March 13, 2018
Pilot: A New Beginning
And we’re back. The excitement, the yearly expectations, the dreams for every player and every team, another baseball season is upon us. An offseason at UConn brought a good work environment, while providing some relaxation (I’ll spare you those details) after a grind of a season down in Sarasota in the Gulf Coast League (GCL). It was a bittersweet dynamic watching my former teammates and coaches at UConn prepare vigorously as a unit, while their season approached much sooner than my own. In the meantime, all members of the Orioles were scattered across the U.S. and the world (the Caribbean, Czech Republic, China, etc.) preparing themselves on their own with whatever resources they are lucky enough to possess. It was a beautiful sight seeing how many former players, other than myself, that the UConn coaching staff allowed to come back and share their resources with even after our time of wearing UConn across our chests’ expired. I would argue we all just wanted to come back and watch Coach MacDonald playfully shred the freshman, as he did with us all before in his twisted but mostly successful strategy to make us more comfortable (or just for the sake of ripping us, I give him the benefit of the doubt).
After months of preparation and repetitions with the UConn team, living at the Electric Zoo with the new assistant coach Jordan Tabakman, the voice of Huskies Chris Jones (Jonesy), and Nasty Nate, it was time to head down south. It worked out beautifully that the Huskies were playing in Atlanta that weekend and my Mom’s Aunt and Uncle, who are twins and live in Atlanta, were celebrating their 90th birthdays that weekend (here’s to them!). Thus my Mom and I made the trek in the old painters truck (Toyota Tacoma with the racks on the back) down to Georgia. Thanks to this perfect storm, my roommate Jonesy, the legendary voice of the Huskies, was nice enough to let me make a fool of myself on the UConn Baseball radio broadcast for their games against Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech with WHUS. After all that fun and doing everything in my power not to yell, clap, cheer, swear, etc. on air, I arrived to Sarasota on February 19th for my physical.
This was my second “first day” in minor league baseball, my first being the first day showing up for physicals before the GCL seasons started the summer before, but it’s not all too different from your first-day-of-school experiences (besides getting stabbed by needles twice and pissing in a cup). You migrate safely into the company of guys you played with the year before, talk to the coaches you recognize from the year before, meet and greet with some new guys and 1 minute later while still in conversation with them think, “Ah shit what’s their name again??” All the classic and awkward feelings from the first few days go off to the side and the physicals are finished and we get back onto the field.
“What’s that kid doing?” a random player asks another while pointing at me.
“Oh that’s Yahn, he’s just rolling around in the grass, he hasn’t seen green grass since October.”
I figured it’d be easier to explain my excitement of being warm and on a baseball field in this way than getting all cliché and descriptive on you. But yes, there’s nothing like going from the emotionally confusing weather climate of Connecticut to the perfectly warm, not a cloud in the sky, putting-green-esque grass environment that Florida in February features.
Quickly the days leading up to Minor League Spring Training games start to blend, in a good way, but they do blend together. Of course this is because Minor League Spring Training games start in the middle of March, as opposed to the Major League Spring Training games, which start in late February. Wake up at 7, get to the complex, eat at 7:30, lift or activate (a light lift) at 8, stretch at 9:30, throw, hit, condition, repeat.
NO, no, nono, NO I am not complaining at all. Are you serious? Me complain about baseball? I explain this to you because when you do this for 23 straight days preparing for your first at-bat or ground ball in a game against another uniform, well, it’s like a dog doing tricks for 23 straight days without his biscuit (at least for me).
At long last, tomorrow is the first day of Minor League Spring Training games. The chance I’ve been waiting for since the last game of the GCL season on September 2nd is finally upon us. The excitement in the locker room is there for sure, but I feel like there are few others who feel the way I feel about the first game. It’s not about proving to the organization that I have done everything in my power in the off-season to earn a spot on a full season team, as important as that is, no question. It’s the game; the game has been given back to me, the chance to Pete Rose dive into third as a stretch a double into a triple, the chance to show players who are most likely more talented than me that my focus and love for the best game in the world determines my reality.
Coach Penders up at UConn says it best, “Prepare like failure is inevitable, play like failure is impossible.” Many would scoff at that sentiment, thinking I should visualize success as I prepare, and understand in the game that failure happens and nobody’s perfect. That’s not how I roll, I can’t think like that. I can’t sit there while I prepare and feel satisfaction from something that isn’t happening in front of me, whether it is reminiscing on past successes or visualizing future ones, baseball is a game about the now where you need a short memory, you need to be where your feet are, and you need to focus on that rep at that moment whether in the gym or on the field. While in games I play like failure is impossible, as soon as you concede in any moment, thinking that getting out won’t put too much of a dent on your batting average or thinking one error isn’t that big of a deal, that’s when those negatives start to pile up. It’s partly an impossible pursuit of perfection that has gotten me to where I am, an instilled mindset from my parents and reiterated during my time at UConn that endless reps, putting your boots on and going to work, while being where your feet are, can make the impossible a reality.
But the other part that will stay with me until I leave this earth is a true love for the game. The preparation that goes into it and the feeling of success when it happens, baseball is really just too beautiful to put into words, it’s truly a gift. Let the games begin!