Farewell to the Fall League

Well, the Arizona Fall League Season has come to a close for the teams
that have not made the lone playoff game taking place on Saturday for
the championship. However, we did happen to finish on a high note
after winning our final game Thursday against the Phoenix DesertDogs.

I personally feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of this short season
while continuing my development as a reliever. Even though I
struggled over my final three appearances, I feel that the strides I
made early in the season considerably outweigh my recent struggles.
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story; and there is always room
for improvement as I’ve learned from past mistakes.

The antics around the clubhouse have also picked up in the final week
as the window of opportunity to pull a prank on someone is coming to a
close. Whether it was Lou Palmisano putting eyeblack on the inside of
the Mesa SolarSox batting helmets before the game; or Chris Mason
lighting a piece of tape on fire as it was stuck to the bottom of my
chair, a good time was had by all.

This being my final blog entry, I’d like to thank all those who have
taken the time to follow along over the past six weeks. I hope I was
able to give you a behind the scenes look into minor league baseball.
For now, it’s time to relax for a few weeks before resuming the
offseason training regiment. Thanks again for reading and see you in
the spring of 2009.

AFL End Approaching

The final handful of games in the Arizona Fall League are approaching and for many of us, this marks the end of a long season. For others who have plans to play additional winter ball, it marks the end of one season and the beginning of another.

Regardless of what our record indicates when the season wraps up; I can guarantee that there has been tremendous growth and development among all players from the Javelinas as well as the entire Arizona Fall League.

During the offseason, you spend a great deal of time preparing for the 140 game regular season and whatever additional baseball you may have the opportunity to take part in.

As I look back, I feel a great sense of accomplishment in the fact that I have remained healthy for yet another year; albeit my journey over the course of the season wasn’t exactly how I had it planned out from spring training, I am happy how I remained on course and overcame the obstacles that stood in my way. Ultimately, I feel like I am a better player because of what I’ve been through.

Even though we have struggled as a team for the past couple of weeks, it’s important to focus on the positive things we have done as well as work on areas in which we have been lacking.

Coming out here as a pitcher with little experience as a reliever, I didn’t want to try to do too much and overwhelm myself. Instead, I focused mainly on two or three things which I thought would be influential going into next season.

I am happy to say that I feel like I have met my goals of improving slider command as well as controlling the running game, among other things. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement in the coming months. As we all know from experience, if you sit idle for too long you will be passed by before you know it.

And of course, it’s very important to have fun along the way; which I have tried to let you in on when I’ve had the opportunity. However, no one has gone as far as to put flexall or redhot in someones sliding shorts just yet; but there is still one week to go.

Turning Point

It’s taken a while, but the Javelinas losing streak has come to an end
with a win Thursday in Surprise, Arizona. The past seven days have
definitely been a grind as we have tried to chalk one up in the win

Things just weren’t going our way, but that is just the way it
sometimes goes with baseball. The important thing is to come to the
field everyday and continue to work and get better, while learning
from past mistakes as well.

You never know what the turning point may be or when it may take
place; but the great part about baseball is that you get to come to
the field everyday to play a game and try to turn things around.

A quality start from Jeff Marquez was just what we needed to get off
on the right foot against the Rafters. After we jumped out to an
early lead, he gave us five shutout innings while scattering five hits
along the way to set the tone for the rest of the game.

I came in for the 6th and 7th followed by Doug Fister in the 8th and
Robert Manuel in the 9th to bring our first shutout of the Arizona
Fall League Season to a close.

We played well in all facets of the game; and the turn-a-round has
come just in time as we still have an outside chance to make a run for
the lone playoff spot in our division two weeks from now.

On a lighter note, someone has been putting powdered Kool-Aid in
peoples shoes in the clubhouse. The other day, Ryan Reid’s feet were
stained red after wearing a pair of spikes that were “cherry
flavored”. He is still trying to find the culprit.

Midway Point

Wednesday’s game marked the halfway point in the Arizona Fall League
Season. A loss to the Phoenix DesertDogs brings us in at 10-9 and just
one game back in the battle for the AFL National Division.

We have been playing somewhat streaky as of late; we’ll
win a handful of games and subsequently lose a couple. However, we
are all taking it in stride because we know any day could be a turning
point in the season. Judging by the way things are panning out, it
looks to be a tight race for the lone playoff spot.

I’ve had some ups and downs of my own as well. This past Saturday I
gave up 5 runs (1ER) while only pitching 1/3 of an inning. Falling
behind in the count early never works in a pitcher’s favor. It leads
to walks and allows hitters to expect a certain pitch in a given

On the flip side, during my next appearance I put up 2 scoreless
frames. It’s always easier said than done, but pitching to contact
rather than trying to paint the corner makes for a lot less work for
yourself in the long run. Besides keeping your pitch count down, it
also forces hitters to swing at your pitch because they know you have
been throwing strikes and they might not get another good pitch that
they think they can handle during the context of the at-bat.

The highlight of my most recent appearance was facing Sean Doolittle. Not only is he a good hitter, but he is also a fellow Shawnee High School graduate in New Jresey, where we attended high school. After falling behind in the count 3-0, I battled back to bring the count full. After fouling off a pitch or two, Sean hit a soft fly ball to shallow left field which I thought was going to drop in for a hit; but Desmond Jennings came out of nowhere to make a nice sliding catch for the second out of the inning.

That was the first time that we have faced each other, which is a surprise considering we play each other so frequently. Hopefully there will be some more opportunities in the future.

That about wraps this week up. No one was left sleeping on the bus; but setting up a broken folding chair that collapses easily is always good for a laugh in the bullpen no matter what day it is.


As the Arizona Fall League finishes up it’s third week of play, the
Javelinas are in midseason form. Thursday’s loss broke a four
game winning streak to bring us in at 9 – 6 as we head into an off day
for the All Star Game on Friday.

This past week has been nothing short of amazing as we have had three
games in which we have scored 10 or more runs with 20 or more hits.
Our offensive production has been out of this world, paced by Rays
firstbasemen Rhyne Hughes.

With the surplus of runs, pitching can be a little less stressful.
Just knowing in the back of your mind that your team is capable of
putting up a large number in any inning makes you a little more
comfortable. Everyone has been contributing in a variety of ways,
whether it is coming in to start an inning or being called upon in a
situational circumstance.

On my end, I feel like I have finally been able to get into a daily
routine. Being slightly OCD (obsessive compulsive) it’s an important
aspect of me being comfortable in my surroundings.

Whether it is making sure my bed is made in the morning, to equally
spacing out the hangers in my locker. It all plays a part in
establishing a rhythm that works for me.

The biggest adjustment for me with the Fall League was getting used to
the change in scheduling. As most of you know, the majority of the
games here are in the afternoon rather than in the evening like during
the regular season, so it is much more like a 9 to 5 job rather than
the awkward hours that we usually have to work with.

To be honest, it is a breath of fresh air for me after a long season.
It gives me a chance to go to bed at a normal time and not sleep into
the afternoon the following day. Conveniently, we can also catch all
the playoff games at night. I must say, I am more up to date with the
upcoming election as well; as I have had the chance to watch all but
one of the Presidential Debates.

The season truly seems to be flying by, and I’m sure that the next
month will be much of the same. Thanks for joining me this week, see
you next time.

I almost forgot. After Wednesday’s road trip to Phoenix, Omar Aguilar
fell asleep in the back of the bus with his headphones on during the
45-minute ride home. Rather than wake him up, we elected to allow him
to continue his “siesta” after we exited. The bus driver didn’t take
notice until they were a mile or two down the road. Needless to say,
we all gave him a hard time when he got dropped off at the clubhouse
ten minutes later.

Guest Blogger: Matt Spring

matt_spring.jpgHello Rays fans and baseball fans alike. I am out in Peoria, Arizona enjoying my experience in the Arizona Fall League.  I am also really enjoying watching a lot of my friends and former teammates make a push to win the ALCS.  After a tough loss last night we should bounce back with Big Game James on the hill.  He loves pitching in the Trop (Tropicana Field) so i like our chances in game 6. 

To be honest with you I may be enjoying my time here too much.  That being because it is home for me.  I grew up in Peoria, and have been watching the AFL since I was a little kid.  It has been really nice for my family to be able to come and watch all of my games.  A nice change from the season mainly because all of our affiliates are east of the Mississippi.  I am sure that the ticket office looks at the pass list everyday and is amazed at all the tickets I am leaving for friends and family.  They have been great about it too, they haven’t said anything to me yet!
It has been a whirlwind last couple of months for me in my career.  It started when my manager called me into his office to inform me that I would be representing the Rays in the AFL, which was a huge honor.  Then my teammates and I in Montgomery Alabama ( The BIscuits) were in a playoff race for all of August until being nudged out at the end by the Braves affiliate in Mississippi.  Right before the last game of the season my manager (Billy Gardner) called me into his office one more time.  This time to tell me that I would be joining the Durham Bulls in the International League Playoffs.  The whole experience would have been great had I just sat on the bench, but I got an opportunity to play and helped contribute in both the first and championship rounds of the playoffs.  We lost to some of my Fall League teammates who played for the Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees in four games but it was a lot of fun.  And yes they remind me often! But I would have done the same thing to them.
After I finished up in AAA I figured all I had to do was prepare myself for the AFl until I got a call from our Assistant of Player Development Chaim Bloom telling me I had been chosen for  a very special award in the Rays organization the Erik Walker Award. The award signifies players from each affiliate (then whittled to one honoree) who were chosen for their community involvement and good sportsmanship throughout the season.  Erik Walker was a former teammate of mine in Hudson Valley our NY Penn League affiliate.  He tragically passed away in a canoeing accident in NC and the Rays created this award to remember how great a person and teammate Erik was.  Being that I had played with Erik the award was a tremendous honor and I also got to spend some time with his parents who presented me the award on the the field prior to one of the Rays last home games. 
And now I am here at home playing for the Javelinas!  Not only am i playing in Arizona but i am right in my own backyard.  The Pigs are a compilation of players form the Rays, Reds, Yankees, Brewers,and Mariners.  Playing in the fall league is a great piece of a minor leaguers development.  The exposure as well as all of the other talent in the league is incredible.  Many of the players have already played in the big leagues and are vying to become contributors for the organization.  In Peoria we have a great group of guys who not mention are very talented.  We also have our fair share of guys who have time in the big leagues.  As a catcher in the fall league you don’t get to play quite as much as some of the other position players but I am tying to make the best of my opportunities. I have played well so far and we still have over a month to go so I hope I can continue to improve throughout the season.  While I am here I am working on a few specific things in my own game.  I want to improve my plate discipline as well as my situational hitting.  And you can never be too good defensively.  I learn new things about the game and myself everyday.  If you cant learn anything when you are at the field playing or watching you must no be paying attention.  
I hope that I have let you know a little bit about myself, my career, and the AFL.  I am so excited to be here and trying to make the best of it.  Continue to look at the blogs because I am sure my teammates will be blogging soon as well.  Thanks for reading and GO RAYS!!! 

Welcome Back

Welcome back. Rather than procrastinate and write my next entry at
the last minute (like I did with papers in college after my dad warned
me not to) I decided to start thinking about this one right away.
Needless to say, easier said than done.

While still hoping to avoid that last minute writer’s block, I stood
in the outfield one evening as we took BP, hoping something would pop
into my head. Suddenly, a ball sailed over the left field fence, and
it finally came to me.

It was a rare evening game, so batting practice that day was in the
late afternoon, with a stiff breeze blowing 20 to 25 mph toward
center. As I stood there waiting for a ball to come my way to help
ease the monotony of BP that was beginning to set in, I couldn’t help
but gasp as balls were getting hit out of the park left and right.

Granted the wind was gusting that day and the ball travels well in the
Arizona air; but I couldn’t help but stand there in amazement as balls
were hit over the center field wall which is listed at 410 and is also
50 feet high.

It was probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed batting practice all year
(except when pitchers get to swing occasionally, which is rare) and I
had the hitters to thank.

It is widely known that there is immense talent in the AFL; however,
during the context of a game you can’t always see the power that can
be put on display during a BP session. This holds true for alot of
games that you may attend.

So getting back to my point. I believe, from a fan’s perspective,
this gives all the more reason to show up early for a game. It gives
you a chance to see raw power that may or may not present itself
during a game. Or on the other hand, it will allow you to see the
precision (and/or velocity) at which a pitcher executes his bullpen.
If nothing else, you will definetely gain a greater appreciation for
the hours of work and preparation that are put in everyday before a
game takes place that most people who show up right before the first
pitch take for granted.

Moving onto this past week with the Peoria Javelinas. I guess it is
safe to say it’s been a roller coaster ride so far. After opening the
season with three straight wins, we then preceded to lose four in a
row before winning our last two on Wednesday and Thursday to settle at
5-4 as we get ready to head to Scottsdale tomorrow for our first game
with the Scorpions.

After our third win last week, we also got a team mascot. Humberto
Sanchez got a guinea pig to keep in the bullpen during games. The
idea behind it was that a javelina (which was our first choice, but
they are wild and pretty mean) is similar to a wild boar which is
similar to a pig; so you can see how we thought it was an applicable
mascot. However, after subsequently losing the next four games, he
had to be returned to Petsmart.

On my end, after starting off with two solid appearances, I stumbled a
bit in my third outing making a mistake on a pitch inside with the
game on the line in the 9th. To put it simply, that is a mistake I
have learned from and will not make again. It’s one thing to be told
not to go inside with a pitch with the game on the line, unless you go up or to move
feet, but until you make the mistake yourself and have to suffer the
consequences, it doesn’t really set in.

That about wraps it up for this week. Sorry to those of you who may
have questions that I have not been able to get to, my computer access
is limited. See you next week.

Greetings From Peoria

Greetings baseball fans. Thanks for joining me this week as we
open the 2008 Arizona Fall League season. For those of you who don’t
know me, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself.
My name is Mike Wlodarczyk, and I am coming to you from Peoria,
Arizona as I represent the Tampa Bay Rays organization while playing
for the Peoria Javelinas.

I am currently wrapping up my fourth season
in Minor League Baseball after splitting time in 2008 with our
affiliates in Vero Beach, Florida and Montgomery, Alabama.
On a more personal level, I’ve had a passion for sports,
especially baseball, since I was young boy growing up in Medford, New
Jersey (about 30 minutes east of Philadelphia), which I carried with me
through the years leading up to college.

From September of 2001 through May of 2005 I attended Boston
College and was a member of the baseball team. During that time I was
drafted in 2004 by the Montreal Expos but elected to play for the
Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod Baseball League before returning to
college to graduate and play my senior season. That year we established
a school record for wins with 37. From there I was drafted by the
Rays and have been with them ever since.

Now that we’re caught up, I’d like to give you an inside look at
what’s been going on in the weeks leading up to now.
Following the end of the regular season in early September, I had
about three weeks to relax at home before reporting to St. Petersburg
on the 25th. There we worked out with our instructional league team
for a handful of days in preparation for the first fall league workout
on October 2nd after flying in on the 1st.

Workouts have been in the morning and have been pretty routine
and laid back: consisting of some BP, bullpens, infield/outfield, and
so on. Mainly activities to get us back in the swing of things and to
make sure that everyone is on the same page heading into opening day. I
might add that having last names on the back of jerseys is quite
helpful with so many new faces to get to know.

As I am writing this entry, we are off to a 2 – 0 start after
taking each of our first two games from the Surprise Rafters. Our
offensive production has been rather impressive as we have pounded out
18 runs in two games including a 7 run 4th on Wednesday to overcome an
early 4 run deficit.

On my end, I contributed by throwing an inning of scoreless
relief on opening day consisting of a pop out and two groundouts.
From there, that’s about it. Next week I’ll try to get a little
more in depth as we will have had a few more games under our belt and
a little more time to get to know one another.

Additionally, if anyone has any questions or comments I will do
my best to address them. Thanks for visiting..