Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Interview with Astros Utility Player Andy Simunic

Back on August 2, 2011, Andy Simunic made his professional pitching debut at Lancaster in what ended up being a 20-7 blowout loss to Bakersfield. It wasn't the best debut as Andy allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in his inning of work. Fast forward to June 14, 2013. Andy was again called upon to save the bullpen in an 11-2 loss, and did much better in his second outing, allowing only one hit and no runs in one and a third innings.

Obviously, Andy is not a pitcher. But he is versatile. Very versatile. In six minor league seasons, he has played every position except catcher, including one game at DH and two games as pitcher. And he is a good teammate, well respected by his fellow players not only for his work on the field, but for his good humor and ability to keep the clubhouse loose.

I talked to Andy on Saturday, the day after his latest outing on the mound, and I found him to be funny, self-effacing and very sincere. Here is what he had to say (edited for brevity and clarity) ~

Andy Simunic - June 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

On his limited experience as a pitcher: "The first one [in 2011], I got roughed up. Last night was good. I got a little tender with my elbow and it scared me a little bit so I shut it down, but any time [I can] help the team out and save the bullpen, I'll get out there and do what I can. It was a blast. You never want to be in that position, getting beat or not being able to have the real pitchers out there, but it is fun. Thinking about pitching in a triple A game is pretty funny, but it was a good experience."

On his season so far: "It's been great. I started in Extended, had a setback with my finger in Spring Training. I tore a ligament so that kind of stunk but I got to come up here, got the opportunity to play and I'm having a great time. It's a great group of players and I'm really just enjoying being here."

On his versatility being the key factor in potentially making it to the majors: "That's how I've always looked at it. I was always taught at a young age that the more you can play, the more chances you have of being in the lineup. I've just continued that through high school, college and even in pro ball. I enjoy what I do and I think it's fun to come to the ballpark and [to] never know where you're going to be playing. [It makes it kind of exciting] when you come to the park."

On the dance studio that he and his wife own in Nashville: "We have about 200 girls ... girls from ages 3 to 18. We have five teams that travel and compete. My wife, she runs all the day-to-day stuff and all the classes. And I'm the head janitor and I guess security guy. (The mom's get pretty crazy in there.) It's been a really cool experience. I knew nothing about dance. I still don't know a whole lot. I get pretty excited when we go to competitions and see the girls do well. I get pretty excited and it's a really neat thing."

On his own rumored dance moves in the locker room: "I do a lot of dancing. Most of it is pretty awful, but I have a good time. I try to keep the locker room light wherever I'm at. That's just kind of my personality. My wife definitely does not endorse my dance moves because they're pretty bad. I have a good time and try to have fun with whatever I'm doing."

I asked Andy about a game delay in Corpus Christi last season when the lights went out, in which he and Kiké Hernandez took to the field and entertained the crowd with some dance moves: "The guys, knowing me and knowing my personality, came to me and offered money. And I was going to do it and Kiké's got some actual good moves so he wanted to join in. I told him I'd split the profits with him. He got out there and, thank goodness, because I'd have struggled doing a solo act. I did all right with the duet. It was fun. Again, just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Simunic has been the answer in a number of my interviews as to who makes some of our minor leaguers laugh. So, who makes him laugh?: "In Corpus, Kiké. He's pretty funny. Here, I think [Austin]  Wates makes me laugh because he knows how to push my buttons. We're really good friends so we have a good time. He's hard on me, gives me a hard time a lot. He keeps me laughing. He's a great friend."

What Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "I think Folty [Mike Foltynewicz], he looks pretty tough. I've seen him throw in some games, but I haven't faced him. I have faced Joe Valdez and he made me look like a little leaguer. Throwing that nasty splitter. I'll never forget, facing him in Spring Training and just being overwhelmed. I had no chance. I wouldn't want to face him too many times because he's got some nasty stuff."

If he couldn't play baseball, what would he do? Keep helping out with the dance studio?: "That would definitely be a big part of my life still, but I'd probably go into law enforcement. That's something I always wanted to do outside of baseball. I studied it at the University of Tennessee. I was a criminal justice major. I think that's something that I'd really get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to help people. That's probably the avenue I'd go if I wasn't playing ball."

Something that most people don't know about him and might be surprised to hear: "Well, I didn't technically play baseball in high school until my senior year. I got cut my freshman and sophomore year, and I got to be the scorekeeper and the bullpen catcher. I try to encourage people who have struggled, if they haven't made a team or stuff like that, I think it's a good story to tell people that if you work hard and you really want to do something, you can do it."

Would he like to add an inning or so as a catcher to his resume?: "I caught my freshman year of college. It's always in the back of my mind. I could do it. It probably wouldn't be good. Might as well. If I've got eight, I might as well do nine. I always wanted to be a catcher when I was a kid. At five, I had my first set of catcher's gear. [He's not exactly built like a catcher.] I'm built more like a sprint runner."

In case you missed it, here is Andy getting a fly out from Round Rock's Greg Miclat in his June 14th outing.



Thank you for your time, Andy, and best of luck as the season unfolds. I'll be watching the boxscores and hoping to see a "C" by your name one of these days. Might as well do nine.

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