Ahead in the Count

7th Inning…Set Up Man

posted by Matt Whiteside

 

The 7th inning, as you well know, is a point in the game where fans stand and prepare for the stretch run.  Players realize, for better or worse that this day’s battle is coming to an end.  It is typically a time when short relievers begin their routine prior to a late inning appearance.  As I reflect back, the 2004 season in Triple A Richmond, with the Atlanta Braves, was a little of all three for me.  I was 37 years of age, returning from Japan and back in an organization that I had a history with.  Often in Triple A, organizations sign veteran players to provide leadership, support and tutelage for their younger, upcoming prospects.  When the season began we had very few veteran type players on our roster.  The coaching staff gave me the closers role, and entrusted me with the bullpen and locker room chemistry.   

 

The season for me personally went great.  The season for the team was hugely successful as well. We played in the International League Championship Series, losing in 4 games. The success of the team is what I enjoyed the most.  Every year in baseball the make up of the roster is different. There are different personalities and egos to contend with.  At the Triple A level another issue to contend with is players expectations.  Young players are on the rise, knowing they are a phone call away from reaching their dream.  Veteran players have often times tasted that success, and have a chip on the shoulder, feeling they are too good for this level.  It can be an interesting mix for sure. 

 

One of several success stories from the 2004 season was a young, strapping Dominican pitcher named Roman Colon.  Roman is a 6’4’, 225 lb right handed pitcher who throws 97 mph, but did not posses a second pitch.  He was however, the owner of a quick temper, selfish attitude, and the ability to resist constructive criticism.  Roman had risen through the lower levels of the minor leagues with little resistance from opposing hitters due to his sheer velocity.  At the Triple A level that was not the case.  Often times our short comings become apparent when we face adversity.  Roman was no different.  He was used to being “the man”.  Now he was relegated to mop up innings to work on his second pitch out of the bullpen, and his ability to be a viable asset to the team. For whatever reason Roman sought me out numerous times during batting practice to ask me questions.  He felt that the coaching staff didn’t like him, that his teammates hated him, and that the best thing that could happen was for him to go back to Double A.  What I concluded from these talks was the Roman was as immature emotionally as he was developed physically.  It was also apparent that his ego and confidence had been shaken.

 

In baseball clubhouses a common, usually humorous, way of policing yourselves is Kangaroo Court.  This is an animated court system where the players file fines against their teammates for injustices that range from being late for stretch, to pitchers leaving the dugout after being pulled out during the middle of an inning, to being on their cell phones in the clubhouse. At no time however is ones performance on the field mentioned. The court is usually made up of veteran players, with one of the leaders being anointed Judge.  This particular way of keeping the clubhouse atmosphere light served two purposes for Roman. First, early in the process he had an in ability to laugh at himself, and took all good hearted ribbing personal. This led to some contentious moments for sure.  Second, the Kangaroo Court system forced Roman to be accountable to his teammates in regards to team rules, and conduct.  After about two months Roman made a transformation.  He had, through diligent work, developed a nasty slider, and either through a conscious effort, or the Courts persistent nature, became a reliable member in the clubhouse.  I never had the opportunity to ask which it was.  Roman was called up to the Atlanta Braves big league team not long after he learned to be, in one word, a Teammate.  His ability had never been a question with the organization, however his ability to fit in had.  Having learned this tough lesson, Roman was able to reach the pinnacle.


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January 7, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Overview / Background, Sports Around the World | 1 Comment