I will be rolling out interviews and other posts from my Corpus Christi sojourn over the next couple of weeks as I cull through almost two hours of interview material, but I wanted to record some random thoughts while they are still fairly fresh in my mind.
After having been to see the Lexington LoA team back at the end of April, I was struck immediately by one huge difference. The players at AA look like ballplayers. It's hard to define. It's not just that most of them have filled out and are heavier, more muscular. It's also an attitude, a way of carrying themselves. Maybe it's because by the time they have made it to AA, they know that they belong and carry themselves with more confidence.
Ah, there's that word ... confidence. There were two words that I heard more frequently than any others in talking to players and coaches ... confidence and consistency. Those two things are the key to their impending success or failure and they know it. But more about that later.
I was able to watch several rounds of on-field workouts and batting practice. I found it interesting because I'm interested in the routine, in the day-to-day of the players as a backdrop to their overall experience, but once you've seen a couple of them, it's fairly dull viewing. But I will admit that I am just baseball nerd enough that I was actually excited to get to see pitchers fielding practice one day.
Two players stood out to me as I watched them go through their daily routines. One was Adam Bailey and that was for one reason only. He has a cannon for an arm and throws with great accuracy. During throwing drills as the players moved further and further apart, his long throws were always on the money and looked simply effortless, as could be expected from a former pitcher I suppose.
The other player to stand out during work-outs was Brett Oberholtzer. I really hate that he was the only pitcher that I wasn't able to see in person. He was the most intense, most passionate player on the field. Period. Everything he did was done with maximum effort. He was always out running sprints when no one else was. I seriously worried about him getting heatstroke because of how intensely he was working. If he can channel that passion into his pitching, he is certain to be a success.
The ballpark itself is wonderful. As long as you are seated in the shade, the breeze off the gulf is enough to keep you comfortable even during the day. The staff was excellent, everyone was friendly and Michael Coffin in the front office went out of his way to accommodate me with incredible patience and grace.
Something else has been fomenting in my addled brain since my trip to Lexington and it more or less coalesced during this trip to Corpus. I had the opportunity in Lexington to meet the Boosters Club and some of the host families that open their doors to the players. In Corpus, I also met one of the host "moms" and talked with her at length about some of the issues that minor league players face. Just finding an affordable place to live when you may be called upon to move at a moment's notice can be an ordeal, particularly if you are required to sign a lease. Extended stay facilities are often out of the price range of a minor league player (not everyone gets a big signing bonus), and it is a myth that there are plenty of host families to go around. I was told that there are no host families in Oklahoma City at all. What is a player supposed to do in the case of a temporary call up? And that's just the housing issue.
I would like to emphasize that no player complained to me about any of these things. They are happy to just have the opportunity to play and are willing to jump through whatever hoops they are required to jump through. But something occurred to me. The Astros should hire a minor league ombudsman, someone who can help the players with everything from housing to equipment to budgeting to finding a secure place to park their cars so they don't get vandalized during road trips (which just happened to five of the Lexington players). I am certain there are countless other everyday problems and issues that an ombudsman could help with, problems that otherwise take a player's focus off of the field and ultimately hinder his development.
And why should the Astros do this? As I said earlier, the players are just happy for the opportunity. There are plenty of other players that would trade places with them in a heartbeat. The Astros should do this because it's the right thing to do. If that's not enough, just think of it as an investment in the future. When those players from the system that make it to the big leagues get to free agency, maybe they'd be willing to take a little hometown discount because they would be loyal to an organization that had been loyal to them. Just another random thought.