Larry Gordon has it all. He’s a successful major league pitcher and is dating the perfect woman. He’ll earn big money in the free agency market at the end of the upcoming season if he plays well during this, his Contract Year. But his girlfriend walks out on him and turns his world upside down. Larry heads off to spring training to forget about her and get ready for the season. He learns quickly that his self-absorbed carefree way of life won’t cut it anymore, that he’ll have to find a new way to succeed on the mound and in his personal life. Follow Larry’s funny and poignant journey, and get a peek inside the world of professional baseball.
Recent praise for Contract Year:
“Contract Year tells not only the story of a superstar’s emergence in the key year of his baseball career, it presents the journey of a superstar’s heart in the most pivotal year of his personal life and shows how the glory we seek is sometimes right under our nose. A great read.” — Rick Hurd, National Baseball Writer
“The author gives a good glimpse into the trials and tribulations that a professional baseball player faces, including the stress and outside distractions we deal with on a daily basis. Although I am the polar opposite of Larry off the field, its’s a good story and I enjoyed reading it a great deal.” – James Simmons, Oakland Athletics pitcher
“Memory of a fan waving a sign “Marry Me!” was the inspiration for Contract Year, and the author lit up with joy and excitement. I know. I was there. And it’s been a joy watching Bee Hylinski develop the plot, deepen her characters, enhance the scenes, and tighten the writing, all for the love of baseball, and for the love of love.” — Clive Matson, author Let the Crazy Child Write! and Chalcedony’s Songs
“What fun to experience a young man’s success as he struggles to become more than he ever imagined becoming! When we first meet Larry, he seems a shallow and callow youth with a one-track world view: his baseball career and himself. But then–slowly and not too willingly–he looks beyond and sees more in his universe than himself, and he begins to change, to open up, to become. For this reader, he moved from a boy I did not much like to a person I enjoy knowing.” — Jean G., Walnut Creek, CA
“I just finished Contract Year and the ending was wonderful. Wish we heard more stories like that.” Ray D., Walnut Creek, CA
“It’s really good! Very well written.” Ned L., Seattle, WA
I am almost reluctant to write about this topic, because one of the reasons the Arizona Fall League is so much fun is that the stands are pretty empty and you can hear everything said on the field. It’s an intimate experience and I’d like it to stay that way. Selfish me. That said, I’ll go against my better judgment and share my experiences with you.
I first went to the Arizona Fall League in October of 2007. At an A’s Booster Club luncheon in September that year, I talked to Jim Young, the Director of Media Relations for the A’s, and told him I wanted to interview some A’s pitchers for background for my novel. He said it would be difficult for me to talk to the Major League players, but I should hop on a plane to Phoenix in October and talk to the minor league players in the A’s organization who would be pitching in the Arizona Fall League. He gave me the name of Paul Jensen, his counterpart at the AFL, and suggested I contact him.
I made the trip and interviewed Jeff Gray, Brad Kilby and James Simmons in 2007. The first two made it to Oakland this season and pitched extremely well for the A’s, and both have a good shot at making the opening day roster in 2010. James should at least get a cup of coffee in Oakland next season.
I made a return trip this year to talk to the new crop of AFL pitchers from the A’s. Paul again set up interviews for me with Justin Friend, Mickey Storey, Sam Demel and an encore visit with James Simmons, who play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the AFL. All I can say is that the A’s farm system is brimming with good pitchers, now and for some time to come.
I took my accustomed place in the first row of seats next to the Desert Dogs dugout at Phoenix Municipal stadium, the same dugout occupied by the A’s at spring training.
Rob Morse, one of Paul’s assistants, went into the clubhouse and came back with Justin Friend, who sat down next to me in the stands so we could talk.
“I’d dreamed of playing professional baseball since I was a kid, and baseball gave me an opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, like getting a scholarship for college.” He played for A’s pitcher Brett Anderson’s dad at Oklahoma State, where he majored in Education. Justin was drafted by the A’s after his junior year in the 13th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
We talked about the life of a ballplayer off the field–the info I need for my novel–what they do for fun, what they do in the offseason, etc. All very enlightening for me. Basically, he said that they work so hard during the season, that he just “relaxes and doesn’t do much.”
Justin is a relief pitcher and spent most of 2009 playing for the Stockton Ports (Hi-A), where he had an era of 2.87. He was called up to Midland (AA) for 9 games, and 1 game he’d like to forget at Sacramento (AAA). He lives in Manteca, California, and gives pitching lessons to kids in the offseason to make a little money and give back to his community.
Next to emerge from the clubhouse was Mickey Charles Storey.
Yes, he was named for THE Mickey Charles Mantle, who was his dad’s favorite player, even though he never saw him play (I did!). “I didn’t have much of a choice. My dad was into baseball. I played baseball with him from the time I was old enough to walk.” Mickey grew up in Florida in the Boca Raton area (he still lives there), and attended Florida Atlantic University. He and his fiancee have an 8-month-old daughter.
Mickey was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft and started out with the Kane County Cougars (Low-A). After he appeared in 13 games and posted a 0.54 ERA, he was promoted to Stockton and pitched in 22 games, earning a 2.28 ERA . He was also called up to Midland for 4 games, and later by Sacramento for 2 games in which he pitched 3 innings and didn’t give up any hits or walks and had 4 strikeouts (0.00 ERA).
2009 was his first year as a relief pitcher. “I’m fine with it,” he says. He likes the chance to pitch more often because it “makes me feel more like a part of the team on a day to day basis.” We’re fine with it too, with numbers he has posted. Look for him to start out at Midland in 2010.
Sam Demel was my next victim. I say victim because I had a complete brain fade and called him Josh. Great way to begin an interview. Anyway, Sam started playing baseball at age 8, “which was late for most guys.” He was drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers, but decided to go to Texas Christian University instead, where he majored in Communications. After his 3rd year, he was drafted by the A’s in the 3rd round (120th overall) of the 2007 draft.
2008 was his first full year in the minors, spending the season at Stockton, where he posted a 3.36 ERA and had 18 saves out of 24 opportunities (2nd in the league), and limited opponents to a .227 batting average. He’s a sinker-slider pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls, which accounts for the low opponents batting average.
In 2009 he started at Midland, and, after appearing in 27 games and posting a 0.67 ERA, he was called up to Sacramento where he played the rest of the season. He’ll most likely start out there in 2010.
Sam loves being a ballplayer. “I get to play a game for a living, and they pay me for it. It can’t get any better than that.” He’s married and his wife visits him in Sacramento whenever she can. “I spend all day outside [playing ball], so when I’m away from the ballpark, I’m a TV junkie. I watch Criminal Minds, CSI, things like that.” He plays golf when he can and has a 9 handicap, but it’s hard for him during the season to get out on the links. In the offseason, he plays 5 times a week. “I do nothing but golf, watch TV and workout.”
He says he’s been a lucky charm for his fellow roommates on the road. 3 times last year his roommates got called up to the A’s: Jeff Gray, Jay Marshall, and John Meloan. He was supposed to room with Brad Kilby the day he was called up to the A’s. He’s hoping some of that luck will rub off on him in 2010.
My final interview was with James Simmons, whom I had interviewed in 2007 at the AFL.
It was fun to catch up with him, though I have seen him several times at spring training and this past season at Sacramento River Cats games, where he is often in the stands behind home plate charting pitches. He read a draft of my novel and gave me invaluable input, even rewriting my lame attempts at ballpayer dialog to sound more like the real thing. James had so much to say when I saw him this time that I will do a separate article on him in a day or so.
All of these fine young men told me that there isn’t much “off” in the offseason, especially if they are fortunate enough to be sent to the Fall League, which didn’t end until November 21st this year. Spring training begins in mid-February, so they get a little less than 3 months “off.” After a grueling long season, they need to have some down time. 11 weeks just isn’t enough time for a very tired body to recover.
Most of them told me that the offseason is mostly spent getting in shape for the next season. That’s the only time they can do any heavy lifting or other weight training to build up muscle and strength. All they can do during the season is maintain. If they did more during the season, they’d get sore and wouldn’t be able to pitch. And here I thought they just laid around and goofed off in the offseason.
So that’s it for today. I would like to give a big thanks to Betty Dragon who supplied the awesome pictures in this article.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles: Sitting Down With James Simmons, The AFL Rising Stars Game and others. I will be posting on an intermittent basis, so check back often. Sign up for an RSS feed at the lower right or email me at beebee723@comcast,net and I’ll put you on my email list to notify you when I post a new article. And thank you so much for reading my blog.
I am just back from the River Cats game and what a pleasure it was. River Cats starting pitcher, Chad Reineke, pitched 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, and the bullpen (Jerry Blevins and Ryan Webb, who got the win) were similarly flawless. The Las Vegas 51s starter, Fabio Castro, went 6 innings without giving up a run and reliever T.J. Beam was unscathed in the 1 1/3 innings he pitched. A real pitchers duel that was fun to watch.
River Cats reliever, Ryan Webb, who played the entire 2008 season at Midland, Texas (AA), came in for the top of the 8th and gave up a hit before getting the third out. In the bottom of the 8th, the 51s’ Bill Murphy replaced Beam after the first out. Murphy faced three batters and couldn’t get anyone out, giving up 2 runs. He was replaced by Bryan Bullington who allowed 2 more runs to score (1 Murphy’s, and the other his), which brought the score to 4-0 River Cats. Webb pitched a 3 up-3 down 9th inning for the win. The River Cats have now won 10 out of their last 11 games.
Before ending this post, I must comment on going to a game at Raley Field in Sacramento. Yes it get’s very hot in the summertime, but today’s temparature barely got above 80 degrees with a nice breeze. The stadium is intimate (today’s attendance a little under 6,000) and is very fan and family friendly (no rowdy drunk fans and lots of entertainment between innings). The food is varied and delicious and there are lots of different beverage choices. So different from the MLB experience, where the players are kept apart from the fans and many players won’t sign autographs. There are few big egos among the minor league players as they get paid next to nothing. The whole atmosphere in the stadium doesn’t have the commercial overtones so prevalent at the major league level.
Here’s an example of what I am talking about: before the game began, I went in search of James Simmons, one of the River Cats starting pitchers who was the A’s top draft pick in the First Year Player Draft of 2007 (26th over all). He has graciously agreed to read my novel and I always try to say hi to him when I am at a River Cats game. I finally found him charting pitches in the stands right behind home plate with another starting pitcher, Gio Gonzales. I sat and chatted with them for an inning. They very nicely dispatched the seat police with a “She’s with us” comment. I bid them adieu when the next inning started so they could concentrate on their assigned task. This kind of player contact would never be possible in a major league park.
So, if you want to see where real baseball is played and feel like you are part of the action, you need to go to a minor league game. It doesn’t matter which level you see, although the ability of the players is the highest in Triple A. Minor league and independent baseball is where baseball is played for the shear love of the game. Yes, the players are all trying to advance, ultimately to the majors. But these guys haven’t yet become jaded and they play their hearts out. Their energy is infectious. So, if you live within striking distance of a minor league park, go to a game. You won’t be disappointed, even if the home team loses. It’s just pure fun.
Yankee Series: After 3 games in Toronto, the A’s played a rain-shortened series in the new Yankee Stadium, losing both games to the Bronx Bombers. I won’t regurgitate the details of the games as they were painful enough the first time around. I will comment on Dan Giese, whom the A’s picked up on waivers a couple of weeks ago from those dreaded Yankees. He has the dubious distinction of giving up 2 walk-off homers to end extra-inning games in his first 2
appearances. He must be shell-shocked about pitching in extras by now. The sad thing about both outings was that he pitched 2 good innings before each walk-off, and the bullpen was depleted and Manager Bob Geren probably didn’t have a choice and had to leave him out there. Maybe he’s a 2-inning guy. We’ll see in the next month or so whether it was a good move to bring him over from the Yanks. The A’s will make up the rained-out game on July 23rd in New York.
10 MLB Teams Decline in Value: Forbes Magazine recently published an analysis of the value of the Major League Baseball Teams, and the results are interesting. The teams whose values declined the most are: the Nationals (down 12%), Braves (10%), and the Tigers and Mariners (9% each). You’ll be pleased to note that the A’s declined only 1%, while the Giants’ value is down 5%. In terms of dollars, the A’s are worth $319M and rank 27th in the majors. Only the Marlins, the Pirates and the Royals are worth less than the A’s.
At the top in terms of dollars is the Yankees ($1.5Billion! ), followed by the Mets ($912M), Red Sox ($833M), Dodgers ($722M) and the Cubs ($700M). The Yankees and Mets values were up significantly due to their new ballparks which opened this season. Interestingly, the average value of an MLB team rose 1% to $482M.
What’s really itelling is that the Yankees are currently in 3rd place in the AL East, and the Mets are in 4th place in the NL East, so value doesn’t necessarily translate into standing, at least not this early in the season. Also, the least-expensive Marlins ($277M) are leading the NL East.
Gallagher to Triple A: The A’s optioned Sean Gallagher to the River Cats to get him more pitching time. He has been the long man in the A’s bullpen and hasn’t pitched much this year.
I think the move was a good one for Sean, as he’ll join the rotation that includes Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro and James Simmons, all of who are doing well right now. Sean has talent and needs to use it regularly to hone his craft. Now he’ll get a chance to do that.
Coming Up: The A’s come home for a 3-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow night and then go on the road again (does anyone else hear a C+W song right now?) to Texas and Seattle. Oh, the vagaries of the MLB schedule and the short shrift that the West Coast teams seem to get. 3 days at home? Give me a break.
Bay Area Teams Swept: The A’s and their counterparts across the Bay were unceremoniously swept over the weekend. I had hoped for a win yesterday for A’s 21-year-old rookieTrevor Cahill against Eric Bedard, especially after the very expensive Seattle hurler had such a mediocre season last year, but it was not to be. Cahill pitched a terrific game through 6+ innings, only giving up a run, but it was one run too many. Bedard was lights out, living up to his pre-Seattle reputation.
Red Sox in Town: Tonight the A’s begin a series at home with the Red Sox and as usual the Coliseum will look more red than green and gold. Red Sox fans–at least those who come to A’s games–are some of the most rude and obnoxious fans I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, A’s fans get sucked in and give as good as they get. It doesn’t make for a pleasant evening at the ballpark and I avoid these games like the plague.
A Leftover Post from Spring Training: I wrote this on the plane coming home from Spring Training at the end of March. It got sidelined once the season started and in all the sadness over the death of Nick Adenhart. Since there is nothing much to celebrate after a weekend of losses, I have decided to put it in here–a positive note for a change.
On March 29th before the Colorado Rockies game (the subject of my “Speed Guns, Testosterone and a Snafu” post below) I drove out to the Minor League Camp at Phoenix’ Papago Park. I parked the car under a Smoke tree, and walked in towards the playing fields. Here the players in the A’s organization who are invited to Spring Training–from Single A through Triple A–work out in the mornings and play intra-squad games after lunch. It was a slightly overcast morning in the seventies with a light breeze to keep things very comfortable.
I was astounded that there were exactly 5 people in the whole complex who were not players, coaches or groundskeepers. A guy sat in a beach chair munching on chips and watching the Triple A field from about 30 feet away. Across the way, an older couple and a woman on a cell phone sat on the metal bleachers at the Double A field. The fifth was yours truly.
I had come on a mission: to talk to “my guys,” three A’s minor league pitchers whom I had interviewed in October of 2007, when they were playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. At that time I was doing research on the life of a professional ballplayer for my novel, “Contract Year”, which is now “finished”–is anything ever finished? I wanted to say hello and catch up with them.
The first one I found was James Simmons, a lanky right-handed pitcher with a dazzling smile, who was drafted 26th overall by the A’s in the 2007 MLB June draft, and who commanded a seven-figure signing bonus from the A’s. For the last two seasons, he’s pitched for the Double A Midland Rockhounds in the Texas League, completely bypassing all rookie and A ball levels. He’s playing at Sacramento with the Triple A River Cats this season.
I asked James how he felt about Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (both drafted the year after Simmons) getting an opportunity to play for the A’s this year. He said, “I’m not ready yet. There are still some things I need to work on. I’m fine with it and they deserve it.” Now there’s class!
While I was talking to James, Jeff Gray, another RHP who pitched for the River Cats last season strode up with a big smile on his face and extended his hand. He’s the oldest of the three at 28, and I had hoped he might break camp with the A’s this spring. Joe Stiglich, the A’s beat writer for the Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area News Group papers, told me that the A’s are “high on him,” but he’s going back in Sacramento to start this season.
I had to go looking for the last guy, Brad Kilby, a LHP who has pitched for Sacramento the last two seasons. I found him sitting on the bench next to the water cooler, staring at the paper cup in his hand . A man of few words, he’s also back in Sacramento for another season.
I have been following the careers of these three ballplayers from Double A to Triple A, and in Jeff’s case to the A’s. Last September Jeff got a “cup of coffee” in the majors, when the A’s called him up after rosters expanded on September 1st. He threw 5 innings in relief with the A’s and I got to see him pitch two of them in person. These guys have been invaluable to me in terms of my understanding of what minor league ballplayers have to deal with: playing for peanuts, climbing up the minors, hoping to get called up, and dealing with the fact that so much of their fate is out of their hands.
I brought a copy of my book with me and gave it to James to read. The other two will read it after James is finished. James, bless his heart, agreed to write a blurb for the dust jacket when the book is published.
I must confess that my heart was aflutter standing around talking to these good-looking very fit young men who are living the dream I would have aspired to in my youth if I’d had a Y-chromosome. They are all extremely nice and enthusiastic, and I am honored to call them my friends.