March 2011

Top 5 Best Moments: Grapefruit League

In honor of David Letterman mentioning me during his monologue, I promised a Top-10 list of my own. On March 6th, I posted a Top-5 list based on my throwing batting practice in the Cactus League to the Indians and the Athletics. Here is my Top-5 list for my time in the Grapefruit League when I threw to the Rays, Cardinals, Astros, and Mets. And instead of just listing the moments, I give a brief description of what made it special.

My Top Five Dream Moments

5. Living a week filled with Baseball, Travel, and Motherhood.

I spent 6 days in Florida and drove 881 miles. My trip looked
like this… Tampa – Port Charlotte – Boca Raton (a night with the grandparents)
– Jupiter – Kissimmee – Port St. Lucie – and then to Orlando. I threw to 4
teams in 5 days. We even stopped for an afternoon at Harry Potter World. Every
night we stayed in a different hotel. We went to Steak-n-Shake twice. One night
I asked Jasmine if she thought she would like to be a rock star where they
travel everyday like we were. She replied, “At least they stay in better
hotels.” Author Dan Millman wrote, “There are no ordinary moments.”  And for 6 days, 881 miles, 4 MLB teams, and 144 straight hours of mother-daughter time, I enjoyed having no ordinary moments.

4. Being relaxed and throwing well to the Astros.

The Astros were the 5th team that I threw for. I felt relaxed the whole time. Everyone in the organization was just really nice. And when I threw BP to them it was the first time that I felt almost normal. Meaning, my heart was not beating so fast that it felt like it would come out of my chest. And it just felt good to throw relaxed – like I do at home. I even peeked a few times when they were batting to see if they hit it out – just because it was fun.

3. The conversation between Joe Maddon and Jasmine.

Rays Manager, Joe Maddon, is a really nice guy with a good sense of humor. While I was getting outfitted, Joe was trying to get Jasmine to say that the Rays were her favorite team. But she wouldn’t admit anything. She figured silence with a smile was better than saying no to him. Joe kept trying to give her team gear to playfully bribe her for her loyalty. And Jasmine still wouldn’t say the Rays were her favorite team. So Joe, turned to me, smiled, and said, “Good. She can’t be bought.” In the end, Jaz still walked away with a Rays performance shirt, wrist bands, and a hat. And by the end of that magical morning, she admitted to me, “The Rays are now my second favorite team.”

2. Being in the Mets equipment room and having Christina-Taylor Green’s memorial patch sewed on to my jersey.

I wore Christina-Taylor’s memorial baseball patch each time I threw BP. I had always duck taped the patch on to the left arm of my jersey. But when I asked the equipment manager for some duck tape he offered to sew the patch on instead. And as he sat there with my jersey, the patch, and a sewing machine, he started talking about how he had once worked for Dallas (Christina-Taylor’s grandfather). Throughout my BP journey, players, coaches, managers, and other personnel would tell me stories about how they knew Dallas and Christina-Taylor’s father John. It is obvious how much the Green family means to the MLB community. The patch symbolizes so much to so many people; I was really humbled to be wearing it.

1. Having my grandparents watch me throw to the Cardinals.

 When I threw to the Cardinals, both my grandmother and grandfather were there to see me. My 87-year-old grandpa has been a major influence in my love for baseball. After BP, I went up to him and handed him one of the balls I had just thrown. Smiling, he insisted that I sign the ball. And right next to my signature I
wrote, “Follow Your Dreams.”  He told me he was so proud of me. Then we all went to lunch. Where we talked baseball – as usual.

Throwing to the Mets

”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
– Roberto Clemente

It was my fourth team in five days and I knew that the responsible thing to do was just warm up nice and easy. But there I was throwing with the Mets in left field and I was determined to try to throw as long and as far as they were. And I did. With a step-and-throw, I threw at head level to my partner standing in shallow centerfield. The same distance the players were throwing. When the Mets came in, so did I. And that just felt so cool. Like a dream. Like I was a New York Met.

As I waited to throw the first round of batting practice to the Mets, a player asked, “Are you the one who is throwing BP?” He then initiated a conversation about Title IX. Another guy in uniform, asked why I didn’t just play softball. I replied, “I can’t snap a curve ball in softball.” We discussed my life mission of girls’ baseball for every age group. We talked for so long, that a Mets coach had to call me to remind me it was my time to throw. Relaxed and in my zone, I jogged up to the mound, warmed up a few, and began to throw strikes.

This was my 6th MLB outing and I had gotten the hang of things. I was fairly relaxed. The L screen was the same style that I had trouble with when pitching to the Cardinals – it had thick padding around its rims. But this time, the screen was adjusted so that I could see home plate; it made me smile to think I had a quick learning curve. I didn’t have the same zip on my fastball that I did when I threw to the Rays – my first stop in the Grapefruit League. But I threw consistent strikes. And it was fun. Later during the practice, a Mets coach offered that I threw better BP than him.

When I was done throwing, I spoke to a reporter, dropped my uniform pants off in the equipment room, and walked out to the players’ parking lot like it was no big deal. No hoopla – just a job well done. And that was perfect. Like a dream. Where I’m just a regular ol’ member of the New York Mets.

Throwing to the Astros

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once
in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to,
reach down and prove something.”
  -Nolan Ryan

 

Tentative after my average performance with the Cardinals the
day before, I was on the phone with a friend looking for a pep talk. I found a
penny between the stadium seats and uncharacteristically picked it up – I was looking
for a little luck. As I fiddled with the penny, it fell out of my hands. I
asked my friend, “Is it still lucky if I drop it?” My friend assured me, “You
get double the luck.” I picked up the penny, put it in the back pocket of my
Astros uniform and then left to throw batting practice.

 

I always tell reporters that I wanted to be Orel Hershiser
when I was a kid. And that is true. But my second choice would have been Nolan
Ryan. Before I was allowed to throw BP to the Astros, I was first taken to the
office where I was asked to sign a waiver – acknowledging that I just might die
from throwing BP. I happily signed. But before leaving the office, I admired a
photo of Nolan Ryan; it displayed his perfect pitching mechanics. And I thought
how amazing it was that I had an Astros uniform on – just like my former
baseball hero.

 

I warmed up with one of the coaches. He was being teased by
the players in Spanish. I have no idea what they said but my guess was
something about arm strength. There were many times during my BP journey that I
wished I had paid a little more attention in high school Spanish class – this
was one of those times. Later, I enjoyed listening to that coach share his own
stories of throwing BP. I was surprised when he suggested, “Now what we have to
do, is get someone to take you to the All Star Game to throw at the Home Run
Derby.”

 

One of my favorite parts of
throwing BP to MLB teams, is the first time the ball is hit right back at me on
a line drive. The ball smacks into the screen and I can see players and coaches
behind the batting cage wince. But I never flinch. Even when a ball whizzes by
my head I pretend it never happened. And I know for many of the coaches and
players that when they see my reaction (or lack thereof), that it is the moment
when they see me not as a girl who might get hurt but as a coach who is
throwing BP.  And I take pride in
that.

 

After the BP session, my daughter Jasmine kept saying over and
over how nice the Astros were; that whenever players passed in the hall, they
would say hi to her. She was so impressed with their kindness. And so was I. I
think the team’s supportive atmosphere contributed to my good outing. For the
first time, I felt relaxed. And I threw like it.

 

I think back to the lucky
penny I picked up that day and my promise of double of the luck. But I think it
is not luck that I found that day. Instead I found comfort in knowing that I
have friends I can count on, fans who support me, and teams like the Astros,
who believe in the power of a dream. And for me, that’s way better than luck.

 

Throwing to the Cardinals

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
-Wizard of Oz

When I walked onto right field in the middle of the team stretch, the players turned their heads and stared at me. On the baseball field, I am pretty use to being stared at – but not by a whole MLB team. I stood alone, awkwardly watching them stretch, until Bench Coach Joe Pettini came over and saved me. “Want to play catch”, he asked? Settling into the routine of practice, I no longer felt out of place and was excited to be throwing batting practice to the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the first time, I helped with a team’s infield work. I caught for Albert Pujols while he took fungos at 1B. I liked being of use and helping the team. And the fact that I was catching a 3-time National League MVP made my job just that much cooler! Later, I watched Pujols talk to a young fan who was in a wheelchair; Pujols brought the fan closer to home plate so that he could see the action better and meet some of the other Cardinals. During his BP, Pujols was smiling and uttering Spanish phrases between every pitch. On his last swing he predicted in English, “Upper deck.” And the ball seemed to understand
its own mission because it sailed deep over the centerfield wall.

I threw BP to Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, and David Freese. I threw ok. It was not great. It was not bad. My challenge was that I couldn’t see home plate. The green padding on the L screen was so thick that I could not see around it. I had to throw on muscle memory alone. Meaning, I relied on experience
to know where I had to release the ball –  based on my arm slot, hand position, and stride. But I actually never saw home plate. And I didn’t have the time to figure out how I might both throw and see home plate, so I just did the best I could. I think sometimes that’s all we can do – adjust and do our best.

The Cardinals special-ordered my team jersey. “Siegal” was on
the back –  right over my number 15. It was awesome! I thought of that name on the back of my jersey as I prepared to throw batting practice. My grandparents were there to watch me throw BP. It was my grandfather who helped ingrain the love of baseball within me; We went to so many Indians’ games together. After I threw BP, I gave him a ball, and he proudly asked me to sign it. And with my autograph, I wrote, “Follow your dreams.”

Bench Coach Pettini was shocked I was paying all of my expenses for my BP journey. It’s been a difficult price to bear but the journey has been worth the trip. And its been a journey filled with humility and honor. After Pettini and I played catch, he admitted, “I don’t think I have ever played catch with a girl before.”  And I can’t help but think that with every game of catch, every stare, and with every pitch that is made, we become closer to the realization of baseball as a game for all.

Throwing to the Rays

Roy Hobbs: Red, it took me sixteen years to get here. You play me, and I’ll give ya the best I got.

Red Blow: I believe ya.

-The Natural

 When I walked out of the clubhouse, through the tunnel, and onto the right field of the Rays’ Spring Training stadium, I felt like a big leaguer. It was just like in the movies, the pitchers were warming up in the outfield, the hitters were practicing base running, and Manager Joe Maddon was leaning against the dugout fence, fielding questions from a circle of reporters. It was my first outing in the Grapefruit League and I was pumped to be throwing batting practice to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The movie experience began from the beginning. I was taken through the clubhouse and dropped off at the equipment room. To my left was a wall of
Rays clothing and to my right were rows of bats, helmets, and any other
equipment a player could ever need. I walked out of the room in a full Rays
uniform and a pile of sweet Rays gear.

 Joe Maddon was the first Manager I spoke to at the Baseball Winter Meetings. We briefly discussed my baseball background, talked logistics, and then with a smile he said he wanted to make this happen. With his personal email address in my hand and an affirmation that my dream was possible, I spent the next few days approaching more MLB teams. And the conversation began with, “You know the Rays are going to…”

When Johnny Damon introduced himself to me I knew this would be a different BP experience. For a morning, I felt like I was a part of the Rays team. Manny Ramirez and I talked over the water cooler. I watched some BP from behind the cage and chatted with Don Zimmer and Sam Fuld.  I was hanging out, just as any coach would.

It was the fourth and final round of batting practice when I stepped behind the L-screen and readied to throw. The Toronto Blue Jays were already on the field preparing for game. So, both the Rays and the Jays were staring and waiting for me to toss the first pitch. With my heart beating fast, I wiped the sweat off my hands, looked at the batter, and fired in a strike.

I could hear ‘Hey Soul Sister’ over the loud speaker. “Just sing to the music,” I told myself.  ….”I’m throwing my best BP yet,” I admitted silently. …I then wonder, “Why does Maddon have his arm up in a throwing position. Is he talking about my mechanics?” I throw a ball as I ponder whether my mechanics are ok. ….So, I start singing again. “This is fun,” I thought smiling. And then the strikes reappeared.

With Maddon being the first manager to believe in me and my mission of baseball for all, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Rays did what no other team had done. They directly encouraged my efforts. And the one simple but powerful statement I kept hearing over and over again from both players and coaches, was: “I think what you are doing is great.”

When I was done throwing BP, I spoke to the reporters, signed autographs, and conversed with fans. And as I walked back through the tunnel and into the clubhouse, I thought, “This is way better than the movies.”

Top 5 Best Moments: Cactus League

When I heard that David Letterman spoke of me during one of his monologues, I have to admit that I thought that was pretty cool. For fun, I thought I would do my own Top-Ten list of Dream Moments from throwing batting practice to the A’s and Indians. And instead of just listing the moments, I give a brief description of what made it special. But because I am only half done with my journey, I am doing a top-5 list, with the other half coming after my BP trip to Florida.

My Top Five Dream Moments

5. Being interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered.

All Things Considered is one of my favorite radio programs. So
it was a real honor to do this interview. But here is what really happened… I
just got off the field from throwing to the A’s. My daughter, Jasmine, and I
were sitting in the car. I wanted the door closed and she wanted it open. She
was hungry and I was trying to focus on the interview. Needless to say, my
focus was not on the interview as much as it was on what Jaz was doing right
next to me. In the middle of one of the questions, I hear this alien-type noise
coming out of Jaz. I try to nudge her to be quiet but instead I get her right
where she is holding her phone. The phone goes flying. She gives me a dirty
look. I give one back. And I realize that I really don’t know what the
interviewer just asked me. Admittedly, this wasn’t one of my best interviews.
But when I think of that moment, I will always remember the joy of a
mother-daughter relationship and the crazy alien sounds that Jaz was making.
And to me, it’s a pretty funny memory.

4. Signing autographs for kids when I was throwing at the A’s camp.

For me, it’s always an honor to mean something to a kid. I
heard that one boy walked up to me three times before he got the nerve to finally
ask me for my autograph; that is so sweet. I thinks kids are the source of
life’s magic and to have one want my autograph is really cool. I sign all my
autographs with: “Follow Your Dreams.”

3. The last round of BP when I was throwing to the Indians.

I was really nervous when I threw BP to the Indians as I was
feeling a lot of pressure to do well. So in the beginning it was a bit hard to
enjoy myself. But when I heard, “Last round,” from an Indians coach, I stopped
throwing and took a moment. And I thought to myself, “Here I am throwing to the Cleveland Indians. This is cool. I’m going to just let myself enjoy this
round.” And I did. When I walked off that field and shook General Manager Chris Antonetti’s hand and he said, “Good job,” that moment was completed. And it was amazing.

2. Walking into the Indians umpire’s locker room and seeing my Indians jersey hanging for me.

When I saw my number 15 on that Indians jersey, I couldn’t
stop smiling. I was instantly that kid who had dreamt of being a Cleveland
Indian. As I put that uniform on, I thought of my grandfather and all of the
games we had gone to together. That is when the dream became a reality. And my ear-to-ear smile came straight from my soul.

1. When I learned that Christina-Taylor Green’s family was supportive of my efforts and “proud of me.”

I wore Christina-Taylor’s Little League memorial patch while I threw BP. I have tried to honor her memory. Christina-Taylor was the only girl on her Little League team and dreamed of one day playing in the pros. I feel very connected to her spirit. So, I am truly humbled knowing that the Green family is happy with my efforts. For them to be proud is very meaningful for me.

Being a Coach

“Don’t underestimate the people. Let them decide.”
-Thaksin Shinawatra, Politician

 During the bus rides to our away games, I would listen to Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son.”  I was the only female assistant college baseball coach in the country – but that didn’t matter so much to me. What mattered to me was being a good coach; to help these young men become better baseball players and better people.

I was 16 when I told my hero/baseball coach that I wanted to be a college baseball coach. Immediately he laughed, and promised that no man would listen to a woman on a baseball field. Despite the lump in my throat, I ignored him, and decided I would still go after my dream. The truth is I didn’t really believe him.

It was my third year coaching at Springfield College, when a Varsity player came up to me to ask for some fielding advice. He needed help. He didn’t go to the Head Coach or even to the other two assistants, who all had some pro experience; he came to me. He asked. And I helped. Just like any coach would.

My 12u girls’ all star team, the Sparks, play annually at Cooperstown Dreams Park. Imagine 103 boys’ teams and our 13 girls. During one of our games, when Chelsea Baker, the knuckle ball pitcher, who has thrown two perfect games, was
pitching, we had over 700 fans watching the game. The fans, composed of mainly twelve year old boys who were also tournament participants, could be heard chanting in succession: “Baseball-For-All!” The boys were cheering for the girls – their fellow baseball players.

I like to joke that every time a girl strikes out a boy, she just made him a better father. Boys and girls, women and men, can enjoy the game of baseball together. I know being a female limits some of my understandings of what it is to become a man. But I do know something of what it takes to become a good father, a loving husband, and a happy person. And to me, that’s the job of a good baseball coach – to teach how we can become better – on and off the field. Man or Woman.

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