters trying to knock the wickets.  The batters attempt to hit the balls and run between the wickets to score runs.  If a batter hits a ball and it goes over the boundary line (read: fence) on the ground it counts as 4 runs, if it goes over in the air it counts as 6 runs.  There are several ways a batter can be retired.  If the ball is batted in the air and a fielder catches it before it hits the ground the batter is out.  If the ball hits the stumps on the bowl or while the batter is running between the stumps he is out.  Finally if a ball hits the batters pads, below the knees, while he is standing in front of the stumps he is out. 

Now for some terminology. We’ve already covered stumps and wickets.  An “over” consists of 6 balls.  A “run” is scored every time the batter runs safely between the wickets.  A “duck” is when the batter loses his wicket without scoring a run.  A “century” is when the batter scores 100 runs without getting out and a batter can score double and triple centuries.   A “maiden” is when a bowler bowls an entire over without allowing a run.  A “medium paced bowler” is what his name implies while a “fast paced bowler” is the same.  A “spin bowler” is in baseball terms, a thumber or a guy that throws slowly and creates a lot of spin and movement.  Finally a “baggy green” is the hat that the Aussie cricketers wear.  From what I understand it’s a tremendous honor to be given one of these hats and you only get 1 for your entire career.

View from our seats
A cricket ground is a massive circle.  The MCG is one of the finest stadiums in the world and holds over 100,000 people.  The playing area is located directly in the middle of the circle and there is no “foul” territory.  Every ball hit by the batter is in play.  Im still trying to figure out how and why teams position their players around the ground based on who is bowling and who is hitting.

A “Test” match has no limit to the amount of overs a team can bowl, that is why they can last as long as 5 days.  At the end of 5 days if the score is tied the game ends in a tie.  If a team has not gone all out before the end of 5 days the match is considered a draw.  There are innings in test cricket as well, generally only 2 but can be more.  An inning lasts as long as it takes for both teams to go all out.  A T20 Big Bash match like the one I attended is only 1 inning long.  Hopefully you can understand what Im trying to describe, if not Google it!  Back to my story.

(Side Note: I know there is A LOT more to cricket than just what Ive described, in fact Ive probably missed something.  Its just meant to be a quick reference not a rule book)

Nic Ungs and I
This Big Bash match featured the Melbourne Stars and the Perth Scorchers.  The Star were seeking their first W of the year while the Scorchers were already on the winning side.  We got tickets courtesy of teammate Jeff Jamnik who won them from a radio program.  He had 4 and was only using 2 and offered his second set to Nic and I.  We entered through gate 1 and made our way around the section M21 where we were meeting fellow American Kevin David and Aussie teammate Josh Davies.  They were parked front row of the section with an unimpeded view of the field.  My first impressions of the stadium were impressive.  The place is flat out massive!  Directly in front of us was a dark green section of seats that looked exclusively for the Melbourne Cricket Club.  Otherwise the rest of the stadium was colored in a sun scorched green.  At each end of the stadium, directly behind both hitters is a “batters eye” that each hitter can have adjusted to his needs. 

6 or Nothing!
We got into the stadium a bit late so they were already about 6 overs into the game.   The Scorchers had taken advantage of some mistakes by the Stars and had been putting up some decent numbers for the Stars to chase.  I thought from watching games on TV that the action would be far away because the field was so massive but sitting in the front row gave us a great view of how the game was played.  Shortly after arriving I headed up to get some food to ease my hungry stomach.  I came back with a box of fish and chips and Nic had already purchased a few beers to hold us over.  I think we go the full experience.  It was like going to a Dodgers game and having a Dodger Dog and a Coke, nothing (And I mean nothing) better.  We saw something quite rare that night as the Stars got 5 wickets in the final over.  The Scorchers were trying to add on as many runs as possible and the wickets fell our way.  They went all out with a score of 136.  One of my favorite parts of the night was getting to see Shane Warne bowl.  He is widely considered the greatest bowler in the history of cricket.  He’s definitely not in his prime but it was still great to see a living legend perform.   After a short intermission in which we stretched our legs and watched some on field entertainment the Stars came out to bat.

View from the lower level
After the first 6 overs it was easy to see why the Stars were 0-2.  They definitely are not a great hitting team.  They lost their first 4 wickets pretty quickly and were not scoring many runs.  A late charge by the middle of the order helped pull them within striking range.  It came down to the final over.  The Stars needed 13 runs from 6 balls.  After a single then a double and a couple of zeros, the Stars needed at least one 6 from their batsman.  Unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for the Stars that night and they fell in defeat to the Scorchers.  We stayed all the way through the end of the game and then took a quick stroll around the rest of the stadium before hitting the souvenir shop.  After a quick purchase, the lights went off and we left having experienced our first cricket match at arguably the finest stadium in the world. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Your Post

Im just throwing this out there.  If anyone has any specific questions or is interested in something out here (IE: Does the toilet really flush the other way? A: None of the toilets swirl when they flush they just go straight down) please leave a response below or send a message over twitter (@jhirsh5280) and Ill include your name, question and response in a post.  Thanks for reading, following and hope everyone is still enjoying.   Cheers Mates!


From Zac: Jason, Just one quick questioun I would like answered if your able to. Are u and Nic Ungs Going back to the states after the season or finals?? If you guys do can you and Nic come back when it's offseason and play for the aces. If you don't good luck in the states i will miss seeing u and Nic play!!!!

Zac the short answer is YES.  When the season is over Nic and I are headed back to the States in hope of earning a job with an MLB affiliated team.  If that does happen for both of us we will be headed to spring training come March and play a full season after that.  For me personally, if I throw enough innings during the season I probably would not come back to play in the ABL next winter.  If I dont get enough innings or feel like I need to continue to prove myself then I would absolutely love to come back and play for the Aces.  I think this league has a lot of potential but needs some fresh thinking to take it there.  Australia could be a mecca for winter baseball if it really wanted to.  Unfortunately the fan base and the support seam to be pretty slim but I think that can change.  Australia has been nothing short of amazing for both of us and we both would love to see this league succeed.  I know we have both made some new life long friends playing in the short 3 months we've been here and I know for sure we will both go back to the States and let everyone know what a wonderful opportunity this has been and that players need to take advantage of it while its here!


From Twitter @BillyHawkins asks: [Whats] ur fave MLB ballpark to play at? love ur behind the scenes insight! did u ever pitch to dodgers?

My favorite MLB ballpark is definitely PNC Field in Pittsburgh.  I played in the 2006 Futures Game there and I was struck by the magnificent views of the city skyline in centerfield.   The grass was an unordinary brilliant shade of green and felt like really plush carpet when you walked on it.  It definitely had a Disney feel to it which I think added to my liking of the place.

To answer you second question: Yes.  I grew up in Burbank California, about a 10 minute drive to Dodger Stadium.  I use to go to tons of games as a kid.  I remember several Christmas' in a row getting tickets to about 10 games through the year.  Two games in particular that I remember the most are: Opening day (not sure the year) I got taken out of school early by my dad because it was a day game.  I had a "doctors" note saying I had an appointment with "Dr. Lasorda" and to excuse me early.  We sat in the upper deck staring straight down to the field.  I ate my usual feast at Dodger Stadium which consisted of 2 Dodger Dogs (nothing better in all of MLB) a soda and later in the game a vanilla malt complete with wooden spoon.

The second game that stands out is when I won tickets from my barber to another day game.  We sat in the blue reserve seats down the third baseline for a Dodgers vs Expos day game.  Little did I know I was going to be watching history.  On the mound that day for Montreal was Dennis Martinez and he made history by throwing a perfect game.  I remember standing in the breezeway for the last out (We had to make a beeline for the car because traffic at Dodger Stadium is horrendous.), it was a deep flyball to center by Chris Gwynn (Brother of Tony) and the centerfielder almost dropped it because he lost it in the sun.  The catch however was made and history along with it.

My own little bit of history came in 2007 when I pitched at Dodger Stadium in front of all my family and friends.  There was nothing better than to pitch on the same field that I grew up watching all my other heroes pitch on.  The other bonus was getting Vin Scully to announce the game.  I grew up listening to Vinny and eventhough he called me "Josh" the whole game it didnt matter he was calling a game I was pitching in.  I lost the game but completed a childhood dream.  Dodger stadium definitely holds a special place in my heart.

Monday, January 2, 2012

All Star Game

All-Star Game

More pictures from this trip and others: HERE

I was fortunate enough to selected for the first ever ABL All-Star game held in Perth this year.  I was chosen to be on the World team and we were to face the Australian All-Stars.  The game was perfect timing for the Aces players because we just played in Perth so no one had to fly in from Melbourne. 
The day of the All-Star game everyone dropped off their uniforms at the front desk so they could be taken to the game for us.  I suppose this was to make sure no one forgot anything.  In hindsight it turned out to be a big mess because all the uniforms got chucked in a van and mixed together so we ended up spending more time piecing our gear back together than was intended.  Everyone piled into the customary vans  and headed for the field.  On the way I got to meet several players I didn’t know and a few that I only knew by reputation, whether good or bad.  Its funny how people can be perceived on the field as such villains but be nice guys off the field.  It goes a long way in showing how body language affects how people see you and form opinons about you.  As soon as we arrived at the stadium everyone dressed in their game uniform so we could take a team picture.  Next we changed back into our batting practice top and took team BP.  Batting practice was fairly short and the whole time I stood in right field talking with a few other All-Stars I didn’t know.

1st Pitch
 Our team had representation from America, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, India and Italy so there plenty of fresh faces to meet and language barriers to break.  There was a lull of a few hours before game time and many players took this time to eat some lunch, play cards, chit chat, play with their Iphone or Ipad and listen to music.  A typical scene from any pregame clubhouse in America.  I had already informed the manager that I was unavailable to pitch in the game due to my leg injury but that wasn’t going to be a problem as we had plenty of guys to cover the game.

Teammate Dominic Ramo
The stadium filled nicely before the start of the game and the Stadium looked great with flags flying and tons of advertising.  Before the first pitch two Aborigine representatives accompanied by a didgeridoo-ist (not sure if that’s right, forgive me if its wrong) gave a blessing to use the land and the field for the game.  Following that was the customary first pitch and then the start of the game.  The world team were the visitors so we batted first against the Australian starter and fellow Ace, Shane Lindsay.  The game started with a line drive single up the middle and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.  The World team pushed 8 runs across the plate to Australia’s 5 to win the inaugural game.  The World team pitched superbly, not allowing a run until the sixth inning.  I had a great time chatting it up with fellow pitchers Mike McGuire and Ryan Beckman.  It was like any All-Star game I had ever been to where players took it serious enough to play properly but were not afraid to let their hair down and have some fun.  For a short time I talked to Indian pitcher Rinku Singh who won the “Million Dollar Arm” contest in India.  His prize was not a million dollars however, instead he got a professional baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and has been pitching very well for them.   Everyone had a great time and more importantly the fans got a great show.  Talking with Justin Huber after the game, he said he thought it was the largest crowd he’d every played in front of in Australia.  That’s pretty impressive considering the kind of weight he carries in this league and the experience hes had.  At the conclusion of the game the MVP award was handed to World player Tyler Collins who hit a critical 3 run homerun to put the game out of reach.  Then everyone from both sides grabbed a sharpie and went around the stadium signing autographs for the fans and saying hello and thanks for coming out to the game.  It was a great gesture by the league and I think the fans really enjoyed it as well. 

Aborigine Blessing
That night everyone went out to enjoy the Perth nightlife.  We had an early 4am bus to the airport to make our 530am flight so we decided to pull an all-nighter.  It’s safe to say we all had a great time and Perth showed us a great time.  We gathered in the lobby, recovering from our long night out and awaiting our bus to the airport.  I think I dozed off for about a half hour only to wake to everyone getting ready to leave.  This is where the ABL needed some extra help.  There was one guy (Who handled everything beautifully I might add) running the show and trying to organize flights, people and equipment.  We didn’t leave the hotel until about 430am and didn’t get to the airport until 40 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave.  We pulled into the terminal and had to hop out to get over to a parking lot where our gear was sitting in an open van, the driver nowhere to be found.  It was now the responsibility of 4 people to empty the van and check all the bags through to Melbourne.  Me and my fellow teammates grabbed every available trolley and pushed everything into the terminal.  30 minutes to take off we still didn’t have our boarding passes.  I got to the front of the line and told the gate agent who I was and that I had lots of bags to get though.  I knew we would have to pay and I didn’t care all I wanted to do was get everything checked, and paid for and to our gate.  I would pass along the bill the the appropriate person for reimbursement later.  Again, no one from the ABL was helping at this point, at least no one I could see.  Somehow the four of us managed to get our boarding passes and check 16 bags (including massage table, water coolers, equipment bags, mascot costume and more) without paying a cent.  No way that would have happened in the States. We breezed though security (America take note please), only having to remove our laptops and liquids from our bags.  No removing shoes, belts, wallets watches etc.  A short trip up and escalator and boom we were at our gate just as the boarding process was underway.  I couldn’t believe we made it!

World Team on the Rail
Overall the All-Star game was a blast.  I had lots of fun meeting new people, seeing the enjoyment from the fans and being part of such a historical day.  There was definitely more to be desired from the ABL in terms of how it was run but they also did a lot of things right.  Id say for a first time they did a pretty good job.  Im sure in coming years this game will gain popularity and fans and the ABL will fix all the glitches they had. 

Side Note:  Just for reference, in my personal opinion this game should have been called a showcase and not an All-Star game and here is my reasoning.  I was selected to the team not based on my current ABL numbers but on my past experiences in MLB.  Im sure there were some guys on that team that were in the same situation.  The ABL wanted to make sure there were some popular names on the roster to “enhance” the game for TV purposes.  My teammate Nic Ungs has much better numbers than I do and is near the top of every pitching category in the league and he wasn’t selected.  In my opinion this was a mistake.  Nic has pitched in the States for MLB and Independent teams and had tremendous success.  Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to make it to the majors and that is why he wasn’t selected for the team.  If the ABL is going to make this a yearly tradition they need to include the players that deserve to go to this game and not the players who have a name.  I wont say anymore and just leave it at that.