Ahead in the Count

2nd Game of Two…1st Inning…Catchers Get On The Plate

So, enough about me!!! As I am now in the top of the 1st inning, of the next phase of my life, owning an indoor baseball facility, All-StarPerformance, and helping run a youth team baseball program, the St Louis Gamers, I am observing a plethora of youth baseball, and some things that catch my eye are alarming!!

Being a pitcher, I know and understand how important a catcher can be to our successes, or lack of. As I observe many High School and youth baseball games, I routinely see catchers being asked by coaches to split the corners of the plate with their body. That may be sound advice for the guy who is catching Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine or any other Major League pitcher who makes his living by throwing 90 mph heaters, and being able to hit gnat in the

A_ _ with them. For High School pitchers, even the most accomplished of them, it is at best unnecessary, and worst a recipe for disaster. By allowing, or asking, catchers to sit on the corners to High School hitters, you are asking for a multitude of 1-0, 2-0 counts, extremely high pitch counts (more to come in a later blog!), and infielders who are on their heels with excitement. If a pitcher has any movement at all, and the catcher is on the corner early in the count, there is a very good chance the movement will be lost, as it will end up off the plate, and result in ball ONE. Repeat this scenario on 1-0, and now you are in a definite hitters count. Sitting at 2-0, you are forced to throw a fastball, and groove it. It is a given, that throughout baseball, hitters averages go down between 50 and 100 points, the further they fall behind in the count. Conversely, the averages rise by these same point totals the further ahead they are in the count. Why not have your catcher set up on halves of the plate early in the count (0-0, 0-1,1-0, 1-1,), and teach your pitchers to pitch to contact. Let the natural movement they have work to the corners, instead of off the corner. You will keep your pitchers pitch counts down, keep your fielders on their toes, and in the game, and force the opposing team to get 3 hits to score a run, as opposed to having 2 walks, an error by a previously bored infielder, and a blooper that turns into a 3 run inning. If it is important on a fastball, then it becomes doubly important on a breaking ball. I do not see many High School hitters who handle a breaking ball very well. Not a hanging breaking ball, but a ball that changes directions and planes. So if the hitters are not going to hurt you with the pitch, why try to throw it to the corners and take a risk of falling behind. Get your catchers on the plate, and ask your pitchers to start the ball at the arm side ( pitchers throwing arm side) ear of the catcher, look to have the ball stay on the plate, and be received by your catcher near his opposite knee. 0-2 you ask??? Same thing!!!! Now you want your pitcher to start his breaking ball at the catchers (pitchers arm side) knee, and expect it to finish around the catchers opposite foot. You will have many more hitters offer at, and miss that pitch, than the ball that starts off the plate, and ends up in the batters box. A realistic approach to pitching at the highest levels ( College and Professional) is to get a hitter out, or on, in three pitches or less. That shouldn’t change at the lower levels of baseball. It should be encouraged, and tracked. Getting your catchers on the plate will give your pitching staff a shot at achieving this, while keeping down their pitch counts and keeping your position players in the game.

Side Note: The same coaches who are asking their catchers to set up on the corners early in the count, are the coaches complaining that their pitcher is “nibbling” at the corners. Pick your Poison!!!

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March 4, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Sports Around the World, Uncategorized, written by Matt Whiteside | 2 Comments

Refreshing Article on Youth Sports………

Team’s gesture supports grieving opponent

Updated: February 17, 2009, 7:46 PM

Two missed free throws, ordinarily the cause of a coach’s headache, became the symbol of sportsmanship in a Milwaukee boys basketball game earlier this month.
Milwaukee Madison senior Johntell Franklin, who lost his mother, Carlitha, to cancer on Saturday, Feb. 7, decided he wanted to play in that night’s game against DeKalb (Ill.) High School after previously indicating he would sit out.
He arrived at the gym in the second quarter, but Franklin’s name was not in the scorebook because his coach, Aaron Womack Jr., didn’t expect him to be there.
Rules dictated Womack would have to be assessed a technical, but he was prepared to put Franklin in the game anyway. DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman and his players knew of the situation, and told the referees they did not want the call.

As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders.

–Milwaukee Madison boys basketball coach Aaron Womack Jr.

The referees had no choice. But Rohlman did.
“I gathered my kids and said, ‘Who wants to take these free throws?'” Rohlman said, recounting the game to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Darius McNeal put up his hand. I said, ‘You realize you’re going to miss, right?’ He nodded his head.”
McNeal, a senior point guard, went to the line. The Milwaukee Madison players stayed by their bench, waiting for the free throws. Instead of seeing the ball go through the net, they saw the ball on the court, rolling over the end line.
“I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to the player,” Womack said in the Journal Sentinel. “And then [McNeal] did the same thing again.”
Said Rohlman: “Darius set up for a regular free throw, but he only shot it two or three feet in front of him. It bounced once or twice and just rolled past the basket.”
“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal told the newspaper. “It was the right thing to do.”
Womack, overwhelmed by DeKalb’s gesture, wrote a letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, which had first reported the story.
“As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders,” Womack wrote.
DeKalb had traveled more than two hours for the game, and waited another two as Womack rushed from the hospital, where he had been with Franklin, to the school to gather his team.
“We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events,” Rohlman said in the Journal Sentinel. “We even told Coach Womack that it’d be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2½ hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, ‘Spend some time with your team and come out when you’re ready.'”
The two schools had met twice previously, and this one ended with a Madison victory, but as in the other games, they also a shared pizza dinner “four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids,” Womack told the Journal Sentinel.
“That letter became a big deal in DeKalb,” Rohlman said in the paper. “We got lots of positive calls and e-mails because of it. Even though we lost the game, it was a true life lesson, and it’s not one our kids are going to forget anytime soon.”
Womack, in his letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, added this at the end: “I’d like to recognize Darius who stepped up to miss the shot on purpose. He could have been selfish and cared only for his own stats [I hope Coach Rohlman doesn’t make him run for missing the free throws].”

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, Sports Around the World | 1 Comment

9th Inning…..Getting the “W”

 

 

So here I am, October 2006, 39 years young, a serious stress fracture in my forearm, 17 years of Professional Baseball, 8 organizations, and 4 foreign countries in the rear view mirror. I am looking at “What Now?”.   Throughout these writings, I have had a constant theme.  That being relationships, and opportunities that present themselves.  Over the course of my playing career, I had envisioned myself at some point instructing, or coaching, at some level.  Traveling the minor leagues on a bus again did not appeal to me.  My Triple A manager in Syracuse had mentioned a guys name to me in St Louis that had an indoor baseball facility named Dave Pregon.  After several discussions, we decided we liked each other enough to open a place together.   Going into this process, I ran the idea by my business savvy buddy, and co-writer, Brendan Sullivan.  Brendan gave me the name of a baseball enthusiast in St Louis, named Mark Gallion, who had coached area teams for quite some time.  Mark had graduated from Harvard business school, and was open to sharing thoughts about what was needed in a facility in St Louis.  In January of 2007 All-StarPerformance was opened.  All-StarPerformance is an 18,000 square foot indoor facility where we now give numerous lessons throughout the year, as well as rent cages to teams and individuals.  Over the course of the next year Mark, Dave myself, and another former Major Leaguer, Scott Cooper, who Mark knew from getting hitting instruction for his sons, started our team program, the St Louis Gamers.  We have tried to model our program after some of the top programs nation wide, including the Headfirst Gamers in Washington DC, who are not coincidentally headed up by Brendan Sullivan.  While both Gamer programs pride themselves on teaching the game of baseball at a high level, what separates both programs are the non baseball aspects that are instilled in our players.  Both programs have instructors, coaches, and mentors that played the game at high level.  These experiences give us instant credibility with the kids. Many programs have instructors with playing experience, but what we do with these opportunities is what separate’s us. Because of this credibility, we have an enormous opportunity, and obligation in our minds, to not only pass along baseball knowledge, but use teachable moments that only baseball can provide to impart life skills.  Teaching how to have poise, for example, in challenging situations, because of not only your physical preparation, but your mental preparation is a rewarding experience that we coaches might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy.  Watching a young athlete who is not used to failing deal with those emotions, and help him learn self control is satisfying as a coach. Helping, in small ways, to instill that character is what you are, and reputation is what others think of you, goes a long way in getting youngsters to take the high road, not necessarily the popular one.  Seeing an athlete realize that he may not be the most talented kid on the team take the initiative, through hard work, develop his skill set to be a significant contributor to the team is energizing.  So, while coaching at a Major University, or Major League organization, may be glamorous, what is truly rewarding is having the opportunity to affect young peoples lives in a significant way over the course of weeks, months, and seasons.  As I look back over my career, I realize how fortunate I was to have so many good men as mentors and coaches.  I am fortunate to be in the position to pass along wisdom pertaining to the game of baseball, but truly blessed to be in the position to help shape lives in the game of life.

February 12, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Overview / Background, Sports Around the World, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

8th Inning…..Leaving it all on the Field of Play

No one that I know enjoys, or enjoyed, the thought of their playing career coming to an end.  In fact, over the next year and a half, I had no thought of it happening.  I signed a Minor League Free Agent contract with the Toronto Bluejays in the winter of 2005.  I went to Spring Training and had a very successful 6 week stint with the Big League club in camp.  I was optioned to Triple A Syracuse to start the season, and continued to throw well; eventually getting a call up in mid May.  While that didn’t go very well, or last very long, I was optioned back to Triple A a month later, it still fed my fire to keep reaching for the golden nugget.  2006 saw me go to Big League camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Camp was fine, but I was sent to Minor League camp early.  Once the season started in Triple A Indianapolis, the pitching staff was 12 deep.  The problem was that we had 13 pitchers.  The organization came up with an ankle injury for me, that if I agreed to, I would be put on the “Disabled List”.  That should have been a sign of things to come. Over the course of my 17 year career, I had missed only 2 weeks due to injury.  An odd occurrence, but it was an ankle injury that happened while covering first base. I had a very tough time accepting a “Phantom Disabled List” position, knowing full well that I was healthy, and had worked my tail off throughout my career to be healthy. I decided to take the high road.  I showed up early and stayed late.  I sat in my usual spot in the bullpen, charted pitches on opposing hitters, advised the younger staff members, and held my position on the Kangaroo Court Jury. Basically, I was a coach, who had a sick feeling in his stomach.  I knew the reason I was chosen for the Phantom DL spot was because I was 39 years old and in Triple A.  3 weeks into the season, and with my “ankle” feeling better, I was activated.  I eventually worked my way into the closer role and for the next two months did a fine job.  The sense of accomplishment, from sticking out a tough situation couldn’t have tasted better.  Then the unthinkable for me happened.  My forearm began to hurt!!  Mind you, I have had soreness and some pain before, but never anything to keep me from doing my pregame routine, which included a long, long toss program.  I vowed a “little” forearm thing would not deter me either.  So for two weeks, I pitched in excruciating pain, and continued to follow “my program”.  What I essentially did was, Throw my self back on the DL.  The MRI’s showed nothing, but the Bone Scan showed a stress fracture in the forearm.  A fracture, that was continuing to get worse with each pitch.  I was shut down for the remaining month of the season.

 

When I left Columbus Ohio, the town we had our last road trip in, for St Louis, Mo., I had a feeling come over me that I had not experienced before in any aspect of my life.  I don’t know how to describe it, or have the words to express it.  It was a bitter sweet feeling.  I had the hallow, empty feeling you get when you have done something for the very last time that you absolutely love, combined with the absolute peace of mind that you have when you know you gave everything humanly possible to achieve a goal, or dream.  So, those tears that rolled down my face for the 6 hour drive home had a bitter taste of salt, the soft, soothing texture of cotton candy, and the robust exciting, uniqueness that comes with a newly opened bottle of fine California Cabernet.

 

My first appointment, when I arrived in St. Louis, was with the renowned Cardinals Physician, Dr Gary Palletta.  His group did more of the same tests, and confirmed the findings of the original Bone Scan.  Dr. Palletta said he could do surgery that would place metal pins in my forearm.  The fractures would eventually heal, and I could most likely pitch again.  The healing process would take a while, and, not many teams are in the market for a 40 year old, over achieving, right handed hurler coming off surgery like that.

 

My hope, in writing about this experience, is that it will motivate people young and old to have industriousness, enthusiasm, self control, intentness, and initiative, as the great John Wooden put it, in striving for a goal.  I guarantee that if you do, you will have achieved, and exhibited, friendship and loyalty, while attaining a peace of mind that comes from knowing that you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.  I hope you all are so passionate about something, that when it ends, you are able to experience the same heart wrenching, calming feeling, that I did, which comes from knowing that you literally “left it all on the field”!!!

 

 

January 22, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside | 1 Comment

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.


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

6th Inning…a Foreign Affair

written by Matt Whiteside

 

6th inning…..

 

It was toward the middle of the 2002 season, I was in Triple A, Colorado Springs, with the Rockies organization  when I was approached by a team from Japan.  The Yokahama Baystars wanted me to go to Japan and pitch for them in the 2003 season.  Some look at leaving the country as ending your career in the states.  I looked at it as an opportunity of a lifetime.  I packed my bags on January 29th of 2003 and 17 hours later I found myself landing in the Tokyo airport ready for the adventure.

 

There are many different topics I could choose to discuss from my experience over seas. However, what I found most enlightening was the purity of the country, the respectful nature of the people, and the unrelenting, disciplined work ethic of the people there.  I had always prided myself on the conditioning aspect of being a professional athlete.  When I made the decision to play in Japan, I reached out to people I knew who had traveled that road.  The one consistent message I heard was that the conditioning was nuts over there.  I put in more time that offseason training than ever before, but when Spring Training began the first week of February, I learned first hand what the Japanese think of as conditioning. By the end of the “active warm up”, a 45 minute “ warm up”, we had accomplished what most Major League teams do for post practice conditioning..  One of the Japanese league favorites is to have their pitchers jog with a car tire attached to a rope, that is placed around your waist, and pull it along the out skirts of the sand infields.  You can imagine how heavy those were as they began to fill with sand.  Then consider this was taking place after being on the field for 7 hours already.  Good times.  Needless to say, I would end up in bed at the end of each day with ice packs on both shins, my right shoulder and elbow.  Off the field, the work ethic is evident in that there is no tipping.  Cab drivers, waitresses, and door men do their required service without allowing you to tip them. Imagine that, doing a job to the best of your ability because you have pride in yourself, not because you think you will get extra compensation. It was an experience for sure.

 

As eye opening as the conditioning, was the respectful nature of the people. The Japanese consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to play the game of baseball.  They demonstrate this in many ways.  In the dugouts there is no spitting of seeds or tobacco on the floor or ground. They use a cup and dispose of it. When leaving the field of play the players stop, turn to the field, remove their cap and bow.  It is a way of saying thanks for letting us participate. With age comes respect in Japan.  Being 36 at the time, I was considered a veteran ( senpai), even though I had never played in Japan.  This stature gave you special treatment from the trainers, translators, coaches and players.  You were placed first in line for dinner, at the training table for ice, and when boarding a plane, or train, when with the team.  In their business world that is how you climbed the corporate ladder, by age.  When an “older” business man, within your company, asks you to go to dinner, it is considered a privilege, but also mandatory, regardless of what ever else is going on around you.  In other words if your sons birthday falls on the same day that a senior business man requests your presence at dinner, the dinner takes precedent. 

 

As much as I was impressed with areas of the Japanese culture, I think I was most taken back by the fact that their culture is unique to them.  In the US, we are a sort of melting pot of cultures.   In Japan so many aspects of their culture is unique to them.  When entering a home from the outside world, the Japanese remove their shoes. They do not want to bring any uncleanliness into the home, which is considered sacred,  similar to the dugout.  The cuisine in Japan is unique to say the least.  First, nothing is wasted. Everything you see grown above the ground is suitable to be consumed, as well as the root system holding it in the ground.  When an animal is killed, there are no wasted parts here either.  I tried to take in the whole experience of being in Japan. I can say that I tried parts of a cow, ( tongue, throat, rib cartilage, ear, to name a few) that I had no idea could be used for dietary purposes.

 

When I left Japan, and returned to the states, I had a new sense of appreciation for people and the cultures that they come from.  I am fortunate and grateful for the opportunity they afforded me to play, and live in Japan.  It is another example of how relationships and experiences you encounter shape your future.  My pitching line from Japan lacked something to be desired, but my line on life lessons and traits of successful people took a turn for the better.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | On the Field, Sports Around the World, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

5th Inning….Get a “W”

written by Matt Whiteside

For starting pitchers, even those with the lead going into the 5th inning, it is a difficult one for them to get out of while maintaining that lead.  I look at this point in my career as a cross roads.  I was now recently married, and in a new organization again, the San Diego Padres.  I had worked diligently in the Venezuelan winter league on my mechanics, and psyche, and was ready to get it going again.  I had a very good spring training, but still was sent to Triple A.  This presented a challenge again, but for new reasons.  Triple A for the Padres at that time was in Las Vegas !  The next two years were without a doubt life changing for me.  I went into Vegas weighing 210 lbs and married, and left two years later 185lbs and divorced.  I would not suggest any newly weds  move to Vegas, especially if you play a sport there.  We, as a couple, were struggling when we arrived, and decisions by both left us with unmendable fences when we left two years later.( I am not advocating divorce here, nor am I proud of it for the record).  While this may look like a game where I might get a no decision at best, or quite possibly a Loss, I actually came out of it with a W, although a hard earned one.  

 

A constant theme throughout here for me, are the people who come into your life, the relationships your form with them, and how they influence you.  I had told myself that no matter what situation I was put in for the rest of my career, I would enjoy the experience, appreciate the opportunity, and be a good influence/teammate in the locker room.  While I enjoyed some time in the Big Leagues with the Padres, and was around quite possibly the greatest closer and teammate of all time in Trevor Hoffman, my time in the clubhouse with my teammates in Vegas was what I cherish the most.  Here is where I began to enjoy being a leader, being a resource of information and “paying forward” some of the things veterans before me had provided myself. I started to feel the satisfaction and gratification of having that ability to help and teach.   In doing so I formed friendships that will last a life time, and relationships that have, what seems like never ending tentacles, that continue reaching out to this day. At the center of these relationships was Brendan Sullivan, a member of the blog team here, and the reason I have the good fortune of knowing the rest of the group assembled here.  We seemed to hit it off from day one. It started out as workout partners, throwing partners and bullpen mates. It evolved into best friends for life.  I tried to provide support and information where I could. Wise beyond his years, Brendan helped me through a tough time in my personal life by being a friend and counselor.  I am glad I did not have an ego that would prevent me from appreciating the influence someone younger could make on me.   Seeing, and experiencing first hand, the great work Brendans personal business, Headfirst, was doing when I would make trips to Washington DC in the offseason, gave me a glimpse into the future of what I would like to do post baseball.  Regardless of where you see yourself in life, young, old, successful, struggling or accomplished, if you remain open to and conscious of those around you, you will continue to be influenced and learn. Having the ability to learn from others can, and will, enrich and enhance your life.  I am certainly appreciative of what it has done for me.

 

 

December 17, 2008 Posted by | On the Field, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

4th inning….Reality Check Continued

posted by Matt Whiteside
Ted Sullivan, another contributor on this blog wrote a comment to my last post that I’d like to respond to. Here is what he wrote:

“Whitey – another great post. This brings up an often overlooked fact that nearly everyone who plays sports long enough will be cut at some point. What is your advice to young athletes who get cut by a youth or high school team but still love the game and want to play? Did you use the release as motivation? Did you try to forget about it all together? How did you keep your confidence at a high enough level to continue competing in Triple A and the big leagues?”

Great questions that our esteemed leader poses.  For me perosnally, and I think for most athletes who have a competitive drive, being rejected, cut, released, told no, doubted, or having your abilities questioned causes a burning desire to prove people wrong.  I think the difference between successful people and others, is that they DO NOT TAKE NO for an answer.  I was constantly finding things that someone in the media, a fan, or a former organization said negatively about me to use as motivation to push through tough workouts or tough times.( I had no shortage of comments to choose from).  Terry Francona, the manager in Philidelphia,when sending me down to Triple A Scranton in 1998, told me that the team was in a worse situation when I left the game than they were when I came into the game.  I spent my whole winter spelling out his name in my head when I was working out instead of counting reps.  I knew that his name had 13 letters, so I did sets of 12 that winter, and the 13 rep was for him.  It may sound corny, but it worked for me.  I have never let that instance out of my mind. Along with other comments and situations, to this day, I use them as fuel to burn my inner fire to succeed.
It is easy to lose sight of the successes you have had in the past, thus losing some of your self confidence.  To be able to use these setbacks as motivation,  you must have the utmost confidence in your approach and abilities.  That is something that I tried to never lose focus on.  The mind is a powerful tool.  If you have it in your heart to play a sport, or achieve a certain grade in class, there is a way. A quote I like to use in these situations is, ” You do not lose the fight when you get knocked down. You lose the fight when you don’t get back up!!!”

 

December 9, 2008 Posted by | On the Field, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

4th inning…Reality Check

posted by Matt Whiteside

 

Up to this point things have rolled along pretty smoothly. The 4th inning is usually an inning where you are required to go through the order a second time, and make some adjustments. And isn’t that what life is about?  As mentioned previously, I was called up in August of 1992, and spent significant time in the Big Leagues for the next 5 years.  That is not to say there were not challenging times. I was sent back to Triple A a few times for various reasons.  We went through a strike at the Major League level, and I made my share of bad pitches along the way.  But I had formed great friendships, lived and played in the city with whom I was drafted by, judged the Miss USA pageant, and basically had a charmed career by most standards. 

 

In Spring Training of 1998, I was released by the Texas Rangers on the next to last day of camp.  I was 31, newly engaged ( getting released for the first time right after this should have been a sign), healthy ( never had an arm injury), durable, and had performed fairly well for my former team.  I was also floored.  I had seen the business side of baseball up close many times, in many ways, over the last few years.  Being released for the first time by the team you were drafted by hurt in a different way.  I received plenty of phone calls from coaches, and people with in the organization, with words of encouragement and thanks.  While these softened the blow, they couldn’t remove the stinging feeling I felt. I realize there are far worse things than being released by a Major league organization, but when baseball is what you do, it is difficult. It was time for an adjustment.

 

 Not “knowing if I would ever play again”, I jumped at the first opportunity that presented itself.  The Philadelphia Phillies had a young guy in their plans, but did not want to hand the job to him.  They wanted him to want, and earn the position.  They needed a veteran pitcher to fill the void until he was ready, and I fit the need.  It was a short lived teachable moment by the Phillies, as they recalled the young guy as soon as there was an injury, and he began to get the call more and more frequently.  I eventually landed in the Phillies Triple A city of Scranton, and played the hand that was dealt to me that year.  I was in a new organization with no one who I felt knew me as a pitcher or person.  I tried to be a good teammate, and be a positive influence on others. In the offseason I reflected on how successful I was in those areas, to find a silver lining.  I didn’t like what I saw.  It was the longest year of my professional career by far. Not all the decisions, or choices we make in life are well thought out, but you have to live with them.  Some people say that tough times develop character.  I choose to think that it reveals character.  I vowed after that season to get my self straightened out on the field, and that what ever hand I was dealt in the future, I would make the most of it.

 

 

 

December 3, 2008 Posted by | On the Field, written by Matt Whiteside | 1 Comment

3rd inning..1-0 good guys

posted by Matt Whiteside

On August 5th, 1992 I was in a hotel room in Oklahoma City, Ok.  I received THE phone call from my manager, Tommy Thompson.  He asked, “ would you like to go to Arlington Tx  tonight and pitch for the Texas Rangers?”  After making sure he was not kidding, I confirmed that I thought I would be able to make it.  The Triple A team in Oklahoma City that year was a veteran laden team, and there were several guys deserving of a call up.  One, John Barfield, found out I had been called up and came to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport.  A kind gesture for sure,  but not one all veteran big leaguers would have made like John did.  It made an impression on me.  THE CALL, could have easily gone to John who was having a fine year himself.  He showed me in that gesture what a veteran is supposed to act like in all situations.  Over the next 2 months I would see plenty of those examples displayed, as well as a few who you’d rather not emulate. 

 

Upon arriving at Arlington Stadium the first person I met was Joe Makko, the Home Clubbie.  The 2nd person I met was my childhood hero, now teammate, Nolan Ryan.  So many times, the hype is more than the real thing.  Not in this case!  Nolan exemplified all the things a Professional Athlete should be.  He was a tireless worker, an intense competitor, gracious in public, and a great teammate. One example, of many, was that Nolan had a routine he went through prior to each start, as most great players do.  A few weeks into my rookie campaign Nolan asked for my assistance with his routine.  I obliged of course, and proceeded to the bullpen where I held my hand out for Nolan to perform the “towel drill” for 5 minutes.  When he was finished, he lumbered off to the mound, and I retreated to the clubhouse.  The following day in Kansas City during batting practice, Nolan asked if I wanted to do the “towel drill”.  I assumed he meant hold my hand out so he could do more work.  Instead, he got down on one knee, and let me go through the drill, with his hand being MY target. After 26 years ( at that time) in the Big Leagues, Nolan was still not to good to get on a knee to help a Rookie teammate.  What an impression that made.

 

Toward the end of this story book year, actually coming off a long road trip in late August, Kenny Rogers asked where I was staying at home in Arlington.  I told him an extended stay.  He said, “you stay in a hotel on the road.  Get your bags, and come to my house.”  That would have been a considerate offer from a bachelor in the big leagues, but Kenny was, and is married, and had a 2 year old daughter.  Kenny and Becky assured me it was no trouble, actually insisted, and had me as a guest in their home for the last month of the season.  I can’t begin to describe how these two examples, and countless others, influenced me in what it means to be a “teammate”

 

Just as clear as those examples were in what to do, I was also privy to how not to do things.  As cordial, considerate, helpful and positive Nolan and Kenny were, Jose Canseco was in stark contrast.  His short comings and poor decisions are well documented, so I won’t bore you with most of them.  However, one instance clearly defined the type of guy Jose is.  We were playing the Cleveland Indians in old Cleveland

Stadium.  Kenny was pitching, and Jose was in right field.  Most of you have probably seen the high light ( low light) reel where Jose takes a fly ball off the forehead that bounces over the fence for a home run.  What no one ever hears about is that 2 hitters before that, Jose went for a fly ball down the right field line.  While he had himself positioned in foul territory, the ball fell fair by 3 feet for a double. Now the “home run ball” is a 2 run homer. 2 Earned runs for Kenny and a few laughs for Jose.  It was bad enough, the plays themselves. But, on the bus after the game back to the hotel, all Jose could do was laugh and make jokes about it.  Not an apology, or remorseful bone in his body to the pitcher/teammate who he turned 2 outs into 2 earned runs.

 

Now at the highest level possible, I was still being influenced by people, men, who I had “seen on TV” and looked up to.  Yes, you come in contact with all types through out the years.  Yes, you can easily be influenced in negative ways.  We all have here at one point or another. But, knowing, understanding, and filtering the people in your life, and the impact they make, develops you, and what you eventually stand for.  Surrounding yourself with positive people, and then trying to “pay it forward” if you will, helps you  appreciate and become a quality person/ teammate in life.

November 30, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment