Now that my first season is in the books and I've had a little time to think about it, I can honestly say this was a great first year of professional baseball. It had its ups and downs, but definitely more ups than downs, which makes for a pretty fun and successful season. Writing this entry made me think of a bunch of these moments. Let's start with the "downs."
By far the toughest part of the season was when I got hurt about a month into extended spring training. I pitched well during Spring Training and I thought that if I kept it up during extended I would have a pretty good shot of getting shipped out, so I pitched through some soreness that I probably shouldn't have. I ended up hurting my elbow and missing more than a month of the season.
This time I missed was six of the longest weeks of my life. I did the exact same thing every day to rehab my arm but I didn't get to enjoy the work by actually pitching in games. I was constantly worried about the health of my elbow. When I woke up in the morning, when I was doing my rehab exercises, and eventually when I started throwing again. With every movement I quietly monitored and worried about how my elbow was feeling. I would wake up and think, "Well my elbow doesn't hurt now, but what about when I bend it like this? Or stretch it like that?" The constant worrying eats at you, especially when your teammates are out there every day working hard. One of our coaches would always say, "You can't make the club if your sitting in the (ice) tub." Now I know exactly what he means, and I hope I never have to go through the physical and mental torment of being injured again.
The other moment that sticks out in my head as a definite low moment of the season happened in Spokane. I had been with the team for a few weeks and had been pitching well and our normal closer wasn't "hot" that night, so our coach gave me the ball in the ninth inning with us winning by two. It's the situation every reliever wants to be in - not just because it's the most exciting part of the game, but because it shows that the coaching staff has confidence in you and your stuff to record the final three outs.
The inning started off great – two quick outs. "Zombie Nation" was playing over the sound system and the crowd was on its feet – "One out away from another Spokane Indians victory," as our announcer would say. Then I gave up a little bloop double down the left field line, no big deal, still two outs. Then I walked the next batter. Now two batters on, two outs and my pitching coach came out for a visit.
At the plate was one of their big hitters, a left-handed power hitting catcher. First pitch, I did exactly what I was supposed to do – fastball for a strike away at the knees. With the second pitch I tried to repeat the first. I missed. Watching that ball sail over the fence was one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced on a baseball field. Until that bail went over the fence the thought of blowing the save never even crossed my mind, and when it happened it felt like the bubble in my head was shattered. Suddenly I could hear the crowd, I could hear the other team celebrating, and I felt what I thought was my own teammates' eyes staring through me. I had just let my team down.
One thing it seemed like every single person on the planet had to tell me when I converted to a pitcher was, "You better have a short memory." I understood what they were saying but I never really listened. Well now I know exactly what they meant. Luckily we had a great team in Spokane and my teammates backed me up and I realized that nobody blamed me for blowing the save. The next day the sun rose and a couple days later I pitched again and I was able to put that behind me. It was a tough experience but I'm definitely a better pitcher now because of it.
|Steggall pitched in Arizona and Spokane this season. b>|
I've talked about it before, but my first Spring Training was pretty amazing. Being in that environment and seeing all the big leaguers was pretty cool but all that pales in comparison to the first time I saw Nolan Ryan. I was throwing a bullpen one morning between two former first-rounders when Mr. Ryan rolled over on his golf cart to check out what was going on on the minor league side of the complex. I don't know if he had just seen the two first-rounders so many times he didn't care or if he was actually intrigued, but he came and stood behind my catcher and watched me throw the next 30 pitches of my bullpen. In a little less than a year I had gone from fielding ground balls at UTA to throwing a bullpen in front of Nolan Ryan. Pretty surreal experience.
I mentioned above about my injury but I didn't mention how the rehab stretched into the first part of the short season schedule. I had been in the organization for over half the year and I had yet to throw an actual inning in a real game, so when I finally got healthy and got the opportunity to pitch I was pretty amped up. We were playing the AZL Reds in Goodyear and I came in with two outs in the eighth and runners on. Looking back I'm surprised I didn't throw the ball to the backstop, but I kept myself under control and eventually struck out the first batter I faced. It was only one AZL game in the middle of June but after battling with injuries and missing the start of the season, I was able to walk off that field knowing I was a professional pitcher with an official stat line.
And finally, the second half of the year, most of which I spent in Spokane, was pretty awesome. The week I was promoted the team was playing in Boise and I remember sitting in the bullpen in the midst of the playoff hunt, under the lights and in front of a couple thousand fans thinking, "Yes, now this is really baseball again."
I hadn't played in front of a crowd since college and it felt great to be out of the AZL and playing in packed stadiums. What made things even more fun is that we were winning, and winning is always fun. The first week I was there we clinched the first half and got to party and drink champagne in celebration - baseball doesn't get a whole lot better than that (unless you're winning at a higher level). When the playoffs finally started, we played well but lost in the deciding third game of the championship series to Everett. It sucked we lost, but it was a great season.
On the whole, my first year of professional baseball went pretty well. There were ups and downs, and days that dragged on and weeks that flew by, but it's the good moments I will remember.
Thanks for reading all my blogs and I hope you enjoyed the season as seen through my eyes. As always feel free to contact me on Twitter or Facebook, I'd love to hear what you guys have to say. Thanks again!
Follow Tim on Twitter at @TGSteggall3!
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