In the course of my first season writing for Padres360, it has been an entire learning process. I started out asking a few questions, trying to adapt to expand on what players said rather than worry about what I was going to ask next. Each player and experience has taught me more about the process about putting together stories about players. Some players give you a lot to work with, some less, but all I have found interesting and enjoyable to hear and every player I have talked to, with the exception of Zack Greinke, have been respectful and receptive to talking about their careers.
With the year winding down, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank my co-author and friend Rebecca Herman for allowing me to be a part of this. She has and idea and a vision about writing and approached little old me about it. I said yes right away, not thinking about what it would take to put together a blog. It’s not like there are 12 of us who are doing this, or that we have interns who can help with the heavy lifting, it’s the 2 of us. That is no complaint or disrespect to any other bloggers out there, it’s just the acknowledgement of where we are at now. We squeeze in our blog in between our jobs and family time. It is a LOT of work, and I don’t regret it or dislike it for one minute, it is fun….and The Casual Fan lives on..
On our trip to Tucson for Padres 360, one of the players we wanted to interview was John Baker. The Padres had sent him to AAA Tucson when Yasmani Grandal was activated after serving a 50 game suspension for PED. When we arrived on Friday, John was there working with the team, talking to the younger players about playing in the big leagues and establishing himself as a clubhouse leader. We interviewed John before the Tucson Padres played the Sacramento River Cats on Saturday night, which was the night Tucson wore their retro Toros 1980 jerseys. They resemble the 1970’s Houston Astros jerseys who they were a minor league team for at the time.
The Casual Fan-What is your earliest memory of baseball?
John Baker-I don’t remember it, but I have photographs of it. When I was a little kid growing up in Oakland, my grandfather hung a whiffle ball from a tree and we got video, well it may be 9MM video of me in a diaper hitting the ball and my dad would ask me, he would see my swing and drop to a knee and he would ask me what are you doing? And I said daddy, Reggie Jackson, Reggie Jackson. I also remember the day that Jose Canseco called up by Oakland and watching my dad play softball. Those are my 3 earliest memories of baseball.
The Casual Fan-So you’re an old school A’s fan?
The Casual Fan-How old were you when you first started playing Little League?
John Baker-Well, I started playing T-Ball when I was 5 and then when kids were pitching I was 8.
The Casual Fan-Who are your all-time favorite major league players and what do you like about them?
John Baker-I have mainly 2 guys that I have a lot of respect for and really admire. The first one is Will Clark. He was a first baseman for the Giants, Rangers and Cardinals at the end of his career. I loved his swing and I always wore #22 growing up in honor of Will Clark since I was a left-handed hitter. When I watch my Little League movies, I am getting in there with dead on replica of Will Clarks’ batting stance pulling my shoulder up and blowing a bubble when I am batting and trying to be “Will The Thrill.” The second one I have a lot of respect for and got to play for and against was Jason Kendall. He epitomized everything a catcher should be. A great relationship with the pitchers, understood how to call the game, understood how to play psychologist and he was one of the toughest people I have ever met. It didn’t matter what happened to him, he wanted to play in the game, you had to pull him off the field to get him out. I think as a defensive player it is Jason Kendall, as a offensive player, it’s Will Clark.
The Casual Fan-Did you meet either one of them?
John Baker-I knew Jason Kendall pretty well. He was the catcher for the A’s when I was in spring training for a couple of years and he took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff. I also had a chance to play against him when I was with the Marlins and he was with Milwaukee. When we had day games, he would get together with me just to talk about how to work the video, how to talk to the umpires. He treated me real well. I haven’t met Will Clark yet.
The Casual Fan-What is your proudest moment either as an individual, or with a team you have played on?
John Baker- My first hit in the big leagues. I hit a home run off of Chan Ho Park in the second game I played in. It is something I will never forget. I remember running around the bases and having to remind myself to put my left foot in front of my right foot. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I was really concerned rounding the bases I was going to trip and fall. So that is something that sticks out to me. It was so fresh. And then coming in the dugout and Luis Gonzalez was sitting in our dugout, he was on our team and said. He said 1 down and 499 to go.
The Casual Fan-If you weren’t playing baseball, what would you be doing?
John Baker-I would probably be a lawyer. I was going to go to UCLA and do political science and then go to law school, but I got lucky enough to get an opportunity to go to CAL and play baseball there, so I ended up there. But that was kind of my plan out of high school was to go to law school.
The Casual Fan-John, thank you for your time.
That night after the game, we all went back to the hotel to relax and talk about the night. Rebecca worked on editing pictures for the Tucson Padres and I talked with our kids that came along on the trip. At 2AM, we got a Facebook message from Luigi Novello. He had noticed that we were all in Tucson and he wanted us to pass on a message to John Baker. He had been trying to contact John’s wife and wanted to know how her pregnancy was going as well as other stuff having to do with John Baker. I told him we would pass along the message. My son Alex said he would gladly talk to John Baker and pass along Luigi’s message after the game later that day.
Before the game, the Tucson Padres GM Mike Feder approached us and asked us if we needed anything and I mentioned that we would love to talk to Logan Forsythe. Mike went into the clubhouse and came out with a message; “He is more than happy to talk to you after the game. When you’re on the field before the game, I will point you both out to him and he’ll chat with you after the game.” Logan ended up having a great night, hitting 2 home runs to help lead the Tucson Padres to a 5-2 win over Sacramento. John Baker had a hit and called a great game for Padres starter Sean O’Sullivan.
We waited for the players by the tunnel and Logan walked up to talk to me. As I conducted my interview, John Baker came towards us and my son called him over. “Can I ask you a question?” John said, “Sure.” Alex said, “I’m a season ticket holder of the San Diego Padres and sadly because of this, I know Luigi.” John’s response was, “Oh no.” “So at about 2AM I got text from Luigi with a message for you.” John looked at Rebecca with a look of, did this really happen, on his face. She told John that it did happen. Alex showed him the message and John said, “Tell Luigi my wife is doing ok and I’ll talk to him when I get back to San Diego” and he walked up the tunnel. We didn’t know until the next day that it would be John’s last game in the Padres organization as he was designated for assignment, and later claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I will miss John Baker. He is a great guy and a class act.
Learning What I Otter Know
The city of Evansville is a historic place when it comes to baseball. Their roots can be traced all the way back to 1877 with the Evansville Reds. From 1895-1914, the Evansville Black Birds and later the River Rats played games at Louisiana Street Park. On July 17th, 1915, a holiday was declared in Evansville and Bosse Field was open for business. It was named after the mayor of the city, who had helped purchase 80 acres of land next to the stadium. Since it’s opening, it has been the home of 10 different teams including the Evansville Crimson Giants of the NFL and the AAA Triplets who developed the likes of Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell and manager Jim Leyland. After 1984, the Tigers moved to Nashville taking the sight and sound of pro-ball away from historic Evansville. In 1995, the Evansville Otters started playing ball in the Independent Frontier League and have average 2500 in attendance yearly since their inauguration. In their 17 years, 2 players from the Otters have made it to the majors and both were left-handed pitchers: George Sherrill (who was named to the 2008 AL All-Star team as a member of the Baltimore Orioles) and Andrew Werner who pitched with the Padres in 2012.
If you are a player looking for a club, you cannot beat playing for Evansville. A historic park, a history of baseball and a town with Midwestern values. Evansville is the place to go to get back to the major leagues.
I Want an Otters Jersey…
Where can I find an Otters jersey?!? Since the end of the 2012 season, I had tried to locate one for sale but had no luck finding a jersey. On March 29th of this year, I wrote the GM of the Evansville Otters, Joel Padfield, and asked if there were any Otters jerseys available for purchase. Joel wrote back right away to let me know that, “we have camo jersey night on May 18th and pink jersey night on August 17th” and both of those nights jerseys would be up for auction.
I contacted some friends about attending the game, but couldn’t find anyone available to get to the stadium to bid on a jersey for me. I called Joel on the Tuesday before the Saturday game for help. He called back and asked for my size and if I had a number in mind. I told him I wanted to get Andrew Werner’s number when he was an Otter and Joel said, “I’ll find out what it was and we’ll take care of it.” One the same day Doris Chrisco contacted a friend of mine to say she would help. She was attending the game and she would keep an eye out to make sure a bid was put on a jersey.
On that Saturday, Doris talked to Joel and found out the jersey I needed was #17, so Doris bid on the jersey for me and I was the high bidder. She sent me a picture of herself with the player wearing the jersey on the field after the game was over. The name of the player wearing the jersey was Otters catcher John Nester, who was playing his first season with the Otters. Doris washed the jersey and mailed it to me and it arrived 4 days later on my doorstep. I opened it and fell in love with it. The color style was winter camo and I have never seen this color scheme on a baseball jersey. It looked great. I put it on and proudly wore it to Petco Park, took pictures wearing it and posted them on Facebook and Twitter, and tweeted John a picture which he re-tweeted. I had fans ask about the jersey, wanted to know who the Otters were and where they were located.
All that night, the name John Nester kept going through my mind. I was wearing his jersey but I didn’t know anything about him other than he was a catcher. What was the career path of John? Was he a former minor league player or an undrafted player playing his first season of organized ball? That night, I decided I needed to contact John. While I bought the jersey because Andrew Werner wore #17, the jersey was John Nester’s and I wanted to know about him. I thought to myself how do I go about doing this?
Lining Up The Interview
The next day, I sent an e-mail to Joel Padfield to thank him for all of his help with getting the jersey. I sent him a few pictures wearing the jersey and asked if there was a way to interview John so I could write this story. He responded by saying, “that is awesome.” A couple of days later, Mike Radomski the director of media relations and broadcasting e-mailed me and said he had talked to John and that he would be happy to interview with you. We setup a time on Sunday before the Otters were scheduled to play and I called Mike’s cell and John came on the line. Now, I would finally learn about the player whose jersey I now own. I asked permission to record the call and I started the interview. ….
John Nester Catcher Evansville Otters May 26th, 2013
I asked John about his earliest baseball memory and was surprised to learn that he remembered back to when he was only six years old. He told me about how he skipped T-ball and went straight to play on a coach’s pitch team. He had a lot of great memories of that time. His fondest memory was from when he was nine years old and his team won the state championship.
We talked about major league players and who John admired and looked up to as a player. He said of current major leaguers that he liked Josh Hamilton. He likes the way he handles himself, how he has come back from a real tough time and been able to make himself better from it. All-time he likes both Pudge Rodriguez and Yogi Berra. “They are guys who play my position and are real well known and are Hall of Famers.”
John spoke of some of his proudest moments as a ballplayer. From teams he played on in high school that won championships to his days at Clemson as well as the day he was drafted. “Those were cool things I was involved with.”
We discussed his days with the A’s and what led him to the Otters. John said, “I was with the A’s the last couple of years. I got the release from them, the same talk that everybody gets. We don’t have room for you and this and that. Once that happened, my agent I guess knew Andy McCauley and he put a call into him. There were offers from several other places, but Taylor Black is a guy I work out with in the off-season and we’re in the same area. He told me about some of the things going on around here and he had fun playing here last year. It was kind of a combination of my agent and my buddies that are here that made my decision a little easier.”
I have never been to Evansville, so I was curious what John thought of the town he just made his summer home. “I love it man” was John’s immediate reaction. “I was in a pretty small city the last couple years with the A’s in Single A in Burlington, Iowa. This is a big step up. There is a lot more stuff to do here.” What is it like to play there? John is proud of being an Otter and being able to play in “Historic Bosse Field. It’s a pretty good baseball atmosphere here.” He is happy to make Evansville his summer home, but when the season is over, John will head back to live in South Carolina.
At the conclusion of the interview, John talked about what he might have done if he didn’t play organized ball. John is currently working on finishing his degree, but doesn’t see himself behind a desk. He prefers a more hands on type of job. “I would like to be around baseball any way that I can” is John’s desire. “I would probably do a combination of coaching and training.”
I thanked John for his time and invited him to a game at Petco Park with my family and friends so I could meet him. The next part of this story cannot be written unless I take a trip to Evansville, IN and walk onto Bosse Field and meet John if he is still there. It is not just historic baseball stadium it is a field of second chances. It is a place to go for players to continue to live the dream of playing in the majors and to hear the crowds cheer them on.
When Ron Fowler and the O’Malley family bought the Padres, I was hopeful that we would see positive changes that make sense, but one glaring failure stands out this season and that is the constant rotation of ushers and guards at every single game. I have been to over 15 games this season and only once have I had the same usher work in our section. In the past the ushers had been assigned to one section and have built relationships with the fans in their sections. Ushers and guards are frustrated and Padre fans are frustrated.
I would like to know who in the front office made this stupid change in policy and let them know that you have damaged the morale of the people who work at the park and you have frustrated the fans who actually chose to go to Petco Park rather than tweet from local sports bars like they are actually at the game.
Please return the ushers back to their 2012 sections.
Wayne A. McBrayer aka The Casual Fan
Reporter: [Your coming back okay?]
Greinke: It felt pretty good. Executed most pitches, not quite, you know, but it was close to it. I thought the first inning was bad, and then besides that, I think it was pretty good from there on out.
Reporter : What was bad about the first inning?
Greinke: Just, it wasn’t loose yet I didn’t feel like, and then it felt a little stronger from there on out.
Reporter: Do you expect to start Wednesday?
Reporter: Do you feel like all your pitches were working for you, or were there some that were coming back later than others?
Greinke: The curve ball was awful, but it’s been awful all year, so nothing is new there. And, well, all the other ones were pretty good. Change of venue wasn’t good. I mean, I felt like it was, but they weren’t really chasing it. Just that one guy was swinging at it, and that was it. And I thought I was either going to really hit it or maybe the change just wasn’t as good as it looks like it is to me.
Greinke: Yeah. He took it one time real good too.
Reporter: What do you think of that guy?
Greinke: Pretty good. I think I threw him three strikes, and they were all, like, right down the middle. But he crushed all of them. I mean, that’s what he was supposed to do. He took the pitches that I wanted him to swing at, and then I had to throw a strike, and he was ready for it.
Reporter: How’s your collarbone doing?
Greinke: Good. It doesn’t bother me anymore.
Reporter: When you got the — when the original diagnosis was eight weeks, was that scary to you, or did you expect that to not be true?
Greinke: I don’t know. Eight weeks was — there was no surgery being done. And then surgery wasn’t — I mean, there wasn’t really a timetable. It was just whenever it gets better. At least — I mean, it could have been eight weeks. It could have been less. I was thinking I would have been back in the majors by now, but it’s going slower than I was hoping.
Reporter: Did you have any performance goals you wanted to hit tonight, or was it just health your biggest thing?
Greinke: Just I wanted to execute pitches good. That was about it. And it wasn’t great by any means, but I guess it was pretty good for not pitching in three weeks.
Reporter: How did you manage to get back so quickly? Because it seems like a collarbone should be six weeks anyway. Was there something about the imagery?
Greinke: No. I mean, it’s just not that bad. I mean, there’s no, like, extra medicine or anything I’m taking. It’s just the surgery and then working out, and it’s just healing. And then I feel I can do just about anything, but, like, run into people or a wall or something or — and they say not to dive. So…
Reporter: No more having anyone run into you.
Reporter: No more of that, right?
Greinke: As long as that doesn’t happen, I’m good, supposedly.
Reporter: How many more [rehab starts] do you think you’ll need before you’re ready?
Greinke: I don’t know. I guess we’ll talk about that when I get back tomorrow.
Reporter: Were there any nerves at all when you went out? Were you worried at all about how the shoulder would feel?
Greinke: No. I mean, the collarbone feels good. It’s just getting the [right-on] ready, I think. But there’s also science stuff and medical stuff going on. So we’ll see how it goes.
Reporter: When you said you expect to start Wednesday, do you mean Wednesday somewhere or Wednesday in L.A.?
Greinke: Well, I mean, definitely Wednesday somewhere. I’d say — I mean, I can’t say without talking to other people first. And I’m sure they’d rather have me pitch better than the results were today. So that’s one thing too. I mean, I felt like I was pitching okay, not great, like I said. But the lights in a major league game are different. And you just step up another level, and that comes.
Reporter: If they said that they were comfortable with you pitching Wednesday, are you comfortable pitching in the Big Leagues Wednesday?
Greinke: Yeah. I mean, I am. Just – I mean, I’m not going to be in mid-season form, but I’ll be — I’ll be able — I feel I’m able to take guys out, but I won’t be throwing no-hitters first game out or anything like that.
Reporter: How deep could you throw? What kind of pitches could you throw.
Greinke: Well, I felt good still today. I actually — I really wanted to face one more guy because I knew I was getting close to the pitch count, and I really thought — I don’t know. I wanted to get one more guy and give him some good stuff. And – but I was already over the pitch count I had.
Reporter: What was the pitch count they had set originally?
Greinke: Just at around 75. If I felt good letting me go a little more, but if they wanted me to come out earlier, I’d come out earlier.
Reporter: Did you feel like your speed was good?
Greinke: I mean, it was close. But, I mean, it wasn’t a hundred percent crisp. But I think a pitching a minor league game ten times is going to be like this all ten times. I don’t need to — to be in the highest league to bring out your best stuff. At least 1 I hope it gets better. I mean, it wasn’t bad, like I said, but it was just a little — little –off.
Reporter: At what point did you start pitching at the stretch?
Greinke: An awful lot out of the stretch. The guy got on base, and then I made some bad pitches. So it’s like I need to work on the stretch a little bit. And it got a little more comfortable. But like I said, I haven’t had a stretch for three years now, so I don’t — I don’t plan to fix anything in one start.
Reporter: When you fielded the bunt, could that have been a play where people above in the organization might have been a little afraid or something that you’ve got to be careful with?
Greinke: I mean, maybe. They said just no diving, no running into people. But, I mean, that is a tougher play that you’ve got to — I mean, I guess –
Reporter: Your instinct –
Greinke: — you could get hurt doing that.
Reporter: Bottom line, you felt you were able to do everything you wanted to do?
Greinke: Yeah. Well, I mean, it wasn’t perfect, you know, obviously, but it was — it was pretty good.
Reporter: How did you feel your actions were defensively when a ball was hit to you?
Greinke: Normal. Just probably trying to do too much on the bunt. I wanted to get the guy to third just to do it, but it was too good of a bunt. And I think we got the second one sort of fast. So I don’t know. Getting me out of position made the tough — the throw tough at first.
Reporter: You seemed to be stretching a bit. Was that normal with the lower back?
Greinke: I don’t know. Maybe. I just don’t know. Like, probably something I don’t know about. I don’t know. I just do it, so — I didn’t notice anything. In the — in the dugout I was doing it or on the mound?
Reporter: On the mound.
Greinke: Oh, really?
Reporter: You were talking about the lights. It seemed like pregame when you were warming up, you kept pointing to the lights. Did you have to adjust that? You were saying that the Minor League savings lights are different than the Major Leagues? Is that a problem for you?
Greinke: I don’t remember doing that. No. I’m talking about — I’m pretty sure I’m talking about the Major League lights, like the highest stretch, not so much the actual, like, bright stadium lights.
Reporter: Like the Minor Leaguer post game spread?
Reporter: Where did you get them?
Greinke: Supposedly imitation Outback.
Reporter: Do you expect anything extra with the next meeting with the Padres?
Greinke: No. Just normal.
Reporter: Thank you.
Reporter: Thank you. Good luck.
I had contacted the Lake Elsinore Storm about coming up for the game with my friend @Thebaseballphd to talk to some of the players for our blogs. We were given permission and told 2 media passes would be left for us. We had heard that Zack Greinke would be there doing a rehab start before coming off the DL, which meant that a lot more members of the press would be there covering the game.
We arrived at 4:10PM and received our passes and were escourted to the press box and then down to the field. As we were on the field taking pictures and talking to Lake Elsinore Storm players, we saw the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes players arrive and walk down to the field to stretch out before the game. In the stand sitting next to a gentleman with a laptop open was Zack Greinke. I decided since there was barely anyone there that I would go up to him and ask him who his favorite player was growing up. My thought was to do the same thing that Dick Enberg did years ago when talking to Ted Williams, and that was bring up a topic no one has probably asked him about (in Dick’s case, it was talking about 2 innings that Ted had pitched against Detroit in 1940). As I walked up to Ted, one of the Dodgers media people walked up and reminded me Zack had a social anxiety disorder. I thanked him and walked over and waited. The gentleman he was talking to motioned for me to talk to him, so I did. I introduced myself and what I write about and asked him who was his favorite player growing up. He said, “I’ll answer your question after the game assuming I talk to anybody.” I thanked him and wished him well.
We did attend the press conference later where Greinke answered questions posed to him by the media. I didn’t bother to ask him who his favorite player was then, I asked him how many rehab starts he thought he would need before he was ready to return. He said, “I don’t know, I’ll talk to the organization and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.” I recorded the entire press conference and will be taking time over the next couple of days to type it out and post it along with my thoughts that me and the @TheBaeballPHD had after the game.
Last Saturday, I attended the Padres vs Diamondbacks game. I got in early to watch the Padres take batting practice. I sat down with my friend Laurie and watched players shag fly balls. Jason Marquis walked by us and I asked him if I could take a picture with him. He told me, “I’ll do it after batting practice is over” which is almost always a polite way of saying I’m busy or don’t want to do it. After 10 minutes, batting practice ended and we stood up to see if Jason would come back over and we didn’t see him. We figured oh well and started to leave to go to the Diamondbacks dugout when Jason walked up and said, “lets get that picture.” I was so surprised and happy that he remembered. My friend Laurie took the picture and I thanked Jason and shook his hand and he walked off with his little boy.
If you ever read this Jason, thank you for taking the time to take a picture with a fan.
Andrew Cashner is a young pitcher on the rise. Drafted in the 1st round with the 18th pick by the Chicago Cubs, he started moving up through the Cubs minor league system. In his 3 years in the Cubs minor league system, he only gave up 3 home runs while displaying a fastball clocked at 95 plus MPH. He was called up in May 2010 and spent the season in the bullpen. In 2011, he won a spot in the Cubs rotation but a rotator cuff injury caused him to miss most of 2011 season. On January 6, 2012, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Anthony Rizzo. Andrew started the season in the bullpen and was then sent to AA San Antonio to work his arm strength up to become a starting pitcher. Arm injuries once again crept up on the tall Texan and he was shut down in September. Andrew began the 2013 season in the bullpen but has now moved into the starting rotation for good. His last start before this writing saw Andrew beat the Giants and Tim Lincecum 2-1. Andrew pitched 6 innings giving up 1 run with a walk and 5 strikeouts. At the plate, he hit a single, stole second and scored the tying run. With a fastball clocked as high as 97, Andrew appears to have finally settled into a permanent spot in the rotation.
Before Sunday’s game, Andrew was signing autographs for fans who were eating breakfast on the outfield warning path. I walked up to Andrew and asked him who his favorite player was and why and without hesitation he said, “Nolan Ryan, I just grew up watching him and that’s who I saw as a kid and he was always on TV.”
My hope and desire is Andrew Cashner becomes as good as his favorite player because if he does, the Padres will have a great starter for years to come.
*Photo courtesy of TheBaseballPHD
On April 25th, 1976, Rick Monday grabbed the American Flag away from 2 creeps who were trying to burn it.
Yesterday at the Padres game, I decided to go over to the Brewers dugout and attempt to talk to and or get the autograph of Bob Uecker. Bob never came out, so I was left standing around watching batting practice when Brewers manager Ron Roenicke came walking toward the dugout. I decided to ask Ron for an autograph to give to my friend Rebecca Herman who interviewed him for a book she is working on. He walked up and I said, “Ron” and held up the ball. Ron looked up at me, put his index finger in front of his lips and said, “ssshhh, not now” and walked into the dugout.
In 41 years of going to ballgames, I have never had that type of reaction while asking for autograph. I could understand if I was yelling the whole time, but I didn’t even yell, “Ron” when I called to him. While I didn’t get the autograph, the memory I have from this moment is priceless.