Chris Kline Diary: Wrapping Up
Baseball America writer suits up and lives the life of a minor leaguer for a week
Chris' Diary: Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Day Five Day Six Day Seven Wrapup
Nashville Gallery Lynchburg Gallery Chat Transcript
By Chris Kline
August 9, 2004
KINSTON, N.C.--I kicked it old school on my last day on this incredible journey, wearing my socks high and a dark green turtleneck in 90-degree weather.
"See, now that's what I'm talking about right there," outfielder Mike Rosamond said as he left the clubhouse for batting practice. "That's a classic look. I can't get that look with the pants so high because my calves go from my knees to my feet."
"Man, I'm sweating just looking at you," groundskeeper Tommy Walston said. "You have to be nuts."
Perhaps, but it was time for a change--and time to pull out some superstitions after a three-game losing streak. It ended up working, as the Hillcats won and pushed my final record to 4-3.
The superstitions among players in baseball are legendary, though I didn't see many examples during my stint in clubhouses. The two that stick out in my mind came in Nashville, though the perpetrator claims one of them isn't superstitious.
Outfielder Luke Allen wears white ankle socks underneath his high black socks the club wears. He wears them for BP, then turns them inside-out while getting dressed for the game.
"It's not superstitious at all," Allen said. "These black socks are just too thin. I need a little more padding down there. I turn them inside-out just to shake all the rocks out."
That seems suspicious, especially when you consider what Allen does after every at-bat and again before each time he takes the field. Or maybe it's just obsessive-compulsive behavior.
He walks over to the water cooler, takes a drink, refills it, gobbles it down, spins it out of his hand and then kicks it across the dugout before running full bore to right field.
Third baseman Chris Truby's routine was a little more subtle. He is always the last player to leave the dugout and take the field. On a couple occasions, Truby was waiting for catcher Kevin McDonald to get his gear on before picking up his hat and glove and heading to the hot corner.
DIFFERENT LEVEL, SAME ANSWERS
When I was in Triple-A, the general consensus was that fans who followed the game didn't have a good feel for what players go through every day. Class A players felt the same way.
"I don't think fans have any idea of what we go through on a daily basis," righthander Josh "Shaggy" Higgins said. "They just think it's a luxury all the time. They all think we're really rich, but we're not."
"I believe that if you haven't played professional baseball or are not doing it now that you don't have a good idea," righthander Henry Owens said. "It's not the kind of lifestyle you might expect coming into it. Once you're involved, and you get a feel for what it's all about, you figure it out pretty quick. Not that it makes things any easier. Prior to being here, baseball was always demanding on my schedule. Playing professionally has been even more so because it takes up the entire day every day."
"These people show up at 6:30 and they pay their hard-earned money to come, but they think guys get paid millions of dollars to play single-A baseball," outfielder Mike Rosamond said. "Some guys got big signing bonuses, but the reality of the situation is they don't know that we get here at 1 o'clock to play a 7 o'clock game.
"They think we have it made because we get paid to play baseball. And in one sense, they're right. I mean, I'm doing something I love to do and am getting paid money for it. There are a lot of people sitting behind a desk right now getting paid money, but they don't love what they do. But they don't have an idea. Mentally, it's the most depressing thing you'll ever go through if you're going through a bad time. You want to do well and make it to the big leagues. It's a hard road, that's for sure."
TURNING THE TABLES
As I was making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the table that stretches through the middle of the clubhouse, I was hit with a lot of questions from different players about my week in the minors.
"So today's the last day, huh?"
"Unfortunately, yes. Now I have to remember what it was like to actually write about the game."
"So you don't want to leave? How do you feel?"
"I do and I don't. I don't want to have to go back to my grind. And how do I feel? I'm tired. I have written things in the past about players wearing down late in the season, and I wore down in a little over a week."
"You should try to do this for the whole year--from spring training until September and live through that. You have a girl back home? Well, you should try dealing with balancing all that out, too. She's (ticked) off because you're not home and you're (ticked) because you have no idea if she's OK.
"And it's not like you get a whole lot of time to work on that relationship, either. You can't talk to her in the morning when you have free time because she's working, and you can't talk to her for very long at night because you leave the clubhouse around midnight. You should try dealing with some of those conversations."
CAN I GET A PIZZA?
During a rain delay, players were worried about getting food to eat later at the hotel. The Hampton Inn has a Hardee's right next to it, but other than that it's pretty barren.
The game didn't start until 8:10 p.m., and we didn't leave the park until almost 12:30. So players were making moves to make sure their bellies would be full.
"I'm probably going to order a pizza, so I'll have it for tonight," said infielder Taber Lee, who is on the disabled list with a sprained wrist.
"Won't it be cold by the time you get it?"
"No, I'll just head up to the clubhouse around the seventh inning, make a call and have it delivered here. You always have to be thinking ahead. This game is all about anticipation."
In other pizza news, lefthander Nick Gravelle had more time to get his pizza delivered to Grainger the next night. In fact, he almost missed it. While most of his teammates were catching rides from vans provided by the Indians and some from fans because the bus was out of commission with a flat tire, Gravelle was dialing a local pizza joint.
With all the commotion surrounding the bus fiasco, Gravelle nearly forgot about his pie, however. Just as he was stepping on the last shuttle to the hotel, the delivery guy showed up.
"Man, that would have sucked," Gravelle said. "I'm starving. And I don't want to have to rely on the vending machines again tonight."
BACK TO REALITY
Rosamond has been on a topsy-turvy ride this season. The Astros' first-round pick in 1999 was cut loose after he didn't get past Double-A Round Rock, where he played the last two seasons. He hooked on with the Rockies and was back in the Texas League earlier this season before the Pirates picked him up and sent him to the Carolina League.
"I'm a journeyman," Rosamond said, emphasizing the second part of the word. "I feel like I've been all over the place. This year has just been crazy. It's like I've been living in a dream world. And this dream world has been something I never exactly wanted to dream.
"You never think you're going to be released. It doesn't matter what pick you are. I got to the ballpark that morning and got the news I was going to Triple-A. We had one more game and I was all packed and ready to head to New Orleans. They called me in the office and told me they got two outfielders in a trade (Willy Taveras and Luke Scott from the Indians), that they didn't have room for me and they decided to release me. I didn't know what to say. I guess I could have stood up and threw tables and cussed a lot, but I didn't handle it that way. I just told thanked them for the opportunity."
It was the toughest situation Rosamond had faced in five years as a pro. And his head is still spinning as he tries to adjust to not being an Astro anymore. He's hitting .273-0-3 in 55 at-bats with the Hillcats and hasn't hit a home run since May 26, when he was at Double-A Tulsa.
"It's all part of the business," he said. "And when the Rockies released me, it was a numbers crunch again. They told me I could stay there, but I'd only be playing three days a week. The Pirates gave me an opportunity to play every day.
"I know in my heart that I'm going to play in the big leagues. But to me, if you're not in the big leagues, it doesn't matter where you are. I've learned not to take every day for granted and I'm just going to continue to work hard to get better, just like everybody else on this team. If there's one guy in this clubhouse that doesn't want to get to the big leagues, he's in the wrong place."
If there's one player on this club who knows more about the grind of the baseball life, it's Rosamond. He's 26, he's married and now he's back in high Class A for the first time in three years.
"I couldn't be here without the love and support of my family," he said. "And if I never played baseball again, my family would support me regardless. It means a lot. My parents rarely missed a game when I was in college and now, we're always keeping in touch either in person or on the phone or over e-mails. It's been something balancing everything with my wife, especially this season. We've been married almost three years now. She's the one who really sacrifices a lot because she has her own things she wants to be doing and she followed me around the country for two or three years now. She's chasing my dream with me. I think the wives don't get enough respect about what they go through.
"And some of these guys have kids too. I can't even imagine what that situation is like, but it certainly wouldn't make things any easier. It's a hard road for you to travel alone, much less with a wife and kids. But it's a part of baseball and that's the way it's always been. There's nothing that's going to change that. But family--especially the wives--are very unappreciated."
YOU GIVE LEFTIES A BAD NAME
I wear my hat slightly cocked to the right. When Nashville pitching coach Darold Knowles saw me on my first day in Nashville, he let me have it--and deservedly so.
"Kline, come here," he said in the dugout before the game. "Lefties wear their hats like that these days, and you're no lefty. You're giving us a bad name by wearing your hat like that.
"(Sean) Burnett wears his hat the same way. I'd always ask him to straighten it out, and he'd say, 'It is straight.' You might be a little bit of a different breed, but you're no lefty. Straighten it out."
AND IN THE END . . .
I had a hard time leaving Nashville and it was even harder leaving the Lynchburg team, mainly because I knew my dream week was over. It didn't take me long to mix into each clubhouse, which was pretty surprising. And, like I told a lot of the players, it's funny how you can forge so many friendships in such a short span of time.
"That's the game," Gravelle said. "And when you're with these guys all day every day, that's what happens. I don't care how long it is. You've only been here for a few days, but everyone feels like they've known you longer than that. Meeting people and establishing friendships through baseball is the best thing about the game to me. I have guys that will be my friends forever."
My swing might not have gotten much better, my reads in the outfield were sketchy at best and I turned down Lynchburg manager Tom Prince's offer to take infield because I didn't have a cup. About the only thing I improved on was my ability to spit sunflower shells for more distance. But this has been something I will never forget, and my respect for the game and the people who play it every day--which was already pretty high--only got higher.