Life After The Catch
Life has been a little different since my catch in Matt Cain’s perfect game. A lot more people recognize me on the street and around the park. Almost everybody asks me the same questions: How did I make the catch, and how did it feel? It’s really cool to have people appreciate what I did. It makes me want to do something like that again, another play that people will always remember.
I was talking yesterday on the phone with my friend Martin Prado from the Braves, where I played from 2008 to 2010. He’s also from Venezuela. We were just catching up on our families and things like that. Then he says, “I want to ask you something. How did you make that catch?’’
I laughed. I said, “I don’t know. Seriously I don’t know. I ask myself the same question.’’
Even a couple of umpires talked to me about it. So that’s pretty different for me.
What isn’t different is how I go about my work every day. That’s the key to everything. Talent gets you only so far. If you didn’t know that before getting to the big leagues, you learn it quickly up here. The best players – the ones who stay the best for a long time – are the ones who keep working hard.
I get to the park around 2 or 2:30 for a 7 o’clock game. I change clothes then do some running on the field – sometimes sprints, sometimes just a jog to stretch out my legs. I’ll ride the stationary bike. Then in the weight room, I work mostly on my core muscles, doing crunches, that kind of thing. Then I spend 30 to 40 minutes in the indoor batting cage. Lately I’ve work with Bam-Bam, our hitting coach, on hitting the ball on the ground and staying away from pop-ups. I’ve also returned to using a pitching machine that can throw 102 mph. I used it in spring training and was hitting really well. Then I got away from it during the season because I thought, “I want to save my bullets for the game.’’
But when my bat went cool, I added it back into my pregame routine. Trying to hit pitches coming at you at 102 mph hour sharpens your eye. When you see a 95-mph fastball in a game, it looks much slower and you’re more likely to get your bat around on it.
There’s also a psychological reason to work really hard every single day. It gives you confidence. You feel strong. You feel ready. So much of this game is played out in your head. If you know you are in peak shape, that no one out there has worked harder than you have, you feel that there isn’t anything you can’t do.
Having said that, when we had an off day last week, I just wanted to chill. On the last off day, my wife and I took the kids to Santa Cruz, which was fun but exhausting. This time, I said, “Hey honey, let’s just stay here. Let’s relax and watch movies and play with the kids.’’ It felt good.
There was a comment from a mom that her son was in the backyard pretending to be me. Wow, that’s so amazing. I remember growing up and imitating Chipper Jones and Kenny Lofton and Ken Griffey. I’d try to run the bases like Rickey Henderson. I wanted so much to be in the major leagues. I always tell kids if they really want something, they should keep dreaming because it’s possible.
But you have to work hard and leave a lot of things behind like parties and drinking and girls. When I was growing up, I played with a lot of guys who had really good talent but they never made it to pro ball. They got too involved in stuff off the field. They’d asked me, “Hey, why don’t you hang out?’’ I’d say, “I just want to go play baseball and run and get better.’’
And look where I am now.
The guys I really like to watch now are Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes because they play the game hard every single game. They’re aggressive hitters and runners. But now that I play with Melky, he’s the guy I look up to the most. I watch how he goes about his business. He’s an unbelievable player. I’d like to be the kind of player he is.
The person who has influenced me the most, though, is my mother. She didn’t graduate from high school, but she never stopped educating herself. She worked in a bank and eventually became a high-level manager. She’s an example to everyone she knows, not just me. Because of her, I try to be someone people can look up to.
So when I hear that there are some kids who want to be like me, I’m really humbled. That’s part of the reason you do this. I want kids to believe that playing sports is a way to live a positive life. There are a lot of bad things on the streets, and sports gives them an alternative.
So if I contribute in some way to kids wanting to play sports, that’s awesome.