Saturday, May 05, 2012

Player Interview: Mitchell Lambson, LHP, Houston Astros (MiLB)

Lambson in a bullpen session (Houston Astros
Spring Training, 3-4-2012)
MAY 4th, 2012-I recently had the opportunity to speak with a young man who is as enthusiastic about the game of baseball as any player I've ever known (and definitely more so that some). That player is former ASU standout and 2011 Houston draftee LHP Mitchell Lambson, who made his debut with the New York-Penn League's Tri-City ValleyCats, last year (stats).

Let's get right to it, shall we?

1. During your time in this year's Spring Training, what would you say has been your greatest challenge?

Spring training was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.  It was my first spring training this year so I'd say the biggest challenge was being in a new place and figuring out what spring training is about.  I had plenty of help from my Tri-City teammates as well as help from new teammates I met at spring training to get the hang of things, and I had a great time meeting all the staff and players.

2. When you were drafted by Houston in the 19th round of last year's draft, what was the first thought that went through your mind? Did you have a notion as to where you might be drafted?

Lambson in pitcher's fielding practice (Houston Astros
Spring Training, 3-4-2012)
I immediately felt honored and pretty excited when I got drafted last spring.  It was my dream since I first started playing t-ball when I was 4 years old and to be a professional baseball player.  Getting drafted was a special moment for myself, my family, and all of my coaches, friends, and teammates who helped me to get drafted.

3. You've garnered quite a few honors in your time in amateur baseball. Is there one in particular of which you are the proudest, and why? 

I would say playing in the College World Series was the biggest honor in my amateur baseball career.  For one, it was such an awesome team achievement to reach the CWS.  I feel blessed and very grateful I got to be on two teams that made it to Omaha, as well as another team that was one win away.  Playing in the CWS was also a dream of mine since I first watched games at Rosenblatt on ESPN.  One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Arizona State was because I knew I would have a great shot at making it to the CWS.

4. You were able to play on the same Arizona State team with your brother, Mark, who had a strong showing in 10 games (23 2/3 IP) in 2011. How do you feel you compare with him, both ability-wise and in terms of personality?

Houston wasn't digging the long hair look.
Lambson reacted accordingly.
(Houston Astros Spring Training, 3-7-2012)
Playing with my brother Mark at ASU was awesome and something we will both be able to look back on and cherish forever.  My brother and I are very competitive and we have been pushing each other to be better as long as I can remember.  I try and set the bar as high as I can to push him and more times than not he beats me, (although I'll never admit that to him).  I think we are similar in our ability and we both have similar pitching styles.  The only difference really is I'm a lefty and he's a righty.

5. While in Spring Training this year, what would you say has been your favorite part of your time in practice? 

I haven't been a hitter since back in my high school days, so when they let the pitchers bunt or take a few swings in the cage during spring training practice I really enjoyed the chance to swing the bat again.  Hitting is much harder than I remembered though.  I really enjoyed all aspects of practicing during spring training and I enjoy the opportunity to get out on the ball field and play everyday.

6. While pitching for Tri-City in 2011, what was the hardest part or the most difficult adjustment you had to make in your first year in pro ball?

The biggest adjustment for me when I got to Tri-City was learning to play everyday.  The pro ball schedule is a grind and it took me some adjustments to keep my body and arm in shape to play everyday.  I love playing the game though so while playing everyday was a tough adjustment at times, it was also a fun process.

7. What would you say has been your most memorable moment in pro ball, thus far?

There have been a lot of fun moments so far in pro ball and I've met a lot of great friends and teammates, as well as getting the chance to learn from some of the best baseball coaches around.  I would say just having the opportunity to pursue my dream of playing professional baseball is the best part though, I wouldn't trade it.

8. Among the players you've met thus far, who has made the greatest impression on you, both in the Astros organization and on opposing teams?

I've learned from a lot of different players, getting to play pro baseball has given me the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the game.  I try and take something from everyone I play with to adapt to my own game so that I can try and get a little bit better everyday.

9. Have you set any specific goals for yourself going into the 2012 season?

Going into the 2012 season I want to establish myself in the Astros organization as a potential MLB prospect.  My way of achieving this is more about fine tuning my own game and getting better everyday than anything else.  I can't control where I play necessarily, but I can work hard to be a better pitcher everyday and I believe that if I do that then I will continue to move up through the minor league ranks and eventually make it to the big league club.  It is a process though and I know it isn't going to happen overnight, so committing myself to get better each and everyday is my goal.

10. How do you deal with the long bus rides on road trips? 

 I enjoy listening to music and watching movies on long road trips to help pass the time.  But I would say that getting to hang out with my teammates and getting to know them better is one of the best parts about long trips in the minors.

11. Do you do anything special to prep for a game? So many baseball players are superstitious; would you consider yourself part of that group?

I don't do anything too crazy before games, I just like to get into a good routine that prepares my body and mind to pitch in the game.  I would say my biggest superstition is to not step on the chalk, one of the golden rules of baseball.  

12. Can you give us a quick rundown of your pitches? Are there specific situations in which you might drastically change the way you pitch to a batter?

I throw a four-seam fastball, change-up, curveball, and slider.  I don't change the way I pitch to any hitter, I just try and stick to my strengths of locating pitches and changing speeds to get hitters out.  I try to have the ability to throw any pitch at any time in the count in order to keep the hitters off balance and guessing.

13. If you weren't a professional baseball player, what would you most like to be? 

My passion is baseball and I love the game, so if I wasn't a professional I would most likely find a job that keeps me around baseball and connected to the game.  I would love being a pitching coach later on in life if I got the opportunity.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Transactions: Legends' Hallock, Bushue, King Sent To Extended ST

MAY 1st, 2012-Sometimes, when the baseball season is underway, when the big club has had a few sit-down, come-to-Jesus meetings with players or staff, the result of those meetings is invariably unpleasant.

Because I love this game, like so many of you out there, I try my best to get to know the players I follow. Not as professional athletes, but as individuals, as human beings. When you get to know players on a personal level, you often develop friendships with them.

And when the big club gets down to making the hard decisions, some of your friends end up being demoted or traded or, even worse, released. Then it becomes very personal, because at that point we're talking about having to watch helplessly as your friends' lives are disrupted dramatically. Being sent down means that you might possibly get to see them again. If they're released, you may never see them again.

Kyle Hallock pitching in his first Class A game; photo by
Clinton Riddle
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time with standing by while my friends are tossed about emotionally, while their dreams are deferred or crushed altogether, and I fumble for the right words to say when I know there's nothing I can say that will help.

Tanner Bushue comes in from the 'pen; photo by
Clinton Riddle
I'm sure that this might sound a little dramatic to some of you, but I have a passion for baseball that defies explanation. I know I'm not alone in my love for baseball, and I think I might be sharing an opinion that is held by many baseball fans. Sure, these players become professionals with the understanding that someday their careers could come to an abrupt end. They know this, it's a dismal thought that lingers in the back of their minds. Knowing it could happen (and for many of them it will) doesn't make it any easier to accept. Not for them, and not for us fans. 

Today, on a travel day for the Lexington Legends, we found out that LHP Kyle Hallock, RHP Tanner Bushue and RF Emilio King were sent down to extended Spring Training by the "big club". Just a side note: somehow, referring to the major league team as the "big club" makes them sound like something used to bludgeon players into submission. Or is it just me?

Emilio King takes a powerful cut; photo
by Clinton Riddle
Anyway, Kyle was one of the players that Heather was hosting. We both took it kind of hard, but I'm not about to compare our sadness with what Kyle, Tanner and Emilio were feeling. That would just be insulting. And I'm not naive enough to ignore the cold, hard fact that baseball at this level is a business, and as such there are sometimes tough decisions to be made that will alter the course of organizational employees' lives, from time to time. In fact, players are traded, sent down and released every day during the season. It's just a fact of life when you're a pro baller.

I know all of this, and I accept it. Again, that doesn't make it any easier. These things happen. I get it. All this rambling is leading to a point, trust me.

This is something I promised myself I wouldn't say, since the stark details of this whole transaction business are even colder and more impersonal than most fans would ever know. In fairness to the players involved and in the interest of remaining (somewhat) professional and polite in expressing my feelings about today, let me just say that things were handled rather poorly. It's my feeling that the way these players were treated in the process of removing them from the Lexington roster was somewhat impersonal and inconsiderate.

Telling a player that he's being sent down/traded/released can be a rather delicate conversation. Some players take it better than others. Some are more sensitive, others not so much. They are all human beings, and as such deserve at the very least a modicum of courtesy and respect, regardless of what the big club wants to do with them. For example, leaving a player with no itinerary when they're 1000 miles away from their new assignment is unacceptable. Just an example, you know. That's all.

We got to see and talk to Emilio before he left to pack. Kyle and Tanner spent their time in the clubhouse. My feeling is that they really weren't interested in visiting with us. I probably wouldn't want to be mixing with the crowd after getting news like that, either. I feel for them. I really do.

We know we're probably going to see all three of these guys again, and maybe very soon. It doesn't always happen that way. In the bus leagues, you never know when a player is going to be suddenly and inexplicably out of a job. Because of this and many other reasons, I never go to a game without my camera. That's one huge difference between the Majors and minor league baseball: if you make it to The Show, there's always going to be a fan somewhere that remembers you. In the minors, thousands of players pass in and out of organizations, teams and leagues and may be completely forgotten, altogether. It's a sad, cold fact. Just like most decisions made in professional baseball.

And while that may never change, one thing remains the same: there are several thousand young men chasing after a dream that may never come true. Still, they keep on running, and because they sacrifice so much to make their dream a reality, because they give so much back to the fans and spend half of every year far away from friends, family and home in unfamiliar towns, I believe they deserve our respect and support.
If they can't get that from the very organization of which they are a part, there's something seriously wrong.

Simple, common courtesy. Doesn't seem like a lot to ask. Or maybe it's just me?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Legends Take Going Green To The Extreme, Walk To Greenville?

MAY 1st, 2012-OK, so maybe that's not exactly true. But it could happen.

Lexington Legends Give Up Their Dependence on Oil, Hoof It To Greenville
Nick Tropeano tweeted this pic just moments ago. Seems the Legends bus broke down on the way to their series in Greenville. Here's hoping that the players don't have to steal horses for the rest of the trip.