Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Busy Week

This past week has been void of new posts but certainly not of action. I have been really busy. Whether I was golfing or traveling with the Major League team, it seems like I always had something going on. But, the end of camp is less than a week away so I think I can grind it out until we reach the light at the end of the Spring Training tunnel, the beginning of the season. For more on my thoughts about the dawning of the new year in baseball check out my guest blog tomorrow, March 30th, on baseball-ladies.com. But for this post, I wanted to update you on what's been going on in my life the last week.

Let's start with the most important thing first, golfing. Baseball might be the national pastime, but golfing is the national pastime for pitchers. If you're going to be a pitcher in this game you better know how to golf. Golfing is a pitchers way to get our heads away from the game but still flex our competitive muscles. If there is one pitcher in the organization that loves golf as much as I do its Jarred Cosart (follow him on twitter @JarredCosart). So, this past week Cosart and I made our regular trip to Clearwater Country Club three times. The first time was a mano y mano match in which Cosie (as we call him) was a bit overmatched. Cosart's love for the game is not matched by his scorecard. His ability, however, is unquestionable. He's the type of player that will hit an unbelievably good shot followed by an unbelievably bad shot. So, if you can take some of his punches early and manage to come out the other end he will eventually beat himself. I shot a 78, and he shot who knows? The next two outings were a much more serious endeavor, the Clearwater Open. No, we didn't enter ourselves into a tournament. But, the Clearwater Open is what we dubbed our two-man scramble tournament. Jarred Cosart and Jon Pettibone (@Jon_Pettibone) facing off against the team of Jake Borup (@JakeBorup) and yours truly. Once again, the former was overmatched. But they didn't go out without putting up a good fight. The first match went down to the wire as we defeated them by only one shot. The next day wasn't so close, Borup and Pettis walked away with the trophy and Cosart and Pettibone tried to salvage their pride. As long as we play the game of baseball, golf will always be there as an escape. It's hard to complain about life when you're on the golf course and there are very few places I would rather be.

Ok, ok now on to the real most important thing. This week I was fortunate enough to participate in three more Major League Spring Training games. I say participate, but I really mean watched. I was on the roster, I was in the bullpen, but I didn't see any action. But you know what, thats ok. The experience I have gained over this Spring Training, being able to associate with the Major League players is invaluable. I have met all the stars and coaches: Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Rich Dubee, and Charlie Manuel. Not only have I met them, but they felt comfortable enough to play a prank on me. So, as we were shagging batting practice before a home game at Bright House Field I was, along with a few other players, covering the balls in right field. About five minutes went by and I wasn't really paying attention to my surroundings and I look to my right and notice that I am the only person standing on the entire left side of the outfield! As I scratched my head in bewilderment looking at the 30 some-odd players all bunched up on the other side of the field, Victorino whistled over to me and yelled "You got it covered over there!!". I replied "Ya I'm on it". Everyone laughed and spread out around the entire outfield again. Some people might have been rattled by this, but I thought it was awesome. I was part of the team, I had been pranked. That's just one of the many examples of things that happened over my now 4 games of Major League experience that have made me more comfortable. You know, the first couple games I really didn't want to pitch, I was still absorbing my surroundings. But, that last game I was itching to get in and really disappointed when I didn't. And I think that's a big part of it. Now I know when I do get that opportunity I'll be prepared, I'll be comfortable (or at least as much as I can be), and I'll be ready to perform.

This last week has been hectic, but it's also been one of the best of my life....
[Here are a few random pics that I took this week]

Site of my last big league game against the Braves

Good parking job at the hotel

Field of Dreams (aka Carpenter Complex, Roberts field)

Really skinny palm trees at the golf course

Cosart's swing (Hank Haney where are you?)

Everyday is a good day for tanning in Clearwater

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Not So Ordinary Day

Today was no ordinary day at the ballpark. I've known it would be special for some time now. Well, at least since it has been posted in the clubhouse that today we would be receiving our Lakewood Championship rings (a ring that I earned with 5 hard innings of work). Not only would we would be getting our rings but we were going to be honored on the field before the Major League game against the Yankees. What could be better than recieving recognition in front of a sold out crowd of spring training die hards, right? Well, it got a lot better. About 10 minutes before we were set to stretch and throw long toss Gorm, our head pitching coordinator, came up to me and told me that I would be in the bullpen for the big league game today...... I had to take a second. Me, in my first spring training, me who had only played half a season of professional baseball, me Eric Pettis would be toeing the line with all the big league stars. How cool is that!!

So I collected myself, got my big league long pants (one of the perks of playing in the big game is getting to wear your pants down) from the clubbie and readied myself for the ring ceremony. But by then my mind was completely off of the ring and on to what the rest of the day had in store for me. We walked on the field got our rings and were off in what seemed like seconds. I said goodbye to my other teammates and headed towards the bullpen. The best part of my day was about to begin. 

Now, I knew full well that my chances to pitch were slim to none. After all, I was the third backup. So we would have had to play into the 16th inning or so inning for me to see some playing time. But, I think the fact that my participation wouldn't be needed took a lot of the pressure off. In fact, I felt no pressure. I was there to enjoy the ride. I sat by a few feet away from C.C. Sabathia and Joe Blanton as they threw their warm up pitches, shared a umbrella in the 'pen with J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras, and even signed a few autographs. The whole experience felt surreal. When you watch guys on TV for so long and then you actually see them in person it's as if they aren't even real. That's how the whole game felt. I was watching from the bullpen, but it felt no different than if I had bought bleacher seats in the outfield. Maybe it was because I was only a bit more than a glorified observer, but the situation didn't effect me at all. I'm sure my feelings would be much different if that bullpen phone rang calling for "Pettis", but today that didn't happen. Today, was my day to sit and observe and learn.

Just for proof, I'm the one raising my hand and looking like I'm half trying to get out of the way and half acting cool

I've said it many times before, a lot of how you perform has to do with how comfortable you are in the situation. If you're thrown into something new, something you have never experienced before often it's hard to succeed. And the more you're exposed to that situation the better chance that you have of being successful. Today was my chance to get acclimated to the big club. Next time I'm here I'll know who to ask for a jersey, what locker to take, when to come out to the pen. And all those things add up. So, next time when I'm here and "Pettis" does get called, I'll be ready.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Visit from Doc

Going into my first Spring Training the question that I got asked the most was, "Will you be able to see the Major League guys while you're there?" And honestly I had no clue. I wasn't sure how things would work and how separated we would be from the players on the big club. Leading up to today I've been able to see some of the big names here and there. Maybe catch a glimpse of Cole Hamels running in the morning, or see the pitchers taking batting practice on a distant field, or even watch a few pitches of Joe Blanton's bullpen before we stretch. Those few telescopic sightings I expected, but I did not expect what we were able to see today. Today we were lucky enough to get to see Roy Halladay up close and personal.

Today was Halladay's scheduled day to start and, since the Phillies had an off day and in order to keep him on a regular schedule, Halladay pitched in our AAA game at the minor league complex. This fact did not go unnoticed in our clubhouse, heck, it was even posted on our practice plan. "All non-throwing pitchers report to Ashburn field at 1pm to watch Roy Halladay" (which was spelled Halliday, and whoever was responsible for that should be fired). So the whole day, if you weren't playing in a game, was dedicated to watching the reigning Cy Young award winner. 

No, I did not take this picture. And, yes I would have been in trouble if I had taken my camera to the field to do so.
Access to Halladay couldn't have been better. I stood about three feet away from him as he warmed up in the bullpen before the game. And during the game I had a front row seat right behind home plate for all of his 80 pitches. If there was something to pick up on, something to notice about the way he went about his business I was in perfect position to see it. So what did I learn? What did I see? What does Halladay do that raises him above the rest? Well, nothing. And when I say nothing I don't really mean nothing, I mean nothing special. There are no secret tricks of the trade or any unique rituals that elevate his game. But, just because I didn't notice anything different doesn't mean I didn't learn anything. I think the biggest thing that I can take away from today is that you don't have to be a freak to be a big leaguer. I mean, we are talking about the best pitcher in the business and nothing he did today 75 % of the players in camp can't do right now. It is just that he does it consistently. He has worked his whole life honing his craft and perfecting it to enable him to perform at his best as often as possible. I've heard it many times in my life, "The difference between the major leagues and the minor leagues is consistency." I never quite understood it till today. 

So I come away from this experience more confident and motivated. I feel like there is no reason that some day I cannot become Roy Halladay. Am I naive to think that? Maybe. But I don't think so, and that's what counts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Play Ball

I have dedicated the last six months to preparing myself to play. Getting ready for the new season. Lifting, running, throwing, doing everything I thought I would need to do to equip myself for 160+ games of baseball (including Spring Training). But preparing yourself to play and actually playing the game are two totally different things. Six months is the longest time I have gone without hearing the phrase "play ball" in my life. From the time I was eight when travel ball came into the picture I haven't gone more than a month without playing the game. It's easy to forget what it feels like to compete when you have such a long layoff. But, when you get thrown back into it, it doesn't take long to remember. So the last two days, when we strapped it on for the first time in Spring Training, I got the taste of competition that no weight room or track or bullpen mound will give you. And it tasted good.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the St. Petersburg International Baseball Classic. A group of players from camp including mostly AA and AAA players represented the Phillies and we played against the national team from the Netherlands. Even thought I didn't get to pitch I thought it was a great honor to be selected to go in my first Spring Training. It was a great opportunity to get to meet some of the older guys in the organization and continue to familiarize myself with my surroundings. I feel the quicker you get to know everyone the more comfortable you will be and the more you can focus on your performance. The coolest thing for me of the day might actually be perceived as a negative for someone who isn't in my shoes. So, as we were standing in the dugout before the game, a fan who had clearly bought a ticket hoping to see some of the Phillies stars looked down at us and said "I don't know any of these guys, who are they." Pretty rude, you might think. But not to me, I thought that was awesome that I was even in the position to play in a game where people would be expecting to see big league stars. It only made me realize how close I really am. While that guy might not have been so happy, it certainly made me feel proud to be there. Oh, the score. We smashed 'em, 8-3, and it really wasn't even that close. Score one for Uncle Sam. 

The jersey we wear for Spring Training games

After the good experience of yesterday I came into today more than ready to throw in a game. I was scheduled to throw the ninth inning in the group 2 game (which is considered to be the AA group but it really isn't that concrete) against the Blue Jays at home. Now, there are a few things you need to know about Spring Training games. They're really more like practice than they are like real games. At any one time there could be four games going at once with foul balls from adjacent fields flying over your head. Pitchers throw a set number of innings, and if their pitch count is reached during the inning they roll it over to the next team. And as soon as a pitcher is done throwing, he does his conditioning, showers, and goes home. There are coaches walking from field to field at all times and most position players only play half the game. Needless to say the atmosphere is less than electric. So, before I went out to pitch there was nothing to rattle my nerves. But when you step between the white lines it feels like any other game. Especially when its the first time you've faced hitters in six months. Today certainly wasn't my best outing. I didn't feel like I was in total control of my body. It's been a while since I have felt that kind of adrenaline rush and I didn't do a great job of controlling it. But all in all the results were good. 1 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB. Three weakly struck balls and one walk and I was out of the inning. The key to any outing is to learn from it. So, next time I know I need to make a conscious effort to slow myself down. Hopefully it will be a little easier now, after getting my feet wet against live hitters again. 

The last two days have been eventful ones and I am tired. But it's only the start.....

Saw the Baseball Tonight bus walking home today.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


A lot about being an athlete revolves around the word routine. Outside of the actual performance on the field, most of an athlete's life deals with a routine. Whether it's sticking to a routine, or practicing to make difficult things seem routine, or tweaking a routine to improve it, the word routine keeps popping up. The better an athlete can stay within the confines of a routine the better they can deal with unexpected things that might be thrown at them. Look at it this way, if you are trying to remember a phone number and then someone tells you four more numbers to remember then that task becomes more difficult. But, if that original phone number is already memorized (in other words, part of a routine), remembering those extra four numbers will now be pretty easy. Well, it's the same thing in sports. The harder you work to make things second nature, the better you will be able to cope when those "extra" things that will inevitably happen in every game.

The idea for this post came to me because of two things at practice today. As I woke up this morning I looked outside and saw that it was pouring rain. Now, as a native southern Californian, the mere sight of rain usually disrupts my normal routine. Most SoCal people shut down their lives on the few days a year that we see a sprinkle. But today it didn't affect me. I got to the field, though soaking wet, and went through my normal routine. I lifted a few weights, did a few arm exercises, ate some breakfast, and was ready to go. And as I stood under one of the covered areas of the facility doing my arm bands it really hit me, "hey this is pretty cool". Personally, I am huge into routines and like get myself into good habits. So, as I watched the rain hit the asphalt I thought to myself that my day was surprisingly unaffected by it. At that moment I was just really appreciative that the Phillies provide us with the facilities necessary to get into a good routine and stick to it. It might seem trivial, but to an athlete who is trying to get better every day it's huge.

The second instance at practice where the idea of routine hit me might be a little bit of a stretch, but try to stay with me. Like I said it had rained earlier in the day, and after practice we had to condition. Today was a semi-light day of 8 poles followed by pick-ups. So, as I was running my poles on the warning track I noticed that the inside path on the track was muddy while the outside path was much dryer. Now, having the weird psychological/philosophical brain that I do, this got me thinking about routine. I likened the condition of the warning track to people's path in life. While the shorter path on the track might look as if it will get you to where you want to go with less work, you'll get "muddy" in the process. If you take the longer path, it might be a bit more difficult but you will come out the other side "cleaner". Trading less running for getting "muddy" is like trading doing less work for better chance of failure. While, trading more running for being "clean" is like doing more work for better chance at success.  In other words, in life and especially in sports, there are no shortcuts. You have to put in the work to get the results. The harder you work within the confines of your routine, the "cleaner" and better prepared you will be for what life and sports has to throw at you.

Whether you buy in to my babble or not doesn't really matter. Because I buy into it. And that's what a routine is all about.  It is something that YOU know YOU can do every day and believe will make YOU better for the ware. And as an athlete, routine really is the name of the game.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Walk

So I thought during Spring Training, every now and then, I'd feature an aspect of our everyday life that's interesting (at least I hope it is) and unique to the experience here in camp. Today I wanted to talk about something that stares you right in the face every morning and is waiting for you after every day at the field, the walk.

My luxurious room at the Holiday Inn
As I arrived at camp I found myself lucky enough to be placed in the nicest hotel out of all of those offered to spring training invitees, the Holiday Inn. But there is one drawback. Those staying at the less spacious and attractive La Quinta (which is a fine establishment in itself for all of those hardworking La Quinta staff members reading this blog) have a four-tenths of a mile shorter walk to and from the field than those of us staying at the handsome Holiday Inn. Now, that doesn't seem like much but in walking terms that equates to about 8 minutes of a good brisk walk. So, overall, everyday walking to the field in the morning and walking back to the hotel after our day is done we travel a combined 2.08 miles. That equates to a 1.04 mile walk each way which takes about 18 minutes at a good pace to traverse.

The stats from my walk to the field this morning
Map of the walk

Not only is this walk a lengthy one, its not the prettiest or the safest either. The first half of the walk on the rights sits US-19. A highway always filled with masses of cars. "A peaceful walk in the morning" you say, NO. It is loud at all hours of the day with Florida motorists who I have found to be quite rude and usually in a hurry. To make things worse, the sidewalks that pedestrians are supposed to use as a safe-haven from the mechanical chaos of the road; gone from construction. So at 5 o'clock in the morning, in near pitch black before the cowardly sun has decided shown his face, I find myself dodging incoming traffic walking in the make-shift pedestrian path "generously" designated by a random cone here or there.  To add to the hilarity, to your left as you sidestep another car you might notice Clearwater's trashiest strip joint, Personalities. A good reminder to work hard everyday at camp so you don't wind up "dancing" to pay off your college loans.......

But really the walk is not all bad. While it certainly isn't peaceful in the morning, it is a good way to wake yourself up for another demanding day at the field. I actually enjoy it. I've turned down a few rides from other players to make the walk to help me get focused on getting better that day. The path doesn't have all ugly sites either. There is a really cool classic car shop on the way, and you pass Lenny's too which gives you good feelings of free food. But the best thing about the walk is you have to pass Bright House Field, the big league Spring Training site, on the way. As if Spring Training in itself isn't motivating enough, that reminder of who is playing just across the way and the opportunities you will be given to get there really gets your juices flowing.

When you add it all up the walk really isn't a negative or a positive. It just is what it is, one of those things that makes Spring Training so unique.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Accelerated Normalcy

The first two days of camp are over and I feel like I've already been here for weeks. I think that feeling of normalcy can be credited to the Phillies. While completely exhausting, the first two days of camp are dedicated to getting all the mumbo jumbo out of the way and making sure that you are familiar with your surroundings and ready to go full bore by day three. This year, unlike any other year of minor league camp (as we've been told numerous times) pitchers, catchers and position players all reported at the same time. This allowed the staff to get all the medical testing and random meetings out of the way in a "timely" manner. The first day, from 6 AM to 12 PM, was dedicated to medical testing. Everything was covered including blood test, ortho exam, and general health. Then the meetings started. Head field coordinator Mike Compton went over all the organizational rules and made sure we knew that a "first division organization" follows rules to the "T". Then, after all of our backs had sufficiently stiffened from sitting on the ground for an hour, we stretched, played some catch, conditioned, and called it a day.

Day two was much more enjoyable because we got to do baseball activities first, before being mentally drained by another flock of meetings (do meetings travel in flocks or is it herds? I always get those mixed up, anyway). We began with what I now believe to be a run-through of how most of our days in spring training will look. Using all four fields at the complex we went through four stations of fundamental work (25 minutes at each station and on to the next). Today's fundamental work was basic, mainly just an explanation of how to do things the "Phillie way". I'll have more on how practices work in a later post. Then, after stations, we had another rousing session of conditioning, and lunch. Lunch was followed by nearly three more hours of meetings in the conference room upstairs. We went over drug policies, the mental game, and visual techniques (which is really just another form mental techniques, but I clearly don't decide what the Phillies spend their money on). And finally, after nearly all 80+ of us had lost at least one battle over the last 3 hours to nodding off, the day was over.

Were the last two days draining? Yes. Heck I'm even getting tired trying to remember everything that happened. But, I think these last two days were entirely constructive. Coming into Spring Training I had no idea what to expect. I had heard about Spring Training before on ESPN and seen videos of pitchers doing half-assed PFP drills. But, I really had no idea what it would actually take to be in camp. Now, after two days of meeting nearly every single person in the organization, and waking up at 5 AM, and listening to what seemed to be irrelevant blabber, I feel better. I feel like I know what it takes. And most importantly I feel comfortable.

My Phillie card- In case I get amnesia and forget I'm a professional baseball player. Also good for use in routine traffic stops.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 1: Season 2

So here we go again. The inevitable moment that still doesn't seem quite real to me has finally arrived. I have officially reported to Spring Training. Minor League Baseball isn't about smooth transitions. You get thrown into and out of the fire at will and only the mentally strong survive. This morning when I arrived at the airport I tweeted (insert shameless plug for @eric_pettis on twitter) "initiate survival mode". And thats really what it is, it's about surviving. I think I talked about this in one of my posts last year, whoever can make themselves the most comfortable being uncomfortable will prevail. So this morning, as I left the comfort of home, I flipped the switch. For the next six months there is no such thing as comfort. There is only survival. And if you survive, you win. And winning is the ultimate comfort.

....Enough philosophizing and on to the logistics. Today was basically the standard travel day mixed in with some preliminary medical testing that will undoubtedly go on for the next few weeks. Oh, and I got my first taste of Lenny's, the place where I will be dining every day for the next month (you can bet there will be a post about that later on down the road). Tomorrow is a 5:15 AM wakeup call for blood work and our official physicals. Reporting from Clearwater, FL I'm Eric Pettis, back to you in the studio......

Cool picture of a baby looking over Garett's shoulder at the airport

Key tool in my survival kit... live Slingbox feed