Category: Minor League Baseball
The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran is a must read for fans who want a glimpse inside the game! It combines elements from two of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four and Minor Players, Major Dreams, for a fascinating look at the life of a minor league veteran bullpen pitcher. I read it cover-to-cover on my flight to and from Boston last weekend, and I literally laughed out loud on the plane at a number of places in the book.
First, there’s the “withered old puppet of evil” the author, Dirk Hayhurst, lives with during the offseason, otherwise known as grandma! She forces him to sleep on an air mattress, because she refusese to remove the plastic cover from the new mattress in the other bedroom for fear it will wear out. She also routinely wakes him at the break of dawn to chase squirrels from her bird feeders and curses him out on a daily basis.
When it comes to baseball, Hayhurst’s life is just as amusing. I particularly liked when he bribed the guys with the radar guns in spring training to add one MPH to his pitches in return for a “log of dip and a six-pack.” Then there’s “Coach Castrate” who is on a mission to make his life miserable all spring. Then he goes “Star Trek geek at a convention excited” about meeting his idol, Trevor Hoffman and proceeds to embarass himself and his teammates with a lofty philosophical question Hoffman doesn’t understand.
The philosophical question he asked of Hoffman is just the beginning of Hayhurst’s exploration into what it means to be a baseball player and whether it’s something he wants to continue to be a part of. He starts out being disenchanted with a coach who informs the players they are gods of entertainment. Then he’s sent to A ball only hours after making the AA club out of spring training. He calls his agent to vent and is greeted by his self-created nickname, Shizzle, which he now finds ridiculous.
Next comes my favorite line in the whole book, as Hayhurst is confiding to his agent that he might not want to be a ballplayer anymore: “I don’t open up the f—ing wardrobe and frolic into Narnia every time the umpire says play ball.” While I am one of those fans for whom baseball is all magic and happiness, I recognize that basebal makes me feel that way, not necessarily the guys who are grinding it out in the minor leagues every day.
I don’t want to go into too much more, because you should read the book yourself. If you’ve ever said, why do these guys complain so much, I would give anything to play baseball for a living, then read this book. While Minor Players, Major Dreams was a long-standing favorite of mine, I can say it’s be dethroned. The Bullpen Gospels has everything it has and more, with a great deal more comedy. I flew through it on my flight to and from Boston, which means I read the whole thing in about 5 hours. It’s an easy read and will literally make you laugh out loud!
I think I identify with CJ’s story because it’s much like my own. He’s encountered plenty of bumps along the way to realizing his dream of playing professional baseball, but he never gives up. When he makes the Majors, his story is going to be book and movie worthy. I, of course, would love to write the book!
A comment from one of you prompted me to ask CJ about his recent release from the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels A). While I’m disappointed that I have to report his release, I really love the response I received from him. I should have expected no less from him:
Baseball is a beautiful game, professional baseball is a cutthroat business that gets ugly more times than not. I was given my release mid road trip, post a game that I pitched 1.1 innings with 3 ks and a pick off. My manager called me in the office, told me how much I mean to the team and how much of a leader I was for the younger players then proceeded to tell me that its just a numbers game and the big league roster had to make a spot so every level got a pitcher bumped down, so when it came down to the bottom the decision lies upon a minor league player development guy that has never played the game and he see’s a 24 year old free agent that is still in A ball, the decision is easy when its put in black and white who to release. But the thing is the situation is never in black and white to us players, coaches, staff, fans etc… It was this same guy a year ago that had the idea to convert me from a catcher to a pitcher, which I believe I did well considering the transition so late in my career. Not even a full year later he releases me with no true explanation but “its just a #s game”. I lost a lot of respect for people in his position. I understood the situation I was in, but on my end I felt like I was set up to fail, and when I didn’t they had to conjure an excuse to make room for a player that was less capable. Its a dirty world that the public eye rarely gets a chance to see better yet understand. The minors is full of rats and snakes, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, I have met some of the most incredible friends in the world threw my ventures in pro ball, plus I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
Currently I am going back to my catching roots, swing the bat on a regular with my buddy Cecil Fielder at his Knockhouse in Marietta Ga. I have a few Independent ball offers, so I’m weighing my options while I’m getting back into catching/hitting and expect to make my decision in the next 2 weeks where I will play. I’m 25 years old, and I know I can still play this game with the best of them. To my fans, you are my motivation, Thank You! – CJ Bressoud
I’m not the kind of girl who cries at sappy movies or at the drop of a hat. However, I’m a sucker for a good sports story. Reading CJ’s words made my eyes sting a little, because he’s just the kind of person you want to see succeed. I just finished reading The Bullpen Gospels (book review coming this week), and I’ve previously read (and encouraged others to read) Minor Players, Major Dreams. If you haven’t read these books and you want to know what being a professional baseball player really entails, go get them today! Both give a great depiction of minor league baseball and the struggle most guys endure to become a professional baseball player. Read these and you’ll understand CJ’s whole story.
While I hate that CJ is having to overcome this most recent bump in the road, I love his outlook on the situation. Not that much time has passed since it happened, yet he’s staying positive, working hard, and giving thought to his next move. While I’m sure it must feel somewhat personal, he’s been around baseball long enough to know that it isn’t. He hasn’t let this setback change his attitude or confidence in himself. We can all learn something from him on this one. How many of us, our family, or our friends have been laid off in the past couple of years for reasons that seemingly had nothing to do with our performance? Everyone should be able to identify with what CJ is going through. I just hope you all have the terrific attitude and work ethic CJ has. It’s because of that I’m confident that CJ will find another home in baseball and continue to pursue his dreams!
Earlier today I told you the Rome Braves were off to a 3-0 start and were sending highly regarded prospect Arodys Vizcaino to the mound to go for the sweep of the Kannapolis Intimidators. Well, I’m happy to report they are now 4-0 after sweeping the Intimidators with a 10-4 win today!
Vizcaino wasn’t exactly lights out, but he walks away with his first W of the season. He went for five innings and gave up eight hits, two walks and four earned runs while striking out five. The relief corp of Julio Surinach and Thomas Berryhill combined for four scoreless innings. Surinach struck three in his three innings, allowing only two runs, and Berryhill had a strikeout and gave up a hit in the ninth.
The offense was the story today though, as it has been most of this series. The one through eight hitters each tallied up at least one hit today, combining for sixteen hits and ten runs. Centerfielder Kyle Rose had another big day, going 4 for 6 with an RBI. He’s now batting .588 for the season with a .588 OBP and 1.176 OPS.
Designated Hitter Christian Bethancourt had another big day at the plate as well. He was a perfect 4 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Third baseman Jordan Kreke had the other multi-hit game, going 2 for 6 with an RBI, although he struck out three times. Riaan Spanger-Furstenburg and Braeden Schlehuber each had a double, and Ramon Flores had a two-run homerun. Mycal Jones, Matt Weaver and LV Ware each contributed a single as well.
The Rome Braves are the only 4-0 team in the South Atlantic League. They now head to Greenville, South Carolina to take on the 1-3 Greenville Drive in a four-game series before heading back to open at home against the Savannah Sand Gnats on Friday.
Braves fans who live in Atlanta are lucky enough to be able to see not one, not two, but three Braves teams play in and around the metro Atlanta area. As much as I love to go see the Atlanta Braves, I also enjoy spending a warm summer evening in the smaller confines of Coolray Field, where the Gwinnett Braves (AAA) play, or State Mutual Stadium, where the Rome Braves (A) play.
This year I have added interest in the Rome Braves, because I’ve gotten to know several of the players on the team: Chris Masters, LV Ware and Mycal Jones. Accordingly, I’ve been checking the box score every day during their series in Kannapolis, and boy have they been hot! If the Rome Braves are any indication, the Atlanta Braves have some incredible talent in the pipeline.
Going into Sunday, the Rome Braves are undefeated, having beaten the Kannapolis Intimidators 4-0, 1-0, and 6-3.
The number three prospect in the Braves organization, Julio Teheran, toed the rubber for the first game and went six strong innings where he only gave up two hits and one walk while striking out seven batters. My friend, Chris Masters, shut down the side in the seventh inning with three strikeouts. The Rome Braves were hot at the plate too. Outfielders Kyle Rose and Cory Harrilchak, and third baseman Jordan Kreke each contributed a pair of hits. Both of Kreke’s hits were doubles and one gave him his first RBI of the season. The number six prospect in the Braves pipeline, catcher Christian Bethancourt had his first homerun of the season and contributed the other three RBIs of the game. My friend, LV Ware, had his first hit of the season as well, giving the Rome Braves eight hits in the game. Because the game was the first of a double-header forced by a rainout the night before, the game was shortened to seven innings, and the Rome Braves walked away with a 4-0 win.
In the second game of the night on Friday, the Braves bested the Intimidators 1-0 in seven innings on another eight hits. Playing second, Ryan Barba contributed a pair of hits, with outfielders Kyle Rose and Ramon Flores, shortstop Mycal Jones, DH Riann Spanjer-Furstenburg (can’t wait to see if that fits on a jersey!), third baseman Jordan Kreke and catcher Braeden Schlehuber each contributing a hit. I’d say they’ve got a lineup that can hit top to bottom, no matter who on the roster is playing! They had another strong pitching performance as well, this time by Ryan Weber. He went 4 and 1/3, allowing only one hit while striking out three. He was followed by Luis Avilan for an inning and two-thirds and Tyrelle Harris for an inning, who each had a pair of strikeouts while holding the Intimidators hitless.
Game three of the four-game series was last night and saw the Braves win 6-3 on eleven hits. Again, the lineup produced from top to bottom. The number one and two hitters had a big day. Kyle Rose was in at DH as the leadoff man and went 3 for 4, while Mycal Jones followed in the two hole and went 2 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Harrilchack, Kreke, Bethancourt, Flores, Weaver and Ware each contributed hits, and Spanjer-Furstenburg had a pair of walks. You couldn’t ask for a more productive lineup! The pitching gave up more runs than in the first two games, but were still tallying up strikeouts. Starter Brett Oberholtzer went four and gave up five hits and a walk and struck out one. Then Paul Clemens and Robinson Lopez each pitched a pair of innings and each racked up a pair of striekouts. Clemens allowed two runs on two hits and a walk, and Lopez gave up one run on one hit when his throwing error allowed a man on base just in time to be driven in by the one hit allowed. Cory Rasmus closed out the game, allowing only one hit while striking out two.
Today at 5:05 p.m. the Rome Braves will go for the sweep in the fourth and final game of the series. Arodys Vizcaino, the top prospect gained by the Braves in the Javier Vazquez trade with the Yankees, is taking the mound today. Listen live at Rome Braves!
Let’s review….the Rome Braves have pitching. The Rome Braves have hitting from top to bottom. The Rome Braves are the real thing! So, if you’re in the Atlanta area, make the drive up to Rome. Their home opener is next Friday, April 16th at 7:00 p.m., and legendary Braves broadcaster Pete van Wieren will be throwing out the first pitch.
Between attending home openers for the Atlanta Braves and Gwinnett Braves, educating you all on the difference between revenue sharing and the competitive balance tax, and my day job (whew!), I’ve gotten behind on our “Checking In” segment! So, I bring you two updates from our friend, CJ Bressoud…
The first update is from this past weekend as CJ broke camp:
Camp is basically over. All that’s left is a 9am show-and-go where I’ll pack up the locker and catch a flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is gonna be my 3rd time going to Cedar Rapids, but my first time as a part of the bullpen. I’m excited to get out there and compete. I feel good about my overall spring, I went from “your on the outside looking in” to earning a spot in the pen. It also feels good to have staff and other players tell you they’re proud or that you deserve it, or “I was rooting for you.” That’s what’s its all about to me, working hard to see a better outcome. Whether it be personally or as a team you have to try to win every day. And comments like that along with support from family, friends and fans make the daily preassures a little easier.
I really feel confident in this team. We have about five 1st rounders or supplemental round guys on our roster. Our pitching staff is tough, and our pen should be solid along with 2 of the RAWest outfielders in you’ve ever seen. Cedar Rapids…here we come!
The Cedar Rapids Kernels had their home opener last night, and our friend CJ came into the game and pitched the eighth and ninth innings! Here’s what he had to say about their first game:
Opening night last night was a blast besides it being 30 degrees and only 1,300 people in the stands. We opened up the Midwest League this year against the Beloit Snappers. Our starter, Garrett Richards, went 5 scoreless innings, then Buddy Boshers went a noisy 2 scoreless innings. Then I got the rock for the 8th and 9th.
I punched out my first 2 batters then proceeded to have a 7-pitch at bat to their leadoff guy, a pesky lefty who kept fouling off my fastball. I finally won the battle against him making him fly out weakly to right field.
Going into the 9th we had 1 out and the bases loaded but due to a baserunning blunder they doubbled us up on a line drive to center, plus our runner on second took off as soon as the ball was hit so he was dead meat and it was the end of our inning.
So I toe the hill in the 9th freezing from head to toe. I strike out the first 2 batters again then a 2-out 4-pitch walk, where I might add every pitch was borderline. The very next pitch we caught the runner stealing, and I’m out of my innings unscathed and perfect. We ended up loosing in extra innings due to an error, but that’s gonna happen. It just sucks because it was such a well played game all night untill 2 blunders on our behalf really late in the ballgame. Overall I felt good for the weather conditions, my mom and dad were also in attendence so that was really special. We host Beliot again tonight and plan on taking the next 2 games in the series for sure!”
So, in summary, our friend CJ had a terrific first outing! He pitched two hitless innings where he struck out four batters and only walked one! Not bad for the first game back in 30 degree weather…in fact, it’s pretty darn great for any outing. It’s great to see CJ starting the year out strong! Can’t wait to hear about his next outing, and wishing him all the best of luck going forward!
For love of the game,
We had a meeting with Pujols this week. He taught us a few of his pointers for his success. Albert’s work ethic is out of this world. He shows up super early and leaves super late. When Pujols spoke it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop on carpet!
This week I had the opportunity to work with Mitchell Page (Low A hitting coach) and he broke down the importance of a short swing and how its the only way to be successful in the higher levels. He gave me the same workout he gave former big leaguer Tony Womack….place a tee right next to an L-screen so the ball is nearly 3 to 5 inches away then hit the ball over and over again creating muscle memory.
Everytime there is a Big League Game in Roger Dean Stadium, Cardinal fans come from all over. The town of Jupiter bleeds Cardinal Red and I love it. Cardinal fans are simply the best ever, greeting you with a smile everytime you see one! Even at the minor league games, fans from the minor league towns come down to see who is trying out for the team.
St. Louis Cardinals 44
For love of the game,
Next up in the “Inside Spring Training” series is Braves LHP Chris Masters. He’s an Atlanta native, having graduated in 2006 from Kennesaw Mountain High School. From there, he went on to Western Carolina University, where he established his dominance as a starting pitcher. At WCU, Chris twice made the All Southern Conference Team, was a six-time Southern Conference Pitcher of the Week, and was a Cape Cod League invitee. He was selected in the 11th Round of the 2009 First Year Players Draft. Chris spent last year with the Danville Braves of the Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie), where he was quite impressive. He led the league in strikeouts (85), and he was second in the league in ERA (1.42) and wins (8). He also had an impressive streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run that I know extended to at least 25 innings. On top of all of his impressive baseball talent, Chris is also one of the tremendous players who gives his time to L.E.A.D., the inner-city baseball league I’m always touting! Without further adieu, here’s Chris Masters on his first Spring Training experience:
Well this is my first spring training since joining the Braves organization. I went to Western Carolina University for three years and got drafted by the Atlanta Braves after my junior year in the 11th round of June Draft. I went straight to Danville Virginia to play in the Advanced Rookie League and played there the whole season. We ended up winning the Appy League title.
I did not go to instructional league so I was not familiar at all with baseball in Orlando. After training in Marietta, Georgia during the offseason I headed down to B.E.S.T. Camp (Braves Early Spring Training) on March 1st. After a seven hour drive and the antcipation of my first spring training, I arrived in Orlando. We all stay at the Fairfield Marriot in the Marriot Village close to Downtown Disney and only 5 minutes from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex where we play. The hotel is great and the location is in proximity to everything which is very convenient.
First day at the field, we met everyone and the entire staff and it was really more of an orientation day to get a feel for how a day to day schedule would go. We also received all our jerseys, pants, workout stuff. Basically for the first 9 days we threw some bullpens, went through pitcher fielding practice and eased into throwing some live bullpens and gettin adjusted to be on the field with a team again.
March 9th and March 13th were the next arrival dates for pitchers and the rest of position players and now they have divided us up on to different teams. I am on the Rome squad when we break up onto our different fields.
Some of the other cool things that we have experienced. There is a great fan base here at the Wide World of Sports Complex. The facility itself is amazing with a lot going on throughout the day. There are some guys that get called up to dress out with the big league squad which is a great experience for them to get an experience and the extra motivation to get there permanently. We see some of the big league guys around walking in and out of the field. The two hall of famers (one already in and one that will definitely be in) we have seen so far are Phil Niekro and Tom Glavine. Phil Niekro comes around to help out randomly and has done some one-on-one with some of the guys. Tom Glavine just came by these past three days and he spoke to us about his experiences and the mental side of pitching which was so insightful and amazing. He is around the fields at times and has watched us throw our bullpens, which was really neat. I prefer not knowing too much about what the rest of spring training has in store because the anticipation makes it exciting and you never know what the Braves are going to do next and who is going to get moved up or down. The competition is starting to heat up so the players are really starting to get into it. The atmosphere is awesome and the whole experience is a true blessing. I am excited to be here and very excited to be apart of such a classy organization and competitive program with rich winning tradition!
I hope you all enjoyed that great insight into Spring Training as much as I did! I’m looking forward to seeing Chris in Rome this year. For those of you who live in the Atlanta area, consider making the trip to Rome for some games this year! They have a beautiful complex, and you’ll enjoy getting to see all of the young talent the Braves have in the pipeline!
For love of the game,
This is the first in an exciting new series of inside looks at spring training from the players themselves. First up is my good friend, C.J. Beatty, who is a member of the Cardinals organization. This is C.J.’s first Spring Training, so he’s understandably excited. Here’s what C.J. said about his experience thus far:My first day of camp was awesome! I walked around the clubhouse with my chest out proud to be apart of the Cardinals. The players in the clubhouse seem to want “it” bad and will do what ever it takes to get it. We ran 4 60-yd dashes and 6 30-yd dashes for conditioning. We long tossed for ten and did defensive drills for another ten minutes. Batting practice was great having all 120 plus guys warching you take bp and the coaches too! We ended with a meeting with all Cardinals minor league personnel. Adam Wainwright spoke to us today and he was talking about the mental toughness of the game. Afterwards we made us a sandwich to get by until the hotel. I feel great about the situation.
I asked C.J. about some tweets he had after meeting Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols. Here’s what he had to say about those amazing experiences:It was amazing! I honestly felt like a kid again! Jaw dropping! They walk with so much power! And when they speak nothing but wisdom comes out. Thanks,
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C.J. was a stand-out athlete in high school, playing both baseball and football for Glenn High School in North Carolina. After being recruited by a number of schools, he chose to attend North Carolina A&T State University. As a freshman, C.J. was the MEAC Rookie of the Year, NC A&T Rookie of the Year, First Team All-MEAC (2007-2009), Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and he led the MEAC conference in homeruns in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was also the Male Athlete of the Year at NC A&T in both 2008 and 2009. In 2008, C.J. was ranked as the #4 prospect in the Coastal Plain League by Baseball America. C.J. was selected in the 26th round of the 2009 First-Year Players Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
C.J. is actively involved with L.E.A.D., the inner-city baseball organization where I serve on the Advisory Board, and frequently gives back in his community. He also has what I think is the best website of any baseball player, so please visit it at www.cjbeatty.com!
C.J., have a terrific 2010 season!
For love of the game,
Earlier this week I was lucky enough to spend some time with the number one prospect in Major League Baseball, Jason Heyward. He and I are both involved with L.E.A.D., an amazing organization in Atlanta that is bringing baseball to the inner-city in a new and innovative way. In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering with his mother, who is simply delightful. I knew before I ever spoke with Jason that he was an outstanding young man because of his hands-on involvement with L.E.A.D. and the wonderful upbringing he had with such terrific parents.
I wasn’t disappointed in anything I observed about Jason Heyward up close and personal earlier this week. I was lucky enough to get to sit in on his session in the batting cage, and I was struck by his professional demeanor. While he carried on conversations with other players outside of the cage, he was completely focused inside the cage. It was impossible to watch and not notice how seriously he took this opportunity to hit in the cage and get instruction.
I observed several things about Heyward’s routine in the cage. In a round of soft toss I noticed that he was lifting his back leg up and bending at the knee when he swung. Later, I asked hitting instructor, CJ Stewart, why Jason was picking up his back leg during soft toss. CJ explained that this was part of a drill Heyward learned years ago that teaches the importance of shifting your weight during your swing from the back to front leg. As a pitching instructor who makes my easily-embarrassed teenage girls stand on one leg for the “flamingo drill,” this is going to make for a great example. Even Jason Heyward, the number one prospect in Minor League Baseball, goes back to drills to improve his game. Take notes, girls!
Another thing I noticed was that Heyward talked to himself in the later rounds. He’d call out a situation as he got in his stance, like “runner on second,” and then he’d say something like, “That’ll work!” after the contact if he thought he hit the ball like he wanted. I also noted that he took the time to get in his stance before each pitch and both his stance and his swing remained consistent through all of the rounds he took in the cage.
If you haven’t already heard, Heyward has a beautiful swing. And if you haven’t heard, you probably shouldn’t call yourself a baseball fan because it’s impossible to escape the talk of this rising talent. His stature and the full follow-through on his swings most reminds me of Fred McGriff, who I’ve heard him compared to more than once. It makes me excited to be a Braves fan.
For me, the only thing better than a top prospect who is reminiscent of Fred McGriff is one who is also a great role model for young fans. Heyward is all that and more. The first time I met him was in early November at a luncheon for L.E.A.D. I’ve been to events in the past when sports figures or celebrities slipped in just before they took the podium and slipped back out immediately after they spoke. It seems to happen more often than not, but it’s not what happened when Jason Heyward came to the L.E.A.D. luncheon. I saw him pose for dozens of pictures with people and spend time talking to some of the young athletes who participate in L.E.A.D. His speech was all about giving back and getting involved, and after observing him I don’t doubt that he will continue to be an integral part of L.E.A.D. throughout the years.
The second time I saw Jason was the day following the luncheon when he participated in the celebrity clinic L.E.A.D. put on for inner-city youth. Jason was there from start to finish, along with his parents and brother who were also extraordinarily kind and generous people.
Going into my third encounter with Jason this week, I wanted to respect him while he worked in the cage, but I was also dying to talk to him about some of the subjects in my book. I waited until he was done batting and then asked if he’d mind a couple of questions. It wasn’t at all an interview but just a fun chat with someone else who loves the game of baseball. He was incredibly generous with his time and knowledgeable about the inner-workings of the business of baseball. It was truly a pleasure to talk to him.
With the natural talent that he has so well refined through his hard work, Jason Heyward is sure to be an impactful addition to the Braves lineup. More than that though, he’s a terrific role model for all the young fans. You may not agree that sports figures should be role models, but the bottom line is that they are and so often they forget the little guys out there watching them with hopeful eyes. Jason Heyward is someone all Braves fans, young or old, will be proud to claim as our own.
So, a big thank you to Jason Heyward and CJ Stewart for letting me have a front row seat outside the cage, and a special thanks to Jason for letting me pick his brain on boring things like revenue sharing! Also, thanks to Dexter Fowler, Jay Austin, Scott Robinson and Telvin Nash for letting me watch their sessions in the cage as well! It was an afternoon any baseball fan would love to have!
For love of the game,