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Gettin' Ziggy With It (vol. 13)

We’ve had a wild week-and-a-half since my last journal entry. The day I posted (April 26), we lost to Corpus Christi in 18 innings, 7-6. We ended up using 3 different position players to pitch (Leslie, Faison, Snyder), and even took a 2-run lead at one point in the top of the 17th, but couldn’t pull it out. Made for a long night, to say the least.

After a 4-game series in San Antonio (during which, SP Brad Knox and RP Jeff Gray were promoted to Sacramento), we returned home for a 4-game series with Corpus. The first night of that series, I had my worst outing of the year so far. I was struggling to get the ball down in the zone, and ended up giving up 5 hits in 2 innings (2 R, 1 ER). Along with the hits came 4 flyball outs and only 1 groundout. Thankfully, the bad night came in a game where we had a comfortable lead at the time.

Two nights later, I got another shot at Corpus, and things went much better. Even though my final stat line wasn’t tremendous (2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER), two of the three hits allowed were infield hits, and I got 4 groundball outs and 1 flyout. That alone let me know that I was doing a better job of keeping the ball down and hitters seemed to be having trouble picking it up off of me. That night, I picked up my first career save in pro ball. Striking out the last hitter with the tying run on 1st base was a major adrenaline rush.

We’ve won 6 games in a row, and last night, OF Jason Perry was sent to Sac. So things, lately, have been going well for the Rockhounds. We’re leading the league in pitching with a 3.02 team ERA (San Antonio is 2nd with a 3.73), and we’re 3rd in the league in hitting (.275) while leading the league in OBP (.355) and SLG (.454).

Since the last GZWI...
Rockhounds record: 7-4
My stat line: 1 SV, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 K, 2 BB

UPDATED SEASON STATS after game on Sunday, May 6...
Rockhounds record: 19-8 (in 1st place by 2.5 games)
My stats: 2-0, 1 SV, 1.88 ERA, 14.1 IP, 17 H, 9 K, 2 BB


*I was wondering what some of the double-A ballparks are like. Do you play to mostly filled stadiums? What are some of the nicest and some of your least favorites? -- Blez

The Texas League has some pretty nice stadiums, especially with the addition of a new stadium in Little Rock. Some of the teams draw well on a regular basis (Springfield, Corpus Christi, Frisco) while some really struggle in attendance (Wichita, Tulsa). Springfield’s obviously my favorite place for a road trip, since I get to go home. Aside from there, my favorite road trip is Corpus. They have a beautiful ballpark, right on the gulf, and their fans have a superb knowledge of the game and create a fun atmosphere every night.

My least favorite stadium in the league is probably Wichita. It’s an old stadium, and it has an Astroturf infield (I think you’ll have a hard time finding a pitcher who enjoys that). However, this is the last year of the team in Wichita. They are moving that franchise to Springdale, Arkansas, in 2008.

Midland is probably right in the middle as far as attendance and stadium. We draw well on the weekends, but crowds are pretty sparse Mon-Wed, usually. The stadium isn’t very old, and the playing surface is in outstanding condition.

I’d rank the stadiums in this order: Corpus, Springfield, Frisco, Midland, Arkansas, San Antonio, Tulsa, Wichita.

Here are some pictures I took when I first got promoted to AA back in 2005 (use the left arrows to slow it down):

*Since you mentioned the weather (and since I'm in Southern NJ, which has gotten drenched for a couple of days), I have a question about rain delays. Have you ever had to pitch on either side of a delay? How did you stay warm? Did you lose a pitch or your location after sitting down for the delay, or did you pick up where you left off? -- Nick

I’ve pitched on each side of rain delays at different times in my career (relief in college), but I’ve never done both in the same game. If a game’s delayed more than maybe 15 minutes, there’s usually very little chance of a pitcher continuing in the game after the delay. For the most part, trying to stay warm would consist of riding an exercise bike and possibly throwing in a tunnel somewhere. In today’s game where there’s a premium on taking care of pitchers’ arms, I think you’ll find it’s extremely rare to see a pitcher pitch on both sides of a single rain delay.

*I'm curious about the training the A's players receive? Is the physical training left up to the player or does the organization have a more formal training program? Do the A's offer any type of mental (peak performance) training? Do other organizations differ in their approach?-- NW As Fan

The organization definitely has a plan in place, but they’re ok with us adjusting it to fit our needs as long as we have communication with our strength coordinator, Judd Hawkins. However, it pretty much boils down to how much effort the individual player wants to put into the training. We have many resources to use in this area, but it’s up to the player to access them. And the higher up you go in pro ball, the more self-disciplined you have to be, because the organization expects you to have a clue about how to take care of your body by that point. However, they still provide ample resources at the upper levels, as well.

As far as mental training, for me every day is a mental workout: watching the game, picking apart the other team’s hitters, paying attention to effective pitch sequences, etc. We don’t really have a sit-down, classroom session for peak performance training. But all of our coaches at every level are very schooled in mental aspects of baseball and life in general. Also, we have an organizational psychologist that we can call at any time for any confidential assistance we might need. The A’s do a great job of making sure that we have no off-field excuses for our performance.

I’m really not sure how other teams handle this stuff. I wasn’t with the Phillies long enough to get involved in this aspect of the game. But I know when players come over from other teams, they like how laid-back the system is and how the A’s don’t try to totally control our lives on and off the field.

*Watching Jay Marshall in the bigs, and considering how he jumped from single-A ball to the Majors and seems to be holding his own, would you say the difference between each level of minor league (and major league) ball is a lot less than we think? And as a submariner now, do you watch him making his way upstairs and feel like he's the guy you'll need to displace? -- HollywoodOz

To begin, Jay had phenomenal numbers in high-A ball last year (62 IP, 46 H, 44 K, 8 BB, 1.02 ERA, .210 BAA, 2 HR allowed). I think the difference is still pretty big, but that doesn’t mean a few guys can’t make huge strides in one off-season to help shrink that gap. I would think that the success rate is pretty rare, but Jay’s a nice guy, and I’m happy he’s holding his own in the big leagues so far.

I don’t, at all, feel like he’s a guy I’m competing for a spot with. For starters, he’s left-handed. So, for the most part, he’s going to be brought into a game to face lefties (LH hitters batting .118 off him so far in 2007). I’d be a guy that would be brought in primarily to face right-handed hitters. I hope it’s not too long, and I’ll be pitching along side him in the A’s bullpen, and we can complement each other’s roles.

*What's life like in Midland, Texas, as a minor league ballplayer? Ever get recognized at the local grocer? Live by yourself in an apartment or share with some other farmhands to defray the costs? -- Tim J

Life in Midland isn’t too bad. Midland’s kinda out in the middle of nowhere in west Texas, so you can’t really go anywhere as an alternative to the city. But the city supports the team well, and they take care of the players, too. We get to watch movies for free at the local theater, and we get huge discounts on rounds of golf (free green fees, pay for cart) as well as free haircuts, etc. I’d think it’s pretty rare that someone recognizes us out in public, but I’m sure it’s happened at some point.

Most players live in apartments together to save money on rent. However, I’m in a very fortunate situation. I met a family at church here at the end of 2005 who offered to take me in for the last season and this one. Also, when Danny Putnam returned to Midland near the end of last season after rehabbing his knee, he moved in with us (he had his own host family from the same church earlier in that season). The family I stay with is a lot of fun and really nice, and they have helped me out in so many ways. They’re also big supporters of the team, attending games on a regular basis. Host families are very common in lower levels, but having one in AA is pretty rare.

*I always hear the announcers chattering on about pitchers "working on things" in Spring Training that they can't work on during the regular season. Does that have to do with mechanics or pitch location, or what? Is it really like a grand experiment just to see what works and what doesn't? I would guess that guys trying to make the team would be a little less concerned with working on things and more about the that true? Have you been experimenting with anything or just trying to get good results? -- cirquegirl16

Most of the time, as pitchers, I would say they’re either working on mechanics, refining their current pitches, or developing a new pitch. The thing about baseball is that it’s a game of constant adjustments. If you’re not working on improving your weaknesses, you will be exposed before long and someone will take your job. At the higher levels, the scouting reports on a player get more in-depth, so they’re more useful in finding someone’s weaknesses. In the big leagues, with the video and technology they have available, players must constantly make adjustments or they’ll simply not last.

My entire spring training this year was an experiment in switching to submarine. I even made a major adjustment on the next-to-last day of spring, which I’ve been trying to get comfortable with this whole season (after doing things differently all off-season). The results have been pretty good so far, but I’m still working on getting everything comfortable and consistent. Hopefully it will keep developing and I can worry more about the pitches I’m throwing instead of what my body’s doing each time.

My parents are excited, because tomorrow night, they’re going to the A’s game in Kansas City to see Putnam and the team play the Royals. I hope someday I get the chance to play 30 minutes from where I grew up. :-) After tomorrow’s game, we finally get an extended (8-game) homestand. Can’t wait to sleep in my own bed for a week. Till next Monday...