Blue Collar Man

Blue collar signifies the type of person that has earned every penny, every reward, defining America and the pulse of the people. Laying it on the line and coming home exhausted, spent. The recognition is sometimes forgotten, but in their profession they have no peers. Consistently hardworking they eventually get recognized. They may not be the most gifted in their profession, but they leave their mark. San Diego Padres prospect Gabe Ribas sees himself as the blue collar man...

...and last year he was recognized as the Padres Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

How did a feel for the blue collar man to earn Pitcher of the year honors?

"It is definitely humbling," Gabe Ribas said. "To look out at the guys that I pitched with all year – I pitched with some great pitchers from the beginning of the year to the end, John Huber, Kevin Beavers; guys that I know and that I am friends with, Chris Oxspring, Cory Stewart had great years and are just as deserving as I was. It was really humbling out of 75 or 80 pitchers in the entire organization to be recognized as the best this year.

"I think for me it just makes me want to work harder. Now I have something to live up to. Now other people might know who I am and that sometimes is a hard thing to shoulder. I have to go out and work twice as hard this year to prove that I deserve it."

Ribas is generally the first one on the field during the workout regimen in season and one of the last ones to leave. Whether that is working on the side in between outings or working out to stay strong through the season, Ribas is putting in the time.

To double that workload would put him in with the grounds crew.

"I am in the weight room four to five times a week, I am doing my running, I am swimming, on the bike – all that stuff is building blocks for February, March and April when you really start to get into baseball. Everyday I go out there, and even though it is just workouts right now and not really picking up the ball, you are still working hard. You're focusing on the ultimate goal, which is to make it to the big leagues and maintain a high level of play all year round. That is kind of my motivation. I told a lot of people that I was very, very happy to win the award, but the goal isn't to be good in the minor leagues, it is to be great in the big leagues. I still have a long way to go before that happens."

Last year, Ribas made it down to spring training early to glean information from players in the Majors. He didn't want to report when they told him he had to be there. Instead he wanted the extra month to gain valuable knowledge about the profession from those who have been there before.

This year he is taking the same approach.

Ribas headed to Chicago to workout with Tim Stoddard, his former Northwestern coach.

"He is great. He definitely prepares his guys for Pro ball.

"He is the only guy to ever win an NCAA Basketball Championship and a World Series ring. He is huge. He is closer to 400 pounds now (from his 280 pound playing days), but he is still real athletic (at 6-foot-8). He is a great guy to have in your corner. He is such a great resource, he knows so many guys in the big leagues and he has so much information to give.

The plan was, "to work out with him for a week or ten days before I head to Phoenix."

Arriving in Phoenix a month before he is due is just his nature. Ribas is the guy who makes it to work early to read his newspaper and drink his coffee before his shift starts. He wants to be prepared for the job that lies ahead.

Ribas has since picked up a ball and began throwing again. He is scheduled to be in Arizona on the 20th of January, yesterday.

"That is my goal date." And word is he hit his date dead-on.

Last year the date to be in town was March 1st.

"Last year, I went down to spring training, I went to Phoenix early with the thought in my mind that I was going to work real, real hard and make a full season team. Once I did that, work hard there and try and move up. This year I am going down, hopefully to make the squad in Mobile and once you make it to Double A, anything can happen. You are an injury away from making it to the big leagues. I would love to make that roster in Mobile. Certainly nothing is set in stone and they have not told me anything. I think that is good, it keeps me hungry."

The carrot has been dangled and Ribas is in pursuit. It is a mentality that made him valedictorian in high school. Working hard has paved the way.

Ribas attributes the early arrival in Phoenix to his success. Having gone down early last year, he knows the benefits are plentiful.

"I really had a great experience being there early last year. Some of the older guys I work out with everyday and meet all the big leaguers. They were great to me. I have known Mark Loretta since I was a sophomore in college. Now I have had a chance to get to know Trevor Hoffman. I think it is so valuable to be around those guys. Last year Tim Worrell worked out at our facility and he is just one of the best guys in baseball. He helped us out whenever we had questions. Aside from Trevor and Mark, who I just think the world of, Tim is awesome."

Is he willing to share any of those golden nuggets given to him by the Hoffman's and Worrell's?

"I like to ask guys who have been in the big leagues – what's the biggest difference between a big league pitcher and a minor league pitcher? Every single guy will tell you it's not stuff. You see better stuff in the minor leagues than you see in the big leagues sometimes. But the one thing they all say is that fastball command and the ability to throw your breaking ball where you want to throw it – not necessarily for a strike – is the biggest difference. Those are the two things."

The work of the blue collar man never ends as their will always be a doubter or two. He has already learned valuable lessons and this year hopes to add to that.

With his poise on the mound and work ethic that rivals any Minor Leaguer, Ribas is earning his Pitcher of the Year moniker. It is nice to be employee of the month once, but to do it a second time is the real accomplishment.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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