"Looking California, feeling Minnesota." The lyrics from Chris Cornell and Soundgarden are an appropriate mantra for former Triton Tim Shibuya. An All- American pitcher from Jackson, Wyoming, Shibuya recently joined the professional ranks and is in the pipeline that can get him to where so many dream about - the Show, the Major Leagues.
A 23rd round pick of the Minnesota Twins in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, Shibuya quickly departed the friendly confines of La Jolla to begin his professional career, far away from the Southern California beaches and Wyoming's Teton Range.
The first rung on his way up the professional ladder brought him to Fort Myers, Florida, where he suited up for the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Twins, a rookie affiliate of Minnesota. Without making any starts, Shibuya impressed enough to earn a promotion to the Elizabethton Twins in Tennessee, another Minnesota rookie ball squad that competes in the Appalachian League.
Tim continued to impress in Tennessee and was named the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year. He finished his rookie season with an 8-2 record and a 3.30 ERA over 13 starts for the Twins. He led the league in wins, innings pitched (73.2) and strikeouts (70).
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - The Final Day
Now that the season was over, it was time to check back into reality and take care of some responsibilites in order to be able to leave Elizabethton.
We got back to the apartment at 2:30 on Saturday morning and cleaned for a good 2.5 hours. A quick nap and we were back at the clubhouse in order to get our lockers cleaned up, bags packed and old gear tossed into a donation box.
The bus to the airport wasn't leaving until Sunday, so we had an extra day to run around Elizabethton and keep ourselves occupied. The only problem was that two roommates had their cars, so they left on Saturday, inadvertently stranding myself and four others at the apartment six miles from the clubhouse. We had no way to catch the bus in the morning.
As a quick remedy to the problem I thought, "What if we slept in the clubhouse?" There were numerous places to eat within a mile, we had a baseball field in the backyard to keep ourselves entertained and, for the first time all summer, we would have air conditioning. An added bonus was the fact that we would be able to wake up five minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. I asked the roommates about the idea and they were all for it, so at 10 in the morning on Saturday, we had a new place to live for the day.
We figured we might as well take advantage of the situation, so soon enough we were taking batting practice in the cages and fielding groundballs on the infield. As a way to cool down from our activities, we headed over to the Watauga River, just behind the third base dugout, and took a quick dip. After the initial shock of the low-60's water, it was quite pleasant and refreshing to swim around for a bit.
Before we knew it, dinner time was fast approaching and Applebee's was calling our name. We slowly walked the mile down the street and took our time with dinner. In no hurry to get back, we successfully killed a couple of hours.
Once back at the clubhouse, fellow rookie David Hurlbut somewhat successfully serenaded us with a variety of music from Tenacious D to The Outfield and, as always, made us laugh with his renditions. A bunch of other games then ensued, keeping us busy until the early morning when we called it a night and crashed on our air mattresses.
A memorable way to end my first year with the Twins.
Sunday, August 28, 2011 - Dude, where's our car?
Off days don't come along too often (exactly three since the middle of June), so when we do get one it is most important to take advantage of it and experience the sights and sounds of Elizabethton.
Recently, we had our third and final off day, so my roommate and I decided we should go for a hike and explore the mountains a little bit. We took off around mid-morning under a cloudy sky to begin our excursion. The ground was a little wet, reminding us of the rain that had visited the previous night. Early on in the trek, a few spots were muddy but, for the most part, the ground offered good footing.
As we cruised up the mountain and deeper into the forest, the path got narrower, the trees offered less lighting and my roommate started to get a little freaked out by the "amount of nature." But, he toughened up and we kept going and going until the path started to loop around and head back down. We figured that it couldn't lead us too far away from the parking lot, so off we went.
Soon after we began the descent, the path seemed to magically disappear at a cliff overlooking a creek. I had been at a swimming hole in the area a couple of weeks earlier, so I thought that we would just follow the stream until it led us to the hole and then we could go back to the car.
As we climbed over tree roots, slid down embankments and jumped from rock to rock, I was really doubting my plan. After about an hour of this makeshift hiking, I saw a pool of water and thought to myself, "ah, here we are." But I was mistaken - it was a different location that looked similar. Instead, we found ourselves in the "backyard" of a dirt-floored shack with "No Trespassing" signs posted everywhere. Empty beer bottles, cans and trash littered the unkept grounds.
We got the feeling that this was definitely a dwelling for a less-than-sociable person, so we quickly crossed the creek and crawled up a pretty steep hill for a few minutes, only to run into another "No Trespassing" sign. At least this time the lawn was mowed and it looked like civilized people lived there.
We didn't want to say we were lost, per say, but we definitely were not on anything that resembled a path to the car. We sat there for a bit and thought about the routes we had taken to get to where we were. After a few minutes, it was decided that we were making a huge circle and if we continued up the hill and curved left we would be near the car.
Sure enough, 10 minutes later the parking lot was in sight and our "hike" was complete.
We didn't get too lost, saw a genuine Appalachian Mountain shack and enjoyed the outdoors for a few hours. All in all, a successful day.
Monday, August 22, 2011 - Louie
Although we have seven baseball players in a two-bedroom apartment, sometimes there just isn't enough life to the place and another animal can make things more exciting.
One night I woke up around 3 a.m. to use the restroom. As I stumbled out of the bedroom, half asleep, I kicked something furry and heard a yelp. I didn't think anything of it, used the bathroom and went back to sleep.
When I woke up later, I thought to myself, "wow, that was a weird dream I just had." I got up to make some breakfast and, much to my surprise, a little dog was running around, happy as can be. So, I guess I wasn't dreaming. We did have a dog in our apartment. How? I'm not sure, but we have a dog.
My roommate Justin told me that he found him last night while talking on the phone outside. After asking around, everyone said that they had never seen him, and so by default we had a new roommate.
He's a mutt with some beagle, Jack Russell terrier and who knows what else mixed in. With the help of friends and family, we decided on Louie as the name for our companion, and it suits him well. Louie is a little bit older and has some gray in his muzzle, but that doesn't keep him from entertaining us. You can always count on him to lie on top of you in bed or roll onto his back to make sure he gets his stomach scratched. And, like most dogs, he makes it a point to let you know that he's still around if you're paying too much attention to someone or something else.
Louie has never barked (knock on wood) during the time he's been with us, which has made for quiet nights and easy sleeping. He sleeps through the night and rustles me awake in the morning to make sure I don't forget to take him for his morning walk around the pond.
Louie's a great dog who has been a welcome addition to our apartment.
The one thing I didn't like was figuring out what to do with Louie when we went on our six-day roadtrips. Leaving animals behind is by far the worst part about having a pet. However, friends of the E-Town Twins have been gracious enough to take care of him. They spoil him to no end and make sure he's treated like royalty.
So congrats to Louie, the unofficial mascot of the Twins and official mascot of our apartment.
Monday, August 15, 2011 - Please don't ask me for a spot. Please.
An important part of my routine to get ready for my starts takes place in the weight room. On day one I do a lower body lift and on day two an upper body lift.
In Elizabethton, a local gym and hospital are kind enough to let the Twins' players workout in their facilities. It's a slightly older gym, but it gets the job done. A short, 75- meter oval track hangs above the gym, allowing for us to jog warm up laps and do our dynamic stretches.
My first day in the gym, I looked down from the track to see a gentleman in his late 50s doing a set of lat pulldowns. At first, it seemed like a normal situation - an aging man trying to stay in shape. However, when he got up to get a drink, a crude vision was burned into my memory. He was wearing a pair of red cut-off jean shorts which definitely lived up to the name of "shorts." These things had pockets that were longer than the shorts themselves. It looked like his waist was about a 36 and these shorts would have been too small for dad and his barely 30-inch waist. To go along with the outfit were a pair of lifting gloves and a matching red mesh hat. A black, tight-fitting tank top completed the outfit.
The next day, I returned for the upper body workout and who do I see? Yep, Mr. Jean Shorts doing dumbbell bench presses. Only this time, he's in the same size shorts, but green in color, and a matching green hat. I couldn't believe this guy was a regular and was able to be comfortable in that attire. Every time he does any sort of movement to pick up a weight, I turn around to make sure I don't see his shorts rip.
Thankfully, he seems to only think that working out from the waist up is worth his time. I would hate to have him ask me for a spot during a set of squats.
Monday, August 8, 2011 - Six Days, One Pair of Pants and Three Pounds of Peanuts
One of the great aspects of the Appalachian League is that half of the teams are within an hour of each other, so a fair number of the road games are commute trips, making for simple travel. The other road games are slightly farther away (up to 4.5 hours) and we make a decent road trip out of them, playing around six games each time.
Our first overnight trip took us to Princeton, West Virginia and Burlington, North Carolina.
While in Princeton, I had a big craving for some in-shell peanuts to eat in the stands while I was charting pitches, but they cost $3 for a small bag at the concession stand - not acceptable in my mind.
So after the game that night, I went on a search for peanuts. There were three convenience stores within a half mile of the hotel so I visited all three, only to be disappointed each time I perused the snack aisle. Even Sheetz (that is spelled correctly), the 24-hour store that seems to have everything, let me down. Slightly discouraged, I visited Applebee's for dinner and then fell asleep.
The next day, the lady at the front desk told me that Wal-Mart was a couple miles down the street. With lots of down time to kill in the morning, a little stroll would do me some good. I took off in the direction of the store and about 30 minutes later I was at the door to pick up some peanuts. A huge bin of bagged shelled peanuts awaited me as soon as I entered. I grabbed two pounds worth and started walking to the checkout before I turned around and stocked up with one more bag. I bought three pounds worth of peanuts for just under $7. Happy with my frugal nature, I started moseying back to the Days Inn.
Something was different outside, but what was it? It was the temperature, the light. In less than five minutes, the temp had dropped about 10 degrees and the sun had given way to some very dark and ominous looking clouds. I felt the first drop of rain and looked ahead into a wall of water. Suddenly, I felt Mother Nature unleash her fury and a torrential downpour soaked me to the bone in seconds. I figured it was worthless to run back, so I walked through puddle after puddle and opened the door to my hotel, dripping wet. Conveniently, as soon as I reached cover, the sun reappeared.
I wrung my clothes out in the sink, laughing at what had just happened. The downside to being soaked was that I only brought one pair of jeans on the trip, so I had to figure out a way to dry them quickly. Even though it was sunny outside, the humidity would not allow them to dry in time. As you could probably guess, I'm too cheap to spend $1.50 to dry two articles of clothing in the hotel laundry, so I resorted to the hair dryer technique. After thirty minutes and plenty of frustration with the hair dryer randomly turning off, my jeans had changed from soaked to slightly more than damp. I figured I could work with that so I just let them hang dry for a couple hours before we went to the field.
Even though the clothes were a bit damp, the peanuts were as dry as a rosin bag, and they had never tasted better.
Monday, August 1, 2011 - International Arrival
One of the beautiful things about baseball is that it gives one the opportunity to meet people from all different parts of the world. To make it easier to break the awkward first meeting, you automatically have something in common with them - baseball - and with a little theatrics, you can make basic conversation.
Our team in Elizabethton features two players from Australia, two from Puerto Rico, one from the Czech Republic, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Germany and three from Venezuela. I had always known that there were quite a few Latin players in baseball, but the diversity of other countries surprised me. This unique combination of players has allowed me to learn about all sorts of different cultures and, even better, practice my Spanish.
Coach Leake, always quick to dish out the most wonderful of compliments, told me that his Spanish accent on his English words is better than my Spanish in general. I guess I had to try and remedy this situation. I live with Pedro Guerra and Cesar Ciurcina, both from Venezuela, so it was a perfect opportunity to practice my Spanish. Since they wanted to learn English, we would trade off having English and Spanish days in the apartment. It's been great to see how much their English has improved and for me to be able to learn a different accent. Often I get stuck and say something completely wrong and everyone laughs and then we figure out how to say it correctly.
Part of the fun of being able to learn a new language is the small intricacies that are unique to the different Latin cultures. These are very noticeable on the baseball field, with some words being the same as in English and others completely unrelated to baseball in general. One of our catchers, Jairo Rodriguez, speaks decent English, but we speak in Spanish out on the mound and in the bullpen to keep it interesting. It's been incredible to learn baseball in a new language and see how the Latin players view the game. Some of the players we play against are friends from their childhood, so we know a bit about certain tendencies that they had when they were younger.
Our player from the Czech Republic, Matej Hejma, is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter in the off season, part of his training regimen. Max Kepler, from Germany, is fluent in three languages. Miguel Sano of the Dominican Republic is an 18 year old prodigy with ridiculous amounts of power. Eddie Rosario from Puerto Rico leads the team in home runs and he's barely six-foot, 180 pounds. Also from Puerto Rico, Kennys Vargas, at six-foot-six, 275 pounds, is an enormous teddy bear, always the first to say hello to anyone and everyone.
Overall, it's quite the eclectic group of individuals and each has an interesting story and culture to bring to the team.
Monday, July 25, 2011 - "Where's the kid from Wyoming?"
After a quick team meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida, the roster was announced for the squad heading to Elizabethton, Tennessee. I was lucky enough to have my name called and so it began - the frantic scramble to organize my belongings again, find a way to pack more stuff into the same two bags, check-out of the hotel and be ready to get on a bus at 12 a.m. Wait, midnight, or did it say 12 p.m.? Are we really leaving in the middle of the night? I guess it wasn’t a misprint, so I set off on my first experience with the famous minor league bus rides.
Around 11:30 p.m., 32 players, two coaches and too many bags to count attempted to load our coach bus. The first problem was that we still had to load our equipment bags from the field, so we could only fill two of the three bus compartments now. It took about 30 minutes and some Tetris-like organization before we were ready to go. After stopping by the clubhouse to pick up our gear, we began our trek up to Elizabethton and the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.
In theory, the trip was supposed to be about 14 hours. When we got to E-Town, we'd have a little workout to get the bus ride rust off and then be able to get a good night’s rest.
The coaches threw on the movie “Sin City” and everyone was a little too jubilant for me at midnight, so I threw the headphones on to try and sleep. I drifted in and out for a while before falling asleep for good around 2 a.m.
At 6 a.m., I awoke to a jarring stop. It was time to change bus drivers. Leaving us was a nice, quiet gentleman and joining us was a gruff, chain smoking, grumpy old man.
We made a quick pull-in at a truck stop where a number is called out so you can go take a shower. I imagined moldy and dirty shower stalls filled with truck drivers and wasn’t sure if I wanted to eat anymore, but managed to throw down a Subway sandwich and pick up another for later in the day.
A full stomach let me fall asleep again for a bit and I woke up to the movie "Step Brothers" around 10 a.m. Now I was awake for good. I opened up a book and read some of that, watched some of the movie and talked with a few of the guys around me. We did a pretty good job of killing time.
We were about 40 minutes out from Elizabethton when we started going up a “mountain pass" according to the driver. In reality, it was a little hill. The bus started going slower, and slower and slower before we had to pull over to the side of the road. Smoke coming from the back of the bus, along with a warning buzzer, had informed us that our mode of transportation had overheated and we would need to wait about an hour for it to cool down.
Well, that won’t be too bad. It was a pretty location where we had stopped and since we were in the Appalachian “Mountains”, the temperature hovered around a comfortable 80 degrees. I walked up and down the highway, stretching the legs and enjoying the scenery. A few of the guys slept in the bus, others played cards, some complained about being stopped. Three o'clock came and we all started to get on the bus to complete our trip. “Ah, not so fast," said our driver. “We're waiting for a mechanic to come to fix a hose.” I guess it was a little more than an overheating.
Another 30 minutes came and went before the mechanic, Frank, showed up and started working on the bus. I’m not quite sure what the problem was, but it ended up being fixed by busting the top off of a can of WD-40, letting the liquid spray everywhere and using the cylinder to repair the bus. Just as Frank was finishing up, I heard some cussing and figured he banged a knuckle or something like that. But it wasn’t that. He had forgotten a knife and had to cut a hose open to complete the job. He couldn’t find one anywhere in his toolbox so I heard the coach say, “Where’s the kid from Wyoming? He has to have a knife.” Sure enough, I walked around to the back of the bus and pulled out my trusty pocket knife. Five minutes later we were on our way. I guess stereotypes are around for a reason.
So, at 6:39 p.m. on Sunday, June 19, we pulled into the parking lot at Joe O’Brien Field in Elizabethton to unload our gear and organize the clubhouse. Thankfully, the coaches decided to hold off on practice for the day.
The trip took all of 19 hours and nine minutes, but we made it, nobody got hurt and all of our stuff was intact.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - Near perfection through seven
I apologize from the start because I'm skipping a few unique experiences since my last entry, but I promise I will return to those as this entry was more relevant.
July 16, 2011 started out like a normal day. I made some breakfast and went for a quick walk around a neighboring man-made pond. Dark clouds lingered on the horizon, hinting that we might get some rain later in the evening. I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday as she turned ?!@#* (probably best I don't say to make sure I have a bed in the off- season).
On deck for today was the second game of a three-game series against the Greeneville Astros. The Astros are only about an hour drive from Elizabethton so it's just a short bus ride, making for easy travel conditions. We loaded our bus and I soon found myself drifting off to sleep, as is custom for me while riding a bus. I slowly woke up to the bus grinding to a halt outside of Pioneer Park on the campus of Tusculum College. Tusculum College was the first college in Tennessee, founded in the late 1700's. Beautiful brick buildings were scattered about the well-manicured lawns, creating quite a nice atmosphere on campus.
Pioneer Park is by far the nicest facility in the Appalachian League. As the story goes, a donor with deep pockets donated a few million dollars to the school so they could build this facility. I'm not sure how the Astros got rights to the field in the summer, but it's just fine with me.
The position players got dressed for a rain-shortened batting practice in the cage and the pitchers did their conditioning under the cooling guidance of a light drizzle. For me, well I sat in the locker room and entertained myself with Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo", killing time until I had to get warmed up for my start. There's a lot of downtime for the starting pitcher on his start days, so a good book is a must have.
Finally, 5:30 rolled around and I left the locker room to start getting loose. It looked like the drizzle had finally let up and the tarp was off the field, meaning we would be ready to go right at six. I joked around with my catcher, Jairo Rodriguez, and made my way to the bullpen. A quick conversation with Shelly (pitching coach Jim Shellenback) and I was ready to go.
Our offense put up a run in the top of the first, so I was able to start the game with a lead, which is always nice. I cruised my way to the fourth inning when, with one out, two runners reached base on consecutive catcher's interference calls. I've seen catcher's interference happen a couple of times, but consecutively? That was a first for me. I escaped the jam and realized that I had given up no hits through four.
I went back out in the fifth and sixth and put the Astros down in order. The no hitter was intact through six - was it going to happen?
After getting a drink, our third baseman, 18-year-old Miguel Sano, came up to me and said in broken English, "Hey, three more innings, no hitter." Well, there it goes I thought. The cardinal rule of baseball was just broken. Someone mentions the no-hitter and you might as well flush the no-no down the toilet. As I ran back out for the seventh inning, I couldn't help but think about what I had going, what Miguel had just said and whether or not my pitch count would get too high for me to finish the game (100 pitch limit max). But once the first batter of the inning stepped into the box, I cleared my head, I needed to win a pitch.
The first Astro went down swinging on three straight strikes. The next batter broke his bat on a weakly-hit ground ball up the middle - uh oh, an infield hit to break it up. But second baseman Nick Lockwood made a great short hop pick and off-balance throw to first base to snag the runner by a step. Still intact. The third batter swung at a first pitch slider and hit a three-hopper to short for the final out of the seventh.
As I sat in the dugout, the coaches peered up into the stands to check how many pitches I'd thrown. I laughed to myself as Shelly came over to give me a handshake - the universal indicator that my night was over. But the game wasn't over and we still had a chance to no-hit Greeneville. Well, after two innings of relief from Garrett Jewell and Steve Gruver, it happened. We had no-hit Greeneville, the first no-hitter to be thrown within the confines of Pioneer Park.
I guess it was a pretty good birthday present for mom.
Read Minor League Baseball's story on Tim's performance here.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - How I ended up not pitching to Joe Mauer
6:30 a.m. Eastern Time: The alarm goes off for the first day of extended spring training and professional baseball in Fort Myers, Florida. Even though I'm a self-proclaimed morning person, this was an early wakeup call with my body still thinking it's 3:30 a.m. back in San Diego.
I jumped into a van with 14 other groggy Major League hopefuls and we began the drive to the Twins' complex. I had no clue what to expect and when I walked in, and then it hit me that I was in a place where names like Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan and Jim Thome rehabbed to get themselves ready for the grind of a Major League season. Huge lockers, an enormous equipment room, it was quite an impressive setup.
Soon after changing into my new uniform, I made the walk out to the fields and was greeted with four beautiful playing surfaces, 85-degree heat and a ton of humidity - all at 8:00 a.m. Now the wheels were really turning. Where do I go? What group am I in? Which field is for the rookies?
I followed some players who looked like they might know what was going on and I jumped into line to start warming up. Luckily, I had managed to find my way on to the field with all of the new draft picks and other members of the Gulf Coast League (GCL) team. After a quick series of dynamic stretches, it was off to the other side of the field to begin my throwing program to get loose for my first professional bullpen.
The position players finished their throwing much earlier than the pitchers, so they began to take infield/outfield and I got myself ready for my bullpen. But wait, the bullpen was on hold because Joe Mauer needed to get some catching work in and he was about 30 minutes from finishing his private batting practice with Jim Thome. Well, that isn't the worst thing in the world. I get to watch Mauer and Thome take a ridiculous BP and then throw my first professional bullpen to an MVP.
After checking myself back in to reality and picking up my chin from the ground, Ivan, the pitching coach, told me Mauer would be over soon and to get any warm-ups in now so I would be game-ready as soon as he arrived. A few tosses later, I was warm again and then realized Mauer was nowhere to be seen. Ivan then informed me, "Well, I guess he's done for the day. You can throw to someone else."
I can now officially say I was big-leagued by an MVP. Not a bad first day of ball for a rookie.
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