It's Spring Training, now, and for the first Spring Training in years, Ryan Rowland-Smith isn't hanging out with the rest of the in Peoria. After a miserable 2010 from start to finish, the two sides parted ways, and while most of the M's are already in Arizona, RRS is off for his first tour in Kissimmee. He's a member of the , who're about as far off our radar as any team in the bigs.
But although few of us give a rip about Houston, I have to imagine that many of us will keep an eye on RRS' progress. During his time in Seattle, RRS was an effective pitcher more often than not, and more than that, he was a warm and accessible fan favorite. RRS made himself easy to root for both as a player and a person, and while that bond has been strained by his signing elsewhere, it has by no means been snapped. Ask a group of Mariners fans and a lot of them will tell you that RRS is still one of their favorite players in baseball.
It was with that in mind that I asked RRS a few questions about his 2010 season and the season to come. While we'll all be focused on the Mariners going forward, I know that many of us wish RRS the very best as he looks to rebuild a damaged career.
(1) So the last thing any of us wants to do is dwell on the 2010 season, but certainly, it was a struggle for your teammates, and a struggle for you. I think the big question is: what do you take away from a season like that? When you spend six months fighting and nothing seems to work, what's the takeaway lesson that makes you thankful for the experience?
There was nothing enjoyable about the 2010 season, it got to a point where it was tough to go to work everyday. I caught myself sometimes saying wow, I'm playing Major League Baseball and I am not happy, that's when you know you're struggling. It reminded me a lot of 2008 but the difference was I was having success back then, and learning a lot even though the team struggled, I could still walk away from that year with my head held high. This past year, not the case. I walked away mentally exhausted, ashamed of my year, and very unsatisfied.
It's amazing how much that motivates you. that's what I gained from last year going into the off season. I took two days off and addressed the little things that sent me on that downward spiral. Majority of it was in my head. I learned what it meant to be humbled
What I learned after last season is not to live and die off every game. I'm talking about when I struggle in a game, not to take four days to get over it, and trust that ability-wise, it's all there. I realized how much I lost my ability to compete. I stopped being myself - a guy who goes out and fights for every out, a f#%k you attitude, not a guy who tries to trick guys. There's a huge difference in hoping that a ball misses a bat, and believing it's going to miss the bat.
(2) After the year, of course, you became a Major League free agent for the first time in your career. Explain, if you can, the player's role as a free agent. How involved were you in the day-to-day discussions?
Before the deadline I had a few talks with my agent in preparing for the scenario if I was to be let go. After last season's lack of performance, anything was possible, so I braced myself for the possibility in becoming a free agent. Honestly I was a little shocked I was let go but I totally understand it's a business. So for the first time, there I was as a free agent. I was about to head back to Australia which made it feel even more foreign.
The discussions with my agent and my close baseball friends who have dealt with it before was to make sure you go to a place that is a 'fit'. Obviously they have to want you in the first place, but [also] to do some research and see where I fit in the big picture, what kind of coaching staff do they have, depth, etc. Basically a place I can have an opportunity to return to my form that I have had my entire career bar 2010 and remind everyone who I am. There were a few teams inquiring but I felt that Houston for me was the best fit. Heard great things about their pitching coach and his philosophy, and that the atmosphere on that team is a positive one to succeed, plus many other factors.
(3) Some of our eyebrows were raised when you landed with Houston. Everybody's familiar with the dimensions of their ballpark. Are you at all concerned about having a left field that's a great deal more hitter-friendly than the one you got to know in Seattle?
Put it this way: you make good pitches, keep the ball down, ahead of the count, it doesn't matter if you're pitching on the moon. Sure, the ballpark plays a role in success, but looking back I have succeeded in parks where the ball flies out and I have been lit up in parks where it's a graveyard. There are other factors that go into a ballpark as well. Basically, If I am comfortable in a place, it really doesn't matter if it's a pitchers park or not. Plus half your starts are on the road anyway.
(4) I wanted to ask you a couple things on being a pitcher in general. For one, last year you toyed around with a cutter. What've been your experiences with trying to add a new pitch in the past? I don't think the average person appreciates how difficult it is to achieve.
Last spring training I was working on a cut fastball, which honestly i didn't have enough patience with. It's very tough to 'work' on a pitch, go into a Major League game, and hope it's effective when you really haven't had any live feedback. Maybe if I was more patient with it, it may have been effective, but that alone was part of my issue beginning of last season. For one, I felt like I had to do something extra to be successful. Yes, it helps, but you can't forget the pitches you have that got you there. Second, I would be throwing a pitch that I wasn't fully convicted in throwing. That's not a good feeling!
(5) For two, how much have you benefited just from being around other pitchers? What attributes have you been able to pick up from prior teammates?
It's good and bad. For example, being around a guy like Cliff Lee was great. I learned a lot of little things that help you stay consistent. i have never met a more confident baseball player - and it's sincere confidence, not a front at all, the guy truly believes he is going to go nine shutout every time out, that is a special talent to have in this game. On the flip side, I got sick of people telling me to just watch and do what Cliff does. You have to be yourself. I will never be Cliff Lee, i will never be Felix, I will always be me like it or not, and me being me at the best of my ability can be pretty successful. That's what was lost last year.
(6) It's no secret that you've spent much of the offseason working out like a crazy person. How is it that you hope your winter regimen will translate to your performance on the mound?
I love working out. I love the feeling of training hard and being fit, so in a way, when I had to sacrifice free time with friends and family I had a good excuse to get my fight back and get in the best shape I could. I just told them I can't hang out because I can't go through what I went through last year. They quickly understood!
I spent four to five mornings a week getting my butt kicked and nearly puking my guts up in an MMA gym with pro fighters, and as unconventional as that sounds, it was just what I needed to feel - what's it's like to compete again. I'll never forget walking into that gym the first day, really nervous and explaining why I was there. I quickly learned that those guys have no room to doubt themselves or lack confidence when they are training to step into a cage. As tough as it was, I started getting addicted and learning a lot about their sport and how much more capacity I had physically and what I could overcome mentally. Also getting to sit down with a guy like Randy Couture and talk about mental strategy was really special, and an eye opener. As well as that, I still did the conventional workouts and back in Australia I worked out with my dad as much as I could. His workouts are no joke.
It's pretty tough to finish a year like last year and go home and sit around and relax. I have never felt so prepared going into a spring training camp. Physically, but more importantly, mentally.
(7) Finally, I think you know you have a lot of fans in Seattle, in large part the result of your personability and accessability. I wanted to give you this opportunity to say anything you wanted to say to them before you officially get going in workouts with another team.
I will miss Seattle very much. Seattle, as a city and community, was the first city I had ever been to in the US that felt like home. The relationship I had with the fans was special and I felt like I was able to connect with them beyond being a baseball player, and beyond them being a fan of baseball. They welcomed me when I arrived in 2007, embraced me when I was having success, and had my back when I struggled. In 2010, There were times that I didn't want to walk out to batting practice and confront fans in the bleachers after a shitty game, or even check my Twitter account, but amazingly, there was nothing but support and positivity, and that really helped me get through last season and I will never forget that. I just hope in Houston I can build the same relationship, be accessible, and give them something to be positive about.
So from the bottom of my heart, for the fans that had my back and communicated with me over the years, thank you. It means more than you know.