Spring Training: A look behind the scenes, Part II
By: Charlie Lisk, November 15, 2006
Ground balls, pitcher's fielding practice (PFP), 1st and 3rd defenses, and for catchers, the ever-dreadful bullpens. These are just some of the activities I am involved in on a daily basis during the first two weeks of spring training.
It is very monotonous until our spring training games start, usually on the 14th or 15th of March. We start our day officially at 9:00 a.m. where we usually have an organizational orientation. Our "boss", the Minor League Player Development Director, holds a meeting and gives us an overview of the day to come. Once the meeting is over we break up into our team fields. That is when the flurry of activity begins.
The five fields are very close to each other. The four lowest classifications are on a cloverleaf of fields and the AAA team is on a field next to those four. We start with a stretching and agility program that last about 30-45 minutes. Next, we start a throwing program that takes ten minutes that precedes our fundamental for the day which is either PFP's, cut-offs and relays, pop-up communication, or taking a full round of infield-outfield. After the fundamental is finished, we start our stations which include a defensive station, a bunting station and a hitting station. That takes about 45 minutes to rotate to all three stations.
After that we take our batting practice (BP) for the day which lasts another 45 minutes. Once BP is done for the day we break for lunch. After lunch we have either pitcher/catcher meetings, hitting meetings, or anything else you can think of. Once our meetings were done we would have our weights for the day. That takes about an hour or two to finish, depending on how hard you worked. Then we are finally done for the day.
Once the 15th rolls around, we do all of the things that I just described except the difference is after lunch we play a full nine-inning game, sometimes more than that depending on how many pitchers need to throw. Following the game we have weights and then get to go home for the day. So needless to say, the days are really long leading up to the time that camp breaks for us to report to our affiliates.
Before the day starts, there are rosters posted in the locker rooms which are divided into five clubs: AAA, AA, High A, Low A and the extended spring training group. These rosters are how the fields are determined. Until players start coming down from Big League spring training, minor league players play up a level or two. I have been up to the AA level at the beginning of spring training and dropped three levels all the way to the extended spring group.
There are usually three to five "roster changes" during the course of spring training. That is when the rumors start to circulate and players begin to talk. I have spoken to guys about moving down to different rosters and I have been talked to by guys that aren't happy with where they will be playing. I have seen some pretty strange things happen when rosters change such as a .310 hitter in AA the previous year being moved down to high A ball. I have seen guys just pack up their things and go home because they get moved to a lower level, I have even see fights break out because someone says the wrong thing to a guy that has been moved.
Now I am going talk about the worst part of spring trainingâ¦getting released.
When I walked into the locker room around the 18th of March during my first spring training, I saw guys that were really mad or really upset and I couldn't figure out why. One of the guys that I played with and had become friends with was nowhere to be found. I looked at the High A roster where his name was the previous day and didn't see his name there or on the Low A roster either. I found him in the parking lot talking on his cell phone and he told me that he had gotten released.
I didn't know how that felt to say those words until this past spring.
I did the same thing that I had done for the previous three weeks, walked into the locker room and looked at the rosters. I didn't see my name anywhere. About that time, my first manager and the current catching coordinator, walked around the corner with this look on his face that I will never forget. I just asked, "It's my time to go, huh?" He didn't speak but he shook my hand and nodded. I went around the corner to my section of the locker room and saw my bats, catcher's gear, batting gloves and fielding gloves just laying in front of the locker that used to have Charlie Lisk on the nameplate.
The equipment manager had cleaned out my bag the previous night after the coaches meeting and took all of the gear with the White Sox logo on it, a batting helmet and my skull cap, as well as the bag they gave me. So I started to pack up my stuff about the time the rest of the players started to enter the locker room and I saw they all had "the face." That face that says, "Hey man, I am sorry but I'm glad I am not in your shoes." I had done it before to guys that I saw get released and now it was my turn. But the worst part was when my friends started to see me packing my gear. They had genuine looks on their faces and words to try and console me, but it didn't do any good. Just hearing that the organization thinks it is time for you to "hang 'em up" because you aren't good enough to play this game anymore is one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced.
I have learned that this business has an ugly side. "The Game" is what it is called and I hope to get released again because it means that I have managed to hang on to the sweet taste of it for a little bit longer. Every time I pick up a ball I remember the first time I played catch with my father. Every time I hear the solid "thwak" of a perfectly struck ball and feel it in my hands, I remember when my brother and I went to "Hit a Few." Every time I slip on that uniform, I remember that little green YMCA uniform that was my first. And I hope to get the chance to continue making memories for a long time to come.
About the author: Charlie Lisk signed with the University of South Carolina before being drafted in the ninth round out Fort Mill High School by the Chicago White Sox. He spent five years in their organization before spending last year playing independent ball in the Frontier League. Lisk has a spring training invite with the San Diego Padres in 2007 and will report in February.