Dirk Hayhurst: An Exclusive Interview with the Garfoose

Recently, Dirk Hayhurst took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with DRaysBay writer Bradley Woodrum about the upcoming season, Hayhurst's bestseller book, and life in the minors. Dirk, who has a genuine cult following on Twitter (@TheGarfoose) and a brilliant blog, will be competing for one of the many available Rays bullpen spots in 2011.

A big thanks to Dirk for his expansive, insightful answers!

BRAD: At DRaysBay, we believe wholeheartedly in advanced statistical analysis and the Andrew Friedman approach to baseball. What role do statistics play into your baseball experience?

DIRK: Well I hate ‘em. And that’s usually because my statistics are very bad. It’s kind of personal. I don’t know much about statistics.

Grady Fuson came over to the Padres organization when I was there, and when he came in, Moneyball got real popular. I think it was around the same time that Michael Lewis’s Moneyball came out that Fuson came over. And so I didn’t know much about sabermetrics at the time, and then all the sudden Grady shows up, and everybody on the team’s reading Moneyball, trying to figure out what Grady was going to do to us.

[Brad chuckles.]

I’m serious. It’s because players figure out the coaches they can kiss the butt of. I mean, if you’re like a changeup thrower that you find the coach [who] likes changeups, or you’re a chess thrower, you find the guy who’s all about power pitchers and tools, you know, and you learn how to kiss butt.

Well Grady came into town, and all I knew was: here’s this guy who’s like famous for the use of sabermetrics in his analysis, and I didn’t know what sabermetrics were. By that point in time, they started making up stuff that look like [hyper-text markup language] -- there’s acronyms as long as website addresses now -- it’s really crazy. So I’m looking at it, and all I knew was he likes guys who gets outs in three pitches or less, and he liked guys who could use soft changeups and pitch to contact. And I am like, "Pitch to contact?! Well, I’m great at getting hit!"

So in a roundabout way, the use of statistics gave me a fighting chance at major league baseball.

In 2008 with Portland, you struck out a little more than a batter per inning. Did you change your approach at all that season, or was the change more divine than design?

No, that was actually more design. What happened that season was actually kind of weird. I came into the season under the thought process of, well, I was going getting married at the end of the season; it was already kind of decided by my wife and I. We had known each other for about three months at the time. And this is the thing that I would say -- on a serious note -- statistics don’t play into this.

I think you take the human element out of the game a lot when calculate statistics -- they truly don’t tell the whole story. At any rate, I was going to get married, and my statistics had always been like a contact pitcher to that point. I realized if I don’t get to the big leagues by the time get a chance, I’m going to have to give up baseball.

I’m not really willing to -- I guess --  jerk around the minors for the entirety of my married life. I want to be able to make it, and say that I made to the big leagues. But the reality of the game is that winning a minor league championship like I did the previous year -- that doesn’t translate into anything for you in the real world. You have to make it to the big leagues or hang on eight or more years to get your minor league free agency contract, or the game will never pay out for you.

When you first get drafted, that’s all fine and dandy because you’re living the dream of a child. [When] you spend enough time in the game, you realize the dream of a child doesn’t pay for the reality of an adult. So I kind of decided the only way I was going to get there was by punching out guys left and right. So I really needed to start attacking guys to see if I can get punch outs.

And pitching coaches would always say, "Use your fielders! There’s nine of you out there!" or, "Pitch to contact!" and whatever -- that’s what they were preaching. And I’m like, "Damn it, I better start punching guys out! They’re going to have all these young prospect who are going to pitch to contact in the majors. I need to punch guys out to get up there -- you cannot deny strikeouts."

So I actually walked more people that year than the previous year -- not by much. I was throwing more pitches per batter, but I was having more strikeouts. So I wasn’t as efficient as I was the previous year. And I remember the pitching coach actually pulled me aside and told me, "Uh, y’know last year you were more efficient. Y’know. You need to work backwards to that 'three pitch' number." And I’m thinking: This is such bull crap. I strike out a gillion guys and you’re like, "Nope. Not what we want. We don’t want you to get outs that way. Make ‘em hit it on the ground, right into somebody’s mitt. That’s what we want instead." Uh, okay, shoot. That sounds like a smart idea.

So anyways, it was by design -- long story short.

How’s the shoulder?

Oh, it’s fine. My shoulder’s healthy; I mean, as far as I can tell now. I’m throwing normally like I would this time of year -- I’m throwing hard and I’ve been throwing to hitters. Yeah, I think that, come spring training, I’ll be just as ready to go as all the other healthy guys.

What’s the life of a rehabbing pro athlete like?

I actually wrote an article about that. It was trying to explain to people that every day is viewed through the lens of how you feel. So if you feel good that day, you feel like your entire future stocks are up. And then you have a day that it hurts bad, and everything’s down. And it’s really hard on you emotionally and mentally.

I think the average person probably can’t relate to this because baseball -- like any kind of sports career job -- is the ultimate, "What have you done for us lately?" thing. So if I’m not healthy, then I’m replaced. And that’s it.

And once you’re out of the equation, it’s almost impossible to get back into the equation. It’s scary. And I’m a fringe guy to begin with. You want to talk statistics? Look at my sample time. I’m a fringe guy. Even after a good run with the Blue Jays, I’m still your average minor-league-to-big-league journeyman, right-handed reliever.

You very recently said on Twitter: "Chuck Norris was just God Warming up to create the Garfoose." Are you hoping Mr. Norris will interprets this as a challenge?

Oh he can interpret it however he wants. I’m sure he’s tired of getting all the Chuck Norris things thrown at him, for God’s sakes.

You know, I actually had somebody -- I can’t remember who it was, I think it was the catcher for Baltimore, I don’t remember his name -- I had fans of his writing me to tell me he could kill the Garfoose and, I dunno, Chuck Norris was terrified of him.

And you know, Chuck Norris is old now. He’s tired. I mean, we can do better. He’s run his course, folks, let him go. And I don’t know if the Garfoose can beat him or not. I just thought it was funny. Every once in a while I try an goof around like that.

I’m surprised you brought that up of all the things I’ve ever Twittered about. [chuckles]

For those who don’t know, what exactly is The Garfoose?

The Garfoose is this character that I originally thought up for my wife. My wife works with special needs kids. She’s a music therapist, so she works with some really autistic kids -- and kids of all needs, but mostly autistic children.

We wanted to kind of make a mascot for her that represented something special, like a combination of specials things to make one really unique thing. And the reason there is such a push for that is because autistic children are often viewed as -- people with special needs, period -- are viewed in this negative connotation. Special has this negative ring to it.

And I disagree with that because if you spend anytime with a special needs individual, then you realize that those people really enrich your life because of the way they challenge your perspective. It’s a beautiful thing -- they kind of break the way we look at things.

So I thought we should make up this creature who had specials traits that were unique -- but special in a cool way. So we came up with the Garfoose and, of course, I was a minor leaguer at the time and my wife -- it’s a very small business she runs -- so it wasn’t like a thing that would catch on overnight and then we’d have t-shirt, y’know.
Garfoose_medium
But in the baseball world, I started kind of fleshing out this character. What would he look like? What would he be like? And so I started drawing pictures of it and wrote a story about it. Then it kind of caught on from there, and people started asking me to draw pictures of Garfoose on their cards or their baseballs and stuff like that, and I just started doing it.

All the sudden everyone wants this autograph from me. And it’s like, "Okay, sure, I’ve got like this really popular autograph now," and it’s not because I’m a good player; it’s because I draw this thing on my autograph. It kind of came from that.

Now, the Garfoose of the present is nature’s perfect predator. He lives in the Tibeten mountain groves that you can’t find unless you were born there, or something. And there’s these tops of trees in this grove were the MLB gets its perfectly grown baseballs -- because the best baseballs in the world are organic-grown from trees in the baseball grove. And the Garfoose protects the grove from intruders. Very few people that have seen the Garfoose in the wild live to tell about it.

There’s this division monks that know how to like trick the Garfoose and get the balls; then they sell them for a huge profit to the MLB. And that’s one of the reasons magic happens in the postseason -- because people are playing with Garfoose-grown, organically-grown balls.

[Laughing] What was the inspiration for all this?

Oh, I dunno. I just made it up, man. I just thought it would be fun. Y’know, I always looked at baseballs like, "Hhm, Garfoose-berries. I wonder..." And all the sudden I went with it.

I dunno, Dr. Suess maybe? I’m just a weird person. You’ll that out the more you talk to me. I’m just a strange person.

A lot of us at DRaysBay have been reading your book, The Bullpen Gospels, lately. First of all, I’d like to thank you for making baseball both interesting and humorous to my wife. You have earned a powerful ally...

[Laughter.]

I hear you are working on a new book. What can you tell us about it?

Umm, I can tell you that the new book will cover the 2008 season -- that’s when I actually made it to the big leagues. I can tell you that it will talk a lot about -- well, this is kind of interesting because it’s an interesting dynamic and I’m not sure how people are going to react to this because I think men will react like, "Oh, love story?... Nah!" Especially since last one was so obviously for guys or at least it tends to ring towards guy humor -- or at least that’s what my critics on Amazon say: [old lady voice] "This is just boy humor. It’s like little kids."

The truth is, I meet my wife, and she’s never been around somebody who’s played baseball before. And she grew up this conservative Christian girl, and so it’s like introducing her to this world like: "Honey, you’re going to hear some things that you’re probably not going to be comfortable with."

It’s like what happens when she sits in the wives’ section and the wives can’t talk about anything except shallow gibberish because they all know what everybody else’s husband is up to and they’re sworn to secrecy about it. And the stuff that goes on in the lockerroom that’s horrific in the eyes of a woman.

So my wife, she gets to run into that. And you find out all the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to try to maintain a relationship and start a family as a minor league baseball player. So that’s in there.

And you’ll get to find out what it’s like to go to the big leagues -- and I guess I would say in only the paranoid, neurotic way that I can tell it; that terrified, real-time sense of dread, like: "This is really happening and I can’t stop it!" The I-hope-I-don’t-wet-myself kind of thing in that self-effacing way. Because when I made it up there, I wasn’t like, "YES! Finally, I arrived!" -- I was: "Oh my god! This going to happen and I can’t stop it!"

You’re going to find out a lot more about the family, and there’s a lot of hard stuff there too. It’ll be the things you like about the other book, but there’s a lot of new material there. It’s a lot deeper and more complex material than it was in the previous one because there’s much deeper, more fleshed-out emotion in there.

Were there any stories you wanted to include in The Bullpen Gospels that you could not?

There were things that I put into the book that later got taken out because the book reads like a collection of short stories as it is. If I could do something differently with it, I would go back and make it more of a cohesive unit. But I don’t think I could’ve captured the kind of random feel of minor league life if I did. There’s kind of a trade-off there.

But there were some stories I wrote for the book that got cut out later. One was what it was like to got to speak at a middle school, and everybody be, like, disappointed because you weren’t a big leaguer, and therefore you didn’t matter. And this happens a lot. Like, it’s funny, when people see you in uniform on the field, they’re like: "Oh you’re so special!" Bullpengospels2_medium

There’s a story I did that got taken out where it was close to opening day or something, and we're all feeling our oats ‘cause the big crowds are there for us again. Then they have this entertainment crew -- these travelling mascot people come in -- and one of their shticks is they always have somebody dress up as an opposing player -- which happened to be us. So they’d have to borrow our uniform. And they were confederates; they were supposed to dance along with the mascot when they got done doing their little prank or whatever.

This guy dresses up as one of us, and goes out there -- he’s not a player; he’s never played a day in his life -- and people are just begging him for his autograph. And there was this realization: "Y’know, it’s never about us. Very few of us will get to the point where just our name alone creates fame. It’s always about the job. We’re interchangeable cogs in the Fame Machine. And if you ever think you’re that special, it’s an illusion. Fame is an illusion."

If you don’t believe me, well, the next time a college dropout whose job it is to get pied by a mascot is begged for an autograph at your minor league game, then there’s the truth.

Working out with headphones on can be dangerous. What can we do to convince you to like hip hop?

Nothing.

Nothing at all?

There’s nothing you can do to convince me to like hip hop. I’m sorry.

My wife’s a musician, and I can respect people who can use a keyboard -- to a degree. But [hip hop musicians] don’t even play an instrument and sing at the same time, and most of them don’t even write their own lyrics. I’m sorry. You can’t talk me into it.

There’s nothing good to be heard. There’s like nine songs about how I wanna screw chicks, and drink, and drive flashy cars -- and then there’s like that one obligatory song about how I want to thank Jesus for all he’s given me. Seriously?

Look, that’s an uphill battle.

And, wha-, what is so dangerous about working out with headphones on?! What is there like heavy construction going on in the weight room that you need to hear? I mean, I’m sorry...

Do you intend to keep blogging and Twittering into the 2011 season?

I do. I do intend to Twitter and blog. You’re going to see a difference in the subject matter, though.

I’ve actually come up with a really unique idea that I have yet to put into affect -- and I don’t know if I will; but this is my idea, and I guess your readers can tell me if it’s good or not.

Okay, so basically: It’s going to be tough for me to talk about outings because you’re going to have legions of people who think I either was awesome or sucked -- and there’s no defending that; it’s not like you can go on a blog every night and be like: "Well, y’know, what happened was I just wasn’t y’know, whatever--" and make an excuse for yourself.

And it’s just going to be kind of awkward for you to, like, just say: "Oh yeah, I blew the game in the 12th inning last night and knocked us out of first place and by the way here’s a funny story about a time I took a dump on a tour bus."

That’s not going to go over real well. You’re going to have to address it somehow, but you’re also going to have to move forward and you can’t go into too much detail. So I thought, "Why use words at all? Why not just use some photo that captures the essence of the outing or how you fell about it -- and then move forward?"

Because a picture is like a thousand words -- but a thousand words that you pick, not me. So, you can think of it what you will.
William-shatner-toupee_medium So I needed a picture of something expressive, somebody who had the range and depth of their character that could encapsulate everything a pitcher could feel. Someone like William Shatner.

So I’ve come up with this idea called the Shatometer.

Basically, depending on how I perform that day, I’m going to take a picture of William Shatner that best captures the essence of that performance. So, if there’s a bang-bang play and I get the raw end of the stick, you could see a picture of William Shatner screaming, "KHAAAAN!!!"

Or, if it’s like I go out there and strike out the side, maybe there’ll be a picture of William Shatner making out with a hot, green alien chick. ‘Cause, y’know, that’s what I feel like.

I figure he’s got so much range, you could do anything with the man.

Well, I really look forward to that and I think it will get a wide range of applause from the people at DRaysBay. It appeals to both the visualness they like and the nerdiness they need.

Let’s finish with the Lightening Round. Try to keep your answers no longer than a sentence.

Favorite Donald Miller book: Blue Like Jazz.

Favorite color: Burnt orange.

Favorite mascot in professional sports: Man, that is, aw... I feel like I want to say the Phillie Fanatic, but then you guys would all be like, "Phillie?! You bastard!" Um... [to his wife] Honey, do you remember a mascot I was, like, really high on?... Oh, I do know who my favorite mascot is: Thunder, from the Lake Elsinore Storm [as mentioned in The Bullpen Gospels].
27787_medium
Favorite minor league stadium:
"Mmmm... That’s tough... God, I’ve spent so many years in the minors... Oh, well, y’know Portland was my favorite. But it’s not there anymore.

If you could pick, what jersey number would you like to have with the Rays: I would ask for 62 because the way I draw the Garfoose, his eyes look like the number 62. And so I was like, "I should get the number 62, then I could say, ‘Garfoose eyes.’"

Favorite movie: [His actual answer took about 5 minutes, for the sake of brevity, I have shortened it.] Man, I feel like I should pick something crazy, so people would be like, "Oh my god! He’s so crazy!" -- like The Clockwork Orange, but only when I’m high or wasted. I’ve never been high or waste, FYI, I just play one on TV...

V for Vendetta. Yeah, that's probably my favorite.

If it helped your pitching, would you grow a Brian Wilson-like beard?: If it helped my pitching? Yes.

Would you grow one just because?: I’m not opposed to facial hair.

Well, thank you so much, Dirk; it was real pleasure.

No problem.

Again, a big thanks to Dirk Hayhurst for pausing his workouts and blog-writing to answer questions equal parts inane and intriguing. Here’s hoping he gets the closer’s job by July!
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