Minor Leaguers Back to Work
PEORIA, Ari. – It was time to get back to work Tuesday for the pitchers and catchers in the Seattle Mariners minor league system, as players from all over the world reported to take part in the first day of full workouts this spring.
For pitchers, that meant throwing bullpen sessions, fielding grounders and covering bases.
For catchers, it meant working on the fundamentals behind the plate, making friends with any pitchers they didn't already know, and being on the receiving side of the bullpen sessions.
By almost every account, it was good to be back.
"The first day was pretty interesting. It was my first spring training," said right-hander Mumba Rivera, a 21st round draft choice out of Bethune Cookman in 2004. "I got to see a lot of new guys and I'm ready to get back to playing baseball."
Rivera, a 24-year-old native of the Virgin Islands, kept a busy schedule over winter months. His first son, Hasani, was born Nov. 2, and that was just the beginning. He also played in the Mariners instructional league down in Peoria until mid October, picked up a job to support the new addition to his family and visited Florida and the Virgin Islands. Whew!
Rivera was hardly alone with his action-packed offseason, however.
Few realize what the winter months are like for minor league ball players, especially for those drafted in the lower rounds who never signed a big bonus. They don't roll around in cash or drive fancy cars. Most, in fact, pick up odd jobs or internships in places that range from office buildings to golf courses.
Jon Huber woke up bright and early each morning to tend to the gardens at a golf course in his native state of Florida. Bobby Livingston worked at his friends' dad's ranch in Weatherford, Texas. Thomas Oldham (left) worked at an office building in Omaha, Nebraska.
Others, like Daniel Santin, mixed work with pleasure by finding an offseason job that involved baseball. Santin, whose dad is a scout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, helped give lessons at a baseball facility in Miami, Florida.
On Monday, they all left their jobs for the one each would like to call their career for the next decade, the green grass of the baseball field.
"It's real exciting," said Rob Johnson, the Mariners fourth round pick and second selection in last June's draft. "It's good to see all the guys come back and there are some new faces to meet.
The catchers corps appeared to be a tight fraternity on day one, getting along famously amongst each other even in the heat of competition. They split off from the pitchers to receive personal instruction, and each got a chance to get in some bullpen work as well.
At the same time that was going on, the pitchers bounced from station to station, rotating between four fields to work on a variety of drills. Each got a chance to throw 30 pitches in a bullpen session, and in doing so developed new relationships with catchers they hadn't thrown to previously.
At the end of each pitching session, the catcher and pitcher met up to shake hands and go over anything that might have come up.
"You have to have a special relationship with the pitcher," said Santin. "You've got to take care of him. You've got to get to know him."
One catcher new to the system this spring, Kent Dixon, an Australian signed last winter, forgot to talk things over with one of the pitchers after catching a bullpen session. He learned his lesson quickly, getting some playful barbs from his fellow teammates and coaches.
"I guess that's how they do it in Australia," said one of the catchers.
That was just one of many things to learn for Dixon and the rest of the catcher on the day, and the continual instruction was a bit overwhelming for some. Add the out-of-breath feeling that seems to go hand-in-hand with the opening day of workouts, and it wasn't the easiest day in the world. Not for the catchers, or the pitchers.
"Man, are you winded?" one catcher asked to another while taking a quick water break in a dugout.
Minutes later, this was heard shortly before batting practice started.
"Oh, yeah, we've got to hit too," a catcher said, half seriously.
Overwhelming as it was, everyone managed to get through the day, including two familiar names from the past – Ryan Anderson and Jeff Heaverlo. Both pitchers worked out in the same grouping alongside right-handers such as Emiliano Fruto and Chris Buglovsky.
One day down, plenty of more to go.
"We are just working every day trying to get better, and that's all you can do," said Johnson.
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