Big league spring training is a whole different beast. When I received the call from Bill Geivett, I was ecstatic. I immediately went from excited to nervous and thought, "I better go run 15 miles and work out twice today." My motivation and excitement for spring training had never been so high.
After the initial shock and bombardment of questions from my parents passed, I began to stress about how I was going to be hazed. Would they make me wear a dress? Do I have to sing? What if Todd doesn't like me? Considering that I don't have a woman's physique and I sing like a walrus, these were legitimate concerns.
Upon arriving to the spring training complex (unfortunately it was still in Tucson), I was greeted with handshakes and introductions to everyone I was used to watching on TV.
Meet Todd Helton
Me: "Hello, nice to meet you my name is Craig Baker," extending my hand for a handshake.
Todd: "Yeah cool. My name is Todd Helton." not shaking my hand, but instead hugging me.
Me: "Yeah I kinda knew that, heard the name a time or two."
Todd: "Really?! You have? So you're a pitcher huh? Let me see that body, take your shirt off."
Me: "Are you serious?" nervously laughing.
Todd: "Yeah, let's see it. You pitchers have the best bodies."
It wasn't my finest hour, but I reluctantly took my shirt off to be mocked by Mr. Helton.
Todd: "Yeah that's nice." he said as he walked away laughing and shaking his head.
Don't be fooled by this scenario, Helton was actually a very likable and humble guy. He was my new favorite player at that point.
My locker, though tucked away in the very back of the building, was a welcome sight. Every piece of major league gear I had ever wanted was in there. I was even issued a one-ear helmet (sounds dumb for a pitcher but it just looks so awesome) and personalized bats. I felt as if I was celebrating Christmas in the middle of February.
Big league camp starts every day with a team meeting in the locker room. Jim Tracy and his staff go through the plan of attack for the day, what they would like to accomplish, how we are going to go about accomplishing those goals, and any in-house topics they need to touch base on (donating to charities, paying clubhouse dues, etc.).
On the field, the drills aren't nearly as monotonous and chaotic as the minor league side. Since there are far less pitchers in big league camp, it is much easier to have a controlled, quality-over-quantity approach to the drills. The roster limitations for big league spring training actually make it easier to get more quality work done.
Along with the roster limitations, having longtime veterans there to help the younger players helps serve as a catalyst for the learning curve. Although they may not be completely foreign concepts to the younger players, subtle tips and tricks from veterans can go a long way in player development.
After about three weeks or so on the big league side I got to hear the infamous "skipper wants to see you in his office". Walking in, I felt as if I was walking in to the bear's den. There were all of the staff members sitting there and one lone chair for my minor league backside to be seated in.
Although it was an intimidating scenario, it turned out to be fairly anti-climatic. They let me know what I did well, what I needed to work on, where to go from there, and instructed me to serve as a voice of how things work at the big league level for the younger players.
And just like that, it was over. I was once again banished to the other side of the parking lot.