In baseball, you can go years and years and have every day teach you something different and show you something you’ve never seen before. That’s the type of game it is. Jose Valentin is in his second season as a manager after a 16-year playing career, and so he’ll continue to encounter new situations at the helm of a team throughout this season, and in years to come.
In Wednesday’s game, one of those new situations was one Valentin had been anticipating for some time. He said he’d been looking forward to it–how could he not?-but that he didn’t know how he would feel when it finally hit him.
The odds of making it as a professional baseball player, that is, one who is paid to do it for a living, are slim. There are millions of little leaguers, thousands upon thousands of high school athletes, even fewer college athletes, and at the highest levels of baseball, only a select few who even make it as a draft pick or a non-drafted free agent. So what are the odds that Jose Valentin would coach against his own son, Jesmuel, an infielder for the Great Lakes Loons, Wednesday afternoon at Parkview Field?
“It was a little hard in the beginning,” Jose said following Wednesday’s win. “Today felt different than other days. You want to see (your son) doing well, but he’s playing for the opponent, so you’re hoping he has a good game, but hopefully he doesn’t get an (at-bat) where he does some damage against you.”
Jesse, as Jesmuel is known by many, finished the game 0-for-2 with two walks, one of them intentional. Let’s call that a draw for game one of the series.
In the top of the seventh inning, Valentin called for an intentional ball four against his son, who was at the plate with runners at second and third. That was to set up the possibility of a double play, which, although it didn’t come to fruition didn’t matter by the time the ninth inning rolled around.
“It’s always nice to see your son do well after all the time you’ve spent with him, and trying to help him out and make him a good player. But now that I’m coaching against him, I have to divide myself between father and son and just be a coach and try to win. Late in the game, that’s the way I was feeling,” Jose said.
Jesse, who is a switch-hitting middle infielder just like his father, who played in the major leagues for 16 seasons, and was originally signed out of Puerto Rico by the Padres, also wears his dad’s number, 22.
“It’s nice to see that. I would like to see him do well and keep wearing the number that I wore during my career,” Jose said from his subterranean office at Parkview Field.
For now, the score stands: Dad 1, Son 0.
“I hope he has his best games all three days that he’s here, but I have to get a win.”
For the third time this season, the TinCaps won in walk-off fashion, defeating Great Lakes, 6-5, in front of 7,434 fans at Parkview Field Wednesday afternoon. Here was the scene as Alberth Martinez hit an infield dribbler, scoring Brian Adams from third for the game-winning run:
In all three of the walk-off wins this season, the man to drive in the game-winning run has been an unlikely candidate.
The first walk-off hit came April 26th, courtesy of Stephen Carmon, who had come in to the game as a ninth-inning pinch runner, winning the game with his only at-bat. Jeremy Baltz delivered with his only hit of the game for a win just two days later, and Alberth Martinez’s RBI fielder’s choice yesterday preceded an 0-4 stretch against Loons pitching. Martinez, unfortunately, is still stuck in an 0-18 slump, as the run scored on a fielder’s choice.
They’re not pretty wins, but the TinCaps will take them.
Listen to our TinCaps Report Podcast to hear post-game interview with Manager Jose Valentin and pitcher Joe Ross:
U2…take it away!
The TinCaps were on the road for a week, so you can imagine that Brian Adams probably heard more than his fair share of “Summer of ’69.” But now with the TinCaps back in control of the speakers at Parkview Field, we return with the third installment of Walk-Up Wednesday, featuring Corey Adamson.
In this edition, Fort Wayne’s favorite Australian outfielder divulges on his original walk-up song selection that was rejected, explains how a romantic comedy led him to his current choice, and educates us on the music scene “down under.”
We present — without comment — Corey’s walk-up song…
First, in case you’re not familiar, let’s go behind-ish the music of Natasha Bedingfield:
* She’s British, not Australian.
* Natasha’s most successful song so far has been “Unwritten,” which earned her a 2007 Grammy Award nomination for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.” She lost to Christina Aguilera for “Ain’t No Other Man,” so no shame in that.
* Yes, she had a hit single called “I Wanna Have Your Babies.” No, her last name isn’t made-up. It’s coincidental.
* “Pocketful of Sunshine” peaked at No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 2008.
* On a personal note, I attended Natasha Bedingfield’s one-song performance at Syracuse University in the fall as part of the One World Concert where she sang “Unwritten.” And — if I may add — she crushed it. Thankfully there’s no video of me attempting to sing along. (I can only hit the high-notes on grand slam calls.)
John Nolan: How did you come to choose “Pocketful of Sunshine” for your walk-up song?
Corey Adamson: I wanted to have “Milkshake,” because that’s my song from back home, but I couldn’t have that.
So I was watching the movie Easy A, and she got a card and it was playing “Pocketful of Sunshine.” It was really a snap decision. I was like, “You know what, that’s what I’m gonna get for this year.” I listened to it a couple of times, it sounded good, and that’s what I chose.
JN: Will you be keeping “Pocketful of Sunshine” for the season or changing it up?
JN: Wait. Did you just say “Space Jam”?!?!
CA: People love “Space Jam.” Even the umpires were like, “Are you really walking out to ‘Space Jam’ right now? That could be the coolest walk-out I’ve ever heard.”
JN: I concur with those umpires. But moving on, does Natasha have any baseball-related symbolism in “Pocketful of Sunshine” for you?
CA: Nothing at all. I literally just saw it on a movie and was like I guess that’ll do.
JN: Switching subjects a bit, how do you think music here in America compares to music back home for you in Australia?
CA: When it comes to the big names here, we have them over there, too. The same sort of stuff is popular. But over there, Australian hip hop is coming through. A couple guys – Illy and Drapht — sound really good and completely different than anything over here. (Fellow Australian TinCap) John Hussey and I showed a couple of guys on the team today and they thought it was awesome. Rodney Daal actually wants Illy as his walk-up.
JN: Guess we’ll have to watch out for Illy and Drapht. (Note to readers: Also watch out for the cold draft that could make you ill.) The list of Australians who’ve had the most success in the U.S. includes the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Rick Springfield (“Jesse’s Girl”), and Gotye. Anyone else us Yankees should know about in Australian music?
CA: One guy that not many people know about is Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC. He’s from right where I’m from in Australia. But if you want to hear new Australian music, like Illy and Drapht, you can listen online to Triple J. That’s the best radio station there is in Australia.
Thanks to Corey for having some fun with us and dropping knowledge, too.
Feel free to give us some Walk-Up Wednesday feedback on Twitter @John_G_Nolan or by email to email@example.com. We’re all ears for suggestions, including more takes on Australian hip hop.
After a glorious Midwest League-wide off day yesterday, the TinCaps are back in action this morning from Parkview Field. Entering today’s play Fort Wayne is 16-13, putting them third in the Eastern Division behind South Bend and Bowling Green, respectively.
The last series was a difficult one for the TinCaps, as they were swept in a three-game set by the Peoria Chiefs, and only scored two runs in 27 innings. Overall, though, the outlook remains positive for a TinCaps team that is hitting .264, which is fifth-best in the 16-team Midwest League. That sweep at the hands of the Chiefs was the first time Fort Wayne had been swept in a three-game road series since July 7-9, 2012, at South Bend.
A day of rest was much needed after a 4:45 a.m. arrival back at Parkview Field on Tuesday morning. The TinCaps went 2-3 on their six-day road trip, which included a rainout on Friday in Burlington. Now the rotation starts fresh, with Joe Ross taking the bump today in search of his fourth win of the season. Max Fried and Justin Hancock round out the trio of pitchers scheduled to throw in this set against Great Lakes. Being back home at Parkview Field is a small blessing for the TinCaps after being swept, considering they’re 10-3 at home, and only Cedar Rapids (11-2) has fewer home losses.
The Loons are 12-18, and come into Parkview Field on a five-game losing streak, having lost eight of their last 10 games. One interesting name on their roster is Jesmuel Valentin, the son of TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin. Jesse, as he’s known for the sake of easy pronunciation among those without fluent Spanish tongues, was selected by the Dodgers 51st overall in last year’s draft, and because of surgery to his hamate bone, missed out on making the Loons’ opening day roster. Just like his dad, Jesse is a switch-hitting shortstop. Through 12 games, the younger Valentin is hitting .297 (11-37) and has two stolen bases. That’s a father-son matchup we in the press box will have our eyes on for the next three days.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Here’s a snapshot I took during batting practice on Monday in Peoria.
To hear my pre-game chat from Monday with Morgan Burkhart, during which we discuss his transition from the coaching ranks of independent baseball into affiliated baseball, and the early season success of Alberth Martinez and Corey Adamson, listen below:
Lana Del Rey…take it away!
The first inning of Sunday’s afternoon game in Peoria looked promising–Maxx Tissenbaum and Jeremy Baltz put together back-to-back one-out hits. Although Fort Wayne didn’t score in that first inning, it appeared as though they would have similar success against Chiefs starter Tyrell Jenkins as when they last faced him July 23, 2012. In that start, the 2010 supplemental first-round pick gave up six runs in four innings, in a game that Quad Cities eventually won, 9-6.
Unfortunately for the TinCaps, the first inning was as good as it was gonna get, because they didn’t pick up another hit until the ninth inning. Jenkins, who had never pitched more than six innings in four seasons since being drafted, turned in a complete-game, three-hit performance, completely dominating the TinCaps lineup. After a leadoff walk in the third to Felix Cabrera, Jenkins retired the next 16 batters, with the streak ending when Brian Adams reached on an error in the eighth.
Peoria’s only run scored in the fifth, on a two-out bloop single to right field by catcher Casey Rasmus.
The last time fort Wayne was shut out was August 29, 2012, at the hands of the West Michigan Whitecaps at Parkview Field. In that loss (also by a 1-0 count), Fort Wayne starter James Needy threw nine innings, allowing four hits and no earned runs. However, an unearned run for West Michigan in the second inning proved to be the difference on a day when Fort Wayne mustered only three hits. That complete game by Needy proved to be the most impressive pitching performance of the year by a Fort Wayne pitcher. Rarely in the Midwest League do pitchers throw complete games because of pitch counts, so to see it is a rarity.
Today the TinCaps will try to avoid a three-game sweep in Peoria. First pitch is at 7:30 EDT, and you can hear the broadcast on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne, and TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else. I’ll be joined by hitting coach Morgan Burkhart during our pre-game show.
Yesterday, during my Sunday chat with Jose Valentin, I asked him about why his team has played in so many close games (two walk-offs, two ninth-inning rallys) over the last week or so.
“It’s the kind of team that they’ll battle and win as many games as they can. The game of baseball is not going to be easy like you want it to be. Most of the time, this team finds a way to get it done,” Valentin told me in the manager’s office at Peoria Chiefs Stadium. ” Sometimes we do it ugly. It’s better to win ugly than to lose. I’m happy. I’m happy for the way the guys are playing. Sometimes you get upset and get into the guys, but it’s going to happen. Guys are going to make mistakes. It’s about not making them too often and not making any more mental mistakes. All I want is for those guys to go up there and play hard. Sometimes we have to be more consistent. Our pitching staff lately has been pitching great, but our defense has let them down. There are going to be times when your offense is not going to show up, so you have to be able to play good defense and keep the game close. We’ve got to find a way to play better on the road, which has been a negative. Overall, I’m happy. “
We also talked about his young pitching staff. Three of the six members of the starting rotation are 19 years old–Zach Eflin, Max Fried and Walker Weickel–and were taken in the first round of the 2012 draft. I asked Valentin about what he though the biggest adjustment has been for the teenage trio in their first month in the Midwest League:
“I think it’s how to use their teammates. Those guys, in their high school careers, they were probably so dominant on the mound they probably didn’t need too much defense behind them. Out of nine innings, they probably struck out 15 guys a game, which is good for that level, but this level is different. The hitters are more mature and it’s a different level of baseball. You have to be able to come through in hard times and understand that you have people behind you that want to help you. “
Weickel will start today, in search of his first win during the 2013 season. We’ll see tonight how well he uses his teammates.
To hear my full Sunday chat with TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin, listen to the podcast below:
Young The Giant…take it away!
It’s a fantastic day for afternoon baseball here in Peoria. Here’s the view from the top step of the TinCaps’ third-base dugout.
Not much to report today after last night’s loss, other than Luis Tejada is a bit under the weather, so Diego Goris will get the start today at first base. Fort Wayne will try and get the bats revved up a bit more today, after picking up just four hits in last night’s loss.
To hear my chat with Jeremy Baltz from Saturday, click on the audio player below:
Foo Fighters…take it away!
Happy weekend to you from Peoria, Illinois, the home of the Chiefs, the new Midwest League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The TinCaps arrived yesterday in Peoria much earlier than expected, after Friday night’s scheduled game at Burlington was rained out around 10:30 a.m. I’ve had lots of time to take pictures, but not much Internet with which to post them. “Why is that?” you might ask. Well, that’s because the Quality Inn and Suites in Peoria doesn’t really do the whole internet thing.
They tout “Free Wireless Access!” which is technically true, as they don’t charge you to access their wireless internet. The only problem is that the wireless internet doesn’t really work. It’s not lost on me that the third party company they use to provide their “internet” is called “Hot Air Network Group.” They couldn’t tee it up any better than that. Additionally, the password to access the “internet” is “goodstay”. Hardly. How is it that in 2013 entire downtowns can have free wireless access, but hotels still can’t figure it out? If there’s anyone out there who knows the answer, please let me know. It’s not like I’m trying to download War and Peace (running time: 7 hours, 11 minutes), I’m just trying to write about baseball and send some emails, ya know? Annnnyyyyway, here are some photos from the last few days:
I’m writing you from O’Brien Field, the home of the Chiefs, prior to Saturday’s 6:30 CDT first pitch. Peoria’s stadium is very similar to Dayton’s Fifth Third Field, in that it’s surrounded by brick buildings and has a cityscape background.
Tonight it’s a 7:30 EDT first pitch from Peoria, which means I’ll be on the air at 7:10 back in Fort Wayne on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. Please adjust your Saturday evening plans accordingly…or don’t. I really won’t know the difference, but if you tell me that you listened, I’ll know that more than my mother was listening. Hi, Mom!
John Mayer and Keith Urban…take it away!
Somewhere between Burlington, Iowa, and Peoria, Illinois – In Thursday afternoon’s TinCaps game, played before nearly 2,500 screaming fans at Burlington’s Community Field, Fort Wayne emerged victorious, with a 4-2 final tally illuminated in red light on the scoreboard in right field. The day didn’t start particularly well, as Max Fried, that day’s scheduled starter, had been sidelined with a fever. That meant that Justin Hancock, who had walked over to the field at about 8:30 a.m., a cup of coffee in hand, had to jump into action.
He must’ve found a phone booth in which to change pretty quickly, because the only plans for Hancock on Thursday involved sitting in the second row of the Community Field grandstand with a chart and a pen, following Fried’s start pitch-by-pitch, as is customary for the next day’s starter to do.
Pressed into action, he had no problem slicing through the Burlington lineup, which came into the game with the 14th-ranked batting average in the 16-team Midwest League. After allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, he went on to retire 11 consecutive batters, and another Bees batter didn’t sniff first base until the bottom of the fifth inning.
Hancock finished the afternoon with six innings under his belt, having allowed three hits and one run. The righty from Defiance, Ohio, struck out five and did not walk a batter.
Burlington and Fort Wayne entered the ninth inning in a 2-2 tie, which felt familiar, considering the prior day’s game went into the ninth with a 5-5 score. Fort Wayne won Wednesday’s opener, 6-5, thanks to some help from Mother Nature….and the Bees infield. The TinCaps didn’t need any help, as they began the ninth by putting two runners on base.
Gabriel Quintana led off with a seeing-eye single through the right side of the infield. Luis Tejada, who had come to the plate trying to bunt, fouled away his first two tries. Down 0-2, he tried a third time to get a bunt down. Burlington third baseman Sherman Johnson came charging in anticipating a ground ball, but Tejada’s bunt sailed over his head. Sherman, reaching over his shoulder like a wide receiver trying to haul in a touchdown, could only watch as the ball bounced off the grass, leaving Quintana safe at second and Tejada safe at first. Jeremy Baltz then stroked a two-run double, giving the TinCaps the lead for good.
This marks a great start to what was supposed to be a six-game road trip, but will now be just five games at best. Today’s game in Burlington was rained out and will not be made up because the TinCaps and Bees are not scheduled to face one another again during the regular season.
Fort Wayne has gotten off to a solid start at home, with a 10-3 mark at Parkview Field, but the team’s road record was just 4-7 before this road trip started. Saturday’s game represents a chance to bring that record back to .500. When I spoke to infielder Maxx Tissenbaum Wednesday, he attributed the team’s success at home to playing in front of great Parkview Field crowds, and being powered by all of the positive energy associated with that. Playing in Burlington was about as far as the team could get from those large crowds, as the Bees have the second-lowest attendance in the league. Whatever the case may have been for their slow start on the road, they’ve certainly shown a flair for the dramatic over the last few days. The starting pitching continues to be good, with Joe Ross and Justin Hancock combining to throw 11 innings, give up 10 hits, three earned runs, one walk and picking up 10 strikeouts.
I did find one moment of irony during Thursday’s game, which had nearly 2,500 fans, almost all of which were local schoolchildren, hence the 11:30 local time start. In between one of the innings, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” played throughout the stadium, and all of the kids were singing along. The signature line of the song goes, “Here’s my number, so call me, maybe.” When I realized the people singing along to that aren’t even old enough to have a cell phone, I had to laugh.
I’ll be back on the radio tomorrow night at 7:10 EDT with our pre-game coverage of the series opener between Fort Wayne and Peoria. You can listen on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne, and TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else. I hope you’ll join me.
Prior to yesterday’s game I caught up with Chris Nunn, who is 2-for-2 in save chances this season. He’s the only lefty out of the bullpen, and one of just two southpaws on the roster. We talk about how he developed his unconventional delivery, and he tells me something he hopes his mom doesn’t find out about:
LIVE FROM PITTSBURGH
I came across this all-kinds-of-awesome intro video that the Pittsburgh Pirates used to introduce their staring lineup recently. If only they’d gotten Don Pardo’s help…Enjoy!
A HALL OF FAMER
When I worked in Dayton during the 2011 season, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the writing of Hal McCoy, the long-time Cincinnati Reds beat reporter for the Dayton Daily News. McCoy is now legally blind, and has to be driven to Great American Ball Park for each game. This is the wonderfully told story of how he found not only his driver, but companionship:
The Black Keys…take it away!
Here’s a Friday version of Throwback Thursday. So if you’re really into alliteration, feel free to call it Flashback Friday…
With the NFL Draft dominating the headlines of the sports world the last week, it got us thinking about top draft picks who’ve played in Fort Wayne. (By the way, the 2013 MLB Draft is just around the corner June 6-8. The Padres have pick No. 13.)
Of course, this year’s TinCaps team has four first-round or supplemental first-round picks on it in pitchers Joe Ross, Max Fried, Zach Eflin, and Walker Weickel. In case you missed it, here’s our feature on them. But who was the last No. 1 overall pick to play for Fort Wayne?
The last was also the first — the only one — in the franchise’s 21-year history: Matt Bush.
A San Diego native drafted by his hometown team No. 1 overall? If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it was.
Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan chronicled the long, maddening fall for former No. 1 Matt Bush last March. It’s a sad, but well-told story.
We won’t delved into Bush’s full saga here, but we turned to our veteran broadcast partner Mike Maahs for his memories of Bush as a player from his limited time in Fort Wayne. After spending the rookie year of his professional baseball career in the Arizona League and Eugene, Bush arrived to Fort Wayne for the first time in 2005. In 126 games, Bush hit .221 with 2 HR and 32 RBI.
Bush was back in 2006 for 21 games when he hit .268 with 0 HR and 7 RBI. He returned again in 2007. This time, however, Bush had been converted to pitcher. Sadly though, in the first inning of his Fort Wayne pitching debut, Bush snapped the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. That was the last time Bush wore a Fort Wayne uniform.
Here’s what Mike remembers of Bush’s years in the Summit City:
“He had a howitzer for an arm. But it became apparent very quickly that it was going to be all arm and no bat. The thing that stood out is the fact that he was bombarded in the first half of the season in 2005. Everyone wanted to talk to him. He basically had no time to himself.
He may not have played for the Wizards in 2006, but on the last day of Spring Training, he was with Lake Elsinore, going for a foul popup and somehow he smacked his ankle against the base of the wall and broke his ankle. That’s why he came back to Fort Wayne in the second half of the season.
It was the best slider I had ever seen, in Burlington, IA, Community Field — second game of a double-header. It was the eighth pitch he had thrown in the at-bat. The pitch itself was just crazy. As he released the ball he quickly threw down his glove before the ball even reached the batter and clutched his right arm at the elbow and walked at a 90-degree angle toward the first-base dugout.”
Bush certainly isn’t the first No. 1 pick in baseball to ever fall short of expectations, but hopefully future prospects can learn from the mistakes he made away from the game.
Tied at five headed into the ninth inning Wednesday evening in Burlington, the TinCaps and Bees looked like they might be headed for extra innings. It had been a long day for both teams, with the TinCaps having a 6 a.m. EDT bus to Burlington, about a seven-hour trip, and the Bees having driven through the night after a win against the Dayton Dragons in Ohio, about a seven-hour ride, too. Burlington elected to not even take batting practice on the field yesterday, executing what’s known in baseball as the “show and go”–meaning you show up to the field in time to get dressed, get treatment, stretch and play ball.
Jeremy Baltz, pinch-hitting for Mallex Smith, led off the ninth with a pop-out to right field, which brought up Alberth Martinez. But before getting to Alberth’s at bat–first, a note about the weather. At first pitch last night, the temperature was 80 degrees, the skies were a beautiful light coral blue, and there was hardly a breeze to speak of. In the seventh inning, a wind, which came out of nowhere, started fiercely blowing from left to right across the diamond, and it would drastically alter the game.
When Martinez came to the plate in the ninth, he hit a high pop-up toward shallow left field. Wendell Soto, Burlington’s shortstop, went out to try and make a play on it. I didn’t watch Soto as he went to try and catch it, but rather I kept my eye on the ball. Isn’t that what we’re taught to do in Little League, anyway? This ball, which started hovering above shallow left, was carried back toward the infield by the wind, and Martinez jogged into second with a Mother Nature-aided double.
Maxx Tissenbaum came up next, and his at-bat was the turning point of the game. He hit a slow roller to third, which got under the glove of Michael Bolaski, the third baseman. That only happened, though, because as Bolaski tried to look Martinez back to second, that’s exactly when he should’ve been looking at his glove? Lack of sleep? Difficult bounce? Who knows, but the TinCaps will take it. The ball was backed up by Soto, who then threw wide of third and Martinez came in to score the game’s winning run.
By the way, Martinez also homered in the fourth inning, giving him a jack in three straight games. Stay hot, Alberth.
Today’s game is at 12:30 EDT, with our pre-game show at 12:10 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. Hope you’ll disobey your company policy and listen to the radio at a more than reasonable volume during hours other than 9 to 11.
Here are some photos of Community Field, the home of the Burlington Bees. It’s not quite Parkview Field, huh?
Long-time TinCaps radio broadcaster Mike Maahs had the call for Alberth Martinez’s grand slam Tuesday, and he was a guest on Fort Wayne’s Morning News on WOWO Radio to talk about his call Wednesday morning. You can listen at the link below:
To hear my pre-game chat with Maxx Tissenbaum from Wednesday, listen to the podcast below:
The Fray…take it away!
Imagine working through your youth to get to your dream job. Now imagine quitting that dream job. That’s what John Hussey did.
Why did he quit? That’s simple. He didn’t enjoy it anymore.
The thing is, he quit doing something that 99% of the world’s population will never do: play a professional sport. And that’s how he ended up on the restricted list. More on that later.
In contractual terms, Hussey didn’t report to fulfill the duties of his job as a professional baseball player. But within, the job of a professional baseball player didn’t fulfill him.
In order to enter the world of pro baseball, Hussey had to make a choice at age 17. Go to play baseball on scholarship at the University of Hawaii, which the Australian native had never visited, or sign with the San Diego Padres after being scouted by, among others, Randy Smith, who is now Vice President Player Development/International Scouting for San Diego.
“(The Padres) saw me pitch a few times at various national championships, underage championships, and a few times at world championships when I was younger and I pitched well at the right time and got a chance to come (to the United States) which was a dream come true for me at the time,” Hussey said.
He’d visited Japan, China, Taiwan, Palau and Guam, but had never been to the U.S. “It wasn’t too much of an adjustment,” he said. “You guys speak English, we speak English.”
In 2005, when Hussey was 18, he played in his first professional game as a member of the Padres Arizona League team. It was in 2007 when he made his debut with the Fort Wayne Wizards, and he was the losing pitcher in his first five starts.
How does he remember that year?
“Not too good at all in Fort Wayne,” Hussey said. “I had just come off a good year in Arizona. Being so young, I started having control issues. I started trying to throw strikes, rather than just leaning back and throwing the ball. I didn’t deal too well with the failure that came with it. I got hit all right, but my biggest killer was walks. I just walked a lot of people. I got then demoted down to Eugene and my control issues were still there.”
He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, which kept him off the field for the entire season. It wasn’t until 2010 when he returned to Fort Wayne. New arm, new team, new stadium. But after 12 games, the passion that he first had as a 17-year-old wasn’t there anymore.
“I wasn’t enjoying baseball at the time. I fell out of love with the game. I really wanted to go to school, as well. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on after baseball. I know not everyone’s like that, but that was playing in the back of my mind a lot. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after baseball. It was a bit of a task for me to come to the ballpark every day. When you’re like that, it‘s not good for yourself, your teammates, or the organization. As soon as those doubts start running in your head, you’ve got no shot.”
“I had played baseball or been professional since I was 17. I had never really had a job,” Hussey said. “I didn’t realize what a real job was like and how lucky baseballers are to come out here and do it every day. Even days when you’re grinding and you think ‘Oh, this ain’t great being at the ballpark’, as baseball can get sometimes because it’s such a long season, you have to stop and think that this is pretty fun compared to most jobs out there.”
Hussey exercised a luxury that so many will never get—the opportunity to walk away. When dimples turn to wrinkles and college classrooms turn to boardrooms, bills accumulate, there are mouths to feed and mortgages to pay. A job is a necessity. That wasn’t the case for 23-year-old John Hussey, who decided he was going back to college to study exercise science.
This came as a surprise to the Padres, especially to Smith, who had helped bring Hussey into the organization.
“We were a little disappointed when Huss left,” Smith said. “When he went home, the game wasn’t right for him at that particular time. He was a guy that we liked.”
Other than the occasional beer league baseball game, Hussey says he didn’t think much about the sport for two years. He gained an appreciation for the strength and conditioning coaches who had worked with him during his time in Peoria, Arizona, and Eugene, Oregon, and Fort Wayne. But as the doubts regarding his success had crept into his head at age 23, further doubts about his decision entered his mind at age 25.
“I was thinking ‘Did you make the right decision?’ I would’ve hated for that to be in the back of my mind 20-30 years down the track. I didn’t think about it too much until I started playing again at a competitive level and having some success and then I thought, ‘Did I make the right decision?’”
Perhaps struck by the words of Henry David Thoreau, who said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way,” Hussey got back in the game.
In the winter of 2012 he played with the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, finding that he enjoyed pitching once again. The fire had returned. Hussey drew interest from scouts, but they soon realized they couldn’t sign him.
“One guy who scouts down there told me, ‘Hey, you know San Diego still has you on a restricted list. We can’t do anything about it.’ It was two-and-a-half years later, so it was a little weird that I was still on the restricted list,” Hussey said.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the restricted list is, “A compendium of players who are out of organized baseball but are not free agents. A team can request that a player be placed on the restricted list if that player has left the team without a valid reason, or has announced his intention to retire but is still of an age or level of skill that could allow him to return to professional baseball in the future.”
Strangely enough, out of all the questions Hussey asked himself, the ones that reverberated around his head, he never asked San Diego why it hadn’t just let him loose.
“I have absolutely no idea…It’s strange that they did. I’m happy they did,” Hussey said. “I really wouldn’t have wanted to play for anyone else. San Diego (has) been so good to me throughout my career. I’m extremely happy that I do have the chance to come back and play for that organization.”
Smith said restricted list decision was simple–the team kept Hussey there in the hope that he would at some point return to baseball.
“We wanted to make sure that if he ever decided to give it another go, that we would be the team he would do it with.”
Now the decision was Hussey’s—jump back into baseball, knowing that it might not work out, or live with that regret—the one that could be there 20 or 30 years later—living in the back of his mind.
“I just called up a guy within San Diego,” Hussey said, “asked about my restricted status, and they said, ‘Well, you wouldn’t be calling if you weren’t interested in coming back. Are you interested in coming back?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m keen.’ They said, ‘Do you want to come to spring training?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to chat with my folks and have a chat with them.’ And they said, ‘What’s there to think about? They’ll be fine with it.’ It was that quick.”
After some visa paperwork and a half-month stay at extended spring training in Arizona, Hussey found himself back in Fort Wayne when reliever Tayron Guerrero went on the disabled list. This time instead of a new arm, it was new outlook for the former Wizard.
“I just hope this works out for him, whether he gets all the way to the big leagues or takes it as far as he can go, at least he’s going to have no regrets when he’s older. At least he’s able to come back and give it everything he’s got,” Smith said.