Thursday, February 23, 2012

Player Interview: Evan Gattis, C, Rome Braves (Class A, South Atlantic League)

FEB 23rd, 2012-As a follow-up to my previous article on Evan Gattis, I asked him for some personal insight into the long, arduous path he traveled from his time as a troubled teen to All-Star catcher in the pro ranks. He was kind enough to oblige.

When you left baseball initially, what would you say was the greatest reason?

I felt like there was something more important I had to "figure out".

Did you feel that baseball had, more or less, become your whole life, and that it had somehow made you forget who you were as a person, apart from the game? That you had to remember who you were, in a sense?

Not so much the baseball part of it. I felt like there was something missing no matter how good I was at ball.
But I like that you (mention) "remember", because when people feel like themselves, it's an overwhelmingly familiar sense.

That's a very good answer. When you first hit the road, did you have an idea as to what you wanted to accomplish, or was it just a matter of getting away from the world you knew and learning a bit about life in general?

Well, I finished a semester of junior college when I was enrolled at Seminole State College (Oklahoma) and I was actually giving up the "spiritual search" initially, but later on I wanted to surround myself with people of common interest.

So you were driven to learn about yourself, as well as what life was really about?

Yeah, whatever the motivation the story for everyone is the same; for me it was for relief of depression. Some people lose a child, some people do outrageously courageous things and they don't know how they did it, some people go their whole life with a sense of lack and they know their death is approaching. It happens differently for everyone but it's the same dynamic. It's a search, it wasn't like a hobby. I wanted help.

I can certainly relate to that. I understand the impact that depression can have on both the life of the person suffering and the friends and family who care for that person. I've seen it both as a health care provider and as someone who's suffered from it, personally.

Right, it's hard on everyone. And who wants to be around a depressed person? And who wants to be depressed?

It's hard for a lot of people to understand, so I think they shy away from the subject. At what point did you feel like you had reached an understanding about what you were going through? Was there a moment of epiphany for you?

Many, in fact. It seemed to be a process. The endgame was in Santa Cruz. I knew I had nothing to look for, and it's funny; when you don't look you find (it). Not that you find anything, just that you don't have to look, because the search is exhausting.

Would you say your experiences on the road strengthened your desire to play baseball, or perhaps allowed you to enjoy the game more?

I appreciate it more. I can enjoy it full on, without wondering if there is something more important to be doing.

So your time away from the game was sort of a liberating experience for you, in many ways?

Yes, that was the whole point: liberation!

Now I'd like to ask you about your experiences with rehab, if you're comfortable with talking about that.

Yeah. I was 17 and terrified of failing a drug test for pot, and I didn't want to be a "mess up".

So it was an easy decision for you?

It kind of happened fast and I was depressed. Seemed like a good decision.

Certainly seems like it worked out for you. Last question: was rehab particularly tough for you, or did you get through it without much much difficulty?

It wasn't tough and kind of refreshing. It wasn't the happiest of places, but it was good to talk to people.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Player Interview: Adrian Houser, RHP, Greeneville Astros (Short-Season, Appalachian League)

Hopefully,” he said, “be better than Roy Halladay.”
-Adrian Houser, when asked about his career aspirations

FEB 14th, 2012-When you aim, aim high. Adrian Houser has done just that.

The 2nd round pick of the Houston Astros in last year's June Amateur Draft may one day reach that goal. Whatever he accomplishes in his pro career, it's likely that he'll deflect a lot of the credit.

The talent is mine, but the glory is His”, reads the Twitter profile of this young righty, and it's the kind of sentiment that's seen so rarely these days. Of course, different people see it different ways: when Tim Tebow kneels in the end zone, it's seen by many as pretentious and false humility, for example. But I'll leave that debate to the religious-minded folks. For now.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

Drafted out of Locust Grove HS in Oklahoma, Houser saw barely a handful of games in the GCL before his promotion to the Appy League, where his numbers (for the most part) mirrored his performance in the Gulf. Two of his friends, Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy, were also drafted, only slightly ahead of Houser. He found out about his selection via text message while visiting his ailing grandfather in the hospital on Tuesday.

I didn’t even see it,” Houser said when asked what his first reaction was to seeing that he had been drafted. “I was actually at the hospital and some of my friends texted me and called me said, ‘congrats.’ And I was like, ‘on what?’

That’s when they said, ‘you’ve been drafted by the Astros.’ And I couldn’t really talk, but I was really excited.”

It's fitting that this young man should react that way. At first glance, he appears to be the reserved and unassuming type. He doesn't even have an agent (as far as is known by this writer), but does have 'financial advisers'. As well he should; second round draft picks don't exactly get minimum wage, you know.

Some additional info from Ultimate Astros, who have a pretty good writeup on Houser, themselves:

Houser was a three-sport athlete at Locust Grove, pitching on a Class 4A state championship team as a senior (10-1, 0.62 ERA, with 28 walks and 125 strikeouts in 62 innings. The repertoire of the 6-4, 205-pound Houser includes a two- and four-seam fastball, a knuckle curve he learned from his father, a slurve and a changeup he rarely threw in games as an amateur.

With a little of the cold, hard facts behind us, let's get to the young man, himself:

First, I'd like to congratulate you on your 2nd round selection and welcome you, in my own small way, to the Houston Astros.

The first that caught my eye was that you learned the knuckle-curve from your father. What was his athletic background? Did he encourage you to be a pitcher when you were younger?

My dad played football and baseball during high school.  He was the first All-Stater in school history. He did so in football. He came close to being one in baseball also.  He had a chance to play college football, but decided to stick with baseball. He played a few years of college baseball.  When I was younger he didn't encourage one way or the other. We just worked and practiced on both.

The Diamondbacks drafted Archie Bradley, while the Orioles picked Dylan Bundy, two friends of yours. Do you have any special recollections of facing them on the diamond? How would you describe each of their pitching styles as compared to yours?

I've always thought about all three of us making it to the Big Leagues and playing one another some day because we've know each other since we were about eight years old and played ball together until our high school years.  It would be really cool to pitch against them in the future.  I can't really describe their pitching styles because I haven't seen them pitch in several years. I think we each have things that are different and some things are the same.

Knowing, at least in a general sense, where you stood when compared to other local talents, where did you see yourself going in the draft? It's OK to be honest. :)

To be honest I saw myself going anywhere from the first round to the tenth round in the draft.  I just didn't know where I was going to fall in between there.

Have you ever thought about what you would do with your life if you weren't playing baseball (knock on wood)?

I really never gave it much thought on what I'd do if I wasn't playing baseball (knock on wood).  I've always wanted to play Major League Baseball, even when I was five, and that's all I've ever really thought about doing.  Baseball is really all I've ever known.  I love to play it and love the game.  I hope to be playing for years to come.

Was there one coach from your earlier playing days who particularly sticks in your mind, and if so, why?

The one coach that sticks in my mind and always will is my dad.  He coached me since I was seven years old all the way until high school and he even helped coach the last two years of my high school years.  He sticks in my mind because he has always been there for me and has always pushed me to be better then I was the day before.  He is also the one that taught me how to be competitive and compete in every thing that I did.  I'll always be thankful for what he's done for me.

How hard has it been to adjust to life in the minors? Have there been any memorable moments for you, so far?

It hasn't been real had to adjust because the summer before the draft I spent almost the whole summer on the road playing baseball and away from my friends and family.  I got to see them a little more than I do now, but it hasn't been all that hard.  The hardest part is not getting to hangout with my friends every day of the summer.  There have been a few games that I've pitched good in, but nothing really memorable so far.  I'm sure there will be though.

Has there been one specific adjustment you've had to make now that you're facing pro players as opposed to high schoolers?

The biggest adjustment I've had to make is to make sure that I hit my spots and don't miss.  In high school I could miss every now and then and get away with it, but in pro ball if I miss too many times I'll pay a price for it.

What normally goes through your mind right before a start? How about while you're on the mound?

It's hard to describe what goes through my head before a start.  I try to stay as relaxed as I can and try not to get tensed up about the game. Once I start getting loose and ready for the game I think about the hitters I'm going to face and how I should pitch to them.  When I am on the mound I think about just throwing to the glove, hitting my spots, staying relaxed and focused, not letting the things around me bother me.

If there were one thing you could change about pro baseball, anything at all, what would it be?

I don't believe I would change one thing about pro baseball the way it is now.  I just have to play the game I love.

If you could pass on some advice to the younger players, what would it be?

I would have to say to dream big and work hard for those dreams to come true. You have to dream BIG but act BIGGER.  Don't let people tell you that you can't do something because you can if you work for it.  People that say you can't should be the ones to motivate you even more to prove them wrong and that you can do it, but you should already be motivated to make your dreams come true yourself.