Following part 1 from yesterday, the Bobby Cramer interview finishes with a few more questions that deal with what he's been working on heading into Spring Training, the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation, a few thoughts on pitching and more..
Also, here's a link to the audio of the interview. It clocks in at 40 minutes and is uploaded as an MP3. I tested it in both Firefox and Internet Explorer and the simplest way to go may be to just right-click and save. In my Firefox browser it loaded a black bar that didn't make it very easy to figure out where to pause playback, and it looks like IE asks you to save it regardless. At least, you can listen along if you want.
Here's the rest. Thanks again to Bobby for doing the interview and taking the time to give a lot of thoughtful, in-depth answers. I do believe he can and will help the A's at some point this season.
AN: What’s the off-season been like for you? New celebrity status among friends? Just a chance to sit back and reflect on the journey so far? Even just a period of quiet? Something else?
BC: A lot of those things. I wouldn’t say celebrity status. I would never let that happen. If I made it at twenty years old and had a lot of success early and a lot of money before I was mentally mature enough to handle it, it might have been different.
AN: You know what I mean, though.
BC: It’s been a long journey and I’ve been able to handle this whole thing in stride. I don’t make it out to be anything more than it is. Although some people look at baseball players differently I don’t feel any different and I’m the same person I’ve always been.
As far as reflecting, it’s been nice. I’ve done it a couple times this off-season. I know it all happened so fast and it went by so fast and not to say I didn’t have time to soak it in and enjoy it, but it’s been nice to look back and remember some of those games and remember what it was like to be up there but ultimately it’s in the past and there’s a bunch of guys over the years that have got called up briefly and never made it back and I’m not satisfied with just getting a September call-up and winning a couple of games.
I’m only thirty-one years old, I’m left-handed, I feel that I’m the best I’ve ever been in my career right now and I’ve gotten better every year and I don’t see myself slowing down. As much as this is a good story because it’s been a tough road for me, I’m not done writing the story. I want to keep going. I’m going to be upset if I don’t make the big leagues out of Spring Training and have to go back to Sacramento and I’m going to do everything I can to get back and I feel like I can help Oakland a lot. I don’t think I’ll just go up there and do okay, I think I can go up there and compete just as hard if not better than other options that we have up there. I hope I get that opportunity and I’m going to try and earn it this spring.
AN: Before we get into that upcoming season, I wanted to go back to the past one more time and just talk about some of the people that have helped or influenced you so far. I’d assume Anthony Recker is one, since it looks like he’s caught you pretty frequently. How about the organization’s pitching coaches and its general philosophy along with support from your parents, friends, anybody else?
BC: Yeah, from within the organization I spent a lot of time with "Emo," Scott Emerson. Without using a bad word I can’t tell you the phrase he actually said to us but he’s like, "You gotta feel like you’re a big leaguer being in Stockton or Double-A, or a big leaguer being stuck in Triple-A," and I’ve always kept that mentality. He’s worked with me a lot, Darren Bush...I’ve had a couple of coaches that sat me down and told me, "Hey, I’m not just saying this to blow smoke up your ass. I’m telling you because I truly believe that you can pitch in the Major Leagues," and when you hear that from a coach within the organization it gives you the confidence that, "Hey, maybe I can," and that’s a big part of it is just believing that you can, believing you can and just following that belief.
With other people, obviously my mom and dad, they taught me the love for the game at a young age and there’s been a lot of times where I’ve needed a lot of help financially and emotionally with baseball, getting released and having to go play Indy ball and live at home and not making any money and they’ve always been there to help me out any way they could, and if I hadn’t had them there to do that for me I might have had to give up and go back to work and start making more money. Because they were so willing to let me follow my dream it allowed me to ultimately reach it.
My scout, Craig Weissmann, I owe him just as much if not more than anyone else just because he always liked me when I was in college and I ended up having Tommy John out of Long Beach and signed free agent with Tampa, but in a time when I thought I’d have to go to these open tryouts and go to Spring Training and go knock on doors and try to find someone willing to let me throw a bullpen for them he called me up and asked me to come throw a bullpen for him. He ended up signing me with Tampa then when I got released he was trying to get me to come back with Oakland and when I got released from Oakland he’s the one that talked to the GM of the team in Puerto Rico that I played for that ultimately that winter led to Oakland resigning me.
Obviously he talked Oakland into resigning me. He got me a job last winter in Mexico in the winter league that allowed me to go pitch really well and develop that connection I had with the team in Cancun. He’s friends with Bob Geren and he’s always kind of tried to work his magic behind the scenes and helped me out any way he could behind the scenes with those guys too. I don’t think, even though I’ve pitched well and taken care of what I have to on the field, I don’t think that in any other organization without a man on the inside like I have with Craig, I would have been able to do it. I don’t think I would have to be honest with you.
Dealing in Minneapolis during his second win
AN: Now we talk about 2011 and the future is pretty wide open at this point. Obviously you’re hoping to pitch again in Oakland and like you said you’d like to do it of course out of Spring Training. There is going to be a lot of competition for that fifth starter spot assuming that you’ve got Anderson, Braden, Cahill and Gonzalez with the first four. You’d also potentially be the fourth lefty in that rotation, which is something that’s not very common. What do you feel about how your chances are to possibly get that spot with the big club out of Spring Training?
BC: Well, right now, slim. Obviously I’m not hiding from it, I’m a realist and I see it for what it is. I’d say I have maybe a 10% chance of getting that fifth spot to start the season as of right now, but I also know that Spring Training is a lot longer than some people realize. A lot happens in the meantime. There’s already four guys that are locked and there’s potentially five other guys competing for that fifth spot, so you have nine guys competing for five spots, technically. The odds of all nine of those guys being healthy at the end of Spring Training are slim especially with some of the injury histories that we have with some of the guys in that spot.
I don’t wish bad on anybody and I’ll pray for the health of every one of us every day just because I’ve been on both ends of it, but if something happens my chances start getting better as Spring Training goes on. Without running my mouth and sounding like a cocky you-know-what I have a lot of internal confidence. I believe in myself and I feel like I have a better shot than some people give me and I don’t mean to say anything, basically I’m going to go about my work the same way, but I know that if I don’t make the team out of Spring Training to start the season it’s not going to be because I didn’t pitch well. It’s going to be, maybe somebody outpitched me or maybe they feel more confident going with somebody with a little more experience, but I’m going to give them a tough decision at the end of Spring Training.
I think I’m going to be on their minds and hopefully if I don’t make the team and I go back to Sacramento I’m at the forefront of that rotation whenever they need someone in the picture. Whether I make the team out of Spring Training or not I know I’ll be up there at some point this season and when I do get up there I’ll stick. I know I can help that team out a lot.
AN: Of course you are the classic "crafty lefty," which you’ve said so yourself: average speed, solid control, mixing up location and speed to keep hitters off balance. There is another lefty on the team who would also be considered "crafty" and that’s Dallas Braden. Did you get the chance to pick his brain or anyone else’s for some tips toward continuing to improve and being more consistent as a pitcher? Also, what have you been working on or have plans for? Fewer homers, right?
BC: Yeah, definitely. That’s never been my Achilles’ heel in baseball. I’ve always been a ground ball pitcher. I can think of some things that led to that happening ultimately, but whatever the reason is I’m not happy with it. It doesn’t look good.
I’ve always been able to get away from technically being a two-pitch pitcher by just putting some movement on the ball. I throw a lot of curves and it’s a good curve but the problem is I have to overuse it a little bit so I give them a little more exposure to it than I’d like.
I’ve been told for a long time that I need to develop a changeup and honestly I’ve tried and worked really hard and it just wasn’t happening. I don’t know what happened this off-season but I changed the grip slightly, I tried something different and it’s working for me. I’ve thrown the last two weekends against Long Beach State, some decent hitters, and Craig my scout flew in from San Diego to watch me throw and he was really impressed. I was throwing as good a changeup as most people in the Major Leagues and it just showed up out of nowhere.
If I can continue to do that and throw that as well as I’ve thrown it so far this off-season then it’s going to change the whole complexion of how I pitch because it will allow me to stay with the breaking ball for put-aways instead of having to throw it in other counts, like behind in the count. I can throw the changeup behind in the count and save my curveball. That’s something I’ve always wanted to work on and just haven’t had success working on it for whatever reason. It’s been a huge addition the last couple months so I’m looking forward to taking that to Spring Training.
As far as what you said about Dallas, he and I are a lot alike. He throws his changeup about as much as I throw my curveball and he’s got a really good changeup. The difference is I think if anybody in baseball had to pick between throwing primarily fast/curve and fast/change they’re going to take fast/change just because they look more alike. That’s something that without even talking to him I’ve picked up on and I’ve seen what kind of success he’s had throwing that changeup and it’s a good changeup and I’m going to try and basically start pitching a lot more like him in terms of throwing more changeups and using it in all counts and keeping that curveball for a put-away whenever I need it.
You just watch how other guys go about their work and everybody’s different. He’s very intense on game day and I’m not like that. You can come up and poke me in the ribs and joke with me in between innings when I’m starting. To each his own but what it comes down to is that’s his routine and I have my routine and ultimately every pitcher needs their routine, something that works for them, and it’s fun to watch other guys go about their work and see how they do things just to pick up little things to help yourself along the way.
Thinking about that next pitch
AN: You talked a little bit before about basically the old cliché of "one pitch at a time." Pitching is one of the most cerebral positions based on how directly involved you are with everything that happens, plus there are the scouting reports for every hitter that’s out there. What’s that balance like, knowing what you need to learn about who you’re facing compared to just focusing on making each pitch you throw the best it can be? In some ways you have to think a lot then much less, right?
BC: Yeah, how you throw that day and what you have working for you that day plays a lot into it too. You can have a scouting report on a guy that says he doesn’t like the ball in but if you can’t get the ball in that day then maybe you’re not going to go with that. You take the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses into consideration but ultimately it depends on yourself.
One thing that I’ve always felt about myself when it comes to pitching is I don’t really compete against the hitters, I compete against myself. I don’t care how good a hitter is, if you’re in a certain count and they call a certain pitch and you hit that spot, nine times out of ten you’re going to win. I think for me personally, executing my pitches and sticking to my strengths is what’s made me successful over the years.
Obviously it’s ever evolving and I haven’t had a lot of experience at the Major Leagues against the best hitters in the game and that remains to be seen if I continue to do that, but I feel that if I’m a good enough pitcher with good enough control and have good enough stuff, if I stick to my game plan and execute my pitches the way that I want to then I’m going to be successful more often than not. Actually, a lot more often than not.
It just gives you more of a peace of mind too, because then you don’t feel like you’re facing Vladimir Guerrero or Joe Mauer, you feel like you’re facing the strike zone and you’re just trying to execute that pitch within the strike zone and if you do that and they beat you, then you’ve got to tip your hat to them. But I think that’s the key to success, is knowing what you’re capable of and doing what works best for you.
Possible return destination, but not the ultimate goal
AN: As we talked about pitching in Oakland vs. pitching in Sacramento, we know that you’ve had a taste of the Majors now and you’ve at least proven you can hold your own there. Obviously you’re not going to find professional athletes who would say, "I don’t really care if I never make it back up there again," but knowing where you’re at right now and where you want to be, how much harder does it make you work so you’re not faced with that scenario, even though it might be likely, it may happen, and you’ve accomplished something you want to but this story’s not over yet, right?
BC: No, definitely not. One thing that I hadn’t experienced in baseball up to this point in my career was pitching in the Major Leagues. One thing that was different last year about Sacramento that will be different this year – and anybody that’s ever played in the Major Leagues can say the same thing – if the highest level you ever play is Triple-A, when you’re playing Triple-A you’re going to be like, "Man, this is really nice. Nice stadiums, nice spread, good baseball," then if you got sent down to Double-A you’d be like, "Man, I want to get back to Triple-A," and it’s always going to be like that. After experiencing a taste of the Major Leagues nothing will ever be as sweet again.
If I’m back in Sacramento, you can’t afford to sit back and go, "Oh, well you know I’m in the Minor Leagues again," you can’t afford to sit back and relax because there’s good hitters in Triple-A too and anybody with a bat in their hands can take it to you. If I go back to Sacramento obviously it gives you motivation to get back up, get the money, get that level of competition back and get the experience of playing at the elite level of your sport, but you’ve still got to stay focused when you’re down there and take care of business. Hopefully when I get there I’ll be able to keep that in mind on a daily basis and never lose sight of what my goal is and take care of business when I’m back in Sacramento.
AN: Finally, as always there is the idea of life after baseball, which now is hopefully a lot farther away than it was last year. I’d think the days of working for Shell and substitute teaching are long gone at the very least but what might you see yourself doing when the time comes, given your interests and the path you’ve taken to this point?
BC: Yeah, it’s something that you think about every year. I used to think about it right after I graduated college when I had my Tommy John thing, you never know if you’re going to play. You’ve always got to have a backup plan and it’s a tricky thing in baseball because I’ve talked to my scout about it and I envision myself obviously in the game of baseball when I’m done playing just because you can go to college and get a degree and do this or become that or what not but ultimately my work experience in life is in baseball and I need to apply that when I’m done.
You’ve got to still envision yourself as a current player and try not to let what you’re going to do when you’re done take away from your drive currently but one thing I would like to do is go back to school and maybe get my MBA or get some kind of a degree that can help me get into the front office of a baseball team. I know the old school days are over of giving ex-players jobs like that and I know they’re going in a different direction these last few years, especially teams like Oakland, that are going to intellects who have a love for the game that didn’t necessarily play it at the higher levels, and they’re going after business-savvy people that can help them run a business and not run a baseball team.
One thing is, I consider myself intelligent. I’m very motivated in terms of getting a higher education and I love the game of baseball, and as much fun as I know I’ve had or as much as I’d like to give back on the field, I think it’d be challenging for me too to take on a different role within the inner workings of an organization. I don’t want to ask the wrong questions or start thinking about it too seriously right now because I know that the opportunity will be there when I’m done, but I think that’s something I’d like to do is use my playing side but also use my educational side and go help an organization as a whole instead of one particular team within the organization.