Player Journal: A postseason reflection
I'm home just in time for the homestretch of the regular season, where I'm cringing at the sound of an armchair shortstop/General Manager in a restaurant bar explain what's supposed to be done with Dontrelle Willis' 2-0 changeup in the Mets' finale against the Marlins.
Baseball looks pretty easy on television. I'm just sort of taking it all in. Baseball is his, too. There's a lot you can draw from how people see baseball. Not much of it is useful to me, but it's certainly interesting.
A season is only truly over for a Minor Leaguer when we're watching Major League Baseball on television in September.
It gets a little introspective to say the least.
At the end of the season I'm supposed to enter something to tie up everything that has happened. You are to connect the dots of poignant moments, invoke the passage of time, quote someone dead or deploy clichés in order to be thoroughly convincing. It's one of the most traversed artistic pursuits, to take something and insist that its minutes and its lessons have some universality or relevance to everything and to everybody.
I'll try not to force that, because the allegory in baseball is all too obvious, and because it never really feels like its over ... I'm still waiting by the phone to hear from a winter ball team that needs an outfielder.
Most weeks I solved the problem of what to write by approaching it as if I owed something to baseball. The first time it was a gimmick to get something on the page, but I realized when I was back in the same stance the next time that I was on to something, that I legitimately feel indebted to the game.
I notice when I'm catching up with old friends that baseball is a place where we can hide out from real life and never really grow up. Amongst the stress of needing to remain progressive and evolve with the competition, a little bit of hustle and sweat is something like a halo out here.
In this way I see baseball as an 'anti-modernity.' It feels as though the men who play and stay in the game indulge in a counter culture, the lifestyle in which all you have to do each day is play. It's rustic. These are reasons why I'm here.
It's no wonder that baseball is the sport that's written about the most. There's something about it that strikes a chord with people who have the patience to understand it.
Some people like to say that baseball is boring. They prefer something with more action, maybe some controlled violence or something where athleticism is more significantly featured.
But it's baseball that is written about most prominently. Why? It's a long answer I don't have. If I had to point to something, I'd say that aesthetes are drawn to the way that it's played with calculated civility.
Baseball players have always been, or pretended to be, gentlemen. That isn't a staple of football or basketball. It could be because of its slow pace. With not much to miss between pitches, it's a nice place to hang out.
The national pastime might be all about passing time outside. It can't do just to say that it's because of its history. I hate to use the pretentious superlative that it "transcends sport," although I believe it has some merit.
A friend of mine said baseball is the greatest because it's the only sport loved by "crooks, grandmothers and professors alike." Well said somehow.
STORY BEHIND A MINOR LEAGUER
I haven't really spoken much about my own plight in these journals. They weren't really journals then, I guess. They were semi-anonymous rants on baseball as somewhat of an insider during rain delays.
I've tried to capture instead the sense of being a Minor League ballplayer. How it feels to be another outfielder with decent numbers vying for a job in the most talented young outfield in baseball.
I think I mentioned the fact that it's very difficult to really know where you stand in your organization, or in the baseball world. There isn't any dialogue and there isn't any particular threshold that puts you in the Major Leagues. There's a different formula in each organization.
Your family and the other fans in your corner think you ought to be in the big leagues. But then you might read on the internet, as I did once, that if you're lucky you'll be a reserve outfielder somewhere along the line.
Months ago I put together the fact that if you can't be happy here, you can't be happy, and maybe you don't deserve a tenure in the big leagues. If this is as good as it gets, it's been great and I don't have any regrets about giving baseball my best years.
If anything, the Minor Leagues are where the story is ... filled with so much uncertainty, and far more toil.
THE PLAYOFF PUSH
At the end of a long season, you'll hear a lot about going home. With only a few games left, there isn't much that can change individually.
Our team happened to be in a tight playoff race, which was great because there were stakes -- some grandeur that can force you to finish strong.
Nobody has a bad season when a team wins a championship, and conversely -- as I learned this year -- a good season can be entirely swallowed by a moment in the postseason. If Sergio Pedroza hadn't hit that home run to win the deciding Game 5, we would have lost the game most visibly on account of an error I made. I would have had a bad season, and an offseason that would have never sat right on account of one lapse, a few seconds in a six-month season.
Our teams have always made the playoffs and when our scouting director told me last year that the experience would be invaluable, I didn't really understand it until we lost the Cal League championship in a deciding Game 5.
I didn't think it could possibly be a big deal in the Minor Leagues, with nobody in the stands and all the scouts watching Double-A and Triple-A playoffs. But the play on the field would tell you otherwise.
I remember our manager mentioning that you could go on from here and play 10 years in the Major Leagues and never get to play in the playoffs.
Strangely, these stadiums are packed almost all year and when the postseason hits, if you look into the stands you see who really cares about these teams. The boosters, ordinary people who save off-days from work for the summer and early fall to watch their hometown team. We had a caravan of fans and had a police escort welcome us as we entered the clubhouse, packed our bags, wished each other well and left within a few hours.
AVOIDING 'LITTLE LEAGUE HEART'
There's a point in which I was just happy to be here, but now I'm looking to stay and am finding the ways to forge my longevity in baseball.
My first manager always reiterated that among all the things to learn during Short-Season, one of the most important is to catch on to professionalism. I'm seeing that the more and more you apply that, the less you go wrong. Professionalism is something I never imagined would be important in baseball. It's thinking single, it is the pitcher removing the hitter and executing his pitch, and the hitter being drunk on a plan. Professionalism in a game like baseball is a slew of things that would bore the fans.
The dramatics is for the fans, it is not for us. It's actually forbidden. It's very easy to get caught up in the moment, and feel what the fans do. It happens all the time and you usually end up doing something stupid. We have been calling it "little league heart" -- swinging at the high ones, or trying to throw the fastest fastball or otherwise "over will." It happens once a week at least.
I remember hearing Robert Horry say something to the effect that there isn't any jump shot that could define him, and that this notion sort of afforded him a lightness that made him more effective, especially in the clutch.
IT'S ONLY A GAME
Baseball isn't the social work my friend Kenton does for orphans in Queens. It isn't the Peace Corps nor does it have any alliance to any crown. I try to keep my head in global news and draw my 'lightness' from my own inconsequentiality and of my five at-bats in a small American city. I try, but the idea that I'll never judge myself over my lot in baseball is a white lie for the leverage it provides -- the feeling of lightness and calm as I play.
Any way you cut it, this is what I've chosen to do, and what ends up happening to me in baseball will certainly reflect upon me as a person. Some people say they'll never judge themselves on their careers, but on what kind of father or brother they are, on good deeds as opposed to how their hedge fund did in the past quarter. Doctors and athletes will tell you the same, but they'd be lying if they said they don't feel like fathers or brothers, and that it hurts to fail in principle because of the way we're built.
I've gotten a lot of interesting advice this year on the field. Here's a few things that have stuck with me: I remember Hector Torres making sure I knew the difference from striving for excellence and perfection, because the latter is clearly a waste of time with a human body. I remember Billy Gardner's sermon on complacency, which you need to somehow hold near with so many days in a season to get lost in some way or another. I remember a home game where we were getting totally dismantled, with everything going wrong. I sat next to Neil Allen and we made eye contact and almost immediately started laughing at something stupid I had just done to make it even worse. And he said, "Don't ever lose your sense of humor in this game, ever." If there's one thing I may have done this year, it was maybe to be a little too serious, thinking I had to do well in Double-A.
I should have seen it coming. In Spring Training I remember hitting in the cage with the Major League hitting coach Steve Henderson after a bad game as if my life depended upon it. He's known me for awhile and as he's flipping the balls to me he's mocking how serious I was, how 'too serious' I was to be practicing baseball. He said, "There's plenty of time to be serious when you're old." I couldn't ignore it very long, soon I was there laughing with him at this idiot in the cage hitting as if the fate of the world depended on it.
I remember meeting Gary Gaetti in Spring Training, one of everyone's favorite players of the last generation and just talking about food, seashells and women while shagging balls in the outfield.
I don't put my glove away in the corner of the garage to get hard and collect dust anymore.
Minor Leaguers are in a queue. Major Leaguers rest in the offseason while Minor Leaguers try to close the gap.
My first manager, Dave Howard, explained that it would all make sense after 2,000 at-bats. He couldn't have been any more correct, although I must admit I didn't believe him. I'm almost there.
Besides, I don't really have any place I'm dying to be because as soon as I get there, after the week it takes for all the minor injuries to heal, I'm sort of bored ... even in New York City.
We're all thrill junkies and feel confused living amongst people with jobs and responsibilities. I need a job now that I'm about a week from being laid off, and preferably, it would be a job as a center fielder on a winter ball team, although I can fake left field or answer phones. I'm serious, if you're reading this and have a job, shoot me an email.
I'm certainly done writing about baseball until I'm out of it. It's easier to see when the dust settles. I wonder what the story will be if I were to write one, maybe a survey of the best players of our generation I happen to get to play with. Maybe the story is somewhere back in history, or abroad in interesting places like Columbia and Sweden where most wouldn't imagine baseball is played. Maybe it's the cultural significance of people's attitudes toward the New York Yankees.
I myself am not likely to enter such a story at all. If a player is lucky, he's known for just one play, or just one hit. I hope it's ahead for me.
Thanks for reading, I've meant only to honor our game, as well as put out that I'm unemployed again and will be looking for a job in New York City.
Fans, have mercy on your Mets, they were beaten but they didn't give up. And root for the Rockies, cause they aren't supposed to do it.
Fernando Perez is an outfield prospect in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization and a contributor to MLB.com.