This past week was filled with various players signing contracts worth millions and millions of dollars. That type of money is something most of will never come close to in our lifetimes. However, the glamor of a Major League lifestyle is something a vast majority of baseball players won't get a chance to experience.
It's a fact that most players will never reach the big leagues. Instead they toil away in the minor leagues, or in some cases Independent Leagues, trying to win a chance - any chance - at an opportunity. One of those players is Ben Shockey. You don't know Ben Shockey. He wasn't a big time prospect or a national standout at the college level. He grinded it out at a small college in Florida and then the Independent Leagues. He's now a co-worker of mine. I think the following Q&A helps show the more human side of baseball. Enjoy.
Erik Hahmann: First off, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Ben Shockey:I'm 24 and right handed. I was not scouted out of High School (Dixie Hollins in St. Pete). I was only recruited by a D2 school in South Carolina. However, I opted to walk on with an academic scholarship at Warner Southern College in Lake Wales, FL. My senior year I was seen by a handful of scouts at the conference all-star game and a few other starts, but my height (5'10) and velocity were their main concerns.
EH: Tell us about what types of pitches you throw.
BS: I relied very heavily on my heavy tailing/sinking fastball. It was mostly 86-89, but occasionally 90-91. I also threw a changeup and slider in college and then changed to a cutter, changeup and slider (in that order, generally) in my first year in independent ball. My college slider velocity was mostly 77-78 and changeup 79-81. Then when I got my cutter it was 81-82 (so some might consider that more of a slider velocity). I have always thrown inside more than most, especially to righties with the ball tailing in. I continued that in pro ball, especially once I had a good cutter to throw in to lefties. Throwing inside a lot is the main reason the only school records I own at Warner Southern are for single season and career hit batters.
EH: You spent a few seasons in the Independent Leagues, what teams did you play for?
BS: 2008-Chico Outlaws, 2009-Chico Outlaws, 2010-Coastal Bend Thunder and Tijuana Cimarrones
EH: While in the IL did you play with anyone with big league experience? If so, did you try and glean any tips from them?
BS: I played with a few guys with major league experience. Tony Torcato, Wayne Franklin, and Kit Pellow. My manager in 2009, Greg Cadarett also played 11 years in the majors. I always tried to learn from those that had more experience than me. I found that guys that had played at the highest levels were willing to help anyone willing to listen and work hard. I was also able to train last offseason with Major Leaguer Connor Robertson and play some catch with John Reidling and Joe Blanton. Wayne Franklin was especially helpful in teaching me how to approach hitters and what hitters look for in different situations.
Another veteran that was a great influence was Greg Bicknell, who at the time was playing his 20th professional season, although he had not made it into the major leagues. I also faced a number of former major leaguers. Scott Spiezio, Robert Fick, Damian Jackson, Felix Jose, Larry Bigbie, John Hattig, Weekie Gonzalez amongst a few others I can’t recall.
EH: You mentioned to me that a catcher you worked with played for Team Italy in the WBC. Can you tell me a little more about that?
BS: The catcher for Chico in 2008 when I arrived was Matt Ceriani. Matt was the best game calling catcher I played with. He had played with Italy in the WBC in 2006. I can’t really say enough about having a great veteran catcher when you are developing as a player. Not only was I was always able to trust whatever pitch he called because he had a great feel for the game and situation, and always had a reason for what pitch he wanted and where he wanted it, but he always did the little things like blocking, controlling baserunners, and giving great targets. Most of what I learned from Matt was the mental side of baseball and how to attack hitters. However, he was also great in helping me sharpen my pitches, because he always had great feedback as to how to make adjustments to my pitches.
Learning from veteran teammates was one of my favorite things about playing at this level. I was always eager to hear about their approaches and experience, because they always had a reason for each pitch and executed their pitches with a great level of consistency. A lot can also be learned just by watching how they go about their daily routines and how they work on their craft.
EH: You're never taken performance enhancing drugs, but did you ever witness anyone taking PEDs? How much do you feel people taking PEDs effected your growth as a player? If you had taken PEDs how much do you think it would have helped your career?
BS: I never witnessed anyone taking PEDs, but I know a few who have told me that they have. I cannot speak personally for the effects of PEDs, but people wouldn’t take them if they didn’t help. I think the obvious side effect is strength and speed. It can also help a player recover quicker between starts or from the daily grind. PEDs can’t make a player more talented, but it can make a talented player a superstar.
If PEDs were legal and safe, and I had taken them, I’m sure it could have made me stronger, and possibly added velocity to my pitches. A scout told me during my senior year in college that if I was 6’ 4” with my stuff, they would draft or sign me, but not at 5’ 10”. So, it is hard to say whether a few miles per hour would have made a huge difference, but it may have made scouts more inclined to give me a second look.
EH: Earlier you mentioned facing Larry Bigbie. You've told me you always said if you faced anyone who took PED's you'd bean them. What happened when you faced him?
BS: Well, basically, I feel some resentment toward those players that are known to have taken PEDs, and I didn’t, so I feel that they used an unfair advantage to get ahead. So, when he hit a single off of me, it made that resentment a little deeper.
EH: Your 2008numbers are pretty good: 38IP, 37K, 14BB, 1.14WHIP, 1.40ERA, and only one home run allowed. The 2009 (6.57ERA, 37IP) season doesnt look like it went as well, neither does 2010 (12.91 ERA in 7IP) albiet in a much smaller sample size. Can you explain what you think happened?
BS: I made mechanical adjustments after 2008 to try to pick up velocity. I had a great season and scouts had seen me and invited me to workouts and still hadn’t signed me, so I was willing to try some adjustments, but they didn’t work as I had hoped, so my numbers weren’t nearly as good the next year. I had a hard time repeating my mechanics with consistency, so my walks were up as well as hits. However, I had gotten to the point where I felt that if I didn’t try something, it wouldn’t matter if I just kept putting up good numbers.
My 2010 stats were traumatized by my first career start which yielded 9 ER, so it looks bad, but I had a 3.38 ERA from then on out. 63 out of my 64 appearances are out of the pen.
EH: You're only 24. Why aren't you still out there trying to make it?
BS: I would love to keep playing until I’m just too old to do it, but it just didn’t make sense, financially, to keep playing at that level. My intentions for continuing baseball were to make a career out of it; which means making it into the upper levels of professional baseball. So, having played 3 seasons with plenty of opportunity to be seen and not getting into affiliated baseball combined with the fact that I will be turning 25 next season; it was time to use my degree in finance and management. It is definitely a very difficult decision to walk away from what you enjoy doing.
Thanks again to Ben for taking the time to speak with us. If anyone is interested in seeing a video interview with Ben in his rookie season, click here.