It is hard enough for a player to make the Major Leagues, without having to do so after switching from a hitter to a pitcher mid-way through the minor leagues. Off the top of my head, Tim Wakefield and Rick Ankiel are among the few who made such transitions, and have had varying degrees of success. Having to completely reverse everything you had been learning and working on to make it to the final level would be devastating to most players. Only those with the right amount of athleticism and mental fortitude are able to successfully make such a change.
This position switch is something that happened to Bob File, but he was able to run with it and use it to his advantage. File was drafted in the 19th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998 after finishing a record setting career with Division II Philadelphia University. He was able to throw hard, upwards of 96 MPH, which is a useful tool for all burgeoning pitchers. The Blue Jays recognized this and immediately converted him from a third baseman to a relief pitcher before he ever played a professional game. File was also able to throw secondary pitches and this helped ease him into his new role. Although it was the lowest level of the minor leagues, he posted a 1.41 ERA and 16 saves in his first professional season with Medicine Hat of the Pioneer League.
File progressed quickly through the minors and was with Toronto by 2001. He had a fantastic rookie season going 5-3 with a 3.27 ERA in 60 relief games. Unfortunately a series of injuries plagued File and after the 2004 season, he retired from baseball. He went 6-4 in 89 career relief appearances, with a 4.20 ERA. More information on his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/filebo01.shtml.
Bob File Interview:
How did you first become interested in baseball?: I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA and baseball was always the first option when it came to sports. Started playing at age 4 and kept on going…
You converted from an infielder to a pitcher after you were drafted. You had immediate success… how difficult was the transition?: The transition was not difficult at first, but being able to make adjustments and consistently learning from coaches and peers made me the pitcher I ultimately became. The key was being able to learn fast and not be afraid of change.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: I had many great coaches and managers, but the two that really stand out are Rocket Wheeler and Buck Martinez. Rocket was my A ball and AA ball manager and believed in my ability and gave me the chance to stand out as a closer in the minor leagues. Buck gave me my opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. He took a chance on me early and let me make the most of my opportunity.
Who was the biggest character you ever played with or against?: One of my closest friends in baseball would have to be the biggest character, Justin Miller. Although different in many ways from one another, he was always one to keep everybody loose in the clubhouse. His ‘carefree’ attitude was something that I admired being able to never let anything bother him. His tattoos were also something to see, simply amazing. An opponent that I felt was a great character was Manny Ramirez. Having been able to get to know him on and off the field made me have great respect for him. I think he is one of the most misunderstood players who have ever played the game.
What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: I would have to say pitching in my hometown of Philadelphia and pitching 4 innings of relief against the NY Yankees in my second MLB appearance. Both rank up there. The Philly game I gave up my first MLB homerun to Scott Rolen and then got ejected for hitting the next batter, Travis Lee. The NY game I recorded my first MLB strikeout against Paul O’Neil and it is something I will never forget.
What are the most difficult things to master in order to reach the Major Leagues?: The most difficult thing to master is consistency. Everyone that plays professional baseball has ability, but the difficult part is to be able to use that ability day in and day out on a consistent basis. The mental toughness needed to do this is extremely difficult and this is why they say only 2% of players drafted make it to the big leagues.
Anything you would do differently if you could do your playing career over?: Looking back and now being a college baseball coach, I realize that if you are getting good results, do not try and change. Sometimes athletes are so competitive that they are constantly trying to get better, which I felt I did a little too much. Looking back I would have kept it simple and not try and change too much.
Was it difficult to transition from being a professional athlete to the “private” sector?: It was at first, working in corporate America for a very large company was difficult. I had a hard time trying to understand why everyone does not work as hard as they possibly can day in and day out. After 6 years of this, I decided to put my experience to the test and offer my knowledge to college athletes.
Are you disappointed you didn’t get more chances in the Majors?: I cannot complain, I was given plenty of chances after a few injuries to make a solid comeback; however, when the injuries kept mounting affecting my well being, I decided to walk away and start the next chapter of my life.
What have you done since you stopped playing?: Like I said earlier, I worked in medical sales for about 6 years and for the last two I have been a pitching coach at the college level. I am now looking to further my coaching career by getting involved with a big time program within Division I baseball.
Name something you would like to see change in MLB to make it better.: The one thing I would change is the financial aspect of the game. At the big league level it has such an impact on the way the game is played which turns the game into an individual instead of team sport. This is why I enjoy the college level where it is team first then the individual achievements. I am not sure how this can ever be done, but it is something that I would change in some capacity.
How many autograph requests do you typically get?: I still get many requests for autographs, which I am happy to do since it is a great chapter in my life and an honor to this day for someone to ask for my autograph.