January 2014

In a Game of Failure, Stubblefield Finds Success in a Second Chance

Signing up to play professional baseball means that you expect to fail.

You expect to fail in the field.

You expect to fail at the plate at least 70% of the time.

And worst of all, you are expected to fail in your pursuit of playing Major League Baseball, as nearly 90% of players in Minor League Baseball will never reach the majors.

Statistically speaking, former Fort Wayne TinCaps infielder Tyler Stubblefield, who has officially retired from playing baseball, is among the 90%, but by no means would he consider himself a failure.

The 2013 Fort Wayne TinCaps season came to a close September 9, 2013, with a playoff loss against the South Bend Silver Hawks at Coveleski Stadium. The only things that stood between the players and their trips home were a two-hour bus ride and the cleaning out of their lockers the next day.

Stubblefield, who’s now 26 years old, was on the first shuttle out of Fort Wayne the next day. He was in his car by 7 a.m. and driving home to Georgia, where he was born and where he played his college ball at Kennesaw State University. Other than home, he wasn’t quite sure where he was headed. Until his phone rang…

**********

The 2013 season was an up-and-down ride for the fourth-year pro. He opened the year like he had each of the previous three seasons—at Spring Training in Arizona. Except this season, the day before players broke camp to head to their respective assignments, Stubblefield was cut by the Padres. He was a player without anywhere to play. It was then, he started to learn, that baseball is not only a business, but it’s also a game that is built around relationships.

When Stubblfield played for the TinCaps in 2011, the first of his three seasons in Fort Wayne, he was managed by Shawn Wooten. Stubby, as most everyone in baseball knows him, had a great relationship with Wooten who, for the last two seasons was the manager of the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Padres. (This year Wooten will be the hitting coach for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers), which will be managed by former Great Lakes Loons skipper Razor Shines.) Wooten told Stubby that he’d help find him somewhere to play, and he came through for his former player. With the help of TinCaps hitting coach Morgan Burkhart, who had previously been a manager in the Frontier League, Wooten landed Stubblefield a spot with the Southern Illinois Miners. It wasn’t affiliated baseball, but it was a gig.

While Stubblefield was getting settled at Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, the home of the Miners, Stephen Carmon, a shortshop out of the University of South Carolina-Aiken, had locked down the starting gig for Jose Valentin’s team. Then, one day about three weeks into his stay with the Miners, Stubblfield got a text message from the man in charge of the minor leagues for San Diego’s system — Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith.

“What league are you in,” it said.

“Frontier League. What’s up?” Stubblefield wrote back.

“Would you be interested in being a Padre again?” the reply read.

“Tomorrow would be fine,” an interested Stubblefield typed in response.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield's 2013 season took a quick and positive turn.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield’s perspective on the 2013 season took a quick turn.

Carmon had gone down with a season-ending injury, and the TinCaps were in need of a shortstop. Stubblefield was back.

**********

On the other end of that early-morning phone call was Stubblefield’s college hitting coach, Ryan Coe, now a scout for the Texas Rangers. Coe had given Stubblefield one opportunity—the chance to play college baseball—and was about to present him with another.

“He told me, ‘You’re 26 years old and you’re in Low-A. Why don’t you stay in the game and keep making money?”

Coe had heard that there were some open scouting positions within the Padres organization, and made a call to recommend Stubblefield for one of those spots.

Stubby, who’d always been one of the most cerebral and well-liked players on the teams he played for in Fort Wayne, wasn’t quite sure about leaving the game just yet.

“My plans for after the season depended on how I did. If I got there and had an average year and got benched, I was gonna be done,” he said. “I had the best statistical year through the Frontier League and playing in Fort Wayne. I was leaving there and thought I felt like I bought myself another year to ply. I’ll never know if I did or not.”

The next day, Stubblefield got a phone call from Chip Lawrence, who is the Southeast regional scouting supervisor for the Padres.

“He put me through a little interview process on the phone,” Stubblefield said. “At first I was a little shocked and he was like, ‘Ok thanks.” I thought (the chance to work for them) was over. I was deer hunting a week later and I was in the deer stand and I saw a phone call pop up from San Diego. It ruined my hunt but it was (Padres Director of Scouting) Billy Gasparino and (the PadreS) were going to have me out to interview in Nashville.”

**********

Stubblefield has always “gotten it” when it comes to baseball. He knows what it takes to get a starting job and be on the field every day. He knows that doing interviews with local media and team broadcasters is part of the gig, like it or not. He knew the tricks of the trade. However, he wasn’t used to formal settings.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

“I’ve never done any (job) interviews. Any interview I’ve ever done in my life has been on a baseball field. I was nervous, I was shaking, sweating,” Stubblefield said, thinking back to his suit-and-tie meeting with the Padres in Nashville.

With some of the team’s most important player development personnel in the room, Stubblefield realized he was still talking his favorite language: baseball. The interview wasn’t formal at all, he said, but more of a round-table discussion with questions targeted toward how he might fare as a scout:

-What are you going to do when you’re driving through the boondocks on a Tuesday night at 12 a.m. on the way to see another player?

-Will you be confident enough in yourself to stand up for a player you think is going to make it to the big leagues?

After the questions were done, Stubby got the answer he wanted to hear—the Padres liked his baseball knowledge and he was set to begin the next chapter of his baseball career as a scout.

**********

When I caught up with Stubblefield, he was just leaving a hotel in North Carolina. The top two players in next year’s draft, North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon and East Carolina University’s Jeff Hoffman, are both there and he was in the area for a visit. Sure, the Padres don’t pick until the 13th spot, but they’ve got to be prepared for everything.

“I’ve spent seven nights in a hotel in the last eight days. It’s Minor League Baseball except I’m driving and I make my own schedule. Six months of tearing the roads up, putting miles on your car and stressing over paperwork,” is how Stubblefield describes his new profession.

“I love the game of baseball. I’m gonna attack scouting like I attacked playing. I was an overachiever on the field. I never should have played at the levels I played at. I’m going to take my overachievability and outwork other guys. I just came off the field with players who are at the Low-A level so I know what a pro athlete looks like and what these players look like. I can compare a lot of these guys to what I saw.”

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

While he’s gotten to making up new words like “overachievability”, he’ll have to get used to an entire dictionary of new scouting terms. He says that, along with the paperwork for player evaluations, will be the biggest adjustments.

“It’s an artwork to sit down at a computer at night and paint a picture with words for your general manager and your scouting director to read and like. For me it’s a huge learning process, and if I don’t get it, it will hinder me from being the scout or employee that I want to be. I think I see the same things that more veteran guys see–they can write a little check mark and write a paragraph off of that. I have to write the whole paragraph and then go back and make it longer and better to make it understandable for my bosses.”

**********

Stubblefield’s territory covers Northeast Georgia, all of South Carolina and all of North Carolina. He’s again signed up for a thankless existence, one that comes with even less recognition and accolades than playing in the Midwest League, and most days even that’s not saying much, unless you’re playing in Fort Wayne.

“What I’ll remember most is how awesome the fans were and the field and the atmosphere that we got to play in every night,” Stubblefield said of his time in a TinCaps uniform. “I’ve done three in-home visits with high school kids and the first thing I talk about is how much of an impact the fans and the atmosphere Fort Wayne brings to the table.”

He’ll still be eating fast food, still be watching baseball, but now he’ll be getting paid more than he was as a player. But when your paycheck is $1,100 per month, as it is in the Midwest League, it’s not hard to go anywhere but up.

“Right now,” Stubblefield says, “the decision is easy. I thought it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It still might be come April 1st when all of my buddies break camp, but right now for me it was being 26. I want to be able to have a family or have money and start a life and actually have something to put in the bank and sit back on. It’s time to start.”

**********

MUSICAL GUEST

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

Michael Collins Named TinCaps’ New Manager

After much waiting and anticipation, the big day finally came Tuesday afternoon when the San Diego Padres announced who would succeed Jose Valentin after his two seasons as manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. That successor is Michael Collins, who, at 29 years old, becomes the youngest manager in the history of the Fort Wayne franchise.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Collins may at first seem an unconventional choice–young, no major league experience–but that would belie what he brings to a dugout and a clubhouse, according to those who have worked with him and played under him.

For the last two winters, Collins has been the manger of the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League. (When it’s winter here in the United States, it’s summer in Australia.) This past season he brought unprecedented success to the franchise, bringing them their first-ever Claxton Shield, the championship trophy of the ABL. Collins, also known as “Tubby” (still trying to get to the bottom of that nickname..stay tuned!) also played two seasons for the Cavalry. In fact, one of the members of his staff this past season was former TinCaps pitcher (2010) Hayden Beard, also a native of Australia.

From people I know within the Padres organization, I’ve heard that Collins is a great leader of men, and also someone who is very easy to work with and get along with. Another plus, I’m told, is that he is fluent in Spanish, a skill that is almost a must these days in baseball. Although the TinCaps will have athletic trainer Ricky Huerta, who speaks Spanish, it can only be a positive for a manager to communicate with his Spanish-speaking players directly.

The Cavalry posted an article on their website about Collins coming to work in Fort Wayne:

“Tubby says he’s excited to head to the Midwest because, much like Canberra, they have fans who are incredibly devoted to the team.

“Managing the TinCaps will be a great opportunity,” Tubby said. “They will have a talented young team on the field to go with great community support and involvement much like the Cavalry but on a much larger scale.”

The Cavalry have the second-best attendance in the league and draw an average of 1,314 fans per game. The TinCaps, on the other hand, averaged 5,766 fans per game during the 2013 season, which saw the most fans ever pass through the gates in the history of Fort Wayne baseball.

More from the Cavalry:

Tubby says he’s really excited to be a part of the organization and their mission to win the title, but it will all come down to how they can do as a team.

“Success will come down to the players’ development,” Tubby explained. “As coaches we will give them everything to prepare and they will need to apply it to their individual games.”

Tubby joins hitting coach Morgan Burkhart and pitching coach Burt Hooton. After coaching at a rookie level last year, this will be the highest level Tubby has ever taken on and he’s ready for the challenge.
 
“We are very proud of Michael,” Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter said. “He has a great baseball IQ and has amazing leadership abilities. Watching him manage our team over the last two seasons, you can see how players want to be their best for him. The players, management, and fans in Fort Wayne are lucky to have him.”

Collins is no stranger to the Midwest League, having played in this circuit during both the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, which were then an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In 2005, Collins hit .320 with the Kernels, good for the third-best average in the league. He spent eight seasons with the Angels organization, and played two with the Padres, playing at every level with the exception of Fort Wayne. His playing experience also includes two seasons in the Australian Baseball League. During the 2010-2011 season, he hit .360 and was the batting champion of the ABL.

Collins is certainly a change from Jose Valentin, who spent 16 years in the majors, and brought plenty of perspective and experience with him. Collins, on the other hand, never played in the major leagues and will be anywhere from 7-10 years older than some of the players he’s managing. For the last two seasons, Collins has also managed in the Padres system, working with the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012 and the Arizona League Padres in 2013. Early prognostications seem to indicate that a good chunk of that Arizona League roster may make up Fort Wayne’s squad in 2014. Collins’ lack of MLB experience shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, though. He’ll bring a fresh perspective as someone who has recently “been there, done that” and can relate to the players. Not to mention the rest of his staff–Burt Hooton and Morgan Burkhart–bring a collective 18 years of MLB time, along with Hooton’s World Series ring. Interstingly, Hooton (63 years old) is more than twice as old as Collins. The beauty of baseball is that, as Hooton told me many times last year, it’s a simple game, and the teaching lessons can be delivered by those young and old.

2014-Coaching-Staff

Here’s a look at every manager in Fort Wayne history, and respective ages for those skippers while they were here:

Mike Boulanger – 1997 – Age 47

Craig Colbert- 2000 – Age 34

Michael Collins – 2014 – Age 29

Doug Dascenzo – 2007, 2008, 2009 – Ages 42, 43, 44

Jim Dwyer – 1993, 1994 – Ages 42, 43

Jose Flores – 2010 – Age 36

Gary Jones- 2003 – Age 41

Tom Lawless- 2001 – Age 42

Jose Marzan – 1998 – Age 32

Randy Ready – 2004, 2005, 2006 – Ages 44, 45, 46

Dan Rohn – 1995, 1996 – Ages 39, 40

Dan Simonds – 1999 – Age 33

Jose Valentin – 2012, 2013 – Ages 42, 43

Don Werner – 2001 – Age 47

Tracy Woodson – 2002 – Age 39

Shawn Wooten – 2011 – Age 38

As you can see there, the previous youngest manager was Jose Marzan, who was here for all of one season in 1998, the team’s last year of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

Collins chatted via email with The Journal Gazette telling the newspaper he believes his relative youth will be a positive:

“In regards to relating with players, I guess I’m not far removed from playing with a quick transition into coaching, so I’m closer in age than other coaches and spending 10 years all in the minors, I understand what these players are going through,” he wrote.

His predecessor, Jose Valentin, was a fiery guy. What will Collins be like?

“My managing style,” he wrote, “(is) I like to let the players play. Try to line them up in the best position to succeed and let them be aggressive. Early days right now, but there are a lot of great young players in the organization, should be a good mix of young talent.”

I think TinCaps fans should be excited for Collins to come to Parkview Field. He brings high praise, a great managerial track record, experience in the Midwest League, and more than a decade of playing experience to the clubhouse, and also worked with many future TinCaps last year in Arizona. In what was a busy off-season for Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith, Collins looks to be a great hire. Smith had to make many hires with the departure or re-assignment of many members of his minor league staff.

Former roving pitching coordinator Mike Cather, who is very popular among players, is the new pitching coach for Triple-A El Paso. Gary Jones, a former Wizards manager, who was San Diego’s minor league infield coordinator, left to become the third-base coach of the Chicago Cubs. Jones is extremely well liked around baseball, especially here in Fort Wayne. Other new hires that had to be made included the following minor league positions:

San Antonio (Double-A) Hitting Coach

Lake Elsinore (Advanced-A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Eugene (Short-Season A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Arizona League (Rookie) Manager

(For more on all of those personnel changes, take a look at the news story on Padres.com.)

Why is having the right manager important? From the outside, it might just seem like he fills out a lineup card, makes pitching change during the game, and gets after it with the umpires when he feels they’ve made a poor call. But I can tell you that it’s a lot more than that. A manager at this level has a great impact on players who are in their first or second years of professional baseball–how they carry themselves, their punctuality, their attitudes (which vary greatly with the successes and failures of a 140-game season), how they take care of their bodies, how they dress when they travel for road games–all of which are crucial, but many times unseen, aspects of having what it takes to continue rising through the ranks of professional baseball. These players come from high school or college programs where they were the best player on the team, and the rules didn’t always apply. Now, it’s once again a level playing field, and those most open to the instruction they receive at this level are most often the most likely to succeed.

As I write this on Friday, January 17th, we are just 76 days away from Opening Day 2014, when the TinCaps play host to the Great Lakes Loons. If you haven’t heard, individual tickets go on sale January 30th. If you make your purchase that day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Suite Level Lounge at Parkview Field, we’ll even throw in lunch for free. Sounds like a good deal to me!

MUSICAL GUEST

Nappy Roots…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Michael Cuddyer

Welcome to the third installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.

I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.

Contestant number three in our series is Michael Cuddyer, who is currently a member of the Colorado Rockies, just the second team he’s played for in his 13-year major league career.

Cuddyer was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and went to high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Although throughout Minor League Baseball we’ve become accustomed to seeing the best players come from locations that have climates conducive to year-round baseball (Florida, California, Georgia, etc.), Virginia isn’t necessarily what you’d think of as one of those baseball hotbeds. However, in the years since Cuddyyer was drafted by Minnesota in 1997 (1st round, 9th overall), many more high-level players have emerged from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, such as brothers BJ and Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.

The draft is held annually in June, but Cuddyer didn’t sign his contract with the Twins until August of ’97, meaning that he missed any chance of playing for an MiLB affiliate that season. However, under the most recent revision of the collective bargaining agreement, draft picks must be signed by mid-July, which means they’ll get on the field, even with a rookie-level affiliate, much sooner.

Cuddyer played with the Wizards in 1998, appearing in 129 games. He hit .276 with 12 home runs (he would’ve been the team leader each of the last few years), and 81 runs batted in. He had a .364 on-base percentage, and also stole 16 bases in 1998. He saw time around the infield during his time in the minors. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, he holds a mark in the Fort Wayne record books that may never be broken—most errors in one season. He committed 61 errors during the 1998 season. The highest single-season error total by one player in the TinCaps’ five-year tenure is 43 by shortstop Jonathan Galvez in 2010.However, Cuddyer’s 81 runs batted in are also the fourth-most by any player in a single season, and his 37 doubles are fifth-most.

Photo from "Baseball in Fort Wayne" a book by Chad Gramling.

Photo from “Baseball in Fort Wayne” a book by Chad Gramling.

In 1999, at age 20, he moved on to Advanced-A Fort Myers, where he saw all of his major numbers improve. He hit .298 with 16 home runs and knocked in 82. In 2000, he moved up to Double-A New Britain, playing 138 of a possible 142 games. He repeated the level in 2001, missing just one game and hitting an impressive 30 home runs, while driving home 87 runs and hitting 36 doubles. His stellar play at Double-A, much more a breeding ground for top-level prospects than Triple-A is, earned him a trip to the big leagues in 2001 as a late-season call-up for the Twins, and he made his MLB debut on September 23, 2001 against the Cleveland Indians.

Cuddyer started the 2002 season with the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. This is the field they played on:

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from charliesballparks.com)

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from charliesballparks.com)

(Side Note: There is currently only one Minor League Baseball team in Canada , the Vancouver Canadians, Short-Season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The last affiliated team to leave Canada was the Ottawa Lynx, which became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) in 2008.)

He made his way back into the majors late in the 2002 season after playing 86 games in the Pacific Coast League. 2003 saw him split time between Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) and the bigs, with 2004 being his first full season with Minnesota.

Michael_Cuddyer_2

The 6’2″, 220-pounder has played the majority of his MLB games at third base (355 games), but has seen time at a variety of spots including outfield (130 games), shortstop (122 games), first base (68 games), second base (nine games) and right field (four games). During the 2011 season, he became the first Twins position player to pitch in 21 years, and fans even made a Facebook page petitioning the team to play him at all nine positions in one game. He has hit double-digit home runs in nine of his 13 seasons in the majors, and in December 2011, the last remnant of Fort Wayne’s association with Minnesota to still be with the Twins, he signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies. In exchange for losing Cuddyer, the Twins got two supplemental first-round draft picks. One of those picks, Jose Berrios, ended up playing against the TinCaps this past season as a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Midwest League.

In 2013, Cuddyer had a career season and won the National League Silver Slugger Award:

“Cuddyer, 34, won his first career batting title by leading the National League with a .331 mark in what was his second season in Colorado. He finished with a .311 road average to tie for the sixth best mark in the National League.

Cuddyer was named to his second career All-Star team in 2013 and finished the season with a batting line of: .331 average, 162 hits, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 20 home runs, 84 RBI, 74 runs, .389 on-base percentage, .530 slugging percentage.

The Norfolk, Va. native set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (.919) this season.”

He has one year, the 2014 season, remaining on his contract with Colorado.

When Cuddyer made his debut in 2001, he became the 27th Fort Wayne alum to reach Major League Baseball.

MUSICAL GUEST

Lupe Fiasco and Ed Sheeran…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Matt Antonelli

Welcome to the second installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.

I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.

Our second Fort Wayne alum that I’m profiling is Matt Antonelli, who was the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 draft by the San Diego Padres. He played five regular-season games for the Wizards in 2006–a very short stay in Fort Wayne–but he’s written a lot about his baseball career and I’ve had the pleasure of reading it, so I wanted to let him share his insights with you, the readers of It’s All Relative. Matt made his MLB debut on September 1, 2008, with the Padres, before spending time in the Nationals, Orioles, Yankees, and Indians organizations. He is now coaching baseball and is finishing his studies at Wake Forest University, where he was when drafted by San Diego.

Please enjoy the Q&A, and know that you can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattAntonelli9.

It’s all Relative: You got drafted in June of ’06, and after starting out at Eugene, and came up to Fort Wayne for the very end of the season. What was that 2006 year like for you?

Matt Antonelli: The thing that comes to mind about the 2006 season was how long it felt. Our college season basically started in January of that year, then I got drafted in June and went directly to Eugene to start my short-season schedule. I believe after being sent to Fort Wayne in August, our season ended around the middle of September. From there I went to instructional league until the beginning of November. It was the first time I had ever played baseball everyday for basically 10 months straight. Plus, I was getting use to the travel demands of pro ball, so the first year is definitely unique.

IAR: You played just five games with the Wizards, and only one at Memorial Stadium. What do you remember about Fort Wayne?

MA: Although I was only with the Wizards for a few weeks, I really remember my time there because professional baseball was still very new to me. It was my first time as a professional being called up from one level to the next in the middle of the season, so it was a really big deal to me. Coming from Eugene, where the stadium was very old and the clubhouse was extremely small, I remember thinking Fort Wayne’s stadium felt like a big league park. I was also very lucky to get promoted right before the start of the playoffs, so it was my first experience as a professional player in a playoff situation, which was a lot of fun.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

IAR: When that 2006 season ended, you had a good amount of future major league players on the roster—Yourself, Mike Baxter, David Freese, Jose Lobaton, Will Venable, Wade LeBlanc, Jon Link, and Joakim Soria…did you notice anything among that group, as a whole or from individuals, that would’ve indicated to you they had major league potential?

MA: All of those players you mentioned were really impressive players. At that point I was so new to professional baseball and the Major Leagues seemed so far away that I never really thought that far ahead. With that being said, they were all extremely talented players and I knew they all had very bright futures. The first time I saw David Freese hit I felt he was one of the better hitters I had ever seen. Wade LeBlanc possessed the best change-up I’d ever witnessed. Will Venable was such an impressive athlete with his size and speed combination. Jose was great behind the plate and really impressive with his ability to pick runners off the bases. Mike Baxter was a gamer. He was such a hard nosed and smart player that always got the job done. Jon Link had a great sinker / slider combination that made him dominant. Joakim was the one player I never got to play with because of my limited time with the Wizards, but his success at the Major League level speaks for itself.

IAR: What was that first off-season like for you since you were out of school and now a pro ballplayer?

MA: The first off-season is definitely strange once you become a professional player. It was the first time in my life where I didn’t have to go to school or play baseball for about a three month period. One thing I love about baseball is the practice time. I really enjoyed the off-season, being able to get up everyday and have three months to dedicate yourself to working out and preparing yourself for the following season. It was always one of my favorite times of the year.

IAR: What was it like hearing you were getting called up in 2008?

300px-Matt_Antonelli_2010

MA: Being called up in 2008 was definitely the highlight of my baseball career. When I received the news it was a little strange for me because I was in the midst of one of my toughest seasons of my baseball career. I really struggled that year and it wasn’t until August that I started to turn my season around. I definitely did not envision myself getting an opportunity to play at the Major League level that year, but when I got the news I was extremely excited.

IAR: I know you’ve battled through a lot of injuries during your career…what was the decision like to retire and what are you up to now?

MA: People are very surprised when they hear me say this, but my decision to stop playing wasn’t as hard as I would have imaged it to be. The last few years of my career I had a lot of issues with my hand and wrist. I had already missed almost 300 games because of it during my career, and I just didn’t feel like I was the player I needed to be to make it back to the Major Leagues. I wasn’t able to practice the way I needed to. It was really tough for me to hit multiple days in a row without it hurting. I wasn’t able to work out in the weight room the way I once was. And I played a good amount of games the last few years in a lot of pain. When I was finally released at the end of this April and did not receive any phone calls from Major League teams, I decided it was best to step away from the game and get into coaching. I just finished the fall coaching and finishing my Senior year at Wake Forest University. I love coaching and have really enjoyed my transition from player to coach. I envision myself coaching and developing players for the rest of my life.

IAR: From having been in the minors, we know about the bus rides, the hotels…all of that good stuff. What would you want people to know about Minor League Baseball who have never experienced it?

MA: Minor League baseball was a great time and I have a ton of memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. It is really unique because you literally spend every single minute of the day for almost eight months straight with a group of twenty five or so guys that basically become your family. That is probably the strangest part about not playing anymore. I no longer arrive at Spring Training every February and reunite with all of my buddies.

IAR: What was the greatest sacrifice you made to play professional baseball?

MA: I don’t know if I would call them sacrifices, but I definitely had to make some choices throughout my life to make sure I prepared myself for the opportunity to play professional baseball. The biggest thing is putting in the time and being dedicated to your development. A lot of my life was dedicated to traveling around the country, finding teams to play with and against that would push me to keep improving as a player. Once you become a professional player the biggest sacrifice players make is with regards to their family. I’m from the Boston area and played most of my career on the West Coast away from my family. I spent eight seasons away from my girlfriend and now wife, which is never an easy thing to do. Many players spend extensive time away from their kids. The lifestyle is definitely not easy, but the reward of realizing a childhood dream and making it to the Major Leagues makes it a little easier and ultimately worth the ride.

SCATTERSHOOTING

Away from baseball, I’ve been keeping busy on the basketball trail. This past weekend, I was down in Wheeling, West Virginia, to call high school basketball, and had the pleasure of working with Paul Biancardi (left) and Fran Frashcilla (center), two great basketball analysts.

BdLHM3JCcAAPWpE

In the midst of all this deep cold, I’m thinking about next weekend, when I’ll be down in Florida at Montverde Academy for another high school hoops game. If you’re around the TV on Saturday at 4:00, flip on ESPN and I’ll keep you company for a few hours.

We’ve still got no word on the coaching staff for 2014, but will let you know as soon as we hear it. The Dayton Dragons just announced theirs today, and both Manager Jose Nieves and Pitching Coach Tony Fossas will return. Luis Bolivar joins the club for his first season as hitting coach, replacing former Padres infielder Alex Pelaez.

MUSICAL GUEST

Coldplay…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 116 other followers