Jalapenos, Habaneros, Tabasco, Ghost Chilies, and pepper. These are just a few of Pierre LePage’s “favorite things!”
The Boise Hawks second baseman has a love for spicy food, and while some people can’t handle the heat, LePage will ask for seconds. When LePage was a kid, he discovered his palate for spice on accident. Ever since then, he can remember having the taste buds to handle some of the hottest spices out there.
“I don’t know how it happened. When I was about five or six years old, we had a garden in the back yard. One day I was playing around and I started grabbing stuff out of it and I ended up eating a hot pepper,” said LePage. “My mouth was on fire as I was running through the house, trying to eat bread and drink milk. Ever since then, I have been putting hot sauce on everything. I don’t know if that experience burned my taste buds off or not.”
Recently at Flying Pie Pizzeria, LePage was able to down two pieces of the famous habanero pizza without even breaking a sweat. With taste buds like that, it’s hard to imagine if there is anything that makes LePage flinch.
“I was at the mall one time back home, where they have a hot sauce stand. I asked the guy there to give me the hottest sauce that they had. He put some of it on a toothpick and put it on a tortilla chip and gave it to me. It was pretty hot,” said LePage. “That, and the ‘Inferno Wings Challenge’ at Cheerleaders.”
“I’m not a big pizza guy but if I were to go back there, I would probably order that pizza every day. It wasn’t that hot but it tasted great and it is something I would eat every time, not just for a challenge,” said LePage.
Not all spicy food out there is so hot that it has you running for the hills. Sometimes something as simple as jalapeno peppers can give you some spice, but offer some great taste.
“I really like jalapeno peppers. I usually put them on my burgers, and I also put hot sauce on just about everything except salads or fruits. My whole life I have moved from flavor to flavor,” said LePage.
LePage has even gone through phases when it comes to his personal preference.
“I started out with Texas Pete’s then moved to Louisiana Hot. I am currently on a Tabasco binge. It’s funny because four years ago it was hot to me and now, I can barely taste it. I think it is getting worse and pretty soon, I’ll probably be eating ghost chilies for fun,” said LePage.
When it comes to being able to fulfill his appetite, LePage enjoys everything. From Mexican food to throwing on some Tabasco on pasta, LePage enjoys kicking it up a notch.
If the food is too hot to handle, there are always some good remedies to calm down your taste buds. Not that LePage ever needs those.
“The only time I have ever had to use anything was the time that I ate the pepper when I was a kid. I have tried remedies just to see what works. I have found that milk works pretty well and bread works pretty well,” said LePage. “When I was at Cheerleaders some of the guys said that putting sugar packets on your tongue helps.”
LePage’s grit and never say die attitude have made him a fan favorite in Boise. In the challenge of spicy food vs. LePage, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against LePage!
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant
Being good at one sport is hard enough. But being a stand out two sport athlete? That is even more rare than an unassisted triple play.
While the Everett AquaSox were in town, I had a chance to meet a former Notre Dame Quarterback who traded in the shoulder pads for the batting gloves. AquaSox 1B Evan Sharpley was a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame University as he played football and baseball for four years.
Sharpley, who is from Michigan, cites the tradition of the school and their willingness to let him play both sports as the ultimate decision that made him choose Notre Dame and not Michigan University.
“Education was high on my list and that was a big factor, but it ultimately came down to which school was going to let me play two sports,” said Sharpley. “Michigan and a couple of other schools only wanted me to play football and not baseball. Notre Dame was great because Charlie Weis and Dave Schrage were ok with me playing both sports.”
When Sharpley came into the football program in 2005, he originally had been recruited by Ty Willingham. Willingham was fired before the start of the 2005 season and Sharpley had to build a relationship with the new head coach, Charlie Weis.
“It was tough coming in because Weis had not originally recruited me; Willingham did. Through Weis’ program, I was able to learn a pro-style of offense. I learned a lot of the in’s and out’s of what it would be like to be on a pro-team and how much preparation goes into the game,” said Sharpley. “He implemented a lot of structure that I believe will pay dividends this year and next year.”
“The first two years I was at Notre Dame, I was doing a lot of both and I was spread pretty thin. I think in both sports, I was suffering as a result. Once I was able to get a good schedule down by my Junior year, I think it helped a lot,” said Sharpley.
Transitioning from football to baseball has been a smooth process for Sharpley. There are even some concepts that he has been able to take from the gridiron to the diamond.
“There are definitely aspects that relate to both sports and what has been nice is that the coaches have tried to put a lot of baseball movements into terms I’m familiar with on the football field,” said Sharpley. “I’ve incorporated the physical aspect of it, as well as the mental aspect. Playing in front of 80,000 people has prepared me for going on the road and playing in front of a lot of people.”
At the end of the Spring of 2008, Sharpley was a full-time starter for the football team and a full-time starter for the baseball team. The decision to pursue a career in baseball was due to several factors, and the itch to play football has not gone away.
“The lifestyle between the two sports is so different. If you look at the average career of a lot of NFL players, it’s not that long. I’ve always loved both sports and it was a tough decision to go with baseball as a career,” said Sharpley. “As football season is starting up this year, there is definitely the itch to want to play. I am going to miss it, but I love what I am doing now and it is the choice I made.”
Sharpley was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2009 Draft, which began his career in baseball.
“It was a great feeling to be drafted. It happened in the 50th round, but I was just excited that I was given an opportunity. Once I got drafted, I was ready to jump in and make the best of it,” said Sharpley. “I tried to learn as much as I could when I was in Arizona playing rookie ball and it was great to be in a new situation. It was good to be away from Notre Dame and in a new atmosphere with new coaches and new people.”
Sharpley had a successful career in South Bend. He went to two BCS games and evolved his baseball game to the point where he was drafted. Even though his athletic career did not live up to his expectations, Sharpley learned a lot at Notre Dame that has helped him in his quest to make it to the major leagues.
“I don’t know if there is one thing that stood out about being there. From a sports stand point, it wasn’t what I had hoped for. You dreams and aspirations of playing all the time and it never panned out that way,” said Sharpley. “When I look back, it was a great time for me and I met a lot of great people. It’s the people at Notre Dame that make it special.”
Media Relations Assistant
It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to talk to the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Chicago Cubs. Oneri Fleita is guy who controls the future of over 150 minor league baseball players yet when you talk to him, he is one of the more down to earth guys you will ever meet.
While Fleita was in Boise, I had a chance to sit down with him and have a one-on-one interview about various topics regarding the Cubs minor league system. The Cubs farm system has begun to yield some great talent with the likes of Andrew Cashner, Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, and Tyler Colvin. I wanted to figure out how such great talent was produced and hear about some of the new faces that may one day make it to Wrigley Field.
Fleita has served in various roles since he broke into baseball in 1988. He has been a coach, an instructional league manager, a scout, and even a third base coach.
“I coached third base. That was probably one of the highlights of my career in terms of having fun. I certainly was over matched and had no business coaching third base (laughs) but it was a lot of fun,” said Fleita. “I’ve always looked at myself as one of the lucky guys. I don’t know how it all happened, but I have been truly blessed to be around a lot of great people who have opened a door for me to do a lot of things in the game.”
One of the key components that has evolved since Fleita took this position in 2000 has been the development the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues.
“There were definitely huge challenges. I had only scouted one year in the Midwest League and I had only coached three years and managed three years, so I was learning on the job at the time,” said Fleita. “Sandy Johnson, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time, was a mentor to me and gave me a lot of advice on how to form a scouting staff. Little by little we built and signed players and 15 years later, we have had guys like Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol come up and make it.”
One of Fleita’s primary responsibilities is assembling his minor league coordinating staff. From Athletic Trainers to Field Coordinators, Fleita has to make sure his athletes have the best staff to maximize all of their abilities. The process of putting this staff together is one that takes time and a good eye.
“Dave Bialas is my right hand man. He is responsible for all of the instruction and oversees all of our field staff (Mark Riggins, Dave Keller, Franklin Font, etc). We can’t have a weak link in our team because all of the base running, the hitting, and pitching has to be taken care of,” said Fleita. “The criteria for being a part of our team is that we look for good baseball people. Guys that we think fit what we are trying to get accomplished and contribute to winning. At the end of the day you are trying to make decisions that you know that when you go to bed a night, you are doing the very best for the players on the field.”
Coordinating player movements and making sure that each farm team has enough adequate bodies to field a competitive team is a big task for Fleita. Fleita looks for various qualities when promoting a player, all of which vary based on the need.
“All the criteria is different. You want to first of all get to know the players. Some guys are not as confident as others and some kids may have not come from quality programs. With certain guys, you want to let them finish where they are,” said Fleita. “Case in point, look at Ramirez (Alvaro). He has a chance to win a batting title and he is having success. So rather than fool around and let him go somewhere where maybe he can go into a slump and end on a negative, I think you have to heir on the conservative side in that case and let him finish on a high note.”
It is no secret that the Cubs are still chasing after the World Series Title, something they haven’t been able to catch since 1908. Fleita offered his take on what needs to happen for the dream to be realized.
“We better get young players that can get to Chicago and contribute. You look at the Tampa Bay Rays and what they did with that young core of players that got to the bigs,” said Fleita. “You have to be able to develop young players. You look at Castro, Colvin, and Cashner and what they have done. If you get them up there in Wrigley Field and allow them to play and grow together, we hope that they can form that brotherhood and we can ride that float down Michigan Avenue.”
People already know about Castro, Colvin, and Cashner. People also know about emerging prospects in guys like Jay Jackson in Iowa and Josh Vitters in Tennessee. But there are some other prospects people don’t know about who can make an impact for the Cubs and improve those odds of getting that World Series parade on Michigan Avenue.
“Brett Jackson has had a phenomenal year. It’s his first full season and already he is in Double A. Tony Campana is on the same team and he has also had a tremendous year. Our Double A team has played really well,” said Fleita. “The list goes on and on. Christopher Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Trey McNutt, Christopher Carpenter, and Casey Coleman. We feel like we have a huge core group of guys who can not only make it to the big league, but contribute to winning.”
Fleita has accomplished a ton since breaking into baseball in 1988. He has give opportunities to a score of baseball players and has developed many Latin programs that have produced many staples in the Cubs roster. But his ultimate goal is to one day bring that World Series Title home to a city that deserves it.
“I want to be a part of a World Series Championship team. Even if I am the guy who is raking the field during the game, I want to be a part of that team. I want one for the Chicago Cubs because I love the fans and I love the city. The Ricketts family has been wonderful and hopefully we can put everything together and get that championship,” said Fleita.
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant
In order to maintain consistent productivity on the field, diets are something that the organization has focused on at the minor league level. That, along with proper weight training techniques, have been key components that the staff has emphasized.
“We are a big believer in prehab. It’s a long season and there are plenty of factors that can affect the players during the season (long bus rides, fast food joints, etc). The guys that eat better tend to fatigue less and their bat doesn’t slow down or their arm doesn’t slow down. This decreases the chances of them getting injured,” said Sharpe. “You try to educate the players as much as you can and help them make better choices.”
“As far as lifting weights and running, we stay on top of that a lot more in our role because that is a more controllable component,” said Chiang. “We are not trying to over-work one part of the body. The goal is to not get bigger in terms of muscle mass but to make sure that each muscle functions the way it’s supposed to.”
One of the things that makes the Chicago Cubs unique is that they have a really good relationship with their players. Developing better communication with the players makes prehab and other duties easier.
“The better and stronger the relationships grows, the easier it is for them to trust me and it makes my job easier,” said Larson. “I am able to help them with their injuries more and enable them to get through the grind of the season.”
The Hawks deal with a lot of players as soon as they graduate college. One of the main goals is to keep them healthy, but help them get adjusted and in the “big league” frame of mind.
“That’s one of my favorite parts of this position is to get guys into the system, who just got drafted. Everyone has some kind of background in terms of keeping themselves in shape,” said Jarrow. “When these guys come in, I am not a dictator but I let them know they have to listen to me too. We have a program in place that is designed and proven to keep them healthy.”
One of the other duties with an athletic trainer is setting up travel arrangements and incorporating new players into the fold.
“Trainers deal with some of the unseen things. When new guys come in, we show them ropes and set out expectations. This helps build trust because this is new for a lot of guys that come here and professional baseball is very different from collegiate baseball,” said Larson.
One of the interesting aspects of minor league baseball is the fact that all of the players are competing with each other to advance to the next level. The competition is a good thing, but it can force some players to try to play through pain.
“I think it’s natural for any athlete to want to play through pain and injury. Guys at this level who are fighting for jobs and are highly competitive will do that in order to keep their job,” said Sharpe. “As the role of an educator, it’s my job to educate them on what they can play with and manage and what are things that in the big picture, can hurt their overall career.”
If the staff is successful at helping a player manage his health and maximize his potential, there is a lot of reward in watching that player shoot through the ranks. But like the athletes, the ultimate goal in this profession is to advance to the major league level.
“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing the guys advance through the levels. Two years ago we had Andrew Cashner here and now he is in the big leagues. It’s satisfying to see a guy that you worked with advance whether it’s Daytona or Peoria,” said Chiang.
“I just enjoy watching the guys play baseball everyday. This has been my first year with the team and I have enjoyed it,” said Larson.
Even a minor league coordinator has aspirations of making it to the majors, which is one of the hardest things to do. With only 30 spots out there, it’s even tougher to be an Athletic Trainer or the Strength and Conditioning Coach for a big league team.
“Everyone has aspirations of making it to the big league level. For Athletic Trainers, it’s tough to do because there are not that many spots available,” said Sharpe. “You just try to work as hard as you can and do things that will get you noticed and get that big league job.”
“In my field there are two positions that everyone shoots for; my position and the major league Strength and Conditioning Coach that travels with the Cubs. I’ve done both jobs in Los Angeles and here in Chicago,” said Jarrow. “I’m perfectly happy where I am at and I have enjoyed seeing the success thus far. Our ultimate goal is to get that World Series ring and it starts in the minors.”
The team has had four guys go to the DL, with two of them already coming back from injury and getting promoted. Given the hands they are in, it’s obvious why they made a quick and successful recovery. With guys like Chiang, Jarrow, Larson, and Sharpe, the players are in good hands from a physical stand point. Once the talent begins to gel, ending that World Series Title drought is a definite possibility.
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant
It’s not an easy job keeping an athlete healthy, especially a minor league baseball player. Between the the intense 76 game schedule, the blazing heat of summer, and a diet that contains a lot of fast food, there are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way.
But for the individuals that I interviewed, it’s just another day at the office. The Chicago Cubs have a staff dedicated solely to the health and wellness of the players both in the major and minor leagues. Yi-Chang Chiang, Doug Jarrow, A.J. Larson, and Justin Sharpe are some of the faces you don’t see often but are responsible for keeping the Boise Hawks as physically fit as possible.
The process of becoming a Trainer or a Strength and Conditioning Coach is one that takes a ton of education and love for the game.
“In order to become a certified trainer, you have to have so many hours of clinical hours (I believe it is 800) in order just to sit for the exam,” said Larson, who is the Boise Hawks Athletic Trainer. “You can pretty much be tested on anything and it’s a pretty grueling exam. If you don’t pass, it’s about $300 to retake the exam and you can only take it once every two months.”
“During the season you go non-stop, every single day. You really have to have a passion for this job because for eight months out the year, you are taken away from your family and friends,” said Chiang who was been in the Cubs organization for three seasons.
The Cubs, like many organizations, have coordinators who are in charge of the entire minor league system. Sharpe is the Minor League Athletic Training Coordinator for the Cubs and Jarrow is the Minor League Strength an Conditioning Coordinator for the Cubs. Contrary to popular belief, this is a position that has only evolved within the last six years.
“Baseball has evolved over the last few years and as you invest in players more, additional administration is needed to make sure everything is running well,” said Sharpe. “About six years ago, the Cubs were the first organization to have one person in charge of rehab and another person in charge of minor league athletic trainers. It’s come about based on the increase of demands in this sport and profession.”
For Jarrow, it has been a journey that started since he played baseball as a kid.
“I played baseball my whole life into college and I could read the writing on the wall and knew where my talent was going to cap out at (laughs),” said Jarrow. “Two loves of my life have been baseball and the human body (kinesiology). I was able to take my under-graduated degree in sport science and marry that with baseball and here I am today.”
One of the biggest responsibilities for these men is to maintain the players health and prevent injuries from happening.
“When people think about this role, they think it’s only abut the weight room. We try to keep them healthy and put the players in a position to succeed. Baseball is a grind even in the short-season, where you only have 76 games,” said Chiang.
“A lot of my duties center around maintenance and keeping up with injuries. We work to keep the small injuries from not becoming bigger problems,” said Larson.
From Sharpe and Jarrow’s standpoint, it’s all about making sure the system runs as well and efficient as possible. They are also in charge of making sure the athletes maintain their health and recover from injuries, while looking long term and not short term.
“You want to look long term. When a player gets hurt, they focus on the here and now. If you have a guy who requires surgery and a nine month recovery, they may delay surgery two weeks and that could mean the difference between breaking with a team out of Spring Training or staying in Extended Spring Training,” said Sharpe. “We want everyone to end up happy nine months later and a lot of that starts after the initial injury.”
“I have seven guys who work for me and my goal is to implement our program and philosophy of strength and conditioning throughout the entire Cubs’ minor league system,” said Jarrow. “I have to keep an eye on 180 athletes. I rove throughout the minor league system during the season and make sure our program is doing well. I just came to Boise from our Double A affiliate in Tennessee “
Check back for part 2 of this installment!
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant
The first-half of the 2010 season was memorable in a lot of ways. The Boise Hawks set some personal records, made national news, and made an impact on the community.
Like most journalists, I always have my digital voice recorder handy. Over the course of the first-half of the season, I was able to catch some pretty funny quotes from former and current Boise Hawks players.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites. Hope you enjoy them!
“A buddy of mine owned a fireworks stand and he did a big fireworks show every year. Well one year, the stand caught on fire and there were mortars going off everywhere.”
Former Hawks OF Runey Davis on his 4th of July memories.
“I remember when I was 12 years old, I got turned down by a girl on the 4th of July. I tried to approach a girl at a local fireworks show and got rejected. I’m still in the process of recovery but I am back to where I want to be (laughs).”
Former Hawks RHP Corey Martin on his 4th of July memories.
“I actually didn’t finish the pitch the right way; I was turned around once I let the ball go. But I was able to see the ball come at me and I got my glove down there in time to snag it. A friend who plays for Salem-Keizer sent me a text last night and said “I’m at a bar and you made it onto Top Plays!”. It’s always been a dream to make it on Sports Center.”
LHP John Mincone on making ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays”.
“I was actually worried. I have been a St. Louis Cardinals fan my whole life and I grew up in Chicago and went to Northwestern University. A lot of my friends got on me pretty good about being a Cardinals fan drafted by the Cubs.”
LHP Eric Jokisch and his reaction to being drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
“At first I was just excited to be drafted. Then when I found out it was the Chicago Cubs, I figured it would be a great organization to move up in because we haven’t won a World Series in so long (laughs).”
2B Pierre LePage on career advancement with the Cubs.
“My host family has been wonderful. They make me breakfast in the morning, help me with my laundry, and they even make my bed for me. It’s actually a little better than life at home (laughs).”
Former Hawks OF Matt Szczur on life with his host family.
“It’s a lot nicer going back to a home than a hotel in Mesa, AZ.”
RHP Aaron Kurcz on the living conditions (host families) in Boise.
“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.”
2B LePage on the misconceptions that people have about minor league baseball.
“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).”
Jokisch on the transition from high school to college baseball.
“Matty Ott set LSU single-season saves record in 2009. In his first appearance, which wasn’t a save situation, I could tell he was kinda nervous,” said Gibbs. “I tried to calm him down as much as I could with words, but I could still tell he was nervous. As I was jogging back to home plate, the “Chicken Dance” was playing. So I was like “why not” and I got behind home plate and started doing the “Chicken Dance”.
C Micah Gibbs reflecting on his playing days at Louisiana State University.
“I think he hit that ball 500 feet!”- Corey Martin
“Nah, more like 700.”- Myself
Corey’s post-game reaction after giving up a home run on July 3rd.
“A.J, from now on when we are winning, you stay in the clubhouse! I’ll manage the game, you stay here (laughs).”
Hawks Manager Jody Davis on A.J. being a possible “bad luck charm”.
“It’s called planned obsolescence. They make minor changes to a product that should have come with it 3 years ago so idiots like you will buy it.”
LePage’s reaction to LHP Austin Kirk buying the iPhone 4.
“Brandon, you need to get on base. Everyone in the stands is getting drunk because of you!”
Jody Davis on 3B Brandon May being responsible for 4 consecutive beer batters in Eugene.
“Jesus, could you please tell Larry (Suarez) that I need him to fill this packet out as soon as possible.”- Myself
“(Laughs) You know he speaks English, right?”- Jesus Morelli
Me asking Hawks OF Jesus Morelli to translate to someone who speaks English.
“This is why you are single; you spend your free time looking up fantasy baseball statistics.”
Hawks Director of Sales Andy Simon assessing my “dating life” (or lack there of).
“There was so much excitement and adrenaline that people were yelling in the dog pile on the field. Louis Coleman, who was the SEC Pitcher of the Year, closed it out for us. I don’t think there is anyone in baseball who was more of an automatic win than him. When we were in the dog pile it’s kinda funny; he kissed me on the forehead and said “I love you man” (laughs). It was a little weird.”
C Gibbs talking about winning the 2009 College World Series.
“The night before the first playoff game I pitched, I was walking through the bar. I never drink the night before a game, especially when I am pitching. I see Lou Pinella and he says “sit down and have a beer with me”. At first I said no but then he said “what’s the worst that could happen? We are down 0-2 in the series. If we lose, we go home. Stay here and have a couple of beers with me; no need to rest.” I ended going 8.2 innings and we won.”
Hawks Pitching Coach Jeff Fassero on his memories of Lou Pinella.
“He struggled to find the plate early in the inning. I was just going up there and making sure that I got a good pitch to hit. He called a ball in the previous at-bat that was the same pitch that he threw me in this at-bat. I guess being short does have some benefits.”
2B LePage on a drawing a bases-loaded walk to beat Spokane on July 19th.
Thanks to Hawks photographer Scott McDaniel for the photos!
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant