Day: Next

I realized something interesting today…it may be obvious to many people, but to me it was important. Life needs management. It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of day to day activities that seem necessary in our lives (perhaps I should speak for myself…my life) that I forget to take a step back and look at the picture from a wider perspective. It’s funny in a way that I should be realizing this now as it’s something I’ve been learning over my last several years working. It is very easy for me to stay busy while doing my job, and for a while that felt good. The truth was though, that if I was staying busy, chances were I was actually not doing my job as well as I should. My job is not to be busy; it is to do a good job. And for the most part that doesn’t mean accomplishing various tasks through the day (although they will come up), but looking forward as much as possible in order to minimize the unnecessary busy (or expensive) things that could come up. However, one must be “busy” with management. Falling behind can have a snowballing effect that does not allow one enough time to properly catch up enough to return to a position of being able to use proper management techniques. Anyways, it struck me that this is the case with life too…and perhaps why vacations are so important. When I am away for the busy tasks of life (as I am now), I am able to take a fuller look at life. While I obviously cannot manage my life to it’s entirety, it is important to at least know what is important so I can have a good reason for setting what goals I may set. Don’t forget to take a breather and remember what is important to you and why. As with all things in life that require management, you may realize that by looking at life with a wider screen lets you see that there is a much faster way to the goal you want than your short sighted day to day busy habits would lead you to believe.
While yesterday may have been not busy, that did not carry over today. I don’t mind accomplishing things though. The morning was a workout/shoulder exercise time and I think I’m finding a routine to let me exercise and practice enough to stay in shape here. After a great homemade lunch (large meatballs in some sort of traditional Belgian sauce and a shredded carrots/mashed potatoes au gratin casserole), I decided to help get some yard work done. Once again, Mom, I realize this means that I’m going to have to help out with some yard work when I get back . It turns out they have a very large amount of legless lizards here. The host mother described them as snakes, but…as I felt obligated I corrected her. I did so by picking one up (which she was nice enough to point out) and showing her up close. To her credit, she didn’t freak out at all and actually looked at the important details that differentiate the two. For those who don’t know, a legless lizard is basically a skink (type of generally smooth scaled lizard) minus the legs. The obvious differences between a snake and legless lizard are the jaw (a lizards won’t unhinge the same as a snake’s), the stomach scales (snakes have 1 scale that goes all the way across the belly, lizards have multiple scales), and the eyes (a lizard can blink while a snake cannot). We got a lot of work done in the yard, then it was practice time.
Practice went well. I got a righty bullpen in. It really is interesting how things one knew when young can be forgotten. When I turned into a power pitcher, I neglected the important aspects of movement and control in pitching. As I am not currently a power pitcher (and to take it easy on my arm), I worked those aspects today. When relaxing the arm, ball movement increases significantly. I was getting very good 2 seam running action on the ball, my no seam fastball was diving well, and I even had some luck with my long-forgotten modified 2 seam fastball that moves like a cutter. I think that while I may not have consistent velocity pitching, I could possibly be effective with the movement that I had today. Hopefully, I will remember this lesson and relearn that pitching is so much more than throwing. Hitting-wise, I’m going to give you all some pointers. I have some things that I always need to work on. If you remember the next 5 or so points, chances are if I have a slump and you repeat them to me that you can successfully be a swing coach for me.
1. My hands need to be kept high. I have a bad tendency to drop them and with them my back elbow. This lengthens my swing and slows my reactions.
2. My hands need to be kept back. I’ve found that hands high and back help me with the all important point #
3. Weight back. If I get much weight on my front foot when I step I generally step too far and slightly away from the plate (in the bucket). When my weight is back it dramatically improves pitch selection, and helps with power.
4. Think. Hitting is not swinging, it is a complete approach to getting on base. Waiting on the ball and pitch selection are vital to a good at-bat.
5. Think drive the ball at the pitcher. This approach when hitting allows me to keep my shoulder in on the inside pitcher (where I have a tendency to pull out going for the long ball), and drive the outside pitch the other way.
Please feel free to be my swing coach at any time. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget one of these points. A few of you will note that I mentioned keeping the hands in as an important point. It is vital, but I’ve found that by following the 5 points above, keeping the hands in on a swing generally follows. After practice, I ran some wind-sprints in a few races and am happy to say that I do not think I am slow now. I may not be up to fast, but I think I can hold my own in terms of speed. Goodnight y’all, and happy life managing.

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Day 11:

I’m not sure I’m going to keep posting day number. It’s starting to look more like a prison log than the notes of someone taking a playing vacation. I’ll make up my mind tomorrow (maybe). Today was an off day as Mondays and Fridays are and was as enjoyable as it was not busy. Morning was breakfast, gym, shower. Then lunch which was quite enjoyable with an unusual white sausage (forgot the name) and cheese on baguettes. Then I headed into town with one of my local teammates and did a bit of shopping while being shown around. All in all, it was a very quiet day, but just because I have a short post doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.

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Day 10: Strawberries

Apparently, Belgium is known for its strawberries.

(Pictured: Strawberry)

I had some the other day in an excellent pastry. However, it wasn’t the fruit that reminded me of them today. It was sliding into second. Funny how the less comfortable parts of baseball are easily glossed over when cataloging one’s happier memories.
We won today! After several rather painful losses, it was nice to put one in the win category. A large part of the win was due to an excellent pitching performance by our Belgian pitcher, Cedric. He held a no-hitter through 6 innings, and we finished with a 7-5 win. I was in the DH spot again today batting third. My first at-bat did not give the feeling of a good start. We were facing a lefty pitcher, and it’s been some time since I’ve faced a lefty curve. It’s not really the fear of getting hit that messes up the lefty hitting against a lefty (unless you’re facing Randy Johnson) as much as it is the freeze in your swing when you see the ball coming at you. Even if you’re perfectly prepared to take the pitch in the shoulder, that freeze in the swing makes it difficult to make good contact. Anyways, I took the first pitch (a fastball) for a strike, the second was a good curve that I took. Then one or two balls. I ended up striking out looking on a curve that started at me and broke back over the plate. I was certainly not happy about starting off that way. My second at-bat was different. He threw two fastballs for balls (very surprising considering I hadn’t swung at either of his two curveballs), and then threw another fastball low and in. I was really concentrating on keeping my shoulder in and down to stay on the curve, but hit it squarely for a hard line drive just to the first base side of the second-basemen. The next part isn’t as good. I got picked off. It was obviously a mental mistake, and a bad one. I’d seen one move earlier in the game, but it hadn’t been his good one. His good one wasn’t half bad, but I never should have been leaning as early as I was. To my surprise my instincts seem a bit slow. While the baseball knowledge hasn’t left, the split second decisions/instincts that play such a key role in baseball apparently slowed down a little over the past 4 years. I am going to have to be more alert mentally going forward. Anyways, my next at-bat was a walk that led to a run. My final at-bat was another walk and the strawberries came as I slid into second in an attempt to break up a double play. While the skin might not feel good with strawberries, after such a long time it feels good having a reason to get them.

PS Apparently “Creme Fresh” is pretty much an atrocity of French spelling. As my host family has come to inform me, the spelling is more like “Creme Fraiche”…I may have it slightly wrong, but it should be closer to the right spelling.

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Some Pictures

I didn’t know where my camera was last night, so I’m posting a few pictures from my walk in town. Near the middle was this hidden little pretty park. There was an interesting apparently half man-made grotto, and there were lots of very unafraid ducks and geese. The baby I have the picture of was only 4 feet from me and could have cared less that I was there.

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Days 8 & 9

Yesterday’s post didn’t quite make it up, so I’m combining days. Friday was an off-day with no practice or game, and I went into town for a while to look for shoes and walk around again. I successfully have memorized the phrase for “I don’t speak French”, and with that to my strength headed in. I am getting a little more comfortable with the layout of Namur. The streets are all curved, so getting a sense of direction is difficult, but I am starting to recognize landmarks and have an idea of where I’m going. I didn’t find any shoes. After 4 or 5 stores, I have yet to find a store that carries a selection of shoes in my size, and the particular type of shoe I’m looking for I have not even seen. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and nice to walk around. I stopped at a market that for some reason exclusively had vendors from a region of southern France and picked up some cookies and a box of cherries. My next stop was a cafe where I got a pastry (I really don’t know what kind) and a coffee. The service was excellent and the coffee was amazing. It came with what I’m guessing to be creme fresh, whole milk, sugar cubes and a great chocolate on the side. The coffee was strong, sort of a cross between cuban coffee and normal coffee and with the creme was delicious. Even with sit-down service the price came to just over 4 Euros. One thing I’ve found that I like about the restaurants here is that the tip is considered included in the bill. You only tip extra if it’s truly warranted. Anyways, besides my trip into town, I tried to read some more and get a bit further on my French (I managed to start learning a few verb conjugations).
Today was game day. We were away against a team in Antwerp. I think I may have been early in celebrating finding my swing. Their pitcher was another American guy, and he was significantly better than the pitching I saw in the last game. His fastball was probably around 86 (not overpowering, but good for what I’ve seen so far), and he had pretty decent control, a good change, and solid slurve. I was hitting in the third hole, and my first at-bat came with 2 outs in the top of the first. He threw a mix of fastballs and slurves and walked me on 6 pitches. I fouled off his fastball twice, I felt like I was close to on it though. I did end up scoring the first run, but not without a mental mistake. I was on first, and the next batter hit a chopper to the third basemen, he made a throwing error but I stopped short on second base and didn’t notice that third was left uncovered…I should have been on third, which would have potentially allowed the batter behind me to steal second. Instead, I scored from second on another third baseman’s error, but I was the only 1 that scored that inning. If I had played better heads-up there’s a chance we would have scored 2 runs. The other team scored 2 in the bottom of the first to leave it 2-1 them. My next at-bat was with 2 outs and none on. The pitcher walked me on 4 pitches. At that point, seeing that he seemed to be pitching around me I was feeling rather cocky…much too early on my part. My next at-bat the opposing pitcher seemed to start getting more comfortable. He mixed fastballs and a slurve. I picked up the slurve well, and didn’t chase it. However, after a nice slightly off-speed 2 seam fastball away, he got me to chase a high 4 seam and I struck out. Hmm, not quite so cool. My next (and last at-bat) was not good. I missed a fastball in a good hittable location and it didn’t get better. I swung hard on a circle change for strike 2…then took a ball or two. He got me on a change-up low and in that froze me. It started in off the plate and looked like it was going low, but it didn’t dive much and bit back to the plate. It was a good pitch, but I should have been able to wait and see it and at least foul it off. We ended up losing 4-2. Our other run was a homerun by our 17 year old shortstop who is an excellent local Belgian player and I think has the potential to play college ball if he gets the opportunity. Our pitcher threw 8 innings and did a solid job, but didn’t get the offensive support he needed. Hopefully, sleeping on the at-bats will help me work my way through them and figure out what needs work, but my thinking right now is that the problem was a combination mental (making the choice to swing too early) and physical (I need to get some extra tee work in to dial in a shorter swing). Anyways, we have a game tomorrow, and hopefully it will go better.

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Day 7

Funny thing about learning the French language is…it’s French. I realize it’s a very important language through the world for diplomacy and such but it really wouldn’t hurt things for it to be a bit easier. As I’m in the portion of Belgium that speaks French, I decided to put some effort into learning the language today. I have a French-English dictionary, a common phrase book, and most helpful of all a host family that speaks the language. Of course, having a 3 year old with knowledge of the language magnitudes higher than my own isn’t always extraordinarily uplifting…but I digress. The problem with French as I told one of my friends is that while we may have a silent “e”, and the Spanish a common silent “h”, the French have a nasty little surprise called the “silent half of the word”…and you never know which half will be silent. I had assumed that as I could generally make out what something written in French said I would be able to speak it relatively easily. Of course, you know what they say about assumptions “It only makes you look stupid if you assume you’ll learn French quickly” (or something like that). After a day of studying, I came away with the ability to nearly adequately pronounce several of their new sounds. Hint: somehow you need to learn to use your nose when speaking. I do intend on keeping trying though as 1. I figure I might as well while I’m here and 2. The theory has strong applicability to the subject of the next paragraph.
Girls. Now I’m going to talk about girls (and believe it or not there will be some continuity with the previous paragraph). Almost to a man, the single guys I talk to back home want to know what the girls are like here. I’ll just come out and say it. They’re cute. A lot of them are on bikes or scooters around town, and for some reason that’s very appealing. However, this leads to another problem. I don’t speak their language…and I don’t just mean French. In America, I’m used to being checked out now and then. Because us guys have such incredible situational awareness, we can tell when a girl takes a second look at us, and from time to time it happens to me. However, either flirting is not a universal second language, or I have some sort of invisible mark that only the girls in Namur can see because in 7 days here exactly 1 girl seems to have taken a passing interest in me. And that may have solely been because she was serving me ice cream (which turned out to be delicious, btw). That may be for the good being as I couldn’t talk to one anyways, but hey, I’d at least like to chance to utterly fail at conversation. And worse, I don’t think I can ask my host family for help in the flirting language. Enough on languages and girls.
I cut my hair today. I was tired of worrying about if it looked decent, or if I showered this week, etc. Also, I feel more business-like with short hair…and frankly, I am here on the business of baseball. I got a work-out in when not burying my nose in a French book, and headed out to practice. I was sore today. Right and left arms. However, they did seem to loosen up with some throwing. Coach worked me at first base as one of our first-basemen is out this weekend. It actually felt good to see some grounders. I may not be fast yet, but I did feel pretty quick. Then the hitting. My dad is always (pretty literally, I think it started when I was 8) recommending that I keep a card with the basic points of hitting on it. I had one for a while, but always fought him on it. Luckily, I was right as I always have my hitting form exactly where it should be. Or not. It turns out I may have been missing one small thing. While taking some front toss batting practice in the cage from someone mixing up the speeds I decided to work on my 2 strike approach, but found my reactions were too slow to be right. It turns out I was extending my arms too soon. For those of you who may not be in the know of hitting mechanics, imagine you were in driving school and were consistently driving halfway over the double yellow lines…that’s the approximate degree of bad that extending one’s arms too soon is. I worked on this when I got to taking batting practice on the field. As my swing was much quicker, it shouldn’t be surprising that I was too early on a number of pitches, but as I started to time the ball properly, voila (that’s French btw), the swing started to feel better. My consistency improved, and the ball started jumping off the bat. What had been routine fly balls were now going 40’-60’ further, and just with one obvious little adjustment. Good thing I’ve fixed that so now I definitely don’t need that hitting pointer card :). Anyways, it was nice for my swing to improve some, and my conditioning seemed to have improved a little as well. Hopefully, all will continue to go well, but either way I’m thankful for the experience.

PS Sorry I don’t have any pics today, just imagine a massive homerun going into the lights exploding them all to end batting practice…true or not, it’d look pretty cool.

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Day 6: And Mayonnaise.

Generalizations. We all make them, call them stereotypes or what you want, but they’re for most any group in existence. I’ve made them here. For one thing, Belgians like mayonnaise. I do not like mayonnaise. Thus when I went to the grocery store (actually, it was more of a Belgian wal-mart), I may not have been thrilled by the picture shown below:

What you see is approximately half an aisle top-to-bottom dedicated to mayo and it’s derivatives. Being so close to Germany, one might think that mustard would be big here, but no. Mayo is king. Mayo or some sauce manufactured with a high amount of mayo seems to go on everything. Wraps, fries, and sausages can all get the egg and vinegar blend treatment. Mustard isn’t even on the same side of the aisle as mayo. It’s like the store had to sell mustard, but tried to hide it away from the mayo so as not to hurt the mayo’s feelings. As strong as mustard is, it’s an understandable move. Mustard hurts all other condiments’ feelings due to its bad-assedness.
Moving on, more supermarket observations. Belgians win at bread. Almost every piece of bread I’ve had here has been very good, and even the supermarket has a very large selection of freshly baked bread. Bread really is under-rated. Take a good piece of bread, a quality cheese, and some grape juice and you’ve got a fantastic and healthy snack. Belgians apparently love chocolate too, and while I can’t blame them they may be more serious than me. Granted, many of today’s observations stem from me walking around a supermarket and seeing what various items are there and how much aisle space they have…but I’m thinking it’s accurate. For example, half the Belgian cold breakfast cereal has chocolate in it. We have cocoa puffs, they have 5 different brands of chocolate chip muesli to start getting warmed up. Then there’s the chocolate corn flakes (exactly what you’re thinking), Belgian version cocoa puffs, chocolate granola, etc. We have Nutella, they have 10’ of space adjacent to the center aisle set aside for every invented variation of Nutella, and there certainly are variants. Chocolate peanute butter, Nutella and peanut butter blend, Mr. Chocolate, and probably 5 other brands all vying for that chocolate sauce you spread onto things niche. Then there’s the difference in milk. The first problem is that you can’t find it. It’s hidden. It turns out the milk here is so pasteurized that they don’t have to refrigerate it. It comes on the shelf ready to throw in the fridge on the off chance you want your mild cold. I don’t know about you (whoever you are), but I like my milk the approximate temperature of glacial melt. I think the milk here tastes funny too, but in fairness that could be entirely due to the fact that I know the milk spent a lot of time at room temperature…it scares me.
Aside from the supermarket observations, today was not very eventful. Practice was rained out and my baseball for the day consisted of two workouts. The house I’m in has a great concrete walled workout room in the basement where I can essentially throw a medicine ball wherever I want. Good ab work ensued. My shoulders are a little sore today (left a bit more than the right), but that’s not all that surprising being as they pretty much got the wet-towel-slap reintroduction to baseball. To help them out I gave them a nice once over with a Jobe exercise regimen. Legs were goosed up with a light bike ride in the evening. Otherwise, I played some ball (baseball/soccer/runaway with the ball) with the host family’s 3 year old boy using a supermarket bouncy ball, and got some reading in. It is very nice to be able to relax a little bit. It’s been a few years since I didn’t really have anything I needed to be doing. I could get used to this…and I’m a bit afraid of that. Anyways, the night is winding down and it’s finally getting dark, goodnight all.

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