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Player Journal: Diversity, passion fuel the game04/20/2007 11:08 AM ET
By Fernando Perez / Special to MLB.com
Fernando Perez, an outfield prospect in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, led all of Minor League baseball with 123 runs scored last season. En route to being named the Visalia Oaks' Player of the Year, the Columbia University product shared the California League lead with nine triples, ranked third with 168 hits, fourth in on-base percentage (.398) and stolen bases (33) and 10th with a .307 batting average.
Up until the first game of the season, you'll hear players talking about what's going to make them a different player this year. They're like New Year's resolutions, you can almost always immediately tell whether they'll stick or not. My favorite I hear yearly in Spring Training is "I'm not going to flip out when I screw up this year...You hear, "More top-hand drills," "Less women," "More Yoga," "Less beer," "More supplements," "Less keeping track of my stats."
It dawns on you over and over again that the best way to play is relaxed, compromising no intensity: a doctor removing his own heart from the task of heart surgery. The mind is pretty difficult to fool. It knows I'll go up to bat 600 times this year, and still from time to time won't be convinced of the relative inconsequenciality of a single at-bat.
It also ought to dawn on fans and players alike that there are tons of ways to play this game. Much of the color of the game lies in the disparity in styles. There are tons of stances that pass, tons of drills that can translate into success in a game, and tons of ways to prepare to perform. Some of them work, some of them don't; the season is so long and tests the methods so thoroughly that the data, the statistics, this resume you're preparing cannot lie.
Managers like players who play hard and impassioned, but those are easier to find and intrinsically worth less than a player who can overachieve at his position at the Major League level.
Managers like players who perform. That's why I have found, in professional baseball, more room for the individual to be an individual and do whatever it is he does to be the player he is.
In amateur baseball, college for example, there's more character-building hoops the whole team is put through. The whole team may do the same hitting drill, or the whole team may run wind sprints until vomiting at 6 in the morning during the offseason.
Most of us have something we didn't do so well last year that we'd like to improve on. I've been warned by many coaches that you have to be careful not to lose your strengths. You have to do more than count on them, you have to maintain them, especially when you're young and they're more temporal than they are ingrained.
Toward the end of his career, Manny Castillo didn't touch a baseball for four months and made two errors at third all season in the Dominican Winter League. I haven't had a season yet where I said at the end, I couldn't have done any more. It's a humbling game, where some young men (usually the new high-school signees) are convinced they're not superhuman for the very first time.
Extra-inning loss to Birmingham last night and, as is custom for a losing team, we speak at very low voices seemingly in little focus groups while we eat.
"That game was all about lost opportunities," Evan Longoria says.
"Isn't it always?" I say.
Usually after a loss everything that I personally could have done to reverse the outcome flashes before my eyes. Balls left over the middle of the plate fouled back and out of play, a pitch sequence maybe I should have anticipated.
In the mailbag was one request to address Jackie Robinson. How about Larry Doby?
Pat Clements, my most unforgettable English teacher in high school, used Doby to illustrate the point that history has limited space, that it's forced sometimes to become somewhat abbreviated. History is something that is passed, and therefore sometimes is selective and abbreviated.
What would Larry think of it all? Jackie at 28 years old was the first, although I'd imagine it didn't cut Doby much slack; he was only 23 when he became the first African-American ballplayer in the American League. That heckler who said he'd (expletive) kill me if I got a hit last year was serious, but he later said it to a white guy which was settling. These men, Doby and Robinson, were routinely getting death threats sent to their hotels on the other side of town from the rest of the team.
Most of the stories running on Jackie are centered over the issue of black representation in the Majors. The unpopularity of baseball as opposed to other sports among young African-American males doesn't really strike me as the most important part about honoring Jackie Robinson.
I really liked the way a lot of the players interviewed spoke about their tribulations paling in comparison to those Jackie saw in Major League cities. I think that's the greatest point we can offer as players. It's 2007 and I'm a little impatient about the lack of wireless Internet access at a hotel, or having to walk across a highway to a gas station at 2 in the morning to get takeout. Sixty years ago Negro Leaguers were just waiting for more restaurants in town to open to them so they wouldn't have to negotiate at the back entrance for sardines.
The legacy of intolerance and hatred is so strong that it's going to take a great deal of time for the remnants to be indiscernible. People still scrawl swastikas in bathrooms, but at least racism is mostly limited to passive-aggressive behavior. Modernity is strange but for the most part is an equal-opportunity alienator. I'm thinking during a moment of silence for the Virginia Tech massacre before a game at Birmingham yesterday, that it seems we're all united in vex of terrorism that can't be stuck on any one race. It's like a Benetton ad, which is the only consolation.
I do have to be going now, our starting pitcher is worried he's becoming a reliever.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.