It’s getting close to that time of the year. The time when baseball organizations have decisions to make with free agents, arbitration, next year’s payroll, and the Winter Meetings. The season after the season, where all the behind the scenes work starts in preparation for next year. For us Minor Leaguers, however, we’re narrowing in on the offseason. A time of decision making as well, but on a much more personal level.
Ashley and I have made our offseason home in Atlanta for the last 2 years. We don’t own a house or an apartment. We don’t have a dog, cat, or any children. We have 2 cars and an apartment’s worth of furniture in a storage unit (yes, it’s air conditioned…don’t worry). Our lives are light in comparison to most people. We aren’t weighed down by much, mostly because baseball won’t allow us to. It would be great to have a place in Atlanta to call home. A place where our furniture lived and our pictures hung on walls. It would be great to have a place to come “home” to after the season, or a place of refuge for Ashley when my life sends me 1500 miles across the USA in a couple weeks. It would cut down on the post season headache of having to look for 6 month leases (or 3 months this year). Our lives are light, but our burden can be heavy at times.
Some ballplayers have the resources to buy or build. Their signing bonuses stretching a bit further than ours, into the home-owner category. Other ballplayers live light, similar to us, but without a significant other. They move all over the place with their closet in their backseat. The beach one week, the city the next. Moving where the weather is warm enough to play catch. Some work in the offseason and some don’t. Some need the money…some don’t. Personally, I enjoy working during the Winter months. It keeps my mind and hands occupied while keeping us out of the poor house. Not to mention, when you’re doing work you really enjoy it becomes satisfying on a different level. I’ve worked for a company called Booster Enterprises for the last 2 years, and it truly is fulfilling work. Booster is a fund-raising company that partners with elementary and middle schools throughout the country, helping them raise funds through a character based leadership development program. They get the privilege of interacting with students everyday and helping to build the next generation of leaders. It’s rare that a company would take such a vested interest in a personal situation like mine and Ashley’s. We are gone for 6 months out of every year playing baseball all over the country, but when we are back in Atlanta the Booster family has welcomed us back with open arms. Not all baseball players who want to work get an opportunity like this. It’s a real blessing.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Perhaps it’s because we are 165 games into the season (longer than any stretch i’ve ever played) and it’s all we can do to focus on what’s going on between the lines. Perhaps it’s because I’m not throwing as well as I would have liked thus far, and motivation to write has eluded me. Or perhaps it’s because with our free time Ashley and I have been catching up on our favorite TV shows each night (already caught up on The Office, now working on Bones). Whatever the reason, i’m back and It feels good.
I’m 6 outings into the Fall League with an astronomical ERA. The Javelinas are floating around .500 and we’ve got just about half the season left. Not to toot my own horn, but i’m a notoriously good finisher. Each of my last 4 professional seasons I have finished much better than I started. It might be that my starts were so bad that I could only go up from there…but whatever the reason, now is the time to finish strong once again. If you read some of my old blog posts, you know that I talk to myself. I talk myself into things, out of things, and through some of the tougher things. Halfway through each of the last few seasons I’ve had a “look myself in the mirror” pep talk. In each of those, I look in the mirror and tell myself that no one will pitch better than me for the rest of the season. It has worked in the past…why not do it again right now?
It’s only three weeks before I go home for three months. The time is winding down out here in the desert and I have already learned a ton about myself and my development. But there’s more that I want from the AFL. I want to leave with the taste of satisfaction in my mouth. The taste of success that can be carried into next championship season.
Well, I gotta run guys. There’s a mirror calling my name and it’s not gonna give itself a pep talk!
Collin McHugh, Pitcher, New York Mets
I’m listening to Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” right now wishing that we could get some of that. It’s about 100 degrees today…same as yesterday. I feel like this is really my endless summer. I started the season in Port St. Lucie, FL just as it was getting hot down there. I left St. Lucie and headed to Binghamton, NY just in time to miss the nice spring weather and jump right into their hot summer. As soon as it started to get nice in Bingo the season ended and I headed back home to Atlanta, catching their blazing hot summer’s end. Now I am here in Arizona stretching out my endless summer once again. I love the warm weather as much as the next person, but it’s hot…and it’s been hot for a while now! Oh well, at least there’s no problem getting loose.
Also, not to brag or anything, but our team rocks! On a scale from one to hilarious, the guys in our clubhouse are like a Steve Martin…or at least a Woody Allen. We’ve got a great mix of loud and quiet, but I feel like each guy has something funny to add to every conversation. Usually there is a giant discrepancy between the fun I have in the bullpen and the dugout. One usually trumps the other, depending what team I’m on. Here, however, both are an equally good time. I think I have to chalk it up to the fact that we all just seem to get along so well. Pitchers, Position players, coaches, trainers, clubbies…one giant family. The way it should be!
I’m throwing tonight. All of the other stuff out here is a lot of fun, but tonight is the reason I’m here. The reason we’re all here. Time to have fun doing what I love. Come what may, homeruns or 123 innings, I’m getting to live my dream. It feels good.
Collin McHugh, Pitcher, New York Mets
It’s Sunday…our first day off. Usually when I talk about a day off during the season, it’s followed by “I really need it!” But this time around in the AFL we get one every week and we only play for six weeks. I can’t say I really need it yet, but I’m also not complaining. So, you’ve gotten your questions in and now it’s time to see if I can answer some of them.
Just wanted to give you guys the opportunity to ask some questions. We will have stories of our Fall League experience to share with you, but I’m sure there are many things you’re curious about that we might not get to cover. We can think of this as a little “Mailbag” session. You can ask questions and i’ll pick the best 4 or 5 to answer each week in a post.
You can ask your questions a couple different ways…
1) Comment on this post with your question if you don’t mind everyone seeing it.
2) Visit my Blog, A Day Older, A Day Wiser, and ask a question anonymously via the “contact me” tab.
3) Come out and see a game. Flag me down. Ask away.
I’m looking forward to answering your questions and hopefully giving you a little insight into our lives here in the desert.
– Collin McHugh, Pitcher, New York Mets
The dry air had parched my lips. It’s a different kind of heat out here. Different from the wet Atlanta air I’m used to. Weatherman said we were in for a dust storm, mixed with some rain. Sounded kinda eerie if you ask me. Looking past the left center wall, the flags were stiff, blowing the wrong direction (if you’re a pitcher). Line ups were announced. It seemed as if every batter hit .35o with 25 homeruns this past season. Everyone was either a Top Prospect, just had the best season of their lives, or both. And there I was, standing on the bullpen mound awaiting my first Arizona Fall League game.
People warned me of the thin air. How the ball flies in the desert like nowhere else. People quoted statistics of how many of the hitters I would face make it to the bigs within a couple years. They read the characteristics of the Fall League like a resume. Bullet points of impressiveness that would “prepare” me to be out here, as if I were preparing for an exam. To some extent they were right. This is a test. I have never in my baseball career faced hitters consistently as good or polished as I will out here. I will be tested on all facets of the game, and stretched beyond my previous innings total for a season. Those facts are undeniable. However, I don’t look at my opportunity here as an exam. I look at this next 6 weeks as a privilege.
I have been given the privilege to play alongside and against some of the game’s best rising stars and the opportunity to count myself among them. Not everyone gets this chance. Very few, in fact. To be anything other than extraordinarily excited would be a tragedy. One thing I am looking forward to the most is meeting the other guys. Every organization is represented here, so I get a chance to, not only play against, but meet and become friends with guys from all over baseball. I’m sure those will be bonds I can carry for the rest of my playing days and beyond. I’m closer to my goal of pitching in the big leagues than ever before. It feels good.
So there I stood, chapped lips bent upwards in a smile. Who would have thought on April 1 that I would be pitching here on Oct. 4? Not many. But I’ve come to know that baseball has a way of bringing the unexpected to pass.
Strike one, first hit, first run, first walk, first game…in the books.
Visit my blog A Day Older, A Day Wiser to read more.
– Collin McHugh, Pitcher, New York Mets