Summer Reflections, 9/25/17

With the conclusion of the 2017 Empire Professional Baseball League (EPBL), the knowledge and experience that I gained will perpetually reside in me for years to come. I met so many different types of people (some more interesting or benevolent than others), and although these moments in totality only spanned the course of about two months, the relationships and memories are poignant enough to last a lifetime. Despite the fact that not everything that happened was a positive experience, some of the compelling memories I have include witnessing a major heart attack, inner-team drama, winning multiple games in a week in walk-off fashion, seeing a live show at Woodstock and personally participating in the All-Star game.

Now, I know the first memory seems outlandish and is an odd topic to begin a blog post with, but this incident impacted a conglomerate of different factors throughout the season. To begin, let me introduce our manager, Jim Hayes. I met Jim in Puerto Rico during the Puerto Rico Instructional Baseball League (PRIBL), and my first impressions of him was that he was a genuine baseball-lover who enjoyed talking anything baseball (emphasis on the talking part). Down in Puerto Rico, Jim was the pitching coach. It was obvious that he loved the art of pitching, and he even dispersed his “pitching manifesto” to the pitchers playing on the island.

When Jim drafted me to his team, the Sullivan Explorers, I was initially very excited to have been drafted and also equally pleased that it was by a manager that I was familiar with. Being a pitcher, I knew that Jim could provide me with professional pitching expertise and also manage the bullpen and pitching staff effectively. This seemed like the ideal situation when the season first got started. However, life doesn’t always work out the way it is planned in your head.

If you read my other blog post, which most people probably didn’t (I guess that’s what happens when you only post once every 3 months), you would know that our team started out very poorly making it look like a dismal season was on the horizon. To be specific, we began the year 1-3, and the team was not connecting that well on a personal level either (this issue would plague us throughout the season).

After a rough opening for the team to start my first year of pro-ball, things would become drastically worse before the start of our fifth game. Just minutes before the first-pitch was scheduled to be thrown, there was a large commotion in our dugout and after asking around, players were saying that Jim was having a heart attack. While I was not near the dugout during the incident, this turned out to be the truth, and (luckily) paramedics were driving on the field through a large gate down the right-field line in under five minutes after the episode occurred. If it were not for the efficiency of the ambulance drivers, Jim would probably not be with us today.

When the heart attack initially began, the scene looked extremely grim, and it was a traumatizing experience for me (and I’m sure everyone else present). However with the utmost quality medical staff and facilities, Jim was rehabilitated back to health and sent back to California to rest with his family and friends. He is currently doing well and plans to manage a team in the Empire League in the 2018 season.

After the initial shock of the incident with Jim wore off, the team was able to bind together to play some impressive baseball and compile some consecutive wins. We began to finally play as a single unit and dedicated each game to our ill manager. During this short-lived time of the season, it was an amazing feeling to be a part of something great, and I felt like a pro-ballplayer for the first time in my life.

We racked up some wins in the next few weeks, and we had some great momentum and synchronicity for the time being. At this time, we were so hot that one of our winning streaks was accompanied by a couple of walk-off wins in the same week. The team’s spirits were up and our goals of a league championship were lofty but plausible at this time. We finished the first half of the season in second place, but our second-half collapse was like no other.

Pitching in my first pro season taught me a lot about the lifestyle that these players live. Playing about 60 games in two months was most definitely a grind, and the season included numerous double-headers a week and a miniscule amount of off days. Finding time to enjoy moments outside of baseball was difficult but definitely possible. We had to make the most of our off days (which were few and far between) and take advantage of any events/places of interest around the ballfields. This included, but was not limited to, going to the beach/lakes and swimming holes, visiting major cities like New York and Boston, frequenting restaurants/bars, playing video games and extremely competitive dart matches (which I won 95% of the time).

However, the most exciting memory outside of baseball that I had was going to Woodstock for the first time. When we were playing at our home field at SUNY Sullivan, I continued looking up shows at Woodstock for what felt like the longest time. We were staying in a house in Liberty, New York which was only about 15 from Bethel Woods, the original site of Woodstock. Finally during our last stretch at the end of the season, the Goo Goo Dolls were set to play on a weekend. So, we rounded up the troops and headed to Woodstock after one of our games.

When we got there, I noticed how large the site was and how many people it was capable of accommodating. The size of the venue was unreal, and the attendance only eclipsed a portion of what the place was able to hold. It was memorable to finally visit the historic site of Woodstock, and it is a time that I will never forget. One of the coolest aspects of the concert was the presence of an impending thunderstorm. Because of the storm, the venue workers moved the entire audience under the pavilion located right in front of the stage. The entire crowd barely fit in the vicinity, but the closeness of the band and the audience ignited everyone in attendance. Surprisingly to me, the Goo Goo Dolls were rocking, and it was one of the most fun concerts I have been to.

One of the last experiences I want to talk about is my participation in the All-Star Game. Despite the fact that each team was only chosen from two different teams, I still felt honored to be a part of the game and its festivities. With all four teams in the league present in Plattsburgh for the weekend, it was an interesting few days for the Empire League. I enjoyed spending time with friends who were on other teams and getting to know some of the guys who I had not previously met.

On the day of the festivities, the Home-Run Derby was slated to begin first. Although the Redbirds’ field has monstrous dimensions (350’ down the lines and over 400’ to center), participants were hitting monster bombs. It was thrilling to watch this display of power but as a pitcher, it was slightly imposing to see how far the players who I would be pitching to in the All-Star could hit the ball. I was secretly hoping that all of these swings before the game would tire the home-run hitters out. The most memorable part of the derby was seeing my teammate, our third basemen Luc Pomales, win the derby.

During the actual All-Star Game, our team went behind early, and we ended up losing by a large margin. However, it was an exciting day and an honor to be included the festivities. The league comradery and different events made this an experience I will never forget.

There was a plethora of action packed into my two months of playing in my first season of pro ball. Wins and losses, walk-offs, near fights, smack-talking, fits of laughter and creative handshakes accompanied my time as a starting pitcher in the Empire League. While there are certain aspects of the season that I could have personally improved upon, overall my experience was a positive one that I can learn from and will definitely benefit my life in the future.