First, spring training was unbelievable this year. The offseason was grueling, but it was finally time to play some baseball. I met with my roommate, J.J. Johnson (who was later traded to the Phillies), and we caught up on things from this past offseason and talked about our goals for this season.
There were a lot of new faces in camp this year. I got a chance to see a lot of my old teammates from last year, and I got the chance to meet some of the new players in our organization. I can say this -- no matter what people say about the Cubs' depth in the farm system, this system has so many good players that it's amazing. And it's going to be a dog fight to earn a job in this organization.
I would like to show you what a day in spring training is like.
You wake up at 6 a.m. and eat breakfast. Then, you head to the field to dress and prepare for the day. I had early bunting at 7:30 and then early hitting at 8 a.m. After players are done with early work, we all meet as an organization and go over the plan of the day.
We stretch at 9:20 and then break up into our positions. Everyone does their work at their respective positions. Next, we split up into teams. As a team, we go over a fundamental-like pickoffs and rundowns for about 30 minutes. After the team fundamentals are done, we'll prepare for batting practice.
Hitting goes on for about 45 minutes and we'll break for lunch. Games start at 1 p.m. and we'll play another team for nine innings. Once the game is over, we'll run bases and then lift weights. The day finally ends at about 5 p.m. It's a long day, but in the end, the work pays off.
I got the opportunity to play in a few big league games during spring training. My first was an away game against the Chicago White Sox. As I arrived to HoHoKam that morning, I prepared myself for the game. One of the first guys I saw at the field was Juan Pierre.
I introduced myself to him and started to pick his brain about how he plays the game. Juan talked about his approach in batting practice and what he wanted to accomplish for that day. He also gave me really good tips for bunting.
For those who haven't seen Juan play, he's probably the best bunter in the game. Teams change how they play defense when he comes up to bat. He said to me, "Look, 'Walk,' everyone in the park knows that I'm going to bunt. If I place the bunt where I want it, no one is going to throw me out. No matter where the infielders are playing."
I also talked to Juan about his approach to base stealing. He gave me a few pointers on what he reads on the pitcher and how he gets his jumps. I took everything I learned from talking with Juan and watching how hard he works and will apply what I learned to my game.
Another person I got to meet was Marquis Grissom. He is the true definition of a professional. He talked to me about his career and what he wanted to do this year. 'Griss' talked to me about his longevity in the game and how he stayed around so long. We talked about how hard it was to get to the big leagues and how hard it was to stay.
Marquis then talked about playing with Barry Bonds and how people just don't understand him. Marquis and I then talked about what it took to be successful in this game, and how to go about handling business out on the field. I wish nothing but the best for him.
The one thing about spring training that people don't get to see is the business side. There were 160 players with 100 spots to fill (or somewhere in that area), so players have to be cut. I can tell you this: I would hate to be the person who has to make those cuts.
The players in camp this year were so talented that it was a dog fight for spots on our teams. A lot of players got released this year that were really good, but that's the nature of the game. As a player, you have to make sure that you do everything it takes to stick out and let the organization see that you can play this game.
Hopefully by doing this, you can contribute to the organization and help out at the big league level. One thing that's really rough about this process is that you don't know what's going to happen the next day. A guy could be playing on the field with you one day, and the next day he could be moved down or cut.
So as a player, it's stressing. You count down the days until you break camp hoping that you make a team. There's no celebrating making a team until you get on a plane and head to a city to play ball. I've seen guys make it to the last day of camp, and then they're released at the end of the day.
It stinks, but that's the way things go and there's nothing you can do about it. You just hope that you're not the player who's on the chopping block.
ADDENDUM: Chris will soon return with another blog entry about the first month of the 2006 season at Double-A.