Long bus trips and unpredictable weather conditions often wreak havoc on a new Minor Leaguer, let alone one in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver Canadians left-hander Justin Nicolino
, though, has made a point to not worry about the things beyond his control. Instead, he focuses on one of the few things he has control over -- his command.
Nicolino's 5-1 record, coupled with a 1.07 ERA, is evidence that his plan is working. He's struck out 56, walked 11 and allowed five earned runs in 42 innings, including five hitless frames with nine strikeouts July 21.
Needless to say, the 19-year-old has had little trouble adjusting from high school to life as a professional.
"I think what it's been this year is me mastering my delivery and learning my mechanics," Nicolino said. "As a high school kid, I didn't really know a bunch about mechanics, so I came into Spring Training, worked on my delivery and changed some things around."
Nicolino was drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2010 Draft but didn't sign until August. He spent three weeks in the Minors last season, but none of that included any time on the field -- it was limited to bullpen sessions.
The lack of action didn't bother Nicolino, who said he knew his chance would come. He waited patiently for the 2011 season to arrive, and rather than become distraught over a lack of playing time, he instead used it to improve his talents both on and off the field.
The transition has presented its share of challenges to Nicolino, but staying true to form, he said he continues to focus on what he can control and let the rest play itself out. Pitching in the Pacific Northwest hasn't fazed the rookie either, despite a significant climate change from Orlando to Vancouver.
"I've pitched in rainy weather this year, I did fine," he said. "Whatever Mother Nature throws at me, I'll take it on. It's just what I love to do."
The "baseball grind" is something many first-year players refer to regarding their first stint as a professional player. Rather than dwell on how tiring the schedule is, or how long the bus trips are, though, Nicolino uses it as motivation to improve himself as both a player and a person.
"Baseball is all I've ever wanted to do," he said. "It's a grind, but you can really see the true colors of the people who can grind it out and play. It's always tough when you have a seven-hour bus ride and you're pitching at night, but it shows what you're really capable of. "
Through it all, Nicolino said he simply enjoys the time he spends on the diamond, no matter what the circumstances. Whether it's out of his control or not, he understands the opportunity that is in front of him.
"It's unbelievable, and I don't take it for granted one bit," Nicolino said. "This experience and being a pro athlete at such a young age is an honor, and it's really humbling."
A tough opponent: The Boise Hawks are looking to increase Pancreatic Cancer awareness at Saturday's game against Salem-Keizer. Fans who purchase the $35 tickets will have access to the "Hawks Zone" one hour before the game, which features food, drinks and autograph sessions. Proceeds will be donated to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Jersey giveaway: The Eugene Emeralds are giving away Mat Latos replica jerseys before Saturday's game against Tri-City. The first 1,000 fans admitted into PK Park will receive a replica jersey of the Padres' righty.
Quotable: "It feels good to get that first one. This was my best start so far, no doubt. The guys played great defense behind me. and Mike [Blake] and Randy [Hamrick] came in and slammed the door." -- Yakima Bears LHP John Pedrotty to the Yakima Herald on earning his first professional win Wednesday against Everett.