This week's report was going to be difficult to write because it's the last of the regular season, but the week that the team has had makes it even more difficult. The Swing lost the last seven games of the season, including four to Beloit who had lost 11 of their 12 previous games. On Wednesday night, they lost yet another game to Beloit in round one of the playoffs.
On the positive, as the team left the stadium after the game, they left with a determination to win two games in Beloit and return here to play in round two. If determination and fire can turn them around in 18 hours, I believe they have a chance to win.
If you have read these articles regularly this year, you know that I enjoy the interviews as they give me a chance to look at the game from the players' point of view. I have truly appreciated the opportunity to sit down with some outstanding young men this summer to get to know them away from the game.
This week's interview is a "bonus" so to speak as I had planned on last week's interview with Jaime Landin to be the last of the season. I got a chance, though, to have dinner with Tyler Henley last week. Of all the guys I've gotten to know, and all the friendships I have forged this summer, I have avoided choosing a favorite. I just can't do that anymore. Tyler is an impressive player, but his skills on the field pale compared to the quality human being he is. Here is a very condensed look at what we talked about over dinner:
Jon: Tyler, it has been a big summer for you; the draft, starting your pro career, and getting promoted to full-season ball all in the matter of a month or so. What has been the biggest adjustment you have needed to make moving from college to professional baseball?
Tyler: Actually, it was a fairly easy adjustment. Coach Graham at Rice works with the team on an ongoing basis to prepare us for professional baseball. We were given the freedom to conduct ourselves as professionals, on and off the field. I also had a month off while we were negotiating the draft, so it was good to relax for a while.
Jon: What is the biggest change in the level of play from Batavia to here?
Tyler: The pitchers are better. They are more consistent and their fastball is a lot faster. They hitters have a lot more power, too. It's good to be here and I'm already learning a lot.
Jon: How do you keep the fun of the game of baseball balanced with the day to day drudgery of the job of baseball?
Tyler: Well, I'm only 20 games into my professional career, so it's still all new and it's still a lot of fun. I think that the main thing in anyone's game is his attitude. You have to keep yourself up all the time. I love the chance to build relationships on the team; we really care for each other. As long as you keep the focus off yourself, you keep having fun.
Jon: Let's play "worst case scenario" for a minute. If something happened to end your playing career, what would you do instead of baseball?
Tyler: I have two semesters left at Rice to get my degree in psychology, then I'll get a PhD in performance psychology. I'm very interested in the power of the mind and I want to help others improve their performance, whether it's in sports, or sales, or whatever. I want to be able to encourage people to be their best.
Jon: Who in Major League Baseball do you try to emulate in your style of play? Who do you want to play like?
Tyler: Wow… tough question! I think it would be Lenny Dykstra. He really played hard and gave the game everything he had. I would like people to see that kind of attitude and level of play in me. I've always looked up to Coco Crisp, too.
Jon: I know your professional career is still very new, so look back over your entire baseball career. What is the best moment you've had?
Tyler: It would be playing at the College World Series. Rice was there twice while I played for them. It's so rewarding to play so hard for so long and then to be rewarded with an opportunity to prove yourself with a lot more people watching. It was amazing that for a while we were all celebrities. Even when we weren't in uniform, fans would recognize us and ask for autographs and just want to say hi. That was really a trip.
Jon: What part of your game are you working on the most to improve in your young professional career?
Tyler: I'm working on the whole game. When you get comfortable with any part of your performance, that's when you get humbled. I'm working on my hitting. I'm working on my defense. I'm just working on my game. I need to get it to all click at the same time. When I can get it all together, then it will be great. I have to admit that all but one of the home runs I've ever hit was an accident. I just got the bat to where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be there.
Jon: What hobbies do you enjoy to take your mind off of baseball for a while?
Tyler: I enjoy playing video games. I'm a bit of a movie buff. I just generally like to relax when I get the chance. You need to give your body and your mind time to restore themselves.
Jon: The last question is always the toughest. I know you don't want to publish a timeline, but, if everything goes exactly the way you want it to, how soon do you play your first game at Busch Stadium?
Tyler: Well, the truth is, as long as it takes! Hopefully, it will be sometime in the next two or three years.
Jon: Tyler, it has been a real pleasure getting to know you tonight. I wish you the best in your career. I'll plan on seeing you play in St. Louis someday soon.
Swinging this week: When I started this section of my columns this summer, I never thought that I'd have a hard time finding two or three guys to highlight for their good performance during the week. It's with great difficulty that I report I have no one who deserves special recognition this week. There are a few players whose play has been about average, and this week that made them look good, but I can't point to anyone who had a great week.
Missing this week: Considering the previous paragraph, I have to say that the entire team has disappointed me in the past seven days. Nick Derba lost his cool in the final game at Beloit on Monday. He not only got ejected from the game, but he was also fined and suspended. He was in the stands for the first playoff game on Wednesday night. I completely understand the frustration and I don't disagree with venting that frustration at an umpire who is not calling a good game, but the suspension says that his conduct was beyond the bounds of game-day frustration. I talked to him during the game Wednesday and he humbly declined to tell me what he said to earn the suspension. I just wish he had kept his cool a little better.
On deck: If the team can pull two wins out in Beloit on Thursday and Friday, they will enter round two over the weekend. If not, I'll be writing a season recap for next week's column and then going into mourning until I can justify counting the days until spring training begins.
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