The Bullpen Banter: Bad Bounces and Bed Bugs

Episode #6


Hi Everyone,

We just finished a 5:05pm game in Charleston, and we are headed back to Augusta. The travel has been super easy this month, so that has been great. Overall though, it has been a tough stretch for everyone! While I try to keep it all light-hearted and fun, I also try to make sure I keep it authentic, and in reality, it is not all roses. I apologize in advance if I am a downer.

After the off-day, we bussed down to Charleston for a four game series of night games. When we bus in the morning, we typically get breakfast in our clubhouse. This time, however, Captain (our clubhouse manager) forgot about the biscuits in the oven, so we legitimately only had burnt hockey pucks to eat. We honestly could have used these biscuits for batting practice. Needless to say, everyone ate a bowl of cereal and piled in the bus. 

In addition to the lack of breakfast, we had to say goodbye to one of our relief pitchers. Unfortunately, he was sent down to extended, and he was replaced by one of the most difficult Latin players in the organization. More on this at the end.

When we got to Charleston, we were annoyed to find out that college games were being played before us, so for the first games, we would not have access to the field. For this reason, we had to dress and walk to a football field down the block to stretch, throw, and condition. In addition, our game time was set anywhere between 7 & 8pm. It was TBD based on the prior game. This ruins routines. While many people think minor leaguers just show up for the games, there is much more to it. We spend all day there, and we have a lot of stuff to get done every day to stay healthy through 142 games. 

Here is an example of my home routine for a 7:05 start:

1:30-1:50 Arrive at the ballpark and eat lunch.
1:50-2:00 get dressed. Test Urine for hydration. Daily wellness questionnaire. Weigh-in. Put in Heart Monitor.
2:00-2:45 Soft tissue with Foam Roller and Lacrosse Ball. Movement exercises and corrective stretches.
2:45-3:00 Bands and Dry Work
3:00-3:20 Pitchers Group Stretch
3:20-3:30 Throwing Program
3:30-3:50 Fundamental Practice (ie. Pick offs, Fielding, Bunt Plays)
3:50-4:30 Fielding Batting Practice and Conditioning
4:30-5:50 Pre-game Meal. Relaxation time while other team hits. 
5:50-6:00 Shower and Change into Game clothes
6:05-6:20 Arm Stretch and Work with trainer
6:20-6:40 any final adjustments
6:45 Out to Bullpen.

Rinse & Repeat with minor adjustments 140 times!!!

The point? Having our routines thrown off was frustrating.

Baseball players are known for their routines, and often, people think it is solely superstition, but in reality, it is a necessity. Over 140 games, your body will be dragging, and it is easy to cut corners. A well maintained routine ensures that you are doing everything you need to be doing day-to-day to ensure your body is ready to play. 

While the routine mess-up was frustrating, my outing in game 3 was way worse. In Game 3 I arguably had the most frustrating day of baseball in my entire life. Charleston was RAKING. It was 14-4 when I came in the 8th to throw. They had not struck out a single time!!! A horrible day to pitch.

Well, when I came in, I actually felt great. My stuff was really good in the pen, and I brought it to the mound. The first guy grounded out to short. The second guy hit a groundball that rolled to right field for a hit. The third guy hit a high groundball that we were unable to turn a double play on, unfortunately.

The fourth guy, however, is where the wheels come off. The fourth guy hit a regular groundball to our first baseman. I ran over, and I caught the ball and touched first. Should have been out. Because the game was on TV, we have photo evidence that the runner was out by a decent margin. Somehow, this umpire missed it, however, and he called him safe. If he calls him out, I have a tremendous outing on 10 pitches, and I am done.

Unfortunately, the next guy hit a ball that was fair by 6-12 inches down the third baseline after. After that, I threw a good pitch that shattered a bat, but it fell for a single. After the single, a guy hit a line drive right to the CF. Instead of out 3, our CF misread it. He ran in, and by the time he realized his mistake, it was too late. The ball cleared his head for a triple. Finally, the eighth guy grounded to shortstop for the third out.

Somehow, the best outing of my season turned into 5 hits and 4 runs. Statistically, it was the worst outing of my professional career. It is an incredibly frustrating and lonely feeling to be at the center of 5,000 people and see all of your successful actions be undone by factors completely out of control. Baseball is a cruel sport. You make the pitch, and you beat the guy in the batter's box, but sometimes, that is not enough. In the midst of all of those runs and chaos, there is just one person on a 10-inch dirt elevated platform. 

This is where baseball can be a brutal teacher. This is a prime example of learning to control what you can control. If you play baseball long enough, it will screw you many times over. The reality, however, is that you have to be able to just maintain focus on the task at hand. This is truly one of the biggest lessons I have brought to my career after baseball. When s*** hits the fan, the reality is that the very best action you can do is focus on what is within your control.

What went wrong? How do I learn from it and make an adjustment?

What is my best next play / course of action?

These are the questions to ask. As frustrating as it can be, sometimes the answer is that you did everything right, and in the end, you just loss. That’s ok. Make the next play!

While statistics are not everything, they have a strong impact on a player's ability to move up in the organization, so having an inning like that hurts. At the end of the day, however, moments like these provide great life lessons. I live to see another day, and I will get another chance. Maybe next time the umpire screws up the call in my favor! Who knows?!? Probably not this umpire though. He stinks, and it is safe to say that he will remember the words I said, and he will definitely remember the many words our pitching coach said. 

While the baseball here stunk, I hate the Charleston hotel so much. If you remember, on our first trip, Taylor and I had to switch rooms because the shower smelled so bad we think something died. Well this time, apparently my bed had bed bugs. My entire body is covered in tiny red spots, and I have been itching all day. Downside? I feel horrible. Upside? I have my own row on the bus now. It is all about the silver lining!!!

These are the moments I laugh about when I look back and read these passages. Not a lot of silver lining with this. My next few days would be horrible!

That being said, I often get asked at BCG how I manage the long hours. It’s moments like these that are the answer. There was indeed a time where I was driving in a rural area on a crowded bus with an firey, bed bug bitten body, after a terrible game and making ~$40/day. I think I can handle a few hours of consulting work…

Finally, after our last game here, they called in four guys from the locker room to tell them they were being sent down. That is never easy. It was not easy with (excluding a name), and it was not easy tonight. It is a quiet bus. When your team stinks like we do, there is a lot of movement. So far, 9 guys from our original roster have left. They shove you on a bus, and they tell you to bond as a team. Just as you get close, poof!!! Someone gets sent up, down, or maybe even home. For the four guys tonight, they will be in Arizona by tomorrow night. After spending 8 months over 2 years in AZ, I do not wish that upon anybody. 

Getting sent down or sent home stinks. It hurts for the players involved, and truthfully, it stings for the teammates. I do not wish it on anyone.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the email. It was not that funny this time, but unfortunately, this is how it goes sometimes. After all, you know what they say? Sometimes you win and have funny stories, and sometimes you lose and get bed bugs. Or at least I say that now. 

Love you all and miss you all. I am hoping T-Roy (our bus driver) puts the pedal to the metal and gets us back before midnight!

Jeff Burke