TigsTown: First things first, you missed quite a bit of time late this season with an injury; what was the injury and how did it happen?
Kris Rochelle: Yeah, it was actually my second at-bat up in Oneonta. I just took a swing and something popped in my left hand, and I guess adrenaline really got me through it. I knew something was wrong but it didn't really affect me much. Then it just got more sore and I thought I would get better; more sore as I played my second game up there, and then the third game, and by the fourth game, I mean I was pretty ineffective at even trying to catch the ball at that point behind the plate. I could barely even pick up a bat. A ligament didn't tear; it's really kind of hard to explain. The doctor told me it's like peeling back an orange and sometimes you catch part of the orange with it. The ligament, instead of tearing, it stayed strong, but pulled part of the joint capsule off with it. Apparently it has about a three-month long healing process, and we didn't get it figured out until I saw a hand specialist in Lakeland. Just now I'm starting to get back into stuff. You know, I had to let it sit there and heal.
TT: Sounds like a pretty freak injury.
KR: It was kind of crazy. I finally get to do what I've been working 22-years for, and then my second at-bat I get hurt. I tried to play through it. I didn't work that long to go up there and sit on the bench because I was hurt.
TT: You mentioned that you are still working through the rehab a little bit right now. Do you expect to be ready to go for spring training?
KR: Oh yeah! Basically I should be full-go right now. Nobody is really picking up a bat until December anyway; and that was the main thing it really hurt to do, was hit. I'm really full-go right now. I'm running, lifting weights, and all that stuff right now trying to get back in shape. I lost a little bit while I wasn't supposed to be doing anything.
TT: You mention a little bit of what you have been doing so far with the off-season. What does your off-season training program look like?
KR: Basically, the program they give us is really detailed. I really like that. The time that I was supposed to be doing nothing was really hard, because when I first got back to school I tried to do things – everything that didn't hurt. Because I'm used to just running around all over the place. Finally I was told to just sit on my tail and do nothing. That was kind of hard. Just about two weeks ago I looked at the manual that they gave me. I like it. It's very detailed I think. When January comes, you have specific days on how far you are supposed to throw; specific days of what you are supposed to throw and not throw, and how far you are supposed to throw. It's going to get you back going. You have days of cardio, days of lifting, etc; so I'm ready to get back in and do that stuff.
TT: You mentioned in passing that you are taking classes and working towards graduation. What is the degree going to be in?
KR: It's in earth science. I'm actually done with my major and both of my minors. I just need twelve hours to finish up. I took Spanish this semester; trying to learn a little bit because I'm a catcher and one of the main things I have always been good at is communicating with the pitcher and trying to work through stuff. Some of the pitchers speak a lot of Spanish. With that class, hopefully I'll be able to communicate with the Latin players a little better.
TT: Getting back to your on-field time this summer, how do you feel your transition went from college to the pro ball?
KR: You know I'm pretty excited about it. There are definitely differences. The pitching; you've got a bunch of guys that throw a lot harder. At our level they aren't quite as accurate, but the velocity is pretty high. I think as you go up the velocity will come back a little towards normal, but they will be able to spot it better. As far as adjusting, I had to get used to the culture. Like I said, Spanish speaking, dealing with pitchers that can't communicate with me, I have to try and find a way to speak with them. It's definitely a little different, but something I'm ready to tackle.
TT: If you could pinpoint one of those things that you mentioned as the most difficult, which one would you pick?
My main thing is the communication. I've always considered myself to be – obviously I wasn't a first round pick, I don't consider myself as having this one great, amazing talent – I'm pretty well-rounded. I can hit a little bit. I can catch a little bit. But the one thing I've always been able to do was call a game behind the plate, control the game. Trying to get used to all the new guys all at one time; I had an entirely new pitching staff I had to get used to. Normally I have a little bit of trouble at the beginning of that, but once I get it down I can just get better and better.
TT: It sounds like you have a really good, proactive approach to working on that and making it a strength for you again next year.
KR: That's the plan. Everybody is working towards the main goal, and that's just making it as high as you can. I'm trying to take one of my strengths that became almost a weakness this summer, and try and build it back up again so I can move up in the organization.
TT: After the draft I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Hibbs at UNC-Charlotte, and he was extremely complimentary of your abilities. What was your relationship like with Coach Hibbs during your time there?
KR: Honestly, the main reason I went to Charlotte is that I had a very good relationship with all three of those coaches. We kind of hit it off. There were other schools that might have had a football program and I got along with one coach, but there was another one that kind of annoyed me, or I didn't hit it off with. But the main thing with all of them was we got along real well. I've always been kind of a ‘rah-rah' player; getting everybody going. For four years – during the games – I sat next to Coach Hibbs. I think he is an extremely smart coach. I figured that out about half way through my freshman year, how intelligent I thought he was. I always sat next to him for every single baseball game we had since I was a freshman. I tried to learn a lot from him.
TT: Did that relationship that you had with all three of the coaches there instill any desire to become a coach at some point in the future?
KR: Honestly, I've always thought baseball wise I was pretty smart behind the plate, and I think I'm pretty knowledgeable about the game. I've definitely thought about when baseball is over playing wise, maybe coaching.
TT: Last question on the college front; reading through your bio at Charlotte, it sounded like you had a lot of great moments. If you had to pick out the highlight of your time there, what would it be?
KR: It would have to be winning the conference tournament this past year. We kind of ran through the conference tournament. In the four years that I was there, we made such an improvement. I always wanted a ring, and when I came in as a freshman we won 20 games, and we were lucky to win that because we weren't very good. In the time that my class was a freshman to a senior, we won 20 games, then 30-35, and finally 49. Just winning that conference tournament was kind of a culmination. There were so many great parts throughout it, but finally achieving one of our main goals really made me proud.
TT: That's a great one to be proud of right there.
KR: I've got my ring on right now as we speak.
TT: For those readers that haven't seen you play, describe how you approach each at-bat?
KR: I just try to pick out a good pitch and put a good swing on it. From my junior and senior year of college, I learned a lot. I learned how to stay back and I think that's why I improved a little bit. It's really just looking for a pitch, and when you get it, don't miss it. I just try to go up there and get a fastball to hit and see what I can do with it.
TT: Was there any attempt by the Tigers organization to change any part of your offensive approach – stance, trigger, mentality, etc. – or did they pretty much let you go hit after you signed?
KR: At the beginning they really just let you come in and go do your thing. They want to see what you're doing, and they just kind of let you do your thing. If you're successful with it they will let you be, and if you struggle with the transition they try to work with you. After I got hurt – nobody really knew anything was wrong – they tried to mess with me a little bit, but I needed to make an adjustment too. Like I said, the velocity is a little higher, and I had to try and shorten my swing just a little bit; and going from a metal bat to a wood bat.
TT: Coach Hibbs raved about your catch-and-throw skills, is there any way you explain to our readers what goes through your mind in that three to four seconds from the time the ball leaves a pitcher's hand to when you get the throw to second base on a stolen base attempt?
KR: Its more just instinct and reaction. For me I think as I've gotten older, I've gotten a little more mature with it. I used to just catch it and throw it as hard as I could, and get it out as quick as possible; just trying to be in a big rush about it. I think as I've matured a little bit, I think I have kind of slowed it down a little bit in my head. The best you can do is make a good throw and put it on the bag. There's not much that goes through my head, just trying to get it down there as quick as I can, and as accurate as I can.
TT: Now, when you release the throw, do you know in your head ‘I've got this guy!' or do you really have to watch the play?
KR: Honestly, it depends. If there's a guy that is just blazing, even if you get it out quick and you think you've got him in your head, you see out of the corner of your eye that it's kind of doubtful. I mean there are some throws that as soon as you release it, you know they're gone. There are some throws, as soon as you release it, you know you messed up. Sometimes they get a really good jump and you're just hoping you get a good, quick tag.
TT: It's a nice feeling on those when you know you nailed them as soon as the throw leaves your hand, isn't it?
KR: Oh yeah, definitely! That's one of my favorite parts of the game, is throwing guys out. As a catcher, I think that's most guys. That would be consensus among catchers. It's fun to do! When you know you've got a guy – when everything clicks – it's just a little celebration inside.
TT: Last two questions here….has the organization given you any indication as to where they may assign you to start the 2008 season?
KR: No they haven't. I'm guessing I might go back up to Oneonta. Just because the Gulf Coast League, they have a lot of high school draftees and younger guys there. I only played four games, so unless I came into spring training and did extremely well – which I'm hoping to do! Even then I think they'll still send me to the same place where they can actually watch me play for a little bit. Four games and me being hurt trying to play wasn't a great idea; they probably don't have an exact idea of how I'll perform.
TT: And finally, what is one thing you want those readers out there to know about you that they may not take away from this interview?
KR: Just that baseball has really been my life-long goal and ambition to do. All I asked for was a shot, and now that I have that shot, it's up to me. It's no one else to screw me over or to help me out now; it's on me. That's what I've always wanted; to have a chance to play the game that I love. I've always had confidence in myself that if I work hard enough that at some point I can make an adjustment to get to where I want to be. It's kind of funny that my favorite catcher growing up has always been Pudge.
TT: I think that's the case for a lot of catchers. He's a good one to have as a role model from that standpoint.
KR: Exactly! Now I'm in the same organization as him. I'm hoping to learn a little bit from him. But as far as readers getting to know me; baseball is where I want to be. Everyday I get to put on a uniform, especially now the Tigers uniform, it's just a blessing. Hopefully one day I can move up in the organization and do well.
TigsTown.com would like to thank Kris for taking time out of his off-season to speak with us and provide his thoughts on the game. We wish him the best heading into the 2008 season and look forward to seeing him perform on the field.