After the season, Greenberg headed for winter ball in Venezuela to make up for some lost at-bats. He's playing for Caribes and has agreed to chronicle his Winter League experiences in a journal for MiLB.com.
I have been here now for close to a month and I am really getting more and more comfortable. I don't know if it is possible to get adjusted to the rigorous travel, however. It does help that Monday is always an off day and we're always "home" for six consecutive days.
As a team, we are continuing to play well. We went 4-1 at home this week and 4-2 on the road. In our last four games we played Zulia, which is actually located on the equator. It took 16 hours to get there, which was then followed by a late afternoon doubleheader and a day game the following day.
I forgot to also mention we drove around the city for three hours trying to locate our hotel, which we checked out of the very next day. You can see why a 4-2 record on the trip was very acceptable to all. Winning sure makes things a whole lot more fun.
We are currently 15-5 and four games up in first place. We have a great bunch of guys and obviously a lot of talent here. We have a few current big leaguers and a bunch of guys with significant big league time. Pat Mahomes leads the way with eight total years in the big leagues and parts of 12 seasons. He also played in the Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees in 2000.
Chad Meyers has played four years in the "bigs" -- three seasons with the Cubs and one with Seattle. Tony Fiore has two years between the Twins and Devil Rays. Andy Pratt broke in with the Braves and was traded to the Cubs. Third baseman Louis Gonzalez (Rockies), outfielder Juan Rivera (Angels) and shortstop Omar Infante (Tigers), round out our big leaguers at the present time. I'm told there will be more coming, however, that's it for now.
I have received lots of emails and I really do appreciate all the positive support since I began posting this journal. I am going to try and work around many of the questions that have been asked.
Here's an interesting coincidence. Our manager down here is Louis Dorante, who is the bullpen coach for the Florida Marlins. He was in the pen the day I got beaned, which is how he introduced himself to me the day I got here ... small world, I guess.
A lot of you have asked whether your team actually sends you to winter ball. In some cases, your team decides to send you to winter ball for specific reasons. For instance, your team may want to send a pitcher if they feel he needs to go down and work on a specific pitch, or he needs more innings, or a left-handed reliever might need to face a lot of left-on-left situations. As for every-day players, if your team feels you may need more at-bats, or they want you to work on defense or base running or any other specific part of your game, they will try and get you on a team. Winter ball is a great time to compete at a high level while working on improving your skills and overall game.
I was fortunate to have been invited by the team down here. Having missed a lot of games this year due to the injury, I needed to get at-bats, and leading off every day is certainly getting that accomplished. I am also getting to play center field, which is great because I didn't get much playing time there this year.
I've also been asked by many what have I specifically been working on. Since I have been here, I've really worked on going to the opposite field and hitting the off-speed stuff. So far I have hit the ball better to left field than I ever have, so to this point I am pleased with the improvement. Also, I am going to start bunting at least once per game. Every day you play you are trying to help your team win while improving on your own game. Down here I am really just trying to hone the skills that will hopefully enable me to play Major League Baseball for a long time, along with being able to help my team win year in and year out.
Another common question has been about the competition down here. There are a few current big leaguers on just about every team, along with a lot of guys with big league time. The rest of the guys are primarily Double- and Triple-A players. There are also guys that play professionally in many other countries, including Korea, Japan, Mexico and France. Each team is allowed just 10 foreign players on the roster at any given time and I will mention later how that has affected me. There are no such things as options and disabled lists. That is one of the biggest differences down here. The expanded rosters (about 30 players as opposed to the 23-25 you're allowed in the States), actually turns into about 35-40 players who travel, because after a starting pitcher throws he is taken off the roster to make room for another player. Or, if a reliever throws a lot the night before, he is taken off the roster the next day.
For me personally, along with most every left-handed batter in the league, after the fifth inning the match up of left-handed pitcher/left-handed batter is almost a certainty, because they have so many pitchers in the bullpen. That also makes the game a lot longer, with all the pitching changes. I can recall this past week, in two games I faced five different left-handed pitchers from the same team out of the bullpen. That is a great thing for me, because I really enjoy the competition and the only way to improve on anything is to see it more.
I have also received a lot of questions about how I feel in the box facing left-handed pitching since the beaning. All I can say is that I expect the pitcher to throw the ball near or around the plate and not at me. I feel very comfortable and as I have said many times, I have to look at what happened as a once in a lifetime experience and just move on. I have since been hit in the upper arm and been brushed back a few times, but I am not about to back down. I love this game and love to compete and even though what happened was the scariest thing I have ever been through, I am not going to have it keep me from playing this game at the level I want to be at.
I have also received a lot of questions about where I think I will be this spring. With this game, I have learned that nothing is ever a certainty. I am scheduled for Major League Spring Training with the Cubs and I am going to do everything I can to make the team. The experience that I had this year reassured me about many things that I have thought about this game. One thing is that playing in the big leagues is the greatest thrill you can ever have, and for me to help the Cubs win a World Series would be the ultimate thrill. I look at it this way: the Red Sox won two years ago, the White Sox this year, so why not the Cubs next year?
We had two more Americans arrive this week. Greg Powell came first, and then Neil McDade. Greg played independent ball this year for the Camden Riversharks. He is a right- handed sinker-ball pitcher who went to Temple University. He also had never been out of the country before he got here, so you can imagine how he felt when he arrived. He has been a great sport, like the rest of us, and he just rolls with everything and is having a great time. Greg also wanted me to say a quick hello to his family, so "Hello Powells."
Neil, on the other hand, has played down here in Venezuela for four years. He is a right-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in Triple-A this year in Indianapolis, so we are now following his lead as being the "veteran of Venezuela."
I am going to finish this week's entry with a couple stories. After a game we won last week, I was pulled aside by our radio announcer. He asked me if I wanted to do a live postgame interview on the field. Of course my first question was "In English or Spanish?" His reply was "In Spanish, it will be funny." Being a good sport, I agreed and it really didn't go that badly. When I really could not follow what he was saying I had him translate for me and did the best I could. One thing is for sure, I now understand how the foreign players who come to the States feel when they are getting interviewed.
Sunday we played our game in Zulia and it was "free ticket day." There were about 30,000 fans. If you were a native of Maracaibo, you received free admission to the game. There were some crazy things that happened in the game and one was the scariest thing that's happened to me since I have been down here. In the bottom of the sixth the game was tied at one and the crowd was going crazy. They started a wave that lasted for 30 minutes. They were throwing all sorts of things on the field. When the wave got to each section, people were throwing cups, bottles and just about everything they could get their hands on. When I was hit with a golf ball sized rock, I actually became a little nervous. I certainly didn't appreciate it, however there was nothing I could do except to hope that would be the last time (which it was).
Sunday was also the most disappointing day that I have had since I've been here. My road roommate, Andy Pratt, was told that he had to go home due to a lack of roster spots. We had two more Americans coming in, and as I mentioned earlier, the only roster that is important is the number of imports a team is allowed. So Andy, it's been a blast and I'll see you plenty next year. Andy pitches for the Brewers and should either be in Triple-A or the big leagues. Both are in the same divisions as the Cubs.
Lastly, I would like to say thank you to all the servicemen who have written to me this year. I really appreciate all the support from the servicemen and women who have been keeping up with my journal. Thank you for all that you are doing for our country. And to the die hard Cubs fans, thank you as well. You have all been nothing but supportive through everything I have been through and also supporting your team unconditionally all the time.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.