It’s not easy moving from life as you know it and going to a place (that’s kinda in the middle of no where) and starting a career. It’s even tougher when you 18 to 22 years old and trying to accomplish this.
I had a chance to sit down for a round-table discussion with six of the Boise Hawks baseball players and talk to them about life as a rookie. In this interview we look at the transition from college to the pros, life with their host families, and we even discuss life after baseball.
The six players I sat down with include 2B Pierre LePage, SS Elliot Soto, OF Matt Szczur, LHP Eric Jokisch, RHP Aaron Kurcz, and C Micah Gibbs.
Does the professional game move faster or slower than college?
PL: “The game is definitely faster but sometimes you might think it is slower because you don’t have the same action with wooden bats as you would metal bats. The defense is better and pitchers are making better pitches and getting out of innings quicker.”
EJ: “I think you pitch different at this level. The wooden bat is definitely a big thing because you pitch more inside and try to get on their hands. The hitters are definitely better. It’s the best of the best from the college and high school ranks so you have to concentrate more on hitting spots and making the right pitch.”
AK: “The biggest thing that I have learned is that first-pitch strikes are a big priority. If you can get that, you have a better chance of getting the guy out and throwing what you want to throw to him.”
MG: “The game is definitely a lot faster because from the catcher’s role, you don’t get to look into the dugout and get signs for which pitch to call. I like it because it has helped me grow up and you are more into the game. I feel like I am able to work more the pitcher and I have to know who is hitting, who is on deck, and who is in the hole so I know how to pitch the guys that are in there. It speeds the game up so much.”
How has the transition been from aluminum to wooden bats?
ES: “We have all used wooden bats at one point or another. We know how it is but to hit it consistently, you have to tweak your swing a little bit and square the ball up.”
MG: “From the catching stand point, I am able to call fastballs a lot more because of the pitching staff we have. Not everyone I played with at LSU got drafted, so what that is saying is that you are able eliminate some of the guys that can’t throw as hard or don’t have as good of off-speed stuff. As you move up, pitchers stuff is getting better and you can beat people with wood bats a lot easier.”
Do you plan on going back to school and getting your degree?
EJ: “There is no doubt I plan on going back to school. I went to Northwestern because of it’s academics. I’m not going to waste the three years I was there. I am going to finish my degree while I am playing baseball and work in sports psychology if baseball doesn’t work out the way I want it to.”
PL: “I want to go back and finish my degree as soon as possible. I think the longer you wait to get it, the more guys get weeded out on going back and getting their degree. I plan on going to law school is baseball doesn’t work out for me.”
ES: “I was studying communications at Creighton University. I will more than likely head back but if I don’t for whatever reason, I will probably work in our family business. We own a Mexican restaurant.”
When you told your friends and family that you were a professional baseball player, did they have any misconceptions?
PL: “When I told a lot of my friends I was going to be a professional baseball player they were like “I’ll see you in Chicago” (laughs). I think a lot of people have a mis-conception about the farm system and how many steps there are to get to “The Show”. It’s a long road and a journey more than anything.”
EJ: “It’s a long road and there are only a few “Stephen Strasburg’s” who can go out there and jump through everything that quickly. It’s a learning process in terms of how the game is played on the professional level.”
What’s your biggest area of opportunity in terms of your game?
AK: “I think having Jeff Fassero as a pitching coach is going to help me a lot. He played in the big leagues for over 15 years and having a person with the kind of knowledge as my pitching coach is big. I can ask him about what I am doing wrong or doing right and he can help me out a lot more than anyone else who has coached me before.”
ES: “Being able to play with these guys and learn from people who know far more about the game than I do is going to help me. Plus, it’s nice to focus on just baseball and not worry about anything else.”
What do you plan on accomplishing before you leave Boise?
EJ: “Our goal is to just improve and make ourselves worthy of playing at the next level. The ultimate goal is to keep improving until we can’t anymore.”
PL: “Improve everyday on everything you can. When I leave here, all I want and all I ask for is that people remember me as someone who played hard and played the game the right way.”
MS: “Pierre sprints out of the dugout to second base every time no matter what kind of at bat he had. It’s awesome to play with a player who is like that because you know he will do anything for the team to win.”
AK: “The goal is to just become a better player and learn things that I have never learned before in order to get guys out.”
Does the baseball community, both major leagues and minor leagues, over-value stats?
EJ: “I think there is a place for them and as a player you shouldn’t worry about stats. If you let that get in your head too much, it can hurt you more than help you. It’s not always a good measuring stick because you could be out there trying to improve on something and you may give up two or three runs trying to do that. If you ERA goes up, people will begin to look at you and think “this guy can’t pitch”.”
ES: “I think with position players, stats can be a little mis-leading. If you ground out but advance a runner on base, then you did your job and moved the runner.”
PL: “There are a lot of team players out who don’t necessarily fill the stat books but they bring an element to the team that can everyone better (as opposed to a guy who hits .300). There is way more to the game than just stats.”
MS: “When I got here, I thought everyone was going to be selfish and no one would be a team player. It was a reality check for me because when I got here, every one on this team cares more about the team than themselves and guys here don’t worry about stats as much.”
AK: “As long as you go out there and keep getting the job done for your team, that is all that matters. If you have an ERA that is high, but you still got 10 saves, that’s 10 times you got the job done and helped your team win.”
MG: “To be honest, I truly hate statistics because I over-think them way too much. I think they are over-rated because you see a lot of people get those infield singles and guys get hits when there is no one on base. They need to have a statistic for getting the job done that needs to be done for the team.”
What has been the tough transition; high school to college or college to professional?
EJ: “I came from such a small school (I had 25 people in my graduating class) so there wasn’t much competition and I was able to throw fastballs and do whatever I wanted. Once we got to college, the kids got bigger. I mean, look at that guy (points to Matt Szczur, everyone laughs). Guys are big like him and they can hit the ball farther.”
ES: “I think in high school
kids are a little more relaxed about the game and are just playing for a bunch of other reasons. College players are there because they love the game and they take it seriously.”
MG: “College to professional has been tougher for me because you have a wood bat in your hands and it is a little less forgiving. The guys in college that you play with are going to be the same guys you play with for two to three years, so that helps. Another thing that is rough is that a lot of the foreign players use a splitter and that can be tough to catch because no one at LSU threw that and it is a pitch that I am not used to seeing it or catching it.”
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant