This is Part 2 of a series of articles written by Matthew Coller co-authored with professional baseball player Matt Antonellii about his 2011 baseball season.The series will chronicle Antonelli's journey trying to make it back to Major League Baseball. Read Part 1 here about Antonelli being non-tendered, then signed.
Arriving in Viera, Fl., for my first Spring Training with the Washington Nationals was like being the new kid in high school. Everyone had inside jokes I didn't get. They talked about coaches and teammates I never heard of. And, they never walked into storage closets thinking they were restrooms. Not that I did that.
For the last five years, I've been in the Padres' organization. I knew where all the restrooms were. I knew the best place to eat in the morning and who would be there, I knew which shower had the best water pressure and who to see if I was having issues with my jock strap. Not that I had issues with my jock strap. Let's just say I was comfortable in my Spring Training routine as a Padre.
When you play baseball, comfort and routine are like a sky diver's parachute. Routine helps you forget about the pressure. You focus on the clock. What time you have to get up, what time you stretch, what time you hit in the cage. You think about the next drill or the next at-bat instead of worrying about whether you will be in The Show come April.
This Spring, I really needed a parachute at the plate. Due to injuries, the last time I played baseball was March 2010. The last time I played a real stat-keeping, back-of-the-baseball-card game was August 2009. And trust me, you get rusty real fast in baseball. When you don't face live pitching for a week, it's like not seeing a breaking ball for a month. I figured my swing would come alive and it would be like I never stepped off the field. Then reality set in....
One month into Spring Training, I still wasn't comfortable. Curve balls moved way more than I remembered, change ups were just unfair and the plate seemed a heck of a lot wider than 17 inches. I was free falling at the plate. The Nationals gave me some at-bats with the big club and I failed to get a hit.
It's going to take time to get back to playing good baseball. I can't tell you how hard that is to deal with. I wanted to assure the Nationals they had made a good decision. You never get two shots at a first impression and the first one they had of me was looking like a Little Leaguer up there.
As Spring Training neared an end I was called into the office and informed that I would be starting the year with our Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators. I had spent the last three years playing either Triple-A ball or briefly in the Major Leagues, so many might see this as a demotion. The truth is, I haven't been healthy in almost two years, and when I was healthy I didn't play well. I've said it hundreds of times, baseball is a "what have you done for me lately" business, and I haven't done much except get out or get hurt.
I have to prove to not only my team but to all thirty teams around baseball that this is the beginning of a new career for me and the best is yet to come. In the end it doesn't matter if my opportunity came in Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A, or in the California Penal League, it is an opportunity to display my baseball skills, and after being out of the game for two years that is really all you can ask for. I'm looking forward to joining my new team in the next few days and getting my game back to where it should be.
Comfort may come in the form of locker rooms and training tables, but until I'm playing the type of baseball I'm capable of, my only parachute is knowing I have the drive and commitment to be a Major League Baseball player.
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Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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