Huge impact so far on the Florida Marlins hitting at the top of the order. His speed has transformed that team that was long ball or nothing.He’s changed the dynamic – even if he doesn’t get a hit or goes into a slump by bunting, moving the pitcher off the mound, little things like that have changed the offense. And the biggest benefit is when he’s on first base. You hit a gapper, this guy is going to score.
From a fan perspective, it is incredible. Beautiful! They have huge columns as you walk through the corridor and the best way to describe it is, when you were walking in old Yankee Stadium everyone was shoulder to shoulder. Now you have enough space for everyone to walk through and move freely. And they have great big photos of the all-time greats with amazing action shots, each one probably 30 feet tall. It reminds you of being in the Roman Colosseum, it’s truly amazing.
The playing field – we’re seeing what can happen on the diamond. The ball is jumping out there, particularly to right field. There’s a little open area in right center where you can see the train – their effort to keep things as true to the old stadium as possible – but in that area where you can see the tracks is where the ball flies the most. You hit a ball in that direction and it’s going to carry. And I don’t see anything ending that any time soon unless they decide to change the dimensions. Until then, the ball will continue to carry out of Yankee Stadium.
Always love opening day. It’s one of the most fun times of the year – I believe it should be a National Holiday! When I was a kid, the season didn’t start until the Cincinnati Reds played that day game. I’m kind of disappointed we lost that tradition in baseball, where the Reds played a day game and then the rest of baseball starts. It was the tradition that always got it going.
My personal memories of opening day always have to do with the 25-man roster. For instance, 1985 – I had a good spring, it was the first year I broke camp with the big club. It was the Sunday before the season and there were 26 men on the roster. Darnell Coles and I were roommates. We roomed together starting in 1981, all the way through the minors. 1985 was the first year I really had a chance to make the club out of spring training. We broke camp and went to Seattle, played all the exhibition games there and it was Sunday night – Monday is opening day, the rosters have to be set. We’re in our room and the phone rings – we know one of us is going down. I still think to this day whoever answered the phone they were gonna say “you made the club” and whoever didn’t was going down. So he’s on his side of the room, I’m on mine, and we’re diving across the beds to get to the phone in the middle – we fight, roll on the ground, I get the phone…
“Who is this?”
“Congratulations, you made the team.”
It was bittersweet because I knew Darnell was going down. But, lo and behold, the way things were working back then in Seattle, we’re playing in Boston a couple months later and all of a sudden Darnell is walking into the clubhouse. He comes in and I say, “Alright, DC!, What’s up?”. This guy was the best man at my wedding, my good friend my whole career, and he walks in and says:
“You’re going to triple A.”
I get sent down, he gets called up. We were on that roller coaster with each other for quite some time.
Great game, exciting! Great catch from Beltran, big home runs from Delgado, Rios, Youkilis – it was back and forth, everything you can ask. Some solid pitching performances – we saw JJ Putz put away Delgado and Beltran with nasty splits – so the game had everything. But at the end of the day, for me, the most important sequence of the night was in the ninth inning with runners at first and second, no outs and Derek Jeter comes to the plate. You’re wondering, “What is Davey Johnson gonna do?” Jeter had struck out in his last at-bat, but obviously he has a history in big moments. So do you let him swing or do you ask him to bunt to move the runners over? He’s one of the best bunters in baseball. I thought it was interesting because what’s going through the managers mind is “I got a guy at the plate who is not going to hit into a double play” – you’re hoping he’s not unless he hits a bullet right at someone – so that’s why he lets him swing. He hit a rocket to right field which moved Victorino to third and Roberts stayed at first. I think if it wasn’t the combination of speed on base in Victorino and Roberts, you may have seen Jeter bunting. But with those base runners, if he strikes out those two guys can steal bases. If he bunts them over, you’ve got your hottest hitters coming up and they may pitch around the next guy to set up a double play. Those are the things that Davey factored through his mind. The way it worked out, Jeter ends up flying out and it left first and third and Roberts was able to steal second. That’s the kind of thing that makes the game so interesting.
What did I think? What’s my strategy? I thought that with Rollins, Youkilis, David Wright coming up that Jeter bunts. But, as it turned out, he didn’t and it worked out pretty good.
Spring training is not about wins and losses, it’s about progress. What I mean by that is, there’s three tiers of players: 1) the young guy trying to get established, 2) the established player, 3) the old guy trying to fit. Each one of them has nothing to do with wins and losses. Spring training is about development in those three categories. We would like to believe it’s important that your team is 5-0 in spring training, as opposed to being 0-5, but at the end of the day it’s about the three categories of players.
Let me explain.
If I’m a young player, trying to make an impression, trying to make the team, this is my spring training because the established, veteran guys are playing in the World Baseball Classic. They’re gone. If I’m on a team that has a player in the WBC that plays my position, I have to capitalize because I’m in front of the big league manager every day. And the longer I’m in front of him, the better off I am.
If I’m that established player, spring training to me is getting ready for that bell to ring in April. I want to make sure I have my swing right – I’m gonna take a couple of at bats then I’m going down to the lower fields and I’m working on base hits. And honestly, I don’t know if we won or lost that game we played until I check the board the next day to see what hitting group I’m in. You’re gone. You come out of the game in the 4th inning, and they play another couple more hours – you’re already at dinner before that game is over.
For that veteran guy, like Pedro Martinez, this is a very important time in spring training. You have to show people what you can do and that’s why the WBC is important. It’s high level competition and teams are going to use that to evaluate. That’s why the Red Sox signed Matsuzaka when they did, because he pitched so well in the WBC. If you think it’s not important, it’s important. It’s important because it is great scouting ground where all the top scouts know they got all the top talent in the world in these four different regions. And if they want to go scout a player, this is when they go. If they want to see if a kid from Korea can really compete, then they’re going to watch him play. If someone wants to see if Yu Darvish is really as great as they say, when else are they going to see him compete on stage in international competition and really know if he can get major league hitters out.
It’s a very interesting spring.
In 1986, I was a young second baseman in the Seattle Mariners’ system fighting to stay in the big leagues. I had already achieved one of my goals of playing in the Major Leagues a few years earlier when I was called up at the end of September 1983. In 1985, I reached another personal goal when I made the Opening Day roster for the first time. You would think I would have been on top of the world! Not the case. I would struggle through that season, playing part-time and hitting only .144. Miserable, frustrated and unsatisfied with my performance, I considered quitting baseball at the end of the season.
Many people would say I was living the dream, but for me, I couldn’t live with being mediocre. I knew I was better but just couldn’t put it together. I had been an All-Star at every level in the Minor Leagues and didn’t understand why I was struggling in the big leagues while others I outperformed in the minors wasn’t. In the fall of 1986, a conversation with Casey Treat, a pastor friend of mine, would change all that.
Casey challenged me to “stretch my goals and stretch my vision.”
“Big goals produce big results and little goals produce little results,” he would say. “Your problem is not in your ability but rather in your thinking. How you see yourself determines who you are and what you will become.”
He continued, “You need to renew your mind (thinking) and see yourself as God sees you — as a champion.”
“A true champion,” he would say, “responds to the challenge, not the problem.”
Quitting, as far as he was concerned, was not an option.
“You need to have bigger goals and bigger vision! Playing in the big leagues is nice but you should be an All-Star player. Stretch your goals and challenge yourself. Dedicate yourself to being the best you can possibly be!”
He gave me an earful that day and I’m grateful for it. Now don’t get me wrong, the conversation set me back at first, but he did get through to me.
As I examined myself, I started thinking back to when first I started competing in baseball at age five. That first year in Little League, I performed so well I was picked to the All-Star Team even though I was the youngest kid in the league. In fact, it didn’t stop with Little League. After that summer and every year going forward — high school, college and the Minor Leagues — I would become an All-Star at every level. An All-Star in every sport I participated in: football, basketball, track and even wrestling.
1. Be willing to make adjustments
I went back home to Oregon to work out in January before the 1986 season with a renewed fire and a fresh perspective. I knew Greatness does not come by osmosis; you have to work at it. Working is the easy part. The tough stuff is being willing to make adjustments. I knew I needed to make some changes in my swing and approach at the plate but was unsure of what to do. I was lost and needed to find the stroke that had made me an All Star at every level. When I got to the big leagues, I had been given so many confusing messages from coaches.
“Hold your hands high.”
“Hold your hands low.”
“Swing at the first fastball you see.”
“Don’t swing until you get two strikes.”
I heard it all! I was too coachable. I listened to too many coaches and tried to incorporate all of their instructions. It seemed every time I got around big league coaches and discussed my hitting problems, they all agreed on one thing as a solution — that I should “hit the ball on the ground and use my speed”.
I had heard that crap from the first day I signed a pro contract. “Hit the ball on the ground”. Hitting the ball on the ground does not automatically result in base hits. They pay guys millions of dollars to field ground balls. If the defense positions themselves correctly, you should be able to throw out a batter hitting nothing but ground balls every time. This isn’t Little League, where you find the weakest link to hit the ball to. This is Major League Baseball! I have yet to see a player outrun a throw from a Major League infielder on a ground ball hit hard right at the defender.
I knew I had to hit line drives and balls in the gaps to have success. I did it in the minors and knew I had to do it in the big leagues. As long as they kept preaching ground balls and I didn’t make the adjustment to hit line drives, I was never going to stay in the majors, let alone be an All-Star. I changed my swing and approach at the plate that winter. It took a couple years, but the hard work and adjustments I made paid off.
2. Be realistic: set reachable goals
In 1981, my first season in the Minor Leagues, I was named the Midwest League Prospect of the Year, playing for the Wausau Timbers in Wausau, WI. That season, I hit .296, stole 69 bases and hit 12 home runs, but I also committed 30 errors at second base. The following spring training I sat with my infield instructor, Marty Martinez, to set defensive goals for the upcoming season, I said to him, “I am only going to make five errors all year.” He laughed and said, “Hold on–what are you going to do after the first week and you have already committed five errors? Let’s be realistic! Set reachable goals. If you commit 25 errors in the season, that’s a positive improvement from last year.” Goals should be something that you get excited about, not something that makes you feel depressed and inadequate! They should motivate you to get out of bed in the morning and look forward to what the day might bring!
3. Assess the competition and stay within yourself
I looked at the second basemen in the American League and the talent was rich. Their accomplishments were just as impressive. Several were already All-Stars, Gold Glove Winners, Silver Slugger Award Winners and World Series heroes. Frank White in Kansas City was the smoothest fielder of the group, and in my opinion, the best defensive second baseman in the history of baseball. Willie Randolph in New York could do it all — an incredible combination of power, speed and toughness. Lou Whitaker in Detroit had tremendous power. Vance Law in Chicago was a great hitter. Damaso Garcia in Toronto had unlimited potential, Jim Gantner in Milwaukee was a great situational player and Bobby Grich in Anaheim was way ahead of his time–a 6’2, 200-lb stud.
You didn’t have g
uys of Grich’s size playing second base in those days. He hit for power, average, could run and field his position. When I finished assessing the group, my first thought was, “I have no business in this group.”
I had to look for something positive that made me realize I could compete with these men. I knew I wasn’t going to be the type of player who hit 25 home runs or drove in 100 runs. I was going to catch the ball and make contact. When I looked at the physical stature of each man, outside of Bobby Grich, we were all basically the same size: 5’11”, 165 pounds. That was it. The common denominator I needed.
When I was able to reduce them from the giants they were in my head, to the same size of the man I saw in the mirror, the vision came alive. They all had a special skill that stood out amongst the group, but once I set that skill aside, it cleared my vision and I realized not only were we similar in physical stature, but we basically all had a similar style of play — catch the ball, hit for good average and don’t make mistakes. After assessing the competition, I concluded that if I could play within myself, which meant catching the ball, putting it in play and stealing bases, why couldn’t I be an All-Star too?
“As a man sees himself, so is he.”