With 14 years of Major League Baseball pitching experience under his belt, it was a no brainer for San Diego’s AA affiliate in San Antonio to call on Tim Worrell to fill the shoes of former Missions’ pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who was summoned to become the new Padres bullpen. Hired by the parent-club San Diego Padres in 2010, Worrell had been working in Peoria, Arizona with the organization’s players in extended spring training and on rehab assignment prior to reporting to the Texas League team. Having to leave his wife and six boys back home in Phoenix to take on pitching coach duties in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be long before Worrell would be adopted by his new baseball family of international pitchers led by Aussie Hayden Beard.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard came off a strong 2011 campaign after pitching for Team Australia during
the Baseball World Cup in Panama as well as for
the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. During the 2011-12 Cavalry season, he earned himself ABL Player of the Week honours and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. Heading into 2012 Padres Spring Training Camp, Beard looked radiant and as confident as ever. After leading High-A Lake Elsinore Storm to a 2011 Cal League Championship, it was natural for the right-handed hurler to saddle up for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio Missions. Although there were a few bumps in the road during the seemingly rough ride, the Aussie pitcher finished strong with a 6-5 record in just over 119 innings of work. Starting in 19 games, Beard gave his team a chance to win every outing. However, he relished after the All-Star break in his 12 bullpen appearances during which his strikeout totals accelerated to 69.
We caught up with family man Tim Worrell in the San Antonio Missions’ dugout recently and discussed how Padres pitching prospect Hayden Beard’s best years may have yet to come.
Roberto: 27-year-old Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard is a late bloomer because he had to sit out for three years due to nerve damage in his arm. The Padres obviously have faith in him by sending him your way in Double-A San Antonio. Having said that you reached the prime of your career at age 31, do you see some parallels between the two of you in showing him that there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Tim Worrell: Yeah, sure. Again, I never try to tell these guys where their careers could finish at. I’d be a dummy to tell them that. First off, he’s got a great live arm and great movement on his pitches. Sometimes he struggles a little bit with control and that obviously puts us in trouble. When we’re behind in the count regularly, it puts the hitters in hitter’s counts. But he’s definitely starting to get some of these approaches knowing that is an area he needs to work on. And that in itself ends up helping to control some of the results that end up happening to us. (You) can’t always control them all, but it does put us in a better position. And he is still working on fine-tuning his game. It wasn’t long ago that we sped him up a little quicker to the plate without giving up quality of stuff so that he could hold runners on first better. So there are definitely physical things we need to do and he needs to do to make his game better. But a lot of it is just believing and trusting his stuff.
Roberto: Watching his roommate Miles Mikolas get the call-up to the Padres, rubbing shoulders with last year’s surprise in the San Diego bullpen, Erik Hamren, and this year’s sensation, Nick Vincent, must have been inspirational for Hayden with the realization that he could be next. Having watched him pitch in Australia and in Lake Elsinore, the fact remains is that Hayden Beard is a great competitor. Now that he is paired up with you in San Antonio, I think it’s an awesome combination. I’m really happy that you guys are really able to work together in developing his craft.
Tim Worrell: Yep. And you brought up probably his number one attribute and that’s his competitiveness, which is probably the most important thing. Because a true competitor never gives in. We have to remind ourselves at times maybe that we are that. But they don’t give in, and they are always looking to get better and always looking to get the job done.
When the 2008 Dirtbag reliever was called up to join the Padres in MLB in May, Nick Vincent became the 13th former Long Beach State ballplayer in the major leagues this season and the 42nd
in school history. Since the right-handed hurler was summoned, CSULB is once again on top for the most major leaguers from any college–an honor the team has held in 2010 and 2011.Getting to the big leagues for this determined 26-year-old resident of Ramona, a secluded town of 40,000 inhabitants in the foothills northeast of San Diego was a grind. Inspired by his father–who along with his brother–played catch with him at age five and later instilled a strong work ethic as a youth helping with the family business, Nick became Valley League Pitcher of the Year as a senior at Ramona High School and led the Bulldogs to the CIF San Diego Section Division III semi-finals. Vincent was granted a medical redshirt because of a strained right elbow in the first season of his long three-year commute to Palomar College in San Marcos. He learned the fine intricacies of the game and developed his craft before his journey north to Cal State Long Beach–where he transformed into the Dirtbag Stopper under pitching coach Troy Buckley.
With a perfect 4-0 record and a 1.75 ERA over 30.3 innings and 26 appearances in relief, Vincent was instrumental in Long Beach State Dirtbag’s 2008 Big West Championship. The San Diego Padres took notice and selected Nick Vincent in the 18th-round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Vincent spent the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons with Padres’ Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore, where his 3.08 ERA in 2009 was nearly cut in half to a 1.59 ERA in 2010. The six footer was promoted in 2011 to Double-A San Antonio, where he appeared in a Missions’ club record 66 games and struck out 89 batters in 79.3 innings during the regular season. He was named to the Texas League All-Star team and led San Antonio to a Texas League Championship. Vincent was stellar in the 2011 playoffs, when he pitched six scoreless innings without giving up a walk and striking out 11. The California native made a strong case to make the Padres 2012 opening day roster after three spring training relief appearances, during which he didn’t allow a hit in three innings and struck out three. Instead, an ankle sprain kept him in Arizona for rehab and extended spring training. We spoke with Nick Vincent shortly after his May 18th call-up to MLB and his reassignment from Triple-A Tucson Padres to Double-A San Antonio, where he decided to abandon throwing out of the windup because it put too much pressure on his ankle. The results were remarkable as he went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.6 innings of relief, ringing up 15 without issuing a walk. Since being called up
a fourth-time to the Padres this year, Vincent has been impressive in the bullpen by providing middle relief with a 2-0 record and a 1.83 ERA.
Padres manager Bud Black said of the reliever. “We like Nick’s stuff and he throws strikes. Nick knows his game. He throws a cutter and fastball to both sides of the plate. His game works. He’s just a little bit more consistent than some of the other guys that have come up. We like how he’s throwing the ball, we like his stuff.
He does a lot of things well.” A cordial and genuinely nice guy, Nick Vincent also has the positive disposition and outlook to make the new ownership of the San Diego Padres proud to see a local boy realize his dream in MLB.
Roberto: How are you feeling after being called up to the major leagues as a Padre? Nick Vincent: I feel pretty good. It was an unreal experience. I mean the first day I was just in awe. How it happened and all that. And then the second day I actually felt it like ’Wow, you’re in the big leagues. This is what it feels like’ kind of thing. When they told me that I was going back down, I wasn’t too surprised. But that feeling you get in your body from going from Tucson (AAA) to the big leagues is an unreal feeling. I don’t think I have ever felt that feeling before in my life. Roberto: How important was your college baseball experience in becoming a pro leaguer? Nick Vincent: I played down at Palomar Junior College down in San Marcos. Played there for three years. I got hurt my first year, and there is where I learned most of my baseball. From high school to that, I learned probably ten times from what I knew about baseball from high school. It was unreal, and then I just carried that on to Long Beach with my numbers and stuff. And just started pitching well out of the bullpen there. The main reason I went to Long Beach is because the pitching coach there: Troy Buckley. I mean he had the best ERA in 2004 or 2005 with (Jered) Weaver, (Neil) Jamison, (Abe) Alvarez…they had all these pitchers. And I talked with one of them, Neil Jameson, because he went to Ramona. He was like: ‘If you want to learn how to pitch, this guy knows his stuff.’ That was the main reason
I went there because I didn’t know if they were going to be a good team or not. I didn’t check into that, but I thought if I wanted to continue pitching then I’m going to go with the best pitching coach. Roberto: How good can it get to be pitching professionally where you grew up as a kid? Nick Vincent: I mean San Diego is all the way around probably the best city in California…just because of the weather. There is so much stuff to do. You go two hours, and you’re in the snow. You’re right by the beach. You can go fishing. You can go to the lakes. There is just so much stuff you can do around downtown. I mean you can’t really do that in LA. Roberto: How did your family react seeing you in a Padres uniform at PETCO on May 18th? Nick Vincent: My dad had bought like 80 tickets. I think he only gave out 50. But he ended up bringing the other ones back, and they reimbursed him for those tickets he didn’t use–so that was cool of the Padres. When I warmed up in the seventh inning, I got up to throw and the whole section right by the bullpen–that’s where he had bought all the tickets–erupted. Friends, family, from high school, my brother’s friends, other friends..it was pretty cool! Roberto: How have you coped with the pressures of staying up in the big leagues? Nick Vincent: I went up there and learned some stuff. I mean when you go up there when the game starts, it’s all business. There’s not too much messing around..none of that! So that was one of the biggest things I felt. Everyone is pretty serious..like every pitch. You’re watching every pitch. Nervousness…no matter what…that first inning you throw–you’re always going to be nervous no matter what. And as soon as you get through all of that…then that’s when everything will start cooling down. I mean I’m excited. I’ve got to get the ball down, keep pitching better. Be smart of what I ‘m throwing and get the ball down. I was up in Tucson (AAA), and I was leaving the ball up a lot so they told me I was coming down here (AA). You don’t pitch (well) there, you get moved down. That’s just how baseball is. Roberto: Is your cutter your best pitch? Nick Vincent: Yeah, I can throw my cutter to both sides of the plate. It has good late life. Roberto: Is it a dream come true getting drafted and playing Major League Baseball? Nick Vincent: I mean everyone who gets drafted…that’s where they hope their destiny is. But I mean you got to earn it. So for me I’ve got to come down here and throw strikes and get people out. I mean I would hope to get back there, but at the same time they are not going to be bring me back up if I’m not pitching good. So I’ve got to get back doing my thing, get people out and hopefully…I mean that’s where I want to be (in MLB). If I’m pitching good, that’s where I’ll be. But if I’m not pitching good, then I’ll be down here (in AA).Roberto: Have you always been a pitcher way back to your Little League days? Nick Vincent: In Little League and stuff, I pitched but not to be like good at it. I just did it because no one else could throw strikes. And I played outfield more back then. High school came along. The JV coach wanted me to be a pitcher so I went ‘okay’ and I started pitching then. Junior and senior year came along, and I just pitched. That’s all I did. So after that, pitching was the only thing that I could go to. Roberto: Is there a different mindset being a reliever than being a starting pitcher? Nick Vincent: Yeah, it’s a way different thing. You can’t be a reliever and go out there and try to start and have the same mentality because you’re not going to. You can’t go out there and throw an inning as hard you can and expect to be that good the next inning. So starting and relieving are two different things. I mean I started at junior college. I liked it. I started doing relief at Long Beach, and I liked that too. For me I think I would be more successful as a reliever out of the bullpen because you get that adrenaline going. And like for me, I want to go in with guys on base right after a starter and we’re like winning or something. And you just shut those guys down and don’t give in and take the momentum from the other team. Roberto: What kind of pre-game preparation and research on the opposition are you doing? Nick Vincent: I’m not really doing much. If you’ve only got two pitches. you’re going to throw those two pitches no matter what. Just because they can’t hit a change-up, you’re not going to start throwing change-ups because your change-up is not the same as everyone else’s change-up. For me I’m just going to go out there, and I just look where they’re at standing at the plate. I’m kind of studying them throughout the series, but
I mean it only takes one game to figure out what these guys can do, what they want to do with the ball. If the guy wants to go opposite field with it, then that’s where he’s going to hit the ball that way the whole time. And then you have to play the whole field. If the wind is blowing in this way, you can throw pitches that way. You got more chance for error. I just go up there, and I learn from where they’re standing in the box. I trust our catchers too. Our catchers are watching the game more than I am. So I trust them with their knowledge.Roberto: Are you paying much attention to baserunners when you are on the mound? Nick Vincent: Yeah, you’re always taking note that they are on base, but they’re not taking my concentration off the hitter at all. I mean I’m pretty quick to the plate so if they want to steal and take the chance of getting out…I’ll let the catcher do his job. I don’t throw many balls in the dirt. I’m more of a strike guy. If they want to chance it and run for second base, I’ll let them and let the catcher throw them out. I’m not really too worried about the guys on base. Roberto: How good of a hitter are you with the bat? Nick Vincent: I’m not good with the bat. I got one AB last year, and I struck out. When you haven’t hit since high school and you try to go out there, it’s coming like a 100 miles an hour. Or least that’s what it feels like. Roberto: If Bud Black calls on you to sacrifice, can you at least lay down a bunt? Nick Vincent: If I had to, I could get that down. Bunting off a machine is way different than bunting off a guy in a game. I know that… Roberto: Do you have any advice for young baseball players trying to make it in MLB? Nick Vincent: I mean just go out there and work hard. Prove people wrong, that’s what I’ve done my whole life. They always said I wasn’t going to get drafted because I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough and all that. So that just gives you fire kind of deal.
You go out there and let’s say you’re throwing 85, 86 and you’re getting people out—you’re getting people out! Baseball is a numbers game. Sooner or later they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s all I have to get back to doing and see what happens from there. Roberto: Who were some the players that had the greatest influence on you as a pitcher? Nick Vincent: Back in the 90’s when it was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, that starting rotation right there. It seemed like they were on TV every night. Watching them…what Maddox could do with ball, and then Smoltz throwing fastballs by people and Glavine had his change-up. That three starting line-up was like unreal. As a starting rotation, those were probably my favorite guys I liked to watch. Roberto: Thanks for your time today, and we look forward to seeing you back at PETCO! Nick Vincent: Thank you and have a good day.
Utility baseball player Dean Anna is the consummate leader.
A three-sport letterman in baseball, basketball and golf while attending Lincoln-Way East High School in Mokena, Illinois, he chose baseball at John A. Logan College in Carterville and was rewarded by being named All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference during his sophomore year after leading his team in home runs and breaking the school record for RBI. Dean Anna’s leadership continued as a junior transfer at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana–where he led the Cardinals in doubles, triples, walks and runs.The Padres took notice and selected the versatile five-foot-eleven right-handed fielder/left-handed batter in the 26th round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Since then the Midwesterner has proven worthy in the Padres minor leagues by catapulting his teams to three championship titles in Fort Wayne (2009), Lake Elsinore (2011) and San Antonio (2011). Having played in three 2012 Padres Spring Training games before being sent back to San Antonio to defend the reigning Texas League Champion Missions, super utilityman Dean Anna is making a difference in the team’s nightly do-or-die must win scenario to make the playoffs since six of the Missions’ remaining handful of games are against second-half leader Corpus Christi Hooks, who are ahead of San Antonio by nine games.
After speaking with Missions’ Dean Anna, we found him to be one of the most humble players in the dugout. His work ethic is unparalleled and his ‘never say die’ approach to the game is commendable. With the Missions needing their clutch player to step up and lead the team to the post-season, Dean Anna is more than capable to take on the role as captain. Batting .282 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI, Anna’s on-base percentage of .392 is among leaders in the entire Texas League. The 25-year-old prospect is certainly exciting to watch, and we expect to see him play his best baseball yet in his quest to help his team repeat.Roberto: I understand you have played every position on the field but catcher, correct? Dean Anna: The only catching I have done…caught a few bullpens. If the opportunity came, I think that I would have to catch. But I haven’t caught a pitch yet. Roberto: Would you like to try pitching professionally? Dean Anna: Yeah, I would love to actually. I have always wanted to try one inning or two just to see how it is out there. Make me feel like I was 10 again pitching. Roberto: How does playing second base differ from playing shortstop in regards to turning the double play? Dean Anna: Well, second baseman, there is three different turns, you know. Second base you got a drop step, you got a flip and then you got a side flip. So I mean you just really work on your craft, you know. At first it’s real difficult when you start at second base. Because I started at short(stop) all of my career, and I moved to second when I got to pro ball. And you know I thought it would be easy, but actually it was a little hard because of all the different type of turns for double plays from throwing it from shortstop. The drop step was different, the side flip was different and the underhand flip was different. And you use them in a different type of areas. So you really have to understand what area you’re in for what ball to throw, you know. So that was the big thing. Even to turn double plays when you’re on the bag…you know there’s a way of doing it that way. It seems to look easy but wherever the ball’s taking you–you have got to go to it. And you have got to be quick as possible and get out of there because that runner is getting on you fast. So that’s another thing you have got to have quick hands. Roberto: When has a baserunner crossed the line to intentionally cause you harm? Dean Anna: You know what? If a cleat hits you, you know they’re out of hand probably. But it’s hard to tell because you can’t see the runner sliding because you’re focusing on the ball thrown at you. So both of your eyes are following the ball. It’s impossible to look at the runner while the ball is in the air and catch it at the same time. So you’re just hoping, you know. You kind of have a clock in your head so you kind of know when the runner is coming to second base. So you know when to get out of there. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you forget the time of it and how fast the runner is getting on you. Roberto: How difficult is it to remain engaged in the game when you play nine innings night after night? After all, isn’t baseball a game that can change instantly with one single pitch? Dean Anna: Yeah, that’s how baseball is played. I mean every pitch matters, you know. There’s a situation on every different pitch. You have got to be on your toes. Sometimes if you are not ready for what that moment is going to bring to you it can cost your team a game, you know. So that’s a big part of baseball, just staying in the game the whole time and having that mental toughness–just knowing everything, what’s going on… Roberto: As an infielder, do you communicate with your outfielders on the field? Dean Anna: Yeah, you know, the right fielder and me (second baseman). We talk pretty much with every batter. We kind of know where we are going because I know if he is playing shallow or deep. Especially on guys, right-handed hitters, that maybe stay inside the ball well and hit the ball good to right field. We’ll know that he should be coming in a little shallow. So I kind of know that we’re not going to blow into each other, you know. The tough ones are when the ball is kind of sinks into center, like right center or left center. That means that you have all three players running at it. And that’s when it gets confusing, where the communication gets confusing. But with right field and second base, we’re okay out there. We kind of know where we’re staying. Roberto: Were you hurt being selected as a late round draft instead of an early pick? Dean Anna: No, you know, it didn’t bruise my ego at all. I was just happy to get the opportunity to play pro ball. That’s what I have always wanted to do. And you know I was going to give it my best, and I’m doing pretty good right now and stuff like that. I just wanted to have a chance, an opportunity that ‘s all you can ask for in life actually. So I’m just happy for that. Roberto: Are you ready to be called up to Major League Baseball by the Padres? Dean Anna: Yeah, I mean I’m definitely ready if they’re ready, you know. But I’m just playing ball and having fun. It’s day-by-day. I mean I have no control over any of that stuff. I wish I was a psychic. Yeah, that would be real nice. That’s fully out of my control. I just take it day-by-day. I play as hard as I can, and you know hopefully good things will happen.Roberto: Do you stay in touch with all of your teammates who have made it to MLB? Dean Anna: Oh yeah, we definitely do. I talk to a couple guys like (Blake) Tekkote, Miles (Mikolas), (James) Darnell. Those guys had a great time, they’re having fun up there. They said it’s an unbelievable experience, you know their first-time, their first game. Hopefully one day I can get the same feeling. Roberto: Are you prepared for all of the rookie pranks that go along with being in MLB? Dean Anna: Yeah, hey, if I can get to the big leagues they can prank me everyday (laughter). Yeah, I’ll be the prank guinea pig. I don’t care (laughter). Roberto: Do you think being five-foot-eleven and 180 pounds puts you at a disadvantage? Dean Anna: I mean the size for me…it doesn’t really matter. Honestly, I feel like it’s not like football or basketball where you have got to be 6’6”, you got to run a 4.2 forty. Baseball is such a mental game and if you can just read between the lines well. I mean a smart baseball player…that will make you look better. Just being a smart baseball player, I think plays a big role in all that. Roberto: Don’t you think that being a left-handed hitter has its advantages? Dean Anna: Yeah, that definitely helps a little bit for sure. Get down the line a little quicker. Roberto: Having only reached double digits in the stolen bases category early in your professional career, why don’t you steal more bases with the speed that you possess? Dean Anna: You know…I’m not a big steal guy, but I have real good anticipation like when the ball is hit. I can tell if the ball is going to drop or not without looking. Like I just know that I can probably get (from) first to third with a line drive and know that the fielder is not going to catch the ball. I just got good instincts. Roberto: Where did you pick up this talent? Did good coaching have anything to do with it? Dean Anna: Yeah, definitely great coaching helps out…you know. After a while, you just get a feel. You know how the ball sounds off the bat. You know where the ball’s going. You just kind of get a feel for the game when you play for a while and start getting a rhythm. You just kind of know.Roberto: Who did you used to follow before becoming a part of the Padres organization? Dean Anna: I’m a Midwest guy from the Chicago suburbs. My family is all diehard Cubbie fans. Yeah, it runs through our blood. Roberto: Do you have your suitcase ready to go if you get called up next month? Dean Anna: No, my bags are not packed. Honestly, I’m just taking it day-by-day. If that does comes…that opportunity…I would be so happy, you know. I’m just excited to see what happens. Roberto: Excited to get pranked? What has happened to you so far in the minor leagues? Dean Anna: When I was in High-A, everyone knows that I don’t like animals and stuff.
You know I’m kind of a city guy so I don’t like all the country stuff and all the fishing and stuff. One guy had a little snake and it was live. So he put it in my pocket in my locker,
right where my phone’s at. So I go to grab my phone, and this little snake pops out of my pocket. I did a back flip down on the floor. So then after that, I almost had a heart attack. And then I ‘m sitting, watching TV. I had my shirt tucked in and one of my teammates opens my shirt and puts the snake down my back. I went crazy! That was kind of funny… Roberto: With your fear of snakes, did you cringe when you learned that former teammate Miles Mikolas ate a live lizard in the Arizona Fall League bullpen? Dean Anna: I texted him that same day when I heard and asked him what he was thinking. He said it was funny and good protein intake. Roberto: What is your biggest baseball taboo? Dean Anna: I’m a big guy where I don’t want anyone to touch my baseball gloves. I don’t like anyone putting their hands in them. Roberto: Do you have a pre-game routine that you follow? Dean Anna: I like to really relax like for an hour. Get off my feet and just relax. Listen to my music. Calm down, you know, relax. Get mentally prepared for the game. Roberto: What about your routine at-bat and in-between pitches? Dean Anna: My ritual when I go up to bat…I always do my batting glove thing. Like every pitch I do this one batting glove, I tighten my left one up then my right one up. Then I touch the two outside corners of the home plate. Then I get ready to go. I feel like in baseball you’ve got to be consistent to move up. So everything I do I make sure to do the same way. Just because your brain works that way, you know. Your brain works like if you do the same thing it should trigger something. Roberto: The golden sombrero is not a good thing in baseball. Have you ever struck out
four times in the same game? Dean Anna: If I got the golden sombrero, I would change what I ate that day. Like if I had bad games, I make sure that whatever I ate that day…I wouldn’t eat it the next day. I make sure that I wouldn’t wear the same shoes to the field. Like I’m a superstitious guy a little bit. Just because this game makes you kind of like that.. But when I’m going good I’m eating the same food everyday. I’ll walk the same way. I’ll take the same path. Just because it’s just a mindset thing. Roberto: What is your personal professional best hitting streak to date? Dean Anna: I’ve recently had a nine-game hitting streak, and I just didn’t shave for nine days. So I was getting a little scruffy, and then it ended. I mean it didn’t get that bad, but
it was getting bad where people were asking ‘What are you doing?,’ you know. But I wish it could have gone a little longer. Roberto: Are you happy to have been part of the San Diego farm system? Dean Anna: The Padres organization is great, you know. I’m happy to be a part of them. Hopefully someday I can get up there and witness that. And have fun with that. It seems great. Everyone says it’s great. So it would be nice. I’ve been out there once when I was
in High-A Lake Elsinore. We actually went out for a game and everything was beautiful. Everything was so nice. Hopefully one day I can play there and get my chance. Roberto: Did you enjoy your time playing in the Midwest as a member of the Single-A
Fort Wayne TinCaps? Dean Anna: When I was at Fort Wayne, it was nice because I have family out there that way. So I saw my family a lot. Roberto: Did the humidity and heat in Indiana prepare you for the weather you are now experiencing this summer in the Texas League? Dean Anna: Nothing compares to San Antonio heat. Honestly, it’s very hot out here! Roberto: Sometimes do you flash back to the good old days in California playing for the
Lake Elsinore Storm when it’s over 100 degrees outside at game time in San Antonio? Dean Anna: Lake Elsinore was not bad at all. The thing that surprised me about Lake Elsinore is that it can get cold out there. I’ve never been out to California since I was in
the Cal League and that was last year. I couldn’t believe how cold is was in the beginning. Because I was like ‘California, is that place cold? Really?’ Roberto: Southern California weather is hard to beat. Wouldn’t you agree? Dean Anna: Yeah, yeah…it was nice, very nice! Roberto: How about the beautiful sights there? Now you truly understand what the
Beach Boys meant when they wrote ‘California Girls’? Dean Anna: (Smiling) Yeah, it makes sense! Roberto: Thanks for your time and sharing so much with us today. Dean Anna: It was a great interview. It was fun. It was great—thank you!
Although half of MLB.com Jonathan Mayo’s 2011 Top 10 Outfield Prospects have made their splash into Major League Baseball, the remaining five prospects–including former Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick and current Padres AA-affiliate San Antonio Missions leadoff hitter Reymond Fuentes–have yet to make their grandiose MLB debut despite possessing the five-tools necessary to become successful in the big leagues. Considered the “other” prospect San Diego received packaged with right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) in exchange for trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010, the speedy 21-year-old Reymond Fuentes has the genetic makeup to break into the Bigs. Just ask his cousin, seven-time MLB All-Star/Puerto Rican philanthropist and baseball advocate Carlos Beltran. “I’m very proud of him,” Beltran said. “I believe he’s going to make it to the big leagues. I told him, ‘As hard as you’ve worked so far, you’re going to have to work double to get where you want to go.'” Upon hearing the news of Reymond being shipped out west, Beltran was concerned about his cousin’s reaction and called him immediately. He said, “Sometimes when you’re young and a team trades you, they think they don’t like him. So I told him, ‘Man, the best thing that happened to you was being able to get traded to San Diego because that organization is an organization that doesn’t have players on long-term deals. And if you put up a good year, you play hard, you can play in the big leagues as soon as possible.’”
Chosen to represent San Diego as a member of the World Team at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game as well as lead off for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, six-foot Reymond Fuentes is looked up to by many aspiring Caribbean ballplayers with the same dream. Having built the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to educate and nurture young athletes, cousin Carlos Beltran in the spirit of legend Roberto Clemente gives back generously to his people–especially when it comes to family. Carlos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to help him out. I work out with him in Puerto Rico, and I invite him to my house, and he’s there way early–so he’s hungry. For being so young, that really impressed me the most–more than his talent. Hopefully he lives up to that, and I can watch him play in the big leagues and maybe play against him one day.”
Part of Team World’s outfield with current MLB players Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox) and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, Reymond Fuentes was one of two prospects selected from the San Diego Padres organization. Named the Friar’s #13 prospect by MLB.com and rated the franchise’s best baserunner by Baseball America following a successful 2011 at Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore with 41 stolen bases, Fuentes has been the spark plug for the 2012 AA San Antonio Missions. We caught up with Fuentes recently in San Antonio at Wolff Stadium after the post-game fireworks, which the youthful Reymond kindly requested to watch before conducting the interview. Roberto: You look good having put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason for additional power without compromising your lightning speed. With teammate Dean Anna having a great 2012 season and sometimes leading off, Missions’ manager John Gibbons has switched up the line-up and placed you in different slots. Do you care where you are placed in the line-up? Reymond Fuentes: Anything that
can help with the team win–I will just
do it. Just follow orders from my manager and just play the game that I love and know how to do. Roberto: As the Missions’ team leader for stolen bases on par for 30-plus in 2012, do you enjoy making the opposing pitcher worry about you when you are on the base paths? Reymond Fuentes: Why not?
I mean I do my role then they have
to do their role.
Roberto: Having an eagle eye vantage point of all the action on the field, do you like playing center field? Reymond Fuentes: Center field is awesome. My speed and my range help me a lot. It’s fun just to run down balls and get those hits off the other team. And get them angry a little bit…you know what I mean. It’s a lot of fun tracking balls and making those diving catches is the best! So I love center field, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. Roberto: After being involved in the trade that allowed Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, was there any love lost when you had to say goodbye to Fenway? Reymond Fuentes: You know it
was really tough not to see my old teammates from Boston, but I mean being traded for Adrian is a huge step for me. I mean Adrian is an All-Star. He’s a great player. I think it’s a real honor to get traded for him and just join this team, play the game with the same attitude and effort in Boston here. Roberto: Please tell me about your deep family connections to Major League Baseball. Reymond Fuentes: Carlos Beltran is my mom’s cousin. We work out in the offseason everyday–hitting, fielding, throwing, catching. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot on the field and off the field. He’s taught me a lot of stuff about life so I have to thank him. My dad used to play too. He’s been there since I was four years old. He was the first one who gave a bat to me and saw me swing. So I have to thank my dad for staying with me all this time and help me get where I am right now.
Roberto: How influential was the legendary Roberto Clemente growing up in Puerto Rico? Reymond Fuentes: Roberto Clemente, God rest his soul, was a terrific, all-time I don’t even know how to describe…he was a great player! A lot of little kids including me looked up to him because the way he played ball, the love he had for the game. It was unexplainable. I love to read his articles because I didn’t get to see him play. But everything I read about him is awesome, and he’s the best of Puerto Rico right now. I used to wear (Clemente’s) number 21 when I was a little kid. Then I couldn’t use it because of some rules in Puerto Rico when they retired his number. So I just decided to go with (number) 15 that Carlos used to wear. So I’m staying right there and just keeping everything within family, you know. Roberto: With reggaeton blowing up in Puerto Rico, I was surprised that you have a different genre represented in your walk-up song. Reymond Fuentes: Reggaeton is big in Puerto Rico, but right now I have a salsa—that’s old school music in Puerto Rico. I got this walk-up song from my dad. It’s my dad’s favorite song, and I’m using it right now. I think I’m going back to reggaeton because I mean it makes me move walking up to the plate and just makes me happy. Roberto: It be long before you make your MLB debut for the SD Padres. Reymond Fuentes: Thank you. That would be awesome. I’m looking forward to that every single day. Roberto: Would you like to be called up to MLB next month when the roster expands to 40? Reymond Fuentes: I would love that. I mean that’s my dream ever since I was a little kid.
I just can’t do anything else, but play my best ball here and just wait for that call. Roberto: Are you looking forward to facing cousin Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals? Reymond Fuentes: You know what? If I face Carlos, I just want to rob two hits out of him with diving catches in center field. I would just call him the next day and say ‘Hey, you can’t hit it over there.’ Roberto: Thanks for taking time out for us today. Let’s chat again at PETCO in San Diego. Reymond Fuentes: Absolutely, I mean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with MLBforLife.com and I’ll do it anytime when I can.
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolasturned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.
Since starting a baseball program from scratch over a decade ago when Southern California’s Capo Unified School District opened the doors of Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Varsity Baseball Manager Rick Brail has successfully prepared athletes with dreams and aspirations of playing professionally in Major League Baseball. When 2005 Tesoro graduate Erik Hamrenmade his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres in 2011, Coach Brail was so proud of his protégé that the school retired Hamren’s jersey #25 at a ceremony during half-time of a Tesoro basketball game in January.
Former San Clemente High School baseball star and veteran Tesoro Manager Rick Brail said, “Erik was in the first four-year class at Tesoro High School. He and his family have not only been a part of a baseball program from day one but also a big part of the school’s establishment. Retiring his jersey was a great thing to do because he has and always will be a part of our Tesoro family. It also felt great to recognize a player who was one of hardest workers and always put the team and school before himself. Our school, the community, and baseball program could not be more proud of Erik’s accomplishments on the field and the man he has become out in society.” Having earned three letters in both varsity baseball and football, Hamren perfected his game with every year of experience. He tipped off his athleticism and talent early on in his Tesoro Titan baseball career when he was named to the 2003 North Orange Country Classic All-Tournament Team. The Coto de Caza native followed it up in 2004 with a roster spot on the Southern Cal Cup II – Orange County All-Stars. Hamren finished the 2005 season with three home runs and a .452 batting average, which earned him the Pacific Coast League Co-MVP with Tesoro teammate Nick Nelson. Erik Hamren was a rising star and was heavily recruited to play college ball. He decided to stay in California and attend University of the Pacific.
Coach Brail added, “Erik always had a ton of talent on the baseball field, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he finally put it all together. He fully committed himself to baseball, (his studies) in the classroom, and physical fitness. After that the game came easy for him, and he was named MVP of our league his senior year as an outfielder and part-time pitcher. His transition to a full-time pitcher happened in college like many players. He was struggling at the plate and decided to convert to a full-time pitcher. It was seamless because he could throw 90 mph plus. It was just a matter of gaining confidence and experience.” After only nine at-bats at Pacific in his first year, Hamren returned home to pitch for Saddleback College and lend a helping hand to Coach Brail’s elite Tesoro Titans baseball team.A converted pitcher who had been picked up in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs after the team liked what it saw during a tryout, Hamren didn’t sign his first professional contract until after making 15 pitching appearances in the Northwoods League for the Mankato MoonDogs during the summer of 2008. With one win, six saves and a
2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work under his belt, he then opted to sign with the Cubs. Hamren made three stops in the Chicago Cubs farm system in 2008 and 2009. Hamren had less than two full seasons of pitching experience when he was released by the Cubbies after the 2009 season with Single-A Midwest League Peoria, where he had a 5.98 ERA in 38 games. Determined not to give up on his dream of making it in the Bigs, Erik chose to play in the Independent League to develop his craft in 2010. He pitched in the Indy Northern League in 2010 and put together an 0-2 record with a 3.39 ERA in 44 games playing for the Kansas City T-Bones and Joliet JackHammers. Joliet acquired Hamren in late August for the stretch run in a trade with the Kansas City T-Bones. The right-hander was dominant in seven games for the 2010 JackHammers by posting a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings of work, striking out 16 and holding opponents to a .262 batting average. Hamren appeared to have finally felt comfortable pitching and was ready for redemption.
Major League veteran pitcher Tom House was critical in Erik’s transformation and revamping his approach prior to pitching at a MLB tryout camp in November 2010. After seeing the renaissance man in action, the San Diego Padres signed Erik to a minor league contract. Hamren believes it was a full season of independent baseball and working with former Major Leaguer Tom House that helped him reach MLB. Erik said, “Indy ball was the best thing that could have happened to me. It put things in perspective. You have it, and then you lose it. But I got innings, and I got to work. It’s kind of hard to grasp what has happened.” Hamren admitted that he struggled with his command during the first half of the 2010 season, but a ‘House call’ visit with the pro at the All-Star break made all the difference. “House synched me up,” Hamren said. “He kept me really focused and made me really confident. The first half of the season, there were still command issues. Strikes would come and go. But I worked with him and got a little confidence off that.”Coach Brail commented, “Erik was blessed with a ton of baseball ability. He had all five of the major baseball tools. It was just a matter of maturity and trusting himself on the field. Once he learned to relax and focus on the things he had control over, the game got easier for him. I’m a Erik Hamren believer and fan. He has overcome adversity his whole career and with his tremendous work ethic. I know nobody will out work him, and he is only going to get better.” Coach Brail knows that it will be an uphill battle for Hamren to return back to the Big Leagues from his current post at San Diego Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions. It’s the same place where he was when he received a Big League call-up at 1:30 in the morning on July 31, 2011 after the Padres traded relief pitcher Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers. Hamren made his splash into Major League Baseball at PETCO Park the next day on August 1st against Southern California National League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
The six-foot-one, 195-pound righty pitched a scoreless
ninth inning in San Diego’s 6-2 loss but also ended his
MLB debut memorably by striking out Dodger speedster Dee Gordon. The Orange County homegrown hero deserved the opportunity after being named 2011 Texas League
Mid-Season All-Star and compiling a stellar 5-0 record with
a 0.98 ERA in 48 games with the Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions. During his shortened 2011 minor league campaign in 65 2/3 innings of work, Hamren was relentless. He surrendered a mere 46 hits, while walking
14 and striking out 69. The 25-year-old posted a 4.38 ERA
in 12 1/3 MLB innings last season with the Padres pitching middle relief. “He’s a great story,” said Jason McLeod, the Padres’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He
has a low-90s boring fastball with a swing-and-miss slider.”
Hamren had high hopes that a successful run at 2012 Padres Spring Training would warrant a slot in the San Diego opening day bullpen. Unfortunately, he was designated for assignment on April 5th by the Padres.
To the delight of Southern California Friar faithful in keeping Hamren a Padre, Hamren cleared waivers and was assigned to Double-A San Antonio. So far in his 13 innings pitched out of the Mission bullpen (0-1, 2.08 ERA with one save and four holds), Erik has surrendered only 6 hits while striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .154 batting average. With continued success in the minor leagues, it is just a matter of time for the South Orange County pitcher to return to PETCO Park.
Hamren’s journey to Major League Baseball was relatively short, especially considering that he
was pitching in the Independent League in 2010. He possesses what it takes to become a solid contributer to the Padres bullpen and is itching to remain a staple on the San Diego roster. Should the Padres use closer Huston Street as a half-season rental AKA trade bait before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, then Hamren will be right on schedule for his annual pilgrimage to PETCO. However, one would expect that at the very latest Erik will rejoin the Padres when active rosters increase from 25 to 40 on September 1st. In the meantime, the trek from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the San Antonio Missions will have to suffice. Just as the swallows return every year to this legendary South Orange County landmark, fireman Erik Hamren will faithfully make his miraculous comeback to MLB in San Diego.
What does Cuban-American baseball legend Tony Pérez have to do with Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard in the San Diego Padres organization? Could it be their professional ties to the Padres? After all, Tony Pérez was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League in 1964 when he played for the San Diego Padres, a minor league club in the Cincinnati Reds organization at the time when Hayden Beard wasn’t even born yet. After hitting .309 with 34 home runs and 107 RBI for the Padres, Pérez was sent up to Major League Baseball late in the 1964 season to become one of the game’s most clutch hitters. Over a decade later his two-out, two-run blast off Boston’s
Bill Lee in the seventh inning of the final game of the 1975 World Series lifted the Cincinnati Reds to their first world championship. Both Pérez and Beard share the same “Big Dog” nickname but for different reasons. Pérez’ teammate Lee May came up with the “Doggie” moniker saying, “He’s the big dog, the top dog … you could always depend on Doggie to drive in the big run.” In Hayden Beard’s case as a pitcher, he is “The Big Dog” on the mound who consistently keeps opponents off-balance and guessing in clutch situations. Signed by the New York Mets in 2005, Hayden Beard was plagued by injuries early in his career and was shut down from competition for three years. Beard returned home to play for the Canberra Cavalry and pitched two seasons for the Padres Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm. After pitching for Team Australia during the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama, Beard’s 2011-2012 ABL campaign for the Cavalry earned him ABL Player of the Week and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. We caught up with “The Big Dog” Hayden Beard at Padres Spring Training camp in Peoria, Arizona prior to him being sent up to pitch for the San Diego Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions. Roberto: Thanks for joining us. How did you get “The Big Dog” nickname? Hayden Beard: It was a radio broadcaster back in Low A (ball). I asked him to call me the name one day as a bit of joke on the bus on the way to the field, and I threw that night. (Later) we get off the bus, and he replayed the audio of the game. And sure enough he said, “Here comes the pitcher, the Big Dog, and the Big Dog whatever…” And the name just kind of stuck. Unfortunately, it was a self-given nickname. (laughter) Roberto: Let’s talk Canberra pitching for a moment. Were you happy for Steve Kentbeing signed by the Kansas City Royals after a stellar 5-1 record with six saves in the ABL? Hayden Beard: I think with Steve getting that opportunity with the Royals was great, especially (after) the way things ended with the Braves. He had a great year two years ago coming off surgery. Didn’t start so well last year and then to be let go…I think it hit him pretty hard. But in saying that, it gave him maybe a bit more drive than he had before to work harder, to get stronger and be a better pitcher. The work that he did in the ABL was unreal. He was out there everyday working his butt off, doing extra work. Just the progress made for a pitcher was phenomenal. He’s a new guy now. I hope he stays healthy and has a great year. Out of the bullpen, pitchers can fly through the levels. It’s not unrealistic that he could be in the Big Leagues in the next 12 months. [Editor’s note: The Kansas City Royals have since released Steve Kent.] Roberto: What about the Cavalry’s unsung hero, pitcher Brian Grening averaging a strikeout per inning with an unrestricted limit of 43.2 innings pitched? Hayden Beard: Grening was definitely our go-to-guy throughout the whole year. If we were in jam or if we needed someone to eat up a couple innings, we’d send “Greno” out there. I’ll tell you what, as far as a pitcher goes, if I could have any pitch from anyone on
the staff, it would his change-up. That thing is unreal. I think that’s why he had the success that he had. He doesn’t have a 95 mph fastball. He doesn’t have the big hammer, but that change-up is just phenomenal. It’s been unfortunate that he hasn’t been picked up by an affiliated team so far this year, but hopefully he goes and plays independent ball. And if someone needs a guy throughout the year, his phone starts ringing and maybe he is back out here.Roberto: Of all the ABL teams, the Canberra Cavalry had the strongest American presence. Why did you have so many U.S. players? Hayden Heard: I guess we need the Americans on our team because Canberra is the smallest city that has a baseball team, and our baseball population is small. Therefore, our player base from where we can draw players in is quite limited. We don’t have the number
of professionals that Sydney, Perth, especially Victoria, Brisbane have, so we’re always in need of international help. So for us local guys that are on the team, we are all current professionals that have played professional baseball so we have been around Americans
our whole careers. We know a lot about them, and the reality of the situation is once you
all get together and put that same uniform on—you’re a team. And you’re all striving for
the same goals. You are there to win. You’re there to get better. You have to start off, and it’s a little bit weird maybe not knowing everybody. But that will last maybe one or two days. And you’re all baseball-minded. You all love the game, and you’re there because you want
to be there. As far as having that big U.S influence on our team, it’s not a problem at all.
It’s something I look forward to every year. Meeting new guys and making new friends.
It’s good. Roberto: Kody Hightower was a true competitor. Did you expect him to have the third best batting average (.361) and on-base percentage (.455) in the ABL? Hayden Beard: What a story he was throughout the year! He’s a guy that rolls out of club ball. I think when they were putting the team together, he wasn’t really looked at as a guy that would be in our starting nine. A few injuries happen, we need a guy. Our manager, Steve Schrenk–a great guy–calls Kody and says, “Would you come away and play with us?” Kody had obligations with his club team in Canberrra that brought him to Australia to play. So it was a little tough to get those guys to come on the road with us, and then they obviously would miss their games that these clubs had paid for them to come out here and play. But Kody, I mean, for someone who had not really been playing professional baseball at a high level to come in and just do what he did there…absolutely raked. You know, he was probably our best hitter. He and Burgamy during that last month of the season were just unreal. Kody stepped up to the plate. The way he did it showed a lot about his character and him as a person. He’s most welcome to come back and play on the team anywhere I play in the world. He could come out here and compete in minor league ball. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. So who knows, maybe a scout saw it and thinks the same thing? Roberto: That’s exactly why I wrote the article—The Risky Lowdown of MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. His talents are uncharted and are unrecognized by the international scouts. He’s got the competitive spirit to roll with the punches and play with the big boys. Hayden Beard: He absolutely does. When he gets between those lines, he’s brutal…he’s a fighter and he wants to win. He sets very high standards for himself, and if he doesn’t reach those goals then he is really hard on himself. I think that is the kind of mentality that you have to have to have success in the game. Kody is a guy that could play anywhere in the world, and I’m sure he’d have success and do what he has done throughout his career.Roberto: Now let’s talk about you. How did the MLB Australian Academy on the Gold Coast prepare you for professional baseball? Hayden Beard: Without the MLB Australian Academy, there’s no way I would have
been signed. I wouldn’t have gotten the exposure I had without this opportunity. I signed with the Mets. Went over there and went to the instructional league in 2005. Played in 2006. Spring training in 2007 then hurt my elbow and ended up having surgery. Took me out for the season. Never really bounced back after surgery. The arm never responded for whatever reason. Mets didn’t give me a visa for the next two years because I wasn’t healthy so I was no use to them. Then in 2009 I had an opportunity to go to Japan and play on the Australian provincial team. So I went over there for about a six week trip to Japan. The coach called me three weeks out and said, “You know Beardy, we need an arm. Are you healthy?” So I said,”Maybe I’ll get healthy. I’ll give it a go.” So I committed. Got back in the gym, worked hard, started throwing, made the trip, went over there. Threw pretty well. Velocity was back up, you know, 93, 94, 95… And I thought I could have a chance to get back out on the mound, you know. I got home and contacted the Mets. Told them I was good to go. Went and played the Claxton Shield with Adelaide. The Adelaide Bite needed an arm and their manager called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing for us.”
I said, “Yes.” Turns out one of the Adelaide coaches is a scout with the Padres. He put in his reports. December comes around, Rule 5 Draft happens. Get a call at three o’clock in the morning–“You’re now a Padre!” And from then it has been taken off flight. Coming over here to the San Diego organization has been unbelievable. It’s like what Corey Adamson said,
it is like a family here. The way you are treated. The way everyone gets on so well. From
the front office right down to the Arizona League. The trainers, the staff, everyone is just fantastic. And I couldn’t think of a better place to be right now. I’m not sure a lot of clubs out there would have given me the opportunity that San Diego has. You know, I ‘m getting pretty old as far as minor league age goes. They’ve kept me around. Obviously, they see something in me. I hope to repay them and have a successful Big League career. Roberto: Josh Spence would love to have a fellow Aussie teammate down in San Diego. Hayden Beard: Absolutely, I’ve know Spence. We went to the MLB Academy together in 2005, and now being in the same organization it’s pretty cool. I think the role change from
a reliever to a starter has been huge for me, you know. Went out there in the Australian league, never started before. Started, worked on my secondary pitches, things just took off from there. Right now I’m pitching the best that I have in my life, and hopefully I will try to carry it right through into the season. Have a successful year. Who knows what the boys are going to do upstairs? They might give me a call down. Roberto: Weren’t you looked upon as the closer for Team Australia? Hayden Beard: Yeah, I was. That was the initial plan, and then through talking to the Australian coaches and the staff they said my secondary stuff needs work. And it’s tough to get that work out of the bullpen. You know, if you’re not throwing between outings, you get your work in on the mound. Only throwing two pitches out of the bullpen–fastball, slider–both hard pitches, nothing below 85 mph–guys were starting to see it pretty good and hit it hard. And that’s why I switched to the starting role to be able to throw a change-up. Through that I now have four pitches. I have an overhand breaking ball which is down around 79, 80 mph and a change-up around 78. Totally changed the way I pitched, and I guess the success I had in the Australian league is a testament to that, being a different pitcher than I was last year. Roberto: What about the new Australian Baseball League with its support from Major League Baseball and the growth of the game in Australia since then? Hayden Heard: I remember the old ABL about 12 or 13 years ago now. When that folded,
I was just a young kid and it was pretty hard. Because I used to love going there with my dad. He’d take me out there, and I’d go chase the foul balls. It was great. But then having no league in Australia to follow and no guys to watch was a little bit hard coming through the baseball ranks as a junior. Now the league is back. The growth we’ve seen in the game has been huge. The kids are walking around the malls wearing Canberra Cavalry hats, wearing Canberra Cavalry t-shirts. We’re averaging 1000 people a game this year. That’s fantastic! The numbers of baseball junior registrations have just skyrocketed. And I think it’s a real testament to the league and the work they have done with Major League Baseball as a partner, trying to get their game out there in Australia and really promote it. And I’m sure if this league sticks around then you’re definitely going to continually see more and more Australian professional baseball players leaving their mark in the Major Leagues.Roberto: Was pitching your number one preference as opposed to playing a different position? Hayden Beard: No. I never pitched! I was a shortstop until I was 18. Then a Braves scout was at our game to see my buddy who was a Brave at the time. He saw me pitch. We were tied, had to go extra innings and ran out of arms so I was called from shortstop to throw a couple innings. I think I was running up to 87, 88 or something. This is at club baseball back home, and he was the one who first saw me there. It’s Neil Burke, he’s on the coaching staff for the Melbourne Aces. He spoke to the Academy people and said, “This guy has a chance, you know. Give him some time and train him up a little bit.” And they did and a few months later I was a full-time pitcher. Now I’m a professional baseball player. That’s seven, eight years ago now. I don’t have that many innings at all in my arm. I’ve probably only thrown maybe 300 innings total as a pitcher. I’m still raw. I’m getting better everyday. I guess that’s a positive right now. Roberto: Has Aussie MLB pitchers like Grant Balfour been inspirational to you? Hayden Beard: He has. Watching him pitch in the playoffs a couple years ago was awesome. Just seeing that there is hope there for Australian guys to come through the systems. Look…Peter Moylan as well with the Braves, another great guy, great impression. He had a burst in the minor leagues, hurt his back, had some surgeries, came back as a 26-year-old. And then to do what he did now..not just a Big League pitcher but a dominant Big League pitcher. That’s impressive! Roberto: What was your surgery all about? Hayden Beard: It was a nerve arm issue. One of the nerves in my elbow popped out of where it was supposed to be and was rubbing against a bone. So they just moved the nerve. It had nothing to do with the way I threw the ball. I have real clean mechanics so I really have never had an arm injury sort to speak as far as ligament damage or anything like that. So hopefully this fresh arm will stay fresh for a while longer–knock on wood…Roberto: Is playing baseball a good life? Hayden Beard: I’m just happy to be here. I love the game. I love doing what I do everyday. I know that I’m fortunate to wake up and come to the ballpark. Back home working a nine to five job makes me really appreciate what we have over here. Something
I think a lot of young guys really don’t understand is how good this opportunity is, how
good a life it is playing baseball. Some young guys might have a bit of a whine, whatever. That it’s tough out here on the field. It’s not tough. Tough is getting up at seven o’clock in the morning, going to work for nine hours a day digging a ditch and then going home at nighttime. I love the game, and I’m happy to be here. Roberto: Having already led the Lake Elsinore Storm to a Cal League Championship.
Are your Single-A minor league days over? Hayden Beard: I did throw a lot of innings in the ABL in the offseason so that may count for something, and they might send me straight to Double-A San Antonio. It’s really up to the bosses here. Wherever they send me, I’ll go out and I will pitch my ass off. Work hard everyday and try move up that ladder to get up to the Big Leagues. Roberto: I would like to see you to go head-to-head with Melbourne Ace and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Shane Lindsay in the Major Leagues. Hayden Beard: Absolutely. Shane is a great guy. He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s got
a lot of fire in his belly. I’m sure if anyone is going to get there–it’s going to be him. So I’m with you. I really hope he gets healthy and has a year like he did last year to force their hand to put him in the Big Leagues. Roberto: Thank you for your time today, and I look forward to “The Big Dog” pitching in his MLB debut at San Diego’s PETCO Park. Hayden Beard: I’ve still got a lot of arm left in me. Thanks Roberto!