That first moment you open your eyes in the morning is probably the most refreshing. “You say to yourself” I am getting paid to play the game that I love. This is my job. I play a kid’s game for a living! The feeling is surreal. The thing about baseball that makes the morning so special is that you are presented with the chance to start over or do it all over again. Playing 162 games can take a toll on you, we all know that. However, the one thing to remember is that you play so many games that you must learn to flush away the previous day’s game.
For me it all started with the most important meal of the day. I’m a big “Breakfast Guy,” so a day in the life of a ball player has to begin with me getting up around 9:00am after a night game to get some breakfast. If it were the offseason I would go all out with the pancakes, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and maybe even something else sweet. Since it’s the middle of the season in St. Louis, I gotta make sure I’m “watching the figure.” I grab my backpack with my computer, headphones and notebook and head over to Rooster on Locust Street. It was walking distance from where I was staying, and a good way to shake the cobwebs. On the walk over I’m replaying all of last night’s at bats in my head, dissecting all of my mental decisions that I made over the course of the game. This isn’t to second guess myself, but to prepare myself for those same situations in the future. After I’m done thinking about the at-bats, I start thinking about all my baserunning decisions, then defense, and all other aspects of the game.
As I’m seated for breakfast I catch a couple of teammates in the corner (Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham). Most of the time, we would eat breakfast together but today I arrived a little later and I had some work to do. I needed to be with my own thoughts. I pull out my computer and headphones as the waitress asked me if I need any coffee. “Of course, I need that coffee in my system to get going!” Its crazy too because I didn’t even like coffee until my 4th year of professional ball. I always asked myself “Why do people drink this stuff? This is disgusting!”
Then, during my fourth year of pro ball, having been sent back down to High A, I needed something to get me through the long, hot, draining summers of the Florida State League. I often found myself falling asleep at my locker before we went out for pregame. One day I just said to myself, “I’m going to take down this whole cup of joe whether I like it or not, along with these animal crackers” (animal crackers are a staple in the minor league clubhouse). I ended up going 3-4 with 2 homers that night. Needless to say, from that day forward my pregame routine was caffeine and animal crackers. Everyday.
BREAKFAST AND FILM… AND A NAP
Anyway, lets get back to that Big League breakfast. I ordered my coffee along with 3 egg whites, chicken sausage, and some avocado toast. While crushing breakfast I pulled up the video of last night’s game and went over my at-bats. This was always a morning routine. I tried to breakdown my decision-making process and see how my body responded to each pitch. I focused on remembering how I felt during every pitch of each at-bat. I attempted to put myself in that batters box and visualize each pitch. I tried to really commit to memory the delivery motion of each pitcher I faced as well. I knew I was likely to face one of the same right-handed relievers since we were playing the Cubs again. I wanted to be ready and well-prepared. Often times I would write down the result of my at-bat and some adjustments that I would like to make during batting practice or in the cage that day. That’s how detailed a lot of professionals are. I personally needed to review what I did the day before because that was going to help me be most prepared and fully equipped for the next game.
After eating breakfast, I would usually head back to the crib and try to get a little nap in before heading to the stadium. I have always been a big napper and even my mom can tell you I never missed an opportunity to take a mid-day snooze. I’m the long napper too. Thirty minutes doesn’t do me any good. I need at least a good 2 hours. Then I’m rejuvenated for the rest of the day.
PREGAME CARDIO & WEIGHTS
So, I’ll get the nap in around 11-1pm and then usually eat a light lunch (rice and chicken bowl) before I head to the stadium around 1:30pm for a 7pm game. Getting to the stadium at that time gives a player plenty of time to prepare. One of the first things for me would be to get into the gym to get some light cardio and a pregame workout. Cardio was to mainly to get the body loose and then pregame workout could consist of weight training, mobility, flexibility and speedwork. I didn’t try to do too much because usually Matt Holiday was in there, throwing weights around the whole gym.
Some might think that getting a workout in before the game might cause fatigue but that isn’t the case for me. It would always give me an extra boost of energy. Also, it is important to keep your body in tip-top shape because we play a marathon season. You don’t want your body to be feeling great in the beginning of the season and then start to deteriorate or feel sluggish towards the end of the season just because you slacked on workouts. The same goes for eating habits.
That’s one of the great things about being in the Major Leagues. You know you are usually going to a great meal. With the Cardinals we had chefs whipping up any type of meals you wanted. So after the workout, I would head to the players lounge and kitchen to order something to eat. At that time you could order any type of meal you wanted right off of an iPad. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were available at all times of the day. Like I mentioned earlier, breakfast is my thing, so many times I would order an egg white omelet with all the meats or a chicken sandwich.
After that it was time to get some swings in the cages. I would usually start with tee work in a group with the guys I came up with, including Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Kolten Wong. Tee work was always something I took very seriously. I tried to concentrate on hitting the ball the same way every time and consistently working to repeat the swing religiously. Tee work often evolved into flips or front toss. Eventually I would get to hitting off the machine, which was what I felt best represented game-like action. I would work on facing high velocity fastballs, sinkers, sliders, and curveballs. A lot of times, the machine would get the best of me, but that was OK. After hitting off the machine I felt like I was most prepared for the true speed of the game.
After a few minutes of rest, around 4:00pm the position players would go for stretch and batting practice. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. Its really the first time in the day you are heading out the field and soaking up the sun. Also it is one of the few times you are out on the field working while there is no one in the stands. It’s the time you get listen to music and also listen to the sounds of the ball hitting the bat. It’s such a relaxed feeling, because there is no pressure on you at that time. It is just you and your own thoughts as you work through each one of your rounds. Whether you are working on hitting the ball to the opposite field, moving the runner over, hit-and-runs, driving the ball to the gaps, or even hitting homers, its all on you. Its your time to be efficient about what you need to work on most.
The same goes for your defense during this time. Playing both first base and outfield, it was important for me to make sure that I took this time very seriously and prioritize the position I would be playing that night. For example, if I was playing outfield later that night I would take anywhere from 20-30 groundballs and then jump out to the outfield and focus on my jump and making efficient, decisive routes to flyballs and line drives. Coaches would hit balls to me but the best thing I could do was practice reading the balls right off of that bat from the players taking batting practice (Kevin Kiermaier agrees). Those would be the most game-like reads that I could get. I would be drenched after being out there for 45 minutes. But that same sweat gave me peace of mind. That was what I needed to do in order to be ready for 7:00pm. No stone goes unturned when we are talking about preparation. That was something I learned from a lot of the older guys when I first got to the Big Leagues. When you come up and join masters like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holiday, you learn quickly what it truly means to be a professional.
After batting practice is over, I take it back to clubhouse and wind down for a bit. I will usually use this downtime to call or text anyone I need to before I really lock-in for the game. I might call the homies and let them know I’ll be on ESPN or if I am starting. I might call my parents to make sure they got into the stadium OK or to let them know how I am feeling. Both my mom and dad have always loved to put their “2 cents” in, and like a lot of moms and dads, believe they still need to coach me up. That’s love, though. Last but not least, I always call my wife, Jessica. She is someone that always seems to do an amazing job building up my confidence day in and day out. She always gave me peace of mind before game time.
Usually right at 6:00pm I would jump in the shower. I would start with hot water, and then shock the body and wake it up with cold water. Feeling energized, it was time to put on the jersey. That is another underrated part of this beautiful game. Every time I would button up that jersey, it would mean something special. Each button represented all the hard work, dedication, sacrifice and perseverance that brought me to this place and gave me the opportunity to don a Major League uniform. I never took it for granted. I was reminded of all the times I would be in the backyard playing stickball and pretending I was in the Major Leagues. At 6:30pm, I would go out for pregame and at 7:00pm, it was time to do it for real. No pretending. And to everyone who has ever dreamed of doing something big and then realized that dream, it’s the best feeling in the world. I can tell you about the moments leading up to game time, but no words can truly describe what goes on in between those lines.
Maybe I can try that in the next blog, but until then…Keep dreaming!