Down on the Farm with AZL A’s Infielder Brett Bittiger

bbimage2bBrett Bittiger was born in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania and attended Pace University in New York. The infielder was drafted by the A’s in the 40th round of this year’s amateur draft and is currently playing in the rookie-level Arizona League for the AZL A’s, who are based at the A’s minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona. We look forward to hearing from Brett about life down on the farm as the season unfolds in the coming weeks. You can follow him on Twitter @BrettBittiger

 

When you’re a little boy in your backyard, you imagine yourself in Game Seven of the World Series. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes. You imagine hitting that walk-off home run. You pretend to throw that game-ending strikeout. You don’t give any thought to how you would have managed to get to that spot.

But then you grow up. You finish little league, and move to the big field. You play high school ball, travel ball, and your scope of competition continues to multiply. Every year, more of your friends drop off–some from a lack of desire, some from a lack of talent. By the time senior year of college rolls around, most of us who have survived that long have gone from visualizing ourselves in the World Series to thinking, “Please, don’t let it end here.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. It’s inevitable for the idylls of youth to be fractured, pared down by increased exposure to reality. And, as a redshirt senior near the end of his fifth and final year as a college baseball player, I didn’t bear my journey any resentment. I hoped only for a chance to keep playing the game that I love.

A few people have asked me how it felt to be taken in the final round of the draft. I suppose most of them, and even some who don’t feel comfortable asking, expect that there is some sense of disappointment or inferiority involved. I understand the expectation, but it isn’t true–at least not in my case. Everyone wants a million dollar signing bonus, but few actually get one. And, when you’re a redshirt senior who attended a small Division-I school before transferring to a similarly proportioned Division-II program, you’ve never entertained such thoughts. So, when my phone rang on the last day of the draft, after being taken by the A’s with their final selection, I wanted only to know when I could get started. A day and a half later I was on a plane, headed for Arizona.

0DSC04060xHaving lived my whole life in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania (also having attended college in New Jersey and New York), I knew that I was in for a drastically different environment. At home, there are trees everywhere, covering even the mountains–generally verdant landscapes extending in every direction you look. Here, the landscape deals only in shades of red and brown, from rusted maroon rock to the pale beige of scorched earth. At home, it’s warm in the summer, occasionally humid. But upon my arrival in Phoenix, I caught my first taste of dry heat. And, as fate would have it, my arrival coincided with a significant heat wave (significant in Arizona terms), with the daily high temperatures for the week ranging from 115 to 120.

Let’s call that first week an adjustment period. On the best days, it felt like baking slowly in an oven. At the worst, an intermittent breeze would blow, comparable only to taking blasts of hot, fetid air from a corroded hair dryer to the face. It has cooled down to a manageable constant of around 105 since then, but a northeastern man of my German descent must safeguard his complexion at all times. I haven’t been sunburned yet, but suffice to say that my tan lines are a bit comical.

bbimage1bThe daily routine of pro ball is an adjustment, too. Looking back, college ball was a lot of rushing around. Running from class to practice, from practice to study hall, then maybe picking up a night shift at a part-time job, and finally getting back to your dorm to cram for tomorrow’s exam. Nearly every minute of the day was occupied either by a task or the need to get to the next one. Day-to-day life seems to move a bit slower in pro ball, a decrease in pace that is likely the product of an increase in focus. Simply: this is your job now, not just something you love doing on the side. As such, it requires a greater portion of your time and effort. This leads to longer days at the park and more downtime than college ball, and I relish the change.

At this point, I am only a few weeks in, and just learning everything that pro ball entails. This is a new and exciting chapter for me as a student of this game, and I’m looking forward to the lessons it will offer. It is an invaluable experience to work each day at top-of-the-line facilities, surrounded by tremendously talented professionals who all share the same dream. Even more than that, it is a special feeling to become a new part of something bigger than yourself–not just a team, but an organization. I look forward to contributing however I can.

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