This week in early spring training/mini camp has been amazing. It started off in the best way by meeting Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee.
Both of them talked about some of the things that we need to focus on to help our career progress. They emphasized the importance of being consistent in this game of baseball and continually being the best you can be every day, because you never know who is watching. They reminded us how blessed we are to have this opportunity to play baseball for a living. Looking at themselves, they stressed the fact that they weren't necessarily always the strongest and fastest players on the field, however they wanted to outwork everyone every single day.
|McGee during baserunning drills|
Being in their presence and hearing them speak just motivated me to be better. I found myself getting a little emotional as well because I knew that I was in presence of two of the best players this game has ever seen. I tried my best to just be a sponge and soak up every little bit of information they had to give.
Later that same day, I had the opportunity to work with Ozzie while taking ground balls during the defensive session of our workout. The best part was when 'The Wizard' proceeded to put on his glove and started fielding ground balls from short. I found myself just staring in awe as his athleticism impressed me. He was taking ground balls from shortstop and making no-look throws to second base with ease. "He’s still got it!"
After this ground ball session, I was able to talk with "The Wizard" face to face and asked him if he recognized my last name. I reminded him that he was friends with my parents (Emitte and Yvonne) and that he went to Cal Poly with them. He immediately embraced me and insisted that we exchange phone numbers. That was a great feeling, just knowing that a friend of my parents may now become a great mentor to me.
The rest of the week has been just as great. We have begun facing live pitching as well as starting weight lifting after our field workouts. In our first live batting practice session, I faced one of the Cardinals top prospects, Carlos Martinez. He is young but has a strong and very live arm. He has been said to have touched 100 mph with his fastball. I was excited for the opportunity to jump right in there and face probably the hardest thrower in our organization. I didn't swing at any pitches just because a lot of them were balls, but it was great to start tracking pitches again and seeing a live arm. Seeing that type of speed for the first time again this year was weird. It looked more like 200 mph to me, but this is the time when we start to get back into the habit of slowing our minds down as hitters and focusing on seeing the baseball.
This week I also faced Eric Fornataro during another live BP session. He is a right-handed pitcher that I played with last season. He has a firm fastball and good offspeed pitches as well. Eric always seems to gives you a chance to win when he is on the mound. It's funny because he is straight business on the mound but off the field he is quite the goofball. He's a funny character but sometimes I swear it seems like he doesn't use his brain. Both he and I were drafted in 2008 and we've been playing together for the past four years.
Just the other day he asked me if I was a switch hitter. I replied, "Forny, are you being serious?" He looked at me with a straight face and said, "What? I don't pay attention to which side you hit from." This is the same guy I lived with all last season. I almost took offense, but then I remembered who I was talking to and realized that it was normal to hear something like that come out of Forny's mouth. That's just a little example of his personality, but all in all he has always been a great teammate and I wish a lot of other pitchers had his focus and work ethic.
There are a lot of great players out here and it's a great feeling to be back on the field and with the guys. During the offseason while one is sitting at home, it's the camaraderie that you miss the most. I heard our minor league pitching coordinator Brent Strom say today that he misses the clubhouse talk and how fun it used to be just to shoot the breeze with teammates. It reminded me to not even take the simple things in this game for granted because when it's gone, it's gone forever.
When I really sit back and think, I realize how exciting it is to have the opportunity to show off our skills and perform in front of the most important decision makers in the organization. I've said it before, but it motivates me to not only play for myself but to play hard for all the players that maybe never had the opportunity to get looked at.
Even when we were used as 'dummies' in a big league run down/pickle drill the other day, I did it to the best of my ability. It would have been easy to just go 'through the motions' and not put forth maximum effort because the drill wasn't for us. However that wasn't my approach. Instead my attitude was to take it seriously as if it was a game.
I know that I see myself playing with those 'big leaguers' soon in the future so it was almost as if I forgot that I was a minor leaguer and just imagined those guys being my every day teammates. That's the goal, so I just tried to live it and remember that feeling. Therefore it starts to become comfortable. I'm sure a few of the guys were in awe and star-struck from being around those guys. I just looked at it as a taste of what's to come in the future.
Follow me on Twitter @Xavier_Scruggs.
Link to my earlier reports from spring training and winter ball in Colombia.
© 2012 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.