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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Scott Sauerbeck: Confessions of a Lefty

Scott Sauerbeck’s path through professional baseball is an excellent representation as to why many young players fight hard every year to keep their dream of making the major leagues alive. During his big league career he was never a star, never started a game, and never pitched more than three innings in any one outing. However, through hard work and determination, he carved out a nice seven season major league career, which included many great accomplishments and memories.

The left-handed pitcher was drafted in the 23rd round of the 1994 MLB draft, and spent the next five seasons toiling in the minors. Sauerbeck made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1999. He posted an impressive 2.00 ERA in 67.2 innings his rookie year, proving that he had the ability to be a valuable piece in a bullpen.

Sauerbeck pitched in the major leagues through 2006 with the Pirates, Red Sox, Indians, and A’s. He appeared in a total of 471 games, all in relief. He went 20-17, with a 3.82 ERA, 5 saves, and 389 strikeouts in 386.1 innings. He pitched in the minor league systems of the Blue Jays, Astros, Reds, and White Sox in 2007-2008, but was unable to gain the momentum for a call-up because of lingering injuries. More information on his career statistics is available at

Recently I was fortunate enough to have Sauerbeck share some of his baseball stories with me.

Scott Sauerbeck Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where baseball is akin to a religion. Becoming interested in it was a foregone conclusion, as that is all every kid does in their spare time. Everyone I know spent their summers wetting down the grass with the garden hose and practicing their Pete Rose head-first slide.

What was your draft experience like, and how did you first know the Mets were interested in drafting you?: My draft experience was pretty miserable actually. I thought I had a chance to be drafted after my junior year in college, and sat around the house for three days waiting for the phone to ring. It never did, obviously.
I had two great starts to start my senior year in college, and then broke the thumb on my throwing hand in start number three and missed pretty much the rest of the year. I took the splint off the last couple of weeks of the season and pitched, as I had to get out there on the mound for anyone to see that I was healthy enough to pitch- which meant be healthy enough to be drafted.

If you have ever tried to pitch with a broken thumb, it's not the smartest thing you can do, but I really didn't have a choice. Usually after the first inning it would swell up enough to render it useless in every sense, and I think I would of actually been better not having a thumb at that point, as it was not in contact with the ball at all and was just getting in the way.

After all of that, the first day of the draft comes and goes with no call. Day two I decide I have had enough, I'm done with baseball, and go over to my girlfriend's house. I come back a short time later and there was a message on my phone from the Mets, telling me they took me with the first pick that second day, in round 23. I had never even heard a peep out of the Mets before that, and was as surprised as anyone. Five hundred dollars and a plane ticket later, I was in instructional league in two days and off to short season Pittsfield a week after that.

At any point during your minor league career, did you ever get discouraged or doubt you would eventually make the major leagues?: I do not think I ever became discouraged in my minor league career about "not making" the big leagues, as I never really envisioned it happening. I do not have the capability to think much past a week, thankfully, so all I was ever really concerned about was not giving it up in my next outing. Plus, in my mind, only the really talented high draft pick guys made it or were given the opportunity to play, and I was not one of those guys to say the least. So all I focused on was trying to get out of A-ball to Double-A; then make it out of Double-A to Triple-A.

Once in Triple-A, I just tried to not get killed, as I mentioned, and always tried to stay positive. In my mind I was only one catastrophic event to the major league club away from being called up, but in the meantime the prospects and high ceiling 40-man guys would get the chances.

Do catchers really talk strategy when they make mound visits? If not, what are the talking points?: Yes, catchers do talk a little strategy, but it's more about who's up now, how you want to go about getting them out, and being aware of who's on deck and in the hole. You sort of small talk about who you want to beat you in the end.

I always tried to keep a sense of humor out there, so my mound conversations were probably a little different than most guys because they would ask me what pitch I thought about throwing situations, and I would normally say a "knuckleball," then change the conversation to something else. It was sort of stupid to me because I think the whole world knew I was throwing a curveball, so what was all the small talk for really in my opinion.

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: I've been asked this a lot, and honestly there isn't any one great thing that jumps out at me. I remember everything though, and have so many great memories that it's hard to pick one over the other.

I loved pitching at Wrigley Field, in Fenway, in Yankee Stadium... everywhere really. And you honesty remember the interactions you have with your teammates and the feelings you have going through a long season with them, and how much fun you had during a specific game more than you remember the actual game itself. At least I do anyways.

Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced, and who did you ever feel pretty good about when you saw them come to the plate?: My toughest hitter... I'm not sure. I honestly thought everyone was a tough out, and I was fortunate to get them out. I never wanted to get too cocky and have the baseball Gods zap me. I hated facing the small contact type of guys as opposed to the home run hitters though, I can tell you that.

Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS will go down in infamy for Red Sox fans. What was it like from a player's perspective?: I remember being emotionally spent before the game even started; sort of like you haven't slept in a week and you are foggy. Then the game unfolded and all hell broke loose, and it was hard for us to comprehend down in the pen just what was happening or going on. We were all confused a little as to what was going on with Pedro.

I was fine with Grady leaving him in there to be honest because he was at the time the best pitcher on the planet, and I couldn't think of anyone else I would want out there when it was all going down. You just knew he would pull some magic out of his arm and get it done. But I wasn't aware with what went on it the dugout before the drama, and after I heard that they told him he was done and then sent him back out there, I completely agree that he should not been in the game.

Again, the emotional stress of the games and the Series is exhausting, and when you’re told you’re done, you shut off; I mean literally shut off. It's too hard to refocus and get back into the emotional lock-down you were previously in. It really is that simple, like it or not, and if you haven't played or been through it, it's hard to describe.

What are some misperceptions you think fans have about professional baseball players?: I'm not sure that fans have that many misconceptions about players. If they do I have no idea what they may be. My misconceptions as a fan during my days growing up in Cincinnati is that I remember that I thought Eric Davis could cure cancer, outrun a cheetah, throw harder than any human who has ever lived, and hit home runs out of stadiums completely; and that the only reason he didn't was because he didn't want to show off. What has changed since then is I actually got Eric Davis out one day, and he's not super-human like I thought he was as a kid, and that sort of crushed me in a way to be honest.

Who was your most influential/favorite coach or manager?: There is an easy answer to who was most influential to me. Spin Williams was with me when I was in Pittsburgh. I was a Rule V guy who didn't know anyone, and he was nice enough to talk to me down in the bullpen when no one else would. Because he was so nice to me, I believe Karma allowed him to eventually become the pitching coach in Pittsburgh, although I'm sure that knowing his stuff inside and out had a lot to do with it. He taught me that there are lots of people who know a ton about pitching, but there are not a ton of people who can communicate what they know. Spin could, and he helped me out more than anyone could imagine.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Again, an easy question for me to answer. I would of actually asked for days off when my arm was tired or hurt, instead of saying I could pitch that night. There were many days where I could not lift my arm above my head, and yet I found myself out there on the mound that night.

I actually tore my rotator cuff and labrum a week after I got to Boston, and tried to play through it the rest of the season with the help of many pain relieving injections and cortisone shots. Eventually I needed to have my shoulder reconstructed. I was lucky to make it back for two years after that, but there is no doubt in my mind if I would of taken days off when I absolutely needed them, instead of going out there tired, which led to injury, I could still be probably playing somewhere today. Isn't that a scary thought for all the people who thought I never should have played in the first place!!

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