With spring training upon us it is fitting to write a post about my experience as a catcher in spring training. The first day of spring training was always my favorite day of every year. The is not much better than being able to go out to a beautiful baseball field every morning, inhaling the fresh cut grass, wearing your new kicks into the stadium, pulling out all your new bats and gear, breaking in a new mitt, and digging a fresh pair of spikes into the dirt. I can remember sitting in anticipation a few weeks prior to the beginning of spring training. I couldn't wait to pack my car, hop in, and drive the 10 hour drive down to Orlando, Florida, with my windows down and music blasting.
Since I was a catcher I got to report to spring training earlier than all the other players. The way the Braves did it was pretty cool. They held what was called "mini camp" prior to the big camp getting started and I always received an invite to that part of camp. We usually had 2 catchers, a few pitchers, and a couple position players there during those mini camps. Those were some of the best days of camp as we got to have more attention than any other time during camp since it was such a small group.
Here is what a typical day looked like at mini camp:
6:15- Wake Up
7:15- Drive to complex
7:30- Dressed and ready
7:45- Walk to field
8:00- Stretch and Warm Up
8:45- Bull Pens
9:45- Batting Practice
12:00- Weight Room
Once we finished our work, we were done for the day and free to do as we pleased. The best part of being in Orlando was the food and the outlets. We stayed in Fairfield Inn and Suites off the Lake Buena Vista exit which was situated less than a mile from an Outback Steakhouse, Quizno's, and the Outlet Mall. After finishing up the short days at the field I would head back to the hotel for a two hour nap then get a few laps in at the outlet mall, checking out everything they had to offer, but spending very little since I was on the minor league budget.
With the Braves, our mini camp lasted about 8-10 days, then more guys would join us for camp. After a few more weeks the entire group of guys would make it down. Days got longer and a lot more hectic when the whole group arrived. Our days would start at the stadium at 8am with your designated training for the morning. Some days it would be defensive work, other days it would be hitting, and sometimes base running. We would train for an hour, until 9am, then the group would come together on one field for a meeting. After the meeting we would break into our designated fields for Short A, A, AA, and AAA teams to begin our team stretch with a strength coach and trainer. We would then go into practice until lunch which was always around noon.
Most spring training facilities have what we call a "10 pack". The 10 pack is a set of 10 pitching mounds and 10 plates where the catchers and pitchers usually report to right after the morning stretch. We would catch 3-4 bull pens each, depending on the work load for the day. This was a time that I loved to work on my receiving skills, developing my hands as much as possible. Not only that, but learning my pitchers that I would be catching throughout the season. Bullpens are a great time to learn your pitchers, see what their pitches do, and build a solid foundation with them.
Lunch was back in the clubhouse and it lasted about an hour. With Atlanta, we had a cook named Guillermo who prepared our food for us everyday in camp. We used to joke around about what we were given to eat when it was "ribs" day because most times Guillermo would give us A rib, not ribs. So we would say things like, "hey did you get 'rib' today?" After lunch we would go back out to our fields for an afternoon game, or we would hop on the bus for a road game.
The games usually lasted anywhere from 2.5-3 hours so our days wrapped up on the field around 4 pm. If we were on the road we would take the team bus back to our facility and shower up, usually finishing the day around 6pm for road games and 5pm for home games. They were long days but they were well worth it.
My most memorable moment in spring training was the day I got to listen to Braves great, Tom Glavine, speak to the entire group of Braves minor league players. The biggest piece of advice he gave us was to remember that it was our career and the coaches always have good intentions in trying to help us, but, we had to take ownership of our own learning and not rely completely on the coaches to tell us everything. If their advice didn't work, then we needed to simply do it in a way that we were able to be our best.
Today marks the day that many guys around the country are headed to their respective spring training facilities in anticipation of the new season. I can only imagine the excitement that many of the young guys feel as they are making their way to their first spring training, and the excitement that some of the guys feel who are getting their first chance to attend big league camp.