It is finally February 3 (for those of you just tuning into my blog, I have made past references to the industry’s acceptance of every day being Groundhog Day). This will be the first day since the start of spring training that my mind will be clear of baseball. While I try to escape it on off days, I never completely succeed. To fill the void, I will address my travel plans back to Tampa and try to pin down some offseason jobs that I have spent the last two months investigating. Since I have completed my MBA in May, this will be the first time in seven years that I will not be attending a college class. While this is a relief, it is also a detriment in that I need to figure out what I will be doing with my life for the next six months.
My second full season in professional baseball seemed to go by faster than my first. Some players feel the seasons get longer; I, however, oppose that notion. I have bussed across the Golden State, making stops in San Bernardino (Inland Empire), Lake Elsinore, Adelanto (High Desert), Lancaster, Bakersfield, Visalia, Modesto, Stockton, and San Jose. I have flown to Salt Lake (via three cities) for a three-day stint with our Triple-A affiliate and back. I also made a brief trip to the disabled list after injuring my left shoulder in early May.
Time off will be greatly appreciated. 140 games in 152 days takes its toll on everyone and warrants serious decompression. After a few weeks off, I will begin working out again in preparation for the 2010 season. I made some improvements this season, but a lot of work still needs to be done to win a job during spring training next March.
I thank Gerry McKearney and the front office staff for providing the Quakes the opportunity to play in Rancho and the many great things they have done for us this season. That grounds crew must be commended for maintaining one of the best fields to play on in the California League (and professional baseball). Our bus driver, Jimmy, must be thanked for keeping us safe through our many bus excursions in the commuter-heavy league.
While assembling this final post of the 2009 season, I have referred to my concluding remarks from last season and feel that they are still valid and worth mentioning. With this in mind, I have simply reposted certain parts to conclude this final post.
As I have said from the beginning, it is every little boy’s dream to play professional baseball. Yes, baseball is a fun game to play, especially when you are growing up. But, when that decision is made to seriously pursue that dream and do everything in your power to make it, the only thing that is going to stop you from playing is your body telling you you cannot continue, or all thirty professional baseball organizations telling you that you are not good enough and cannot continue to play.
Once someone has vested a certain amount of time and resources into something, it makes walking away impossible. Last season, we were told that ‘Every day you spend not working on one aspect of this game, you slip one day farther away from making it to the top.’ While I only recently heard this, I realize that I have had this attitude ever since I made the commitment to chasing my dream of playing professional baseball. This is not to say that you cannot take any off-days, but the biggest thing I could advise anyone is that I was able to become the player I am through hard work when no one was watching. I was not blessed with much God-given ability like the players I have always been playing with. I do not have the speed, arm strength, or power that some of the other players have. However, I have a work ethic and the knowledge to work on only the things I can control, and get the most out of the ability I was blessed with.
This journey has always come down to making sacrifices and dedicating myself to becoming the best player possible. I played with many players growing up who had more talent than I did, and everyone thought those would be the players that would be playing professionally one day. Of those teams I have been with, I am the only player still playing today in affiliated professional baseball. So, it really comes down to making a commitment to yourself that you are going to put the effort into achieving whatever your goals are. Some people realize along the way that it is not what they really want to do, and that is fine, but if you really want it, give it everything you have. You have to put your energies into the things you can control.
In closing, I thank everyone again for keeping up with this blog this season and everyone who has given me words of encouragement and support. I will conclude with a quote I have had hanging in my room for as long as I can remember, and it is one that I feel everyone can grasp and apply to their lives: “For those who dream, there is no such word as impossible.”
This is what we have left to play for. We have already put in the 140 games required by the Minor League schedule, yet we are still playing. We have moved into the bonus baseball portion of the season, where games have heightened meaning but stats do not count (at least not for career totals). The more frequent our wins, the more off days we have and longer we receive paychecks.
This was Rancho’s first playoff series victory since 1998 and marks the second time in two years I have been part of an affiliate ending a long drought. Last season, Cedar Rapids won its first playoff series since 2000, making myself (and several other players) part of teams that have collectively ended 19 years of playoff deficiency.
Well, it did not quite work out like that, but we succeeded regardless. Despite dropping six of our last seven, we backed into post season play with some help from Lancaster (Houston Astros affiliate) on Saturday night. This is the first time the Quakes have been to the post season in five years. For a core group of us, this will be the third time in three professional seasons that we have made the playoffs. That, in itself, is a feat.
With our magic number at one entering the four-game Bakersfield (Texas Rangers) series, we needed one win, or one Inland Empire loss (Los Angeles Dodgers). After dropping our first two to Bakersfield, coupled with two Inland Empire wins, the originally manageable situation become direr. However, while we were losing on Saturday night, Lancaster maintained an advantage throughout giving us the hope of backing into the playoffs should we not pull it out against Bakersfield. Lancaster ended up squandering a 6-2 in the top of the ninth, but would go on to a 7-6 walk-off win. This clinched our playoff berth, despite our 4-1 loss.
The clinching was a dim light on our otherwise dismal road trip. Our celebration, complete with champagne (which is a step up from collegiate celebratory occasions), seemed a bit tainted due to our play down the stretch. Nonetheless, when more than half of minor league baseball will turn in their uniforms at the conclusion of the regular season, we will live to play another day. To win a League Championship, all you need to do is have a chance.
Major League wild card teams have garnered a lot of attention due to their post season success in recent years. Their success can be attributed to the fact that these teams tend to come into the playoffs the hottest and have been playing meaningful games up until the end of the season.
Despite our losing record, we begin the playoffs alongside everyone else with no wins and no losses. While we never seemed to put things together for a stretch of more than four or five games this season, we had enough of these little spurts to put ourselves in a position to win a title. To overcome the injuries, roster moves (we have no starting pitchers from our initial starting rotation, and only five arms from the opening day roster on the staff), and other adversity that grips a team and be playoff bound is a respectable fear. What we make of this opportunity remains to be seen, although it is our intent to be one of the fourteen minor league teams that will end their playoff run with a win. We begin our season anew with hope and excitement and will see if we can write a victorious ending for the 2009 Quakes.