The life of a baseball player is different than that of other pro athletes. As the cliché goes, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. There are 162 games spread over 180-and-change days, and that doesn’t include spring training which many feel is too long as well.
The season probably goes quicker for everyday position players because they’re playing — wait for it — everyday. Starters have one or two days per week when they are full bore, but the rest of their time is spent recovering and gaming for their next start. The amount of down time is why the Atlanta trio (Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine) had handicaps about as low as their earned run averages.
Relief pitchers are a whole other ballgame. Unlike starters they have to be ready to go everyday, but unlike everyday position players it is uncertain if they will see game action. I’ve always wondered how these players spend the countless innings, which amount to hundreds of hours over the course of a season, passing time in the bullpen.
This week on The Bronx Pinstripes Show (@YankeesPodcast), we had a chance to ask Yankees hurler Ben Heller about this and many other topics. Conversation about killing time in the bullpen starts at the 30:40 mark. You can download the full episode here.
Makeshift bocce games and the infamous quarter toss, which I’m sure every bullpen at every level has played at one point, make sense. But the answer Heller gave was perfect. The fact that he has an ongoing argument from his Double-A days if the five best basketball players from his team could beat a WNBA All Star team is not only hilarious, but extremely relatable. And the answer is no, a starting 5 from any given minor league team could not beat a WNBA team. Or could they…?
In addition to how Heller and the guys pass time during games, he discussed working on a changeup this spring and how pitchers usually go about developing a new pitch. Heller has taken a methodical approach with his changeup, working with pitching coaches on grip and release point. He has also made a conscious effort to throw it in game situations that he would ordinarily feel uncomfortable doing so.
Other topics with Ben included pace of play in MLB, his Milwaukee Brewer fandom growing up, and nostalgic 1990’s video games. If you were a fan of Pokemon back in the 90’s like I was, you’ll enjoy the end of the interview.
Over the past few months we’ve had a number of Yankees join the podcast. In addition to Heller, Rob Refsnyder, Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade, and Blake Rutherford have given us glimpses into the life of a pro ballplayer. Check out those interviews below: