Tolbert Talks About Professional Experience

Matt Tolbert has learned that it isn't professional baseball just because he is getting paid. Playing and more importantly staying requires dedication and a businesslike approach. Tolbert also knows that the pinnacle is visible from his high perch in Triple-A.

The former Ole Miss shortstop is taking part in his fourth minor league season and is being noticed as an up-and-coming infielder. Tolbert is hitting around .300 for the Rochester Redwings, while being realistic regarding the opportunities for promotion.

Consistency and chance are both necessary to reach "The Show."

"The guys up there have proven that they can play in the major leagues," Tolbert said. "It is all about getting an opportunity, either by way of injury or when they expand the roster in September. Late in the season might be a way to get up there. That is when you really want to be doing well. They tell me to keep doing what I'm doing, and I will get a chance.

"You can't think about the pressure and the business of getting moved up. It will affect your game. I have the opportunity to play baseball for a living and have the time of my life. Whatever happens happens. All I can do is put myself in a good situation."

The good situation comes down to practice and lifestyle habits as much as playing ability. The long seasons and high pressure must be accounted for off the field. Tolbert says that is one of the areas that takes time to adjust to.

"You can wear out easy, so the most important thing is learning how to eat and take care of your body," Tolbert noted. "I make sure to avoid fast food and to get enough sleep. I am an all or nothing guy. You have to channel and conserve your energy while still being 110 percent at game time.

"New guys come in and think they are young and can take 500 swings a day, but that will wear you out by midseason. During practice, it is quality, not quantity. If you aren't careful, you will be drained mentally and physically."

Veterans will offer assistance about maintenance and pacing, but it is something that most players have to learn for themselves. Listening to the experienced players could mean the difference between making it or being home before even a cup of coffee.

"The older guys will laugh at you and tell you to slow down or you will wear out," Tolbert said. "At the time you blow them off, but then in a week, you can't even hold a bat. Losing energy is the worst because you will feel defeated. And that will help dig your grave."

The longer seasons are also an adjustment from a performance standpoint. Going from a 60-game college schedule to playing more than twice that number as a professional requires a different level of consistency.

Avoiding slumps and getting hot at the right moments matter most. Spurts are meaningless if spots for advancement aren't available at that point.

"I feel good about the way I'm playing," he said. "It is all about staying consistent because how you're doing at the end of the year is when it matters. That is unfortunate but the truth. I need to avoid that 0-for-40 setback from this point on."

Tolbert has progressed through the increasing levels of minor league play and can see a major difference between pitchers at the different phases. Although, it isn't necessary talent but instead knowledge that makes the difference.

"You would think it would be velocity and everyone throwing 100 MPH in Triple-A, but it is actually more finesse," Tolbert explained. "The pitchers up here nibble and are always around the plate. They locate and change speeds with lots of different pitches.

"They know how to get guys out. The lower levels have pitchers that try to blow you away and can't locate their breaking stuff. Triple-A guys are pitchers, not throwers."

The experience has begun to pay dividends with two all star games this season for Tolbert. The 16th round pick, who has moved to second base, participated in the Triple-A All-Star Game and the Futures Game in the span of one week.

"It was the first time I've been named an all star since I was like 12, so it has been a while for that," Tolbert joked.

The Futures Game in San Francisco was Tolbert's first time on the West Coast and gave him the opportunity to meet several famous faces. Tolbert wasn't the Twins' first choice, but that didn't dampen his experience in any way.

"Matt Garza, the guy that was selected to go to the Futures Game was called up to the Big Leagues so I was a second choice to go," Tolbert said. "I had a blast and met some Hall of Fame guys like Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and Rickey Henderson. They were in the celebrity softball game the same day so we had a chance to take pictures and hang out with them a little bit.

"There were two position players everywhere but first base so I was able to get some innings there. I borrowed a first base mitt and went out there, got one at-bat, but I struck out. It was a lefty throwing cheese. I saw it well but didn't hit it. I flew from San Francisco to Albuquerque for the all-star game. I was one-for-two with a walk and scored twice. Overall, it is a relaxing time and a really cool experience."

Tolbert has come into his own recently, but also appreciates what got him started. The Ole Miss program is still regarded fondly by Tolbert as he thanks Mike Bianco for giving him a chance to play baseball past high school and beyond.

"Soon as I get out of there, they go to a super regional every year," quipped Tolbert. "Coach Bianco has been remarkable, and I was lucky enough to come along and have the opportunity to play under him. I'm where I am because of Ole Miss and Coach Bianco. The exposure and teaching helped prepare me for the draft and my professional career."

Ole Miss might be where it began, but Minnesota is where Tolbert hopes it will end. Strides have been made, although, the last step is usually the hardest. Complacency is what Tolbert avoids and keeps out of his mind.

"Everything is a constant battle. The big thing is to stay hungry. You can't get satisfied or it will start to be the end."

Tolbert isn't satisfied and is working everyday to complete the journey. However, he knows that baseball is a business and can change without warning.

But right now, business is good.

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