Blake Schwartz has Big League dreams
A lot of people associate minor league baseball with long bus trips. How does all the travel affect your ability to stay ready to play?
The travel is definitely one of the biggest parts of the grind. You basically play every day; maybe you get a day or two off per month. The Carolina League is not too bad. Our farthest trip is six or seven hours to Myrtle Beach and we have lots of three or four hour road trips to play teams in Virginia. Low-A in Hagerstown was tough. You’d make trips to Georgia, 13 or 14 hour bus trips. The higher up you get the more centralized the leagues seem to get.
Other than the long rides, do you enjoy being able to see lots of parts of the country you wouldn’t otherwise visit?
It’s pretty cool playing at all the new fields and experiencing a lot of cool cities on the east coast. I’d never even been to the east coast before I got drafted. It’s neat being here and seeing a lot of the history. In Potomac we’re 25 minutes outside of D.C., so it’s a nice perk getting to be in these different places with different types of people. In baseball you have to learn to adapt to situations and grow as a person. That’s one of the cool parts about it.
What kind of living arrangement do you have at Potomac?
I stay with a host family in Woodbridge, Va. I’m lucky that they live like a mile away from the field. We stay for free and they feed us and give us our own room. It’s basically like a second family for six months out of the year. It’s pretty cool because they have former players they still keep in touch with that have gone on to play other places.
What’s your routine like on a game day?
I usually wake up at nine or 10, have a good breakfast, watch some TV and get some Chipotle or something on the way to the field at 2 or 3 for a 7 o’clock game. When I get to the field I’ll hang out, listen to music with the guys in the clubhouse and just try to stay loose. Around 6 o’clock I’ll stretch out, get my arm rubbed out and have the trainer stretch me. I take the field at about 6:30, start throwing for about 10 or 15 minutes and go through my routine of pitches. Nothing too crazy. Some people have some elaborate stuff they do, but I just try to keep it loose and relax.
When I’m not pitching I’ll do our throwing program, do some running and mound work and get all my work in by 3 or 4. That’s what’s nice about being a pitcher; you can get all your work in and then just lock into the game.
Then we have a nice spread of food and eat dinner at around 10 o’clock.
Are the amenities around minor league baseball as bad as they are depicted in movies?
It depends where you’re at. At home here we have it pretty nice. We have a nice locker room, we get catered food and drinks, we have TVs, every video game system you can imagine, some recliners.
When you’re the visiting team, that’s when you feel the grind. They obviously don’t bother making things as nice for the visitors. Half the time you’re sitting at your hotel and there’s no food places nearby and you settle for Domino’s. On the buses it’s tough to sleep and you’re doubling up in the seats with no room and your back and neck are getting all messed up.
You’ll get a nice homestand and get into your routine, but then you’re back on the road again for 10 days. There are definitely times when you’re four months into the season, dog days hit you and your body just feels dead and your mind is gone. Then you see the light at the end of the tunnel and there’s 30 games left and the playoffs are coming up.
The toughest thing is keeping your mind and body right.
With all that in mind, is it still as fun to play the game professionally as it was to play in traveling ball or high school?
It’s weird, so many factors play into it. If it’s a game to win the series or clinch the playoffs then you get a little extra adrenaline, but there are also games where you pitch and there’s nobody in the stands and you’ve had a lot of games and there’s almost no adrenaline and you’re grinding just to get outs. It’s tough to get fired up when there’s nobody there.
It’s almost like if you pitch a good game, you were expected to, and you feel like you did your job. Then you have to erase it, good or bad, and look to the next one. It’s a career where you have to realize you’re performing for your team and for yourself. I try to motivate myself by thinking of myself as an underdog. No one expected me to get signed or get to the big leagues, so I use that on an every-day basis.
Are there any things you learned playing in Rosemount that have stuck with you?
We had a lot of talent in our group and we were taught how to compete and how to win. What I remember most is winning a lot of tournaments and a lot of games. What stuck with me most is that routine of winning, playing your hardest and being competitive. Our 10-year-old team was 54-5 or something and I think we got used to winning and competing at the highest level.
Did you think about a future playing professional baseball when you were growing up?
I never thought about it at all. I was a pretty decent high school player, but I didn’t throw very hard, and even in college I didn’t get offered a bunch of scholarships from top-tier schools, and I only got a couple of DII offers.
It’s kind of a whirlwind. I never thought I’d play pro baseball, but then I grew into my body late and the stars aligned. It seems like a lot of the northern players develop later because they don’t have the same workload and the same opportunities as the southern players to work year-round.
When did you start to realize your pitching potential?
Playing summer ball in the Northwoods League I had a great pitching coach. I made leaps and bounds with the Mankato Moondogs the summer after my junior year of college and all the sudden I was throwing five or six miles-per-hour harder and getting people out.
What changes did you make that helped you improve your fastball?
My coach and I got together and he was brutally honest and told me I was never going to play pro ball if I didn’t throw harder. We did a long-toss program and used the summer to condition my arm. You learn a lot of things in summer ball compared to college ball where the teams are trying to win, there’s a lot more development and you can learn new things and grow as a player.
I also started lifting hard, which I didn’t do much of in high school or college. It felt like it worked and paid off overnight.
Has the added velocity changed your pitching style?
I was always a guy who could throw strikes and I’m still a command guy. That’s what’s helped me, I never really threw hard and that made me learn how to command both sides of the plate and develop a change-up and a curveball later in college. I realized real fast in pro ball you can throw 98, but if it’s down the middle or the hitter knows it’s coming it gets turned around for a home run or a double. Then there are guys throwing 88 or 90 throwing up zeros like it’s their job.
Everybody throws basically the same pitches. It comes down to who can throw them for strikes and who can’t. Luckily that’s always been my strength.
Did you notice a big jump in talent in your transition from Low-A to High-A baseball?
There’s definitely a talent jump, but it’s not as great as people think. It’s more of a consistency thing and that makes you realize you can do it, which is really cool. Sometimes a Major League guy will come down to A-ball on a rehab assignment and not get any hits and then you’ll see him a week later going 3 for 4 against Justin Verlander.
On the mound, the higher up you get the fewer mistakes you can get away with. The older players have a more disciplined approach at the plate. I’ve enjoyed that, playing against other teams’ top prospects. There are guys I’ve played against this year that are in Double-A and are knocking on the door to the big leagues.
Do the Nationals give you an idea of what kind of progress they would like to see you make through the system or are you pretty much left in the dark?
They kind of keep all that to themselves. It’s an internal thing, you never know. There’s so much turnover year to year. I’ll report back to minor league spring training and I won’t find out where I’m playing until the final two days.
What are your plans for the off-season?
I’ll go back home, go up to the cabin for a couple weeks, relax and let my body heal. I’ll take a month off from anything and then go back to Oklahoma City to work out and throw outside for a few months until spring training.
Do you think a lot about a future in the major leagues?
I think everybody thinks about it. I try not to. I think I have the right mindset and the right ability to get to the major leagues in the future, but I just try to take every day as a new day and put my energy to that. I feel like if I do that everything will fall into place.