Guest blogger Ryan Tatusko is a minor league pitcher for the Washington Nationals. He keeps his own blog, The Backfield Diaries, where he shares the inside stories of a minor league baseball player trying to make the show:
Recently I went to the Ballpark at Arlington to say hello to my best friend who played for the opposing team that day, I hadn’t seen him since we both got traded a little over a year ago so I was very excited to be able to see my friend to say the least. As I approached the front gates, and walked down to section 18, row 1, seat 8, a feeling came over me that was something that I am not accustomed too, like a wave that started in my toes and ending in my brain.
As I glanced around the stadium before the game and read each jersey, I was instantly taken back to a time when I shared a clubhouse with no fewer than eight guys that were dressed out that day, and I instantly became jealous. Not jealous of the people on that field, nor of the accomplishments that each person had, but jealous of the experience of being on a baseball field that fateful late September day. I sat in mostly silence that day just watching my friends, noticing if they handled themselves any different that day, could I notice changes in their personality? Playing style? Little nuances like that.
I sat back in my blistering hot chair wondering if it felt as hot on the field in a MLB jersey, daydreaming of how amazing it would be to be taking the rubber that day in this scorching heat. Would I feel as warm? Or would I shrug it off like I have done a million times before in my career when I have pitched under the sun in games.
There are certain parts of the brain that as a professional athlete you cannot turn off when you are watching a game of your chosen sport. I sat and analyzed every pitch, wondering if I would throw that same pitch in that same situation, and if I did, would mine have been more effective than his that day?
I watched the game differently that day, I watched if outfielders shifted with two strikes, if the infielders instinctively moved up on guys who are notorious bunters, were the middle infielders shifting with each batter and if they did how much and to where? I did this without really having to think about doing it, it’s that part of my conscious that I cannot turn off after reading hundreds if not thousands of scouting reports in my career. To me, it’s just something you do now, like brushing your teeth. I sat there in my seat, quietly watching through my shades switching from the field to the dugout and back again watching the best of the best and how they handled their business throughout the game, trying to pick up things that I may be lacking in my own game.
As the game progressed I listened to the people around me talking about “what an amazing play that so and so made” or “man what a home run that last hit was” or “why so and so didn’t make the play and what a bum he was.” I sat and listened trying to pick up what they were saying, and there were many of times I wanted to turn around and ask him if they truly thought if they could make that play, but I digressed. But to me I saw things a little differently, I saw that 0-2 slider hang after the catcher signaled he wanted it down in the dirt and how the hitter just capitalized on a hanging pitch which is what an MLB hitter should do and he hit the ball out of the ballpark or for extra bases. I watched the outfielder loaf after the ball in the outfield and the runner go from first to third on a dying quail and I wondered why people didn’t applaud the heads up base running like they did the 400 foot shot the inning before. The game was chock-full of home runs and extra base hits that day, and the park seemed to come alive or go dead quiet with each play. It was fun to be a part of that atmosphere, I must admit, and it only got me wondering what it must be like in Nationals Park.
After the game we went down into the tunnel below the stadium to finally meet up with my friend and say hello, which before only consisted of smirks and head nods. Watching players, personnel, and staff walk in and out of those doors, it only heightened my curiosity of what it must be like in there. What would it be like to walk in and see my last name above a locker with all the amenities befitting a big league baseball player.
Beyond that door was my Mt Everest summit, Shangri-La, and Atlantis all rolled into one. Underneath my calm exterior of trying not to show I cared about being down there, was that little leaguer yearning to be able to walk in and be a part of a baseball club, the realization of a dream that is 20+ years in the making knowing that once I am able to walk through those doors the real work begins on staying there. Again the wave of jealousy hit me watching the people coming and going freely through those doors, again not jealous of the people but the situation and wanting to be a part of that someday.
Being able to see my best friend was awesome, after more than a year of not seeing him except for catching his highlights on ESPN or mlb.tv but leaving the stadium that day as a spectator in my own car and not on the team bus it hit me that I still have a chance to make a dream a reality. The chance to take my destiny in my hands and make something out of it, the chance to change, tweak, and listen to make myself a better ballplayer and human being. Walking away from the stadium that day, among the 40,000+ people that were happy to see a home team win, I didn’t say many words but that fire that burned so deep inside me turned from Yellow-Orange to Blue and it re-affirmed to me that I am going to Venezuela this with a specific purpose, that is to make myself a big-league caliber baseball player and to put myself in the best position to be a part of something special that is starting to take place in Washington.
Feel free to visit Ryan Tatusko’s site at The Backfield Diaries and ask him any question you want about being a professional baseball player.