Released. For Eric Pettis, that word took on entirely different meanings within the span of one tumultuous week.
On March 25, the 23-year-old right-hander released his first book. Entitled, Just A Minor Perspective: Through the Eyes of a Minor League Rookie, this online-only tome chronicles Pettis' 2010 campaign as a member of the Class A Short-Season Williamsport Crosscutters. It's the sort of account that Minor League Baseball fans should lap right up, chock full of anecdotes about what life in the lower ranks of professional ball is really like.
And what it is is an inherently awkward existence, in which "home" means sleeping on balloon-adorned sheets in a host mother's basement and "road" equals claustrophobic bus rides and hotels of questionable hygienic standards. Perhaps the only true constant in the midst of this surreal lifestyle is a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"Baseball has a way of humbling you," writes Pettis at the close of the book's second chapter, and this may as well serve as its thesis. It was strangely poignant, then, that just three days after the book's debut, Pettis had to endure a release of a different sort. The Phillies, who had selected Pettis out of UC Irvine with their 35th-round selection of the 2010 Draft, included him among the organization's final rounds of Spring Training cuts.
Though players rarely, if ever, are expecting to be released, Pettis' cut was particularly surprising. He had performed well over his two professional campaigns, compiling a 2.84 ERA over 47 appearances spanning three levels of play. He is now focusing on promoting Just A Minor Perspective while waiting for a new professional opportunity.
In this Q and A, conducted over email, Pettis elaborates on his process as a writer, the shock of being released, and what we can expect from him going forward:
MiLB.com: You mention at the onset of Just A Minor Perspective that it was an offseason project, but had the idea to write occurred to you at any point before then?
Eric Pettis: Just A Minor Perspective happened a lot more organically than I thought it ever would. When I entered the Minor Leagues [in 2010] I created a blog to keep my family and friends updated. I stuck with it and over the course of my first summer in pro ball I chronicled all of the most important events. But it wasn't until a year later when my aunt told me I should write a book about my experiences that the idea ever crossed my mind. At first I wasn't sure I could tackle such a daunting task, but with the encouragement of my fiancé, I took it on. I wrote a little bit each day last offseason and, before I knew it, I had written a book.
MiLB.com: What has the reaction to the book been thus far?
Pettis: So far I have gotten a lot of positive feedback. It's really humbling to think that someone is reading my writing for pleasure, not because they have to. It's funny because, as the editing process wore on, I started to hate every word of it. There is only so much dissecting that you can do yourself before you just crumple it all up and throw it away. So I was really nervous to put it out to the world and be open to criticism. But thus far everything I have heard has been good, so I can breathe a little sigh of relief.
MiLB.com: You mention in Just a Minor Perspective that, as a player, you found it impossible not to read about yourself online. Is that still the case? Have you been obsessively searching for reader reactions?
Pettis: That was most certainly the case my first year in pro ball, but it's amazing what a 140-game season will do to you. Last year during the grind of my first real full season, I shed some of my "bad habits." Now I don't obsess over what is written about me, and I can go weeks without checking the stat sheet. That's not to say that I won't check things out every now and then, but it certainly doesn't linger in the forefront of my mind like it used to. My book is a little different story. This is a whole new animal and I have yet to shed my "bad habits." So if you're writing about Just a Minor Perspective, I know about it. Was that creepy?
MiLB.com: Throughout the book, you went out of your way not to name names and to keep your coaches and teammates at a level of remove. What led you to take such an aggressively anonymous approach?
Pettis: As a writer, I thought it was the right thing to do. The characters in my book are certainly modeled after real people, but in the process of writing a coherent story, there are some creative liberties that are taken. I thought it would be unfair to use real names because my representations are not photographs. Even if I was trying to describe the characters exactly as I perceived them in real life, there would be some error along the way. I didn't want the focus to be on the who, but rather the what, how, and why.
MiLB.com: Despite how humbling, awkward and insecure the Minor League life can be, your writing was usually able to convey a sense of positivity and optimism. Was it tough to maintain that balance, to find the right tone?
Pettis: The positivity in the face of difficult situations is a glimpse into some of the self-talk that I did during my first year. When you are thrust into the Minor League lifestyle there is a lot to get used to and it can become overwhelming. At first, it's very hard to make things seem normal. In the book, there are passages where I am reassuring myself that these humbling, awkward and insecure moments are what I've worked so hard for. Despite what I was feeling on the inside, I had to tell myself that it was a positive experience and it would only become more normal over time.
MiLB.com: The release of Just a Minor Perspective coincided with your release from the Phillies organization. Has that been difficult, promoting the book (and, by extension, your professional career) at the same time you're dealing with what must be a very challenging setback?
Pettis: While my release from the Phillies was a shocking sidestep in my baseball career, it has been nice to be able to focus on promoting my book. The timing of my release hasn't allowed me to hop on with another team at this point because final rosters are set. While I am trying to stay patient waiting for a spot to open up, my book has been a positive distraction. And the extra time on my hands has really allowed me to give my book attention that I wouldn't have been able to if I was heading to the ballpark everyday.
MiLB.com: Throughout the book, you speak about feeling overlooked and wanting to prove people wrong -- is it safe to assume that this attitude prevails as you seek your next professional opportunity?
Pettis: The events of this Spring Training showed me that my battle to attain my dreams is still an uphill one; especially now, as I sit here jobless, the big leagues seem so far away. But one thing has been constant in my whole journey thus far: belief in myself. I know deep down inside that I can reach the baseball mountaintop and, until that changes, I will keep fighting.