Our first game against a team other than ourselves is this afternoon. We play the Riptide, who are trying to make all 3 of their fans call them The Tide. The game is in West Palm Beach, about an hour's drive from Ft. Pierce, and most of the regulars will stay behind with most of the coaches. It's not worth it yet to do the bus thing - the whole travel thing - when timing is still off, muscles are still being acclimated, and minds are still soft from an off season of Wii.
I'd be staying behind anyway, since I'm not as far along as many of my teammates. I've been throwing off of flat ground for a couple of weeks now and will throw a bullpen session to live batters (it's hard to find dead ones who can swing away) over the weekend.
Coming off of a major injury like mine takes a lot of patience and lots of hard work. I admittedly didn't rehab as hard as I should have right after my surgery last April 5th. If I had, there would have been a decent chance that I could have gone north with the team and been able to pitch that first week of the season. Instead, the plan is for me to be available by May 1 to contribute to the team.
So it's been me and Mike Murphy, who had a second shoulder surgery last June (he might be back by September, although no one is sure since he only threw 3 innings last year and 37 in 2006), kind of tossing the ball to each other like babies and listening to Bobby Spencer, our pitching coach, who's trying to teach us new ways to throw that will relieve stress on our surgically repaired parts.
How does it feel to re-learn how to pitch? It's weird. If you're right handed, take a baseball in your left hand, go into your motion, and see how it feels to throw your fastball. Awkward, huh? When I throw lefty, I throw like a girl (no offense, you dames). Throwing with my newer motion on my natural right side is kind of like me throwing like a lefty girl. Not as awkward, but just awkward enough to feel a little weird. Bobby says with repetition, I should get a good feel soon. He also says I should be able to reclaim a few miles an hour on my fastball, which was topping off around 88 right before my UCL and me got into that very public, and violent, argument. If I could get into the low 90s, and still have the movement I used to have, I could be pretty good. Maybe 2008 wouldn't have to be my last year...
That's what goes through your head during this process. You keep looking forward to the future because the present is so tough and, let's face it, boring. That means I have to not only re-learn how to pitch, I have to re-learn the old "Take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one inning at a time" line of thinking. That's a different kind of discipline. Being that most big leaguers are just big babies, and big babies want everything NOW, it's very difficult to teach us patience. But I'm working hard on that part of my game as well.
The rest of the coaching staff is doing the same with not only the other players coming off injury or off season "procedures," i.e. cleaning out a knee, but with the guys who are trying to improve off of last season, which on our team is most everyone.
It is a strange sight to see Chazz Waters back in camp. I know - and he knows, and the press knows, and you know - he wasn't Rick's first choice to be bench coach, but he's got a pedigree here. Two World Championship Series rings with us (1996, 2000) is nothing to sniff at (I don't know what that phrase means). And since we haven't been very competitive since left in 2002, maybe a little of his past will rub off on some of the guys here. And Rick, who can probably learn a thing or two from Chazz, especially since this is Rick's first camp as a manager.
Gums Murphy, our resident octogenarian who managed us for two "glorious" (his word) weeks at the end of last season (the team went 2 and 11 under his helm), is teaching bunting to anyone who will listen. He's also got lots of stories about the days when players took trains between cities and the farthest west anyone would go was St. Louis. Very different from today. But so is Gums.
By the way, Willie Fernandez, who we all remember as our third baseman who caught the last out of the 2000 Series team, is here as our new infield and third base coach. Willie's in great shape and could probably still hit a few home runs off the bench if he had wanted. But for him, coaching is less stressful on his knees. I haven't had five surgeries on mine, so I can't make too much fun of him for hanging up his spikes and waving other guys around third base to score. I can still make a little fun of him. It's more fun that way.
Home game tomorrow against the Sky that will be broadcast on NYS. That will be my dad's first game on the air for us. Listen in and see what he says about me. I'll be in the dugout watching the action. Who knows, maybe I'll learn a thing or two as well.