This year’s Stockton Ports are a pretty special team. Not only is the roster loaded with many of the A’s best young prospects, but the team finished the regular season with the best record in the California League at 85-55 and will begin play in a best-of-three California League playoff series starting Wednesday in Visalia.
In July, A’s Farm spoke with a number of the Ports’ top players about how their seasons have been going on the field – which you can see here – so this time around, we thought we’d take a look at how things have been going off the field. In particular, we spoke with four Ports players who’ve been living together all season – shortstop Daniel Robertson, first baseman Matt Olson, second baseman Chad Pinder and pitcher Austin House. Outfielder Billy McKinney began the season with them but, with his trade to Chicago, has since been replaced by pitcher Dylan Covey.
All four of the house regulars have had solid seasons for Stockton. Robertson finished the year as the California League hits leader, while Olson won the league’s home run title. Despite missing about a month’s worth of time due to injuries, Pinder was still second on the team in doubles and batting average, and House tied for the second most saves in the league.
While most people know the kind of money that major league ballplayers make, most fans don’t really appreciate what life is like in the minor leagues and would probably be a bit surprised to find five of the A’s top prospects all spending the season together in one two-bedroom apartment. But that’s the way it often works below the major league level, where cramped quarters and long bus rides are a way of life. But when you’re busy chasing the dream, it’s all a part of the adventure – and can also help to foster the kind of camaraderie that’s needed to succeed in a game that truly is a team sport.
We talked to Robertson, Olson, Pinder and House last week, just a day after they’d clinched the California League Northern Division second-half title and with less than a week left in the regular season…
(DR=Daniel Roberston, MO=Matt Olson, CP=Chad Pinder, AH=Austin House, AF=A’s Farm)
AF: So we’ve got the four of you roommates together here the final week of the regular season. You’ve been living together all season long, and I know Billy McKinney was living with you before he was traded, but has anyone else taken his place since the trade?
ALL: Dylan Covey.
AF: So then Dylan took over Billy’s spot when he got here from Beloit.
AF: Well how’s this living arrangement been working out so far this year?
DR: Honestly, I get so sick of these guys sometimes. No, I’m just kidding. It’s worked out great. We drove up here after spring training and found an apartment. We’ve got two to a room. [Austin] House lives in the living room.
AF: So you’ve got your own room?
AH: Yeah, I have my own room!
DR: The only thing he’s missing is a door. But it’s worked out great. We’re there to sleep most of the time. If you get more people in, it kind of helps out with the money situation – it just makes it a little cheaper. And these guys are awesome to live with. So I’ve had a blast all year.
AF: So who’s rooming with who?
DR: Me and Olson, Pinder and Covey.
AH: And then they all hang out in my room.
AF: And you and Olson were roommates in spring training too, right?
AF: So what’s your average daily schedule look like?
MO: I’m always up first…no later than 10:00 most days.
DR: He [Pinder] is the last.
AF: So when are you usually getting up?
AH: And I wake up whenever they come out in my room.
AF: So when do you normally leave for the park?
DR: I’m normally driving every day. So whenever the crew is ready, we’ll take off. We normally get here around 1:00-1:30 after we go grab some food, either Subway or The Habit.
AF: What’s The Habit?
AH: It’s like a burger joint.
DR: And they’ve got awesome salads and quality food. We basically have the same routine every single day. We’ve done it for five months straight, eating the same food every day. Then we show up here around 1:00-1:30 and start getting on it. And then afterwards, we’re fortunate enough to eat here. And then we just head home and hang out for an hour or two and call it a night.
AF: So when do you guys usually crash at night?
ALL: 12:30 or 1:00.
AF: So not too many late-night video game sessions then?
AH: We do movie night every once in a while.
DR: He [Pinder] will pick out a great movie. He’s really into those scary movies. He picks out great movies.
AF: So what was the best movie of the year?
CP: What did you think the best one I picked was?
DR: Maybe The Devil Inside. That one was awesome.
MO: Great ending!
AF: Well that’s sounds pretty unanimous! So who’s the most responsible member of the household?
AH: Probably Danny.
AF: So he’s the adult?
DR: I’m a clean freak. My area and the kitchen always have to be clean or it bugs me. I’m not going to lie.
AF: So you’re the OCD one?
DR: I’m the OCD one, I’ll admit it. There’s got to be that guy in the house who keeps everything neat because if there’s not then it just turns into a pig sty.
AF: Who’s the messiest person in the house?
AH: I’m going to go ahead and nominate you [Pinder]…He just leaves food, shoes or there’s always a pair of shorts or something…
MO: I’m not too far behind him though.
AF: Who’s the craziest or most random person where you never know what to expect from them?
ALL: Billy [McKinney]!
DR: When he was with us, you never knew his next move…I think, living there now, it’s probably House.
AH: I usually ride pretty solo…I usually go by myself. I’m a pitcher.
AF: Not only are you a pitcher, you’re a closer! So you’re really on your own wavelength.
AH: Yeah, I usually kind of do my own thing.
AF: So if you all end up in Midland next year by any chance, would you consider reconstituting this arrangement?
DR: No, probably not. I’ve lived with Olson for three years now. It’s kind of getting old.
AH: I might go back to hanging out with pitchers.
DR: No, I’m just kidding. I would live with these guys for sure.
AH: Honestly, we get along pretty well. We have fun together and enjoy hanging out with each other.
AF: So there could be chapter two in Midland?
AH: There probably is going to be chapter two…but we’ve got to get to Midland first!
AF: Of course. Now you’re just wrapping up your season here and you’re going to the playoffs. Looking back, you’ve accomplished a lot as a team this year, but what do you take out of your time here this season?
AH: We kind of expected to be a winning team. We’ve got a lot of good players. Not saying that we expected to get to the playoffs or anything, but we expected to win.
DR: I think last year we had a winning tradition in Beloit, and it’s most of the same guys here, with a couple of major additions like Chad Pinder and some of the other guys. We had the same coaching staff and most of the same crew here, and we won last year and we expected to carry it on again this year.
AH: I think we kind of had a chip on our shoulder too because I think we could have won the Midwest League. And coming into this league, we had the same kind of squad, so we want to win it.
AF: So you feel like you’ve got a little something to prove this year.
AF: So I guess you’re looking forward to getting into the postseason and trying to go all the way then.
DR: Yeah, I feel like if you get there, you want to make the most out of it and win it all, and not get bounced in the first round or something.
AF: Now it looks like three of you [Robertson, Olson, House] are going to be together out in the Arizona Fall League this year.
AH: He [Pinder] is responsible. He’s going to school.
AF: Where are you going to school?
CP: Virginia Tech.
AF: So back home – what’s your major?
CP: Communication studies – so not really a major. [Laughter]
AF: How much do you have left to do?
CP: 35 credits, so I’m going to do 15 this fall and then knock out the rest periodically.
AF: So are the rest of you looking forward to going to the AFL?
DR: Yes, definitely. It’s an honor for sure. I think it’ll be fun. It’s just the next step of the process.
MO: Seeing the competition, we probably haven’t faced half of those teams just because they’re on the east coast, so it’ll be good to see what all’s out there. And like he said, it’s an honor to be included.
AF: Yeah, you’ll definitely be seeing a lot of talent out there you haven’t seen before. And you’ll also be seeing your old friend Addison Russell since he’ll actually be on the same team with you guys. I guess you must be looking forward to that.
DR: Of course.
AF: You’ve still got your place out in Arizona, right?
DR: Yeah, it’s up to him if he wants to stay with us again or not.
AF: Individually, you’ve each had really strong seasons this year. Starting with you Chad, you got off to a great start. You’ve had a few injuries, but you’ve still been out there most of the year and have had a really solid season while learning a new position at second base. What do you feel you’ve been able to accomplish this year?
CP: I think the big thing was defense at second base. When I was first over there, I was like a fish out of water. I was really uncomfortable and making a lot of errors. And then I worked hard and it started to get better throughout the season. So I feel like that’s the main thing that I’ve gotten out of this year.
AF: Austin, you’ve really been coming on strong in the second half, and your strikeout numbers have really been on the rise. Is there anything that’s been clicking here for you later in the season?
AH: Just trying to be consistent every outing. I think in the first half, I was throwing well. Some of the results just weren’t where I wanted them to be, but that’s a part of the game.
AF: Well, eventually it all evens out!
AH: Yeah, it’s a full season.
AF: Matt, you’ve had a great season, but you’ve really had an exceptional second half, hitting lots of home runs and walking a lot. Is there anything in particular you’ve learned or adapted to over the course of the season?
MO: Yeah, I think just the experience of getting more at-bats under your belt, and just sticking to a plan up there. And obviously as the season goes on, you get more at-bats and you become more comfortable up there. I wouldn’t say there’s been any specific adjustments.
AF: And what about you, Daniel? It’s late in the season, you’ve been out there grinding every day, and still you’re hitting as well as you have all season right now, so something must be clicking for you.
DR: I just think it’s preparation and staying with the routine, getting the work in and just trying to stay within myself at the plate and trying to control the zone. Getting down to later in the season, you’ve got to stay mentally strong, and how you prepare is what will help you finish strong. Like Olson said, there’s no major adjustment that I’ve made. It’s just staying with the routine, and the more at-bats you get, the better you’re going to get. And it’s been a fun year.
AF: As you look back on the season, were there any particularly memorable moments or highlights that stand out in your mind?
DR: Last night, clinching the second half, especially beating a team that won the first half and dominated us in the first half. So to do it against them was pretty fun. You get into the playoffs and it’s a fresh start and anything can happen…One thing that sticks out in my mind, we didn’t win this game, but we were down 11-3 against San Jose a couple of weeks ago and scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth, and that was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been a part of in a while. We didn’t come out on top in that game, but we sure felt like we won with the display we put on in the bottom on the ninth – and those are games you like to play.
AF: So did that help infuse you with a little extra confidence coming down the stretch, like you could come back in any situation?
AH: Yeah, we’ve done it like five or six times.
MO: We did at Visalia two weeks ago!
DR: The other day in Rancho Cucamonga, we were down 2-0 in the top of the ninth and we put a couple of runs together and Ryan Gorton comes up with a big hit and the next thing you know we’re on top 3-2.
MO: And Josh Reddick hitting that game-tying bomb for us!
AH: It happens all the time! In the eighth inning, we’ll be down by four or something, and I know somehow we’ll pull it off. Who knows how? But we always do! We just battle until the very end.
AF: So how did you guys celebrate when you clinched your playoff berth?
AH: Just hung out with the teammates and enjoyed their company. That’s what’s good about our team. We have a real good clubhouse. It makes it easy to come to work when you enjoy your teammates, so we always have fun.
AF: Well, I guess for you, it’s just like being at home!