Chris Kline Diary: Day One
Baseball America writer suits up and lives the life of a minor leaguer for a week
By Chris Kline
Photos by Mike Strasinger
August 2, 2004
Baseball America assistant editor Chris Kline is spending a week as a farmhand in the Pirates system, doing everything the players do except get on the field during a game. He'll provide daily updates here on how he's holding up. Kline is spending the first part of his trip with Triple-A Nashville, and this is his first report.
NASHVILLE -- Note to self: Don't eat a calzone after midnight—unless you want to run around the next day feeling like you have a brick in your stomach and you've gained five pounds.
It's my first day as a faux minor leaguer, and other than the calzone problem, it went a lot better than expected. From the early hitting to the stretching to batting practice to the down time to finally getting it on in a live game—these guys go through a lot. And they keep doing it because they love the game so much--even at Triple-A, where it's common to find players who are bitter about not being in the big leagues or seeing their careers wind down.
I arrived early yesterday, half trying to make a good impression and half trying to work through all my nervous energy, which is substantial. Hitting coach Jeff Livesey made me feel a little more comfortable, tossing hard underhand to me after Rich Thompson, Freddy Sanchez, Chris Truby and Mike Moriarty went through their respective rounds.
"Don't you want to watch?" Livesey asked Truby and Moriarty before I took my hacks.
"Nah, we'll see whatever he's got when we get out on the field," Truby said.
I laughed and dug in. And then proceeded to hit everything to the left side in an opposite-field drill. Oh yeah, I'm a righty.
But it was just early session work. I wanted to see some balls before I took on actual BP.
Chris renders a perfectly good baseball utterly worthless
"Hey man, that trade must have gone down pretty quick. What's up? I'm Daryle Ward. Where'd you come from?"
Ward, who is on a rehab assignment with the Sounds, saw an opportunity to razz the new guy after he caught a glimpse of me sitting in the corner of the clubhouse. "Well, Daryle, all I can tell you is if they traded for me, they didn't get much back for a big leaguer—even if his contract was up at the end of the year," I said.
The Pirates got nothing in the deal that brought me to Nashville—and I will mention that my 10-hour drive from Durham to the Music City wasn't exactly a great deal either—but so many other trades went down yesterday that they were the buzz in the clubhouse as well as on the field during BP.
As the trade deadline passed, both the Nashville players and the Edmonton Trappers, who were in town for the Pacific Coast League series, were talking about everything that went down. When Sounds second baseman Freddy Sanchez heard the Red Sox were involved, his ears perked up immediately, because he came up in the Boston system before getting dealt to the Pirates last season.
But he and the other Sounds were more interested in the Pirates' deal with the Mets, which brought young players in exchange for Kris Benson.
"So what do you think of the trade we made?" asked center fielder Rich Thompson. "I know we got (Ty) Wigginton, and we got (Jose) Bautista back, but what else did you think? Think we got enough back."
"Yeah, Bautista’s head must be spinning right now," added Sanchez. "That guy's worn like 12 uniforms this year."
As more trades were announced on ESPN, players grouped around the TV hanging in the corner of the clubhouse.
"Man, the Dodgers giving up (Guillermo) Mota, too," catcher Humberto Cota said. "His stuff is nasty, and Gagne calls him the best set-up man in the game.
"The Marlins are stacking up again."
When I arrived here late Friday night and met home clubhouse manager Steve Humphrey—a character in his own right—he told me I'd have the far locker on the left wall.
But when I showed up Saturday, Humprhey told me I'd now be sharing the locker with Pirates outfielder Tony Alvarez, who had just been optioned back from the big league club.
I figured there was no way in the world Alvarez would be up for sharing a locker with anyone, particularly someone who hadn't played any kind of organized baseball in more than 15 years.
But I was wrong.
"Hey, man, I'm Tony," an upbeat Alvarez said.
"I'm Chris. And I'm the guy in the other half of your locker."
"Oh, you're the guy? You're my roomie? Well, it's nice to meet you, roomie."
GETTING TO KNOWLES YOU
Chris lunges at another offering from Darold Knowles
"You're in the third group for BP today," Livesey told me as I was getting ready to run out to the field to shag fly balls. "I'll call it out—and I'll make sure you know, just in case you forget. You have Knowlesy. And I'm sure you've already heard about how tough he can be."
He was right. Pitching coach Darold Knowles pitched in the big leagues from 1965-80, breaking in with the Orioles and earning an all-star selection in 1969 with the Washington Senators. The 62-year-old lefthander still has great stuff.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"You got Knowlesy?" Ward said. "That guy could still win games in the big leagues. He doesn't think so, but everything moves. You'll see changeups, cutters, sliders, and whatever else he feels like throwing."
Knowles made me feel more at home while we were in the clubhouse, but I got the feeling I was still going to be eaten up as part of his pregame meal.
"I only throw one speed, so you don't have to worry about that," Knowles said, reassuringly. "I mean, come on. I'm 62 years old."
So there I was, hitting in group three, behind righthander John Van Benschoten, Moriarty, Sanchez and catcher Eddie Olszta.
The way the first round of batting practice works, you square around for two bunts then get five hacks, then just five hacks in each subsequent round.
I laid down two decent bunts to start off. I swung late on the first real swing, but seriously roped a line drive that hugged the right-field line over first base. The field erupted with yells, but I was concentrating too hard to celebrate, intent on not making a fool of myself.
But concentration can take you only so far.
After that, Knowles ate me up, throwing everything with movement. In addition to swinging through bunches of pitches, I only hit one more ball hard, and one pitch from the crafty lefty nearly took out my kneecaps.
THE WAR ROOM
Manager Trent Jewett is clearly in charge of the war room that is the dugout once the game starts. Jewett is as intense as it gets and a guy you don't necessarily want to make eye contact with—especially if this is your first night in professional baseball.
I was worried when the team went down 2-1 after three innings because the Sounds had a three-game winning streak heading into the game. But they rallied for a 7-3 win behind starter Cory Stewart and I was off the hook. I certainly did my part, greeting guys as they came into the dugout, chatting it up about the possibility of Fred McGriff getting into the Hall Of Fame with starting left fielder Andy Abad, and talking more with Ward.
"Man, you look good," Ward said as he passed by. "I would have traded for you."
After second baseman Terry Shumpert came in from the field in the bottom of the sixth after making a nice play on a bad hop, he stared me down, and I didn't know why.
"Hey, you know who you look like?" Shumpert asked. "Bobby Seay. You look a lot like him and that's the reason I came over to your locker to introduce myself."
"It's not his locker," Alvarez interjected. "It's ours. We're roomies."
After righthander Luther Hackman finished the win, we lined up to exchange fist pumps and high-fives. A reporter from the local paper swung through the clubhouse looking for game-winner Stewart, who is in the locker next to Alvarez and mine. The whole clubhouse erupted with this refrain: "We're 1-0 with Baseball America."
"We're 1-0 with you, but don't let it get to your head," Livesey deadpanned. "If we lose tomorrow, it's all over."