Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 26, 2013

The pro game can be tough

M-A grad discovers the high and lows of the minor leagues

by Andrew Preimesberger

At 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, I received my first call from a professional baseball team; it might have been the best phone call I've ever answered in my life.

My agent, Jim Hayes, woke me up to tell me that the Pacific Association's Hawaii Stars wanted to sign me for the remainder of the season. I hadn't even been to Hawaii before, and coach Garry Templeton II wanted me there as soon as possible. We hurriedly bought an airline ticket, and I left the next morning.

When I arrived on the island of Maui, I didn't really have a plan for what I was doing or who I was about to meet; I had to play it all by ear. Luckily, the Stars were playing the league's Maui-based club that day. My timing was good; the Stars landed at the airport about an hour after I arrived. We all took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel in Kahului.

It happened to be the team's off day, so Templeton and the coaches took us to Lahaina to watch a play about the history of Hawaii. It was a good welcoming to Hawaii for me.

The next day we opened our first game of a six-game series against the Na Koa Ikaika Maui Warriors that started at 5:30 p.m. I was excited and nervous at the same time; I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew I was going to love it. We got out to the field at about 2 p.m., and pitchers started their warm-ups.

When game time started, I was suited up in a gray-and-blue uniform and a new hat, feeling like a real pro baseball player. Maui had a good crowd that night of about 300 people, and it got pretty loud at certain points. They had an announcer who would talk after almost every pitch, rooting the Warriors on. In between innings, they had games for fans and gave out tickets for vacations; it felt a little like a major league game.

Our team's record was 4-10 before I arrived, and we won big that night. I was wondering how we had compiled such a poor record.

Our third game was a special one to me; it was the first game in which I pitched. I was in the dugout in the fifth inning, walked by Templeton and asked, "Should I be in the bullpen right now?" He replied, "Yeah, because you're coming in next."

My eyes lit up, and I was dialed in as soon as he said that.

I don't think I threw one pitch out of the strike zone in the bullpen; I was just focused and excited. In the game, I threw 40 out of 47 pitches for strikes.

I came in the game in the sixth and had a clean first inning, giving up only one hit. My highlight moment was in the ninth, when Maui's best hitter, Jeremy Williams, came up. I worked the count to 1-2 and was feeling a strikeout to win it, so I pumped up and threw him a fastball shoulder-high. He whiffed it, and I got my first save as a Star.

The rest of the week was fun. During the day, we were free to do whatever we wanted. I liked to go to our hotel's beach and just relax. Other days I would go with my roommate, shortstop Felix Brown, and a few other guys to the shopping center across the street for food or Starbucks coffee.

After our 4-2 series win over Maui, we headed to Hilo — our home base. The flight to Hilo takes about a half an hour from Maui. Our shuttle arrived at the airport and took us to our house on Kinoole Street. Hilo was a little different. We had eight guys living in a five-bedroom house, so you can imagine what that might look like. Three teammates and I slept in a bunker on air mattresses under the house in about 80-degree weather.

Hilo has a little more of an old town feeling to it than Maui. I walked down the street to the gym every morning and would observe cracked pavement and houses that looked like they haven't been remodeled in decades, if ever. Our house was about a 25-minute walk from downtown and to the beach; pretty much everything there is within walking distance.

On June 22, I started my first game with the Stars against the East Bay Lumberjacks. The mental preparation for starting games is unreal. Our minivan full of guys got to the field at 1 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. game. That was the most preparation time for a game I've ever had. I spent about four hours visualizing and thinking of how I was going to approach the game by just sitting on a bench with my headphones on.

I had a good first start, getting the win by throwing five innings with three strikeouts, four earned runs, and no walks. It was more exciting than a nervous feeling for me; I felt good about it.

Last summer 2012, I played for the San Francisco Isotopes, a semi-pro team in the National Adult Baseball Association. The competition in the independent Pacific Association league is definitely a step up from semi-pro ball. This league includes some players who were once major leaguers (such my teammate, Onan Masaoka, who had pitched for the Dodgers) as to others who had played in Single- and Double-A ball.

There were other ties to the majors on the Stars; manager Garry Templeton II's father had played shortstop for St. Louis and San Diego during his long career, and second baseman Dustin Smith (St. Louis Hall of Famer shortstop Ozzie Smith's son) and reliever Mike Jackson Jr. (his dad pitched for several teams, including the Giants, in his long career) were teammates.

In the minors, if you make one mistake on a pitch, you're generally going to pay for it. The players are a big step up from the semi-pro league.

I love the fact that in pro ball you actually get paid for playing. It wasn't much, but I was getting paid for something I love doing. All major expenses were paid for by the team; travel, food, and housing.

About halfway through my month with the Stars, I was beginning to feel a lot of pain in my elbow, and I wasn't throwing my usual 88 mph anymore. I learned that it's tough to go from not throwing every day to throwing every day, and my arm wasn't quite ready for that.

Icing my arm and running every day didn't seem to get me back to 100 percent. We also didn't have a trainer in Hawaii so I couldn't get any treatment for it. It caused me to labor every time I took the mound, and I was giving up too many hits. The Stars was released me when we came back to California to play the San Rafael Pacifics and the Vallejo Admirals.

It was tough for a few days, but I now know what I need to do next time I get the call.

All in all, it was a great experience. It taught me a lot about what it takes to be a professional. Your mind needs to be ready every day, you have to eat right, you have to have enough sleep, you have to work out, and you have to know how to take care of your arm. This is only a step in what I hope to accomplish. I was happy to be a part of the ride.

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