Hello internet! (Queue Eminem intro) It FEELS SO GOOD TO BE BACK!
It has been a lengthy 365 days since my last blog post and for the seldom few readers who are asking yourselves, “Why did it take you so long to bust out the laptop again, Bailey?” The answer is pretty simple… it’s because my last post surprisingly BLEW UP! Well, “blew up” according to my expectations at least.
Prior to “Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Change”, I think my blog site had received MAYBE a couple hundred views from my close friends and family members. So after I shared my story about pitching in my first big league spring training game, I figured the feedback would probably be more of the same.
“We are so proud of you.” “Keep working hard.” “Continue chasing your dream.”
However, to my surprise the internet seemed to take a liking to my writing style, with the post receiving over 100 retweets and 400 likes on Twitter.
Now, I’m fully aware that I live in an era where a simple tweet of a puppy wearing a seat belt can muster up a modest 1.7 million shares; so to put things in perspective, my 100 retweets really wasn’t that impressive. But for a minor league baseball player who had a whopping 500 followers at the time, 100 retweets was A HUGE DEAL.
Probably the coolest part about the whole situation was the fact that a few major social media accounts decided to share my story on their Twitter feeds. Agencies like the Houston Chronicle, Fox 26 Houston, and 9News Denver all promoted my post. Elite athletes such as Emanuel Sanders, Evan Gattis, and Jose Bautista liked my tweet. Heck even the Houston Texan’s Cheerleading team shot me a follow!
It was in that moment, that I realized I might be on to something with this whole writing thing…
All jokes aside, “Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Change” received more positive feedback than I could’ve ever imagined. Which leads me to my next topic, the title of this post… HOW THE **** DO I TOP THAT!?
The thought of creating new content that would impact other people even remotely close to my previous blog entry was daunting to say the least. As a result, I shied away from writing because I didn’t think I could ever construct something as engaging, entertaining, or interactive ever again. Not even if Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow called me up and said, “I’ll promote you to the big leagues if you write another blog post.” (If only it were that simple.)
Right on it boss!
And if severe writers block wasn’t enough, also factor in:
- Playing 142 baseball games in roughly 155 days.
- Getting my tonsils removed immediately after the 2018 season.
- And working 3 part-time jobs from October to February along with being extremely focused on my development as a baseball player.
The schedule has been just a little busy.
The good news is, I not only have some free time on a Monday afternoon to sit down and write, but I also came to the realization as to why I write in the first place. I don’t jot down my thoughts & post them “on the line” for the approval of others. I also don’t blog with the end goal of receiving ample amounts of likes and shares on social media. I write because I enjoy documenting my life. I write because I want to be able to look back and reminisce about all the laughs, fond memories, & crazy experiences as a professional athlete. It’s a way for me to be creative, laid back, and carefree in contrast to my work life which requires me to be punctual, prompt, and meticulous. It’s a hobby that I thoroughly enjoy and it’s something I plan on doing more of in the future.
So now that I’ve justified my year long writing hiatus, where should I go from here?
I could talk about living back home in my parents basement for the majority of the offseason (riveting). I could talk about how I remarkably convinced a girl to date me despite the fact that I was living in my parents basement (embarrassing). Or I could recap part of last year with the Astros and update you on where I’m at in my baseball career (somewhat interesting).
Maybe touch on all 3? Screw it, I’ve got a few hours…
First, “The Offseason”. Centered around getting better at baseball and spending quality time with family.
Since the fall of 2013 when I left for college, I’ve been away from Colorado for roughly eleven months out of the year. Summers were spent traveling for baseball. Autumns & winters were spent with my face in a textbook. Springs were a combination of both. So when the 2018 baseball season concluded, I was pumped for two reasons:
- This would be my first offseason as a college graduate!
- I get to move back in with my parents! (Not usually a sentence filled with excitement from a single, 23 year old guy but hey its true).
I missed my mom, dad, and little sister Bri. And while it’s always great seeing them when they would fly out to watch me play in places like Corpus Christi or West Palm Beach, it’s also bitter sweet because their weekend visits always seem to pass with the blink of an eye.
During a minor league baseball season, guys don’t have large amounts of free time to sit, relax, and soak in the presence of their families. Instead, we wake up around 9:00am, shower, eat some breakfast, and then head to the field around noon. From that point on, players like myself are at the stadium the rest of the day, working on developing our baseball skills until the 7 o’clock game concludes around ten or eleven each night. This usually means that guys only get to see their families during breakfast hours and then after the game for dinner. Not exactly the most eventful family gatherings but we work with the time we have.
As the extensive season presses on, long periods away from loved ones can start to take a toll on ball-players, creating that uneasy feeling of being homesick. So when the 2018 season came to a close and I was presented with the chance to move back in with my parents, I decided quality family time was much needed after nonstop traveling for 5 years straight.
Being back home in Broomfield, I noticed that it was the little things that I’d missed more than anything. Little things like sitting down to family dinners prepared by my mom Antionette. Or hanging out in the living room, cheering on the Zags basketball team with my parents during tough matchups against schools like Duke & North Carolina. But what I missed more than anything was playing and joking around with my baby cousins.
Life comes at you fast; It’s theses types of moments that make coming home so special.
Second, “The Lady Friend”. A true underdog story about how a broke minor-leaguer landed a California smoke show.
Let me start by saying this… I out kicked my coverage on this one. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s like the universe decided I’d been through enough **** in my personal life and my reward for putting up with all of it was a VIP ticket to the electric factory.
The story begins 5 years ago after my high school girlfriend broke up with me during my first semester of college. My family had recently moved to Tucson, Arizona because of my dad’s job, so when I returned home for Christmas break I was all bent out of shape.
I’m never going to find somebody. Why is this happening? The world is ending.
The usual crap. Over exaggerating the situation like any 18 year old would.
My little sister Bri being the great person that she is, tried doing everything she could to cheer me up.
“Bubba you’re going to be fine. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Here, take a look at my new friend Rachel...”
“Um… Bri. Who is that?” I asked in shock (Electric factory. No pun intended).
“That’s my new friend Rachel,” she replied, “I met in modeling class.”
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“Are you going to introduce me to your new friend Rachel from modeling class?” I asked.
“Well I can… but there’s one minor problem,” Bri explained, “She kinda’ got a boyfriend.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me sis! If she’s dating someone, why would you show me her Instagram and get my hopes up?” I joked.
“I just wanted to prove a point that other people are out there and clearly you’re picking up what I’m putting down,” she laughed.
Well played sis. Well played.
After my conversation with Bri I decided to shoot this “Rachel chick” a follow. A simple reminder to myself that there ARE other fish in the sea indeed. And as an added bonus, she followed me back. Chalk that one up in the win column!
Fast forward 5 years and you’ll find me, a single 23, about to be 24 year old just enjoying life in Broomfield, Colorado in October. My family had moved back to our home state in 2014 after one year in Arizona. And while we enjoyed having a swimming pool in our backyard, we really didn’t vibe well with the rattle-snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas that wanted to join the party. After 4 years at Gonzaga University, I had finally finished my degree and was pleased with the direction my life was headed. A solid first year with the Astros gave me confidence. Landing a job at the local Oakley store provided me with some income. And to top it off, living rent free in my parents basement while dominating NBA 2K19 wasn’t a bad setup either. I’d say I was 100% content with this prime-time bachelor lifestyle.
But occasionally when you think you’ve got everything figured out, life throws you a curveball. Sometimes it’s a Clayton Kershaw hook where you need a tennis racquet to have a fighting chance. Other times, it’s a Lance McCullers breaker where you couldn’t hit it even if you knew it was coming. But every once in awhile, you get a hanger. You get the pitch you’re looking for. An offering where you can get your front foot down, cheat the hip, let’er rip, and absolutely annihilate it over the centerfield wall!
On October 5th, 2018, Rachel Shrode threw me a curveball & I read spin ladies and gentleman.
It was a relaxing evening and I had just finished the last episode of Game of Thrones: Season 7 (Mind. Blown.). Before I went to bed, I decided to check out Instagram for a few minutes. The first picture that popped up on my feed was posted by @_littlefitlife, a.k.a. Rachel so I decided to check out her profile, noticing immediately that all of the pictures with the guy she’d been dating were gone…
For the first time in 5 years, both Rachel and I were single at the exact same time. I knew this would probably be my only opportunity to make a move so I decide to do what any other 24 year old guy would in this situation… slide into the DM’s, shoot my shot, & pray.
To my surprise, I tried stretching a single into a double, slid head first, and I was safe. I completed the 60 yard Hail-Mary with no time left on the clock. I drained the 35-foot, buzzer beater to win the game. Jose Altuve, Roger Staubach, & James Harden would be proud.
Fast forward 6 months and things couldn’t get much better. Rachel recently landed a job with a marketing company in Houston and I reported to spring training in mid-February which means baseball season is just around the corner. After some serious talks about what would be best for both of us long term, Rachel and I have decided that we are moving to Texas together once Spring Training breaks! We are both very excited to start this new journey and we’re looking forward to what the future has in store.
And finally, “The Baseball”. A brief recap of my first season as an Astro followed by a quick update on where things stand in 2019.
If I had to describe my first year as a member of the Astros farm system, I would probably start with the phrase, “It was a learning experience.”
2018 was a little bit of a roller coaster ride with some intense highs and lows in terms of my overall performance on the baseball field. For every great outing I had, it seemed like the next was a guaranteed struggle to make it out of the first inning. I couldn’t seem to find my groove and with each bad outing that surfaced, the negative self-talk and self-doubt slowly grew.
Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was. Maybe the Astros made a mistake trading for me. I wonder what my coaches and teammates think?
For the first time in my professional career, I was uncertain if I was good enough to pitch in the big leagues, analyzing every 3 ball count, walk, and earned run.
What I didn’t understand was that the Astros player development staff was purposely challenging me to get out of my comfort zone, propelling me to throw more curveballs and sliders rather than my bread & butter fastball-changeup combo. This new challenge forced me to deal with some failure and adversity; and while no player ever wants to be told that they have blaring weaknesses in their game, sometimes it’s the brutally honest conversations that lead to the biggest improvements.
“We’re not preparing you to have success in the Carolina League,” my High-A pitching coach Drew French explained to me one day after a tough outing, “We are preparing you to have success in the big leagues.”
This quote really resonated with me because it put my on- field struggles into perspective. It’s easy to practice the things you’re already good at. During the 2018 season, I learned that if I wanted to reach my ultimate goal, I needed to get comfortable practicing the things I wasn’t. It was a humbling 6 months of baseball.
With the help of Astros pitching coaches Chris Holt, Josh Miller, Drew French, and Bill Murphy, along with Astros mental skills coordinator Jesse Michel, I was able to make some huge strides in my development. Through countless trial & error repetitions and my fair share of 1 on 1 mental skills meetings, I found adjustments that worked for me, making drastic improvements in all areas of my game.
As for where things stand today? I’m currently in the final stretch of my second spring training with the Astros here in West Palm Beach, Florida. And while I might not have the slam dunk story about my first time pitching in a big league Spring Training game, I’ve got a small side story equivalent to a fundamental layup…
It was this past Monday, March 11th and I’d been asked to go suit up for the big league team. I checked the schedule when I arrived at the park and wouldn’t you know it, we were playing the Mets! (Talk about deja vu)
From here, you probably know the drill. I walked over to the big league side of the complex, grabbed my uniform from the clubby (number 91 this time, moving up in the world) and then made my way to the cafeteria to punish myself with the big league lunch spread.
I stacked my plate with a mountain of food, found the nearest place to sit, and assumed the position. The table I picked didn’t have a single soul and although I felt way more comfortable backing up for the big league squad this time around, I still didn’t have the cajones to take a seat next to Carlos Correa & Lance McCullers and chat it up about APEX Legends.
As I started to stuff my face with lemon chicken, brown rice, and mixed veggies, my buddy Corbin Martin came and sat down with me. Martin, a 23 year old right handed pitcher from southeast Texas, is a pitching prospect Astros fans should be really excited about because he throws his fastball in the mid to upper 90’s, has solid command and displays two, above-average, power breaking balls. The guy can flat out pitch and in my opinion, will probably be helping the Astros get back to the World Series sooner rather than later.
I first met Corbin last year when we both were assigned to High-A Buies Creek. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this Texas country boy was probably one of the funnier guys I’ve ever met; constantly cracking jokes, doing hilarious imitations, and telling crazy stories about his home state. When he sat down at my table I felt a sigh of a relief because I was no longer the Steven Glansberg of the big league cafeteria. He and I small talked about how spring training was going and when both of us were scheduled to pitch next. Then out of nowhere, another guy sat down to my right…
I was mid-sip into my blueberry Powerade when Justin Verlander sat down at our table and I’m 90% sure part of the sports drink fell out of the side of my mouth. Here’s a guy that has been dominating baseball since he first broke into the league back in 2006 and is hands down a first ballot Hall of Famer. I was twelve when he won the American League Rookie of the Year in Detroit. In 2017, while I worked towards finishing my degree at Gonzaga University, Verlander was dominating the postseason, leading the Astros to their first World Series title ever. And now it’s 2019 and we’re having lunch together… what is going on?
Thank God Corbin was there to spark up a conversation with Verlander because I was literally speechless. All I could do was keep repeating the same thing over and over in my head…
Just act normal, don’t say anything stupid! Just act normal, don’t say anything stupid!
I’m pretty sure I didn’t move, blink, or breathe for the entire conversation. And right when I was about to muster up the courage to introduce myself to the Cy Young winner, another player sat down across from me at the table… Michael Brantley Jr.
As if the Astros weren’t already stacked, the addition of Brantley takes this team to a whole new level. With Bryce Harper being the center of attention in regards to outfield free-agents this offseason, I feel like Brantley flew under the radar and was an absolute steal for the Astros. The guy slashed .309/.364/.468 last year and had the 3rd highest AB to K ratio in all of baseball. Add him into a lineup already filled with elite contact hitters like Altuve, Bregman, & Correa, and you’ve got yourself lots of baserunners and seldom few strikeouts.
Once again, I had little to contribute to the following conversation that would take place between Verlander, Brantley, and Martin about autograph hounds that infiltrate the facility during Spring Training. This was a problem I’d yet to experience considering I enter through the minor league side everyday and I’m usually mistaken for the bat boy when I’m in uniform 9 times out of 10 anyways. Perks of being 5’9 I guess.
My plate was now empty and I was contemplating getting up and exiting towards the locker room. The only problem was, I couldn’t get my legs to work. So rather than risk doing something clumsy like bumping the table and spilling Verlander’s fresh cup of coffee, I decided to sit and attempt to not move a single muscle. Yes, this was actually my thought process at that point in time. There’s a 100% chance that if I spilled a hot cup of Joe all over Verlander’s lap, I’m getting released on the spot, that day by the Astros. Couldn’t afford to risk it.
Just act normal, don’t say anything stupid. Drink your **** Justin…
After what seemed like an eternity (but in actuality was only 5 minutes time) Verlander, Brantley, & Martin all finished their plates and stood up from the table. I quickly followed, exhaling a huge sigh of relief.
Good job B! You didn’t completely embarrass yourself. Instead, Verlander & Brantley think you don’t speak english.
Eh, I’ll take it. Way better than getting released…