Adjusting to a new environment
New players must face wood bats, foreign teammates
This is Part 2 of a two-part series that examines the first year of a collegiate first-round pick and a high school first-round pick and how each experiences the Minors differently.
Every player makes adjustments in baseball, but the successful ones usually find a way to make the right ones fast enough so they can survive. For David Aardsma, that first year was not too difficult to adapt to. All through May and June of 2003, he faced some of the best collegiate teams -- against powered-up aluminum bats, no less -- and dominated. Now he was against a similar level of competition in San Jose, this time without metal bats.
California League hitters barely touched him, with Aardsma striking out 28 hitters in just 18 innings and had a miniscule 1.96 ERA. The next year, Aardsma found himself shuttling between the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies and the San Francisco Giants.
The Gulf Coast League proved to be a little tougher for Eric Duncan. Though he was rated the one of the nation's top prep hitters, this would be the first time Duncan would face pitchers who threw in the high-80s or faster on a regular basis. He thought the toughest thing to get used to was the speed of the game.
"The game speeds up so fast that you have to start making adjustments right away," Duncan said. "If you don't make adjustments from pitch to pitch and game to game, there's no way you're going to move up. It's been a learning process every year."
After a slow start in Florida, Duncan learned fast when called up to the Staten Island Yankees. His batting average jumped nearly 100 points and he hit just as many home runs in 14 games as he did in almost 50 Gulf Coast League games.
Not all learning in baseball has to do with reading the spin of a slider or guessing where a fly ball will land. The most difficult lesson is learning how to communicate with teammates from another part of the world.
Hispanic players account for a great deal of today's Major League and Minor League players and there are usually at least five or six on every roster. Most of them speak little or no English and are new to American culture. Compound that with the fact that many American baseball players have had little, if any experience with Latinos, and there will be some difficult times.
"It was tough for me, at first," Aardsma said, "but I can't even begin to understand what some of them are going through. They're thousands and thousands of miles away from their own country and they're trying to understand a new language and culture. It's a lot tougher for them, so you have to be patient and do the best you can."
Duncan had a tough time as well, but he eventually found ways to communicate with his Latin teammates on the diamond. He said with the amount of time a player spends with his team, it is almost impossible for either player not to pick up a little bit of the other's language and understand what the funny-looking guy is saying across the bus or the field.
The two players are into only their third season of professional ball, and both Aardsma and Duncan have learned a great deal already. It seems as if Aardsma might have a leg up on Duncan now because of his time spent in college.
"I think the adjustment for me was easier because going to college forces you to mature fast," said Aardsma, who left Rice with a 3.70 GPA in sports management, said. "It forces you to grow up faster and learn more things own your own that if you were left by yourself, you'd be still scratching your head about."
That doesn't necessarily mean that every player has to go through college. Jason Schmidt, John Smoltz, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have no college credits to their names, and it seems they have adapted to the Major League lifestyle well. Duncan had a full scholarship waiting for him, but took advantage of a good opportunity when it came.
And he hopes this year's draftees do the same.
"Enjoy the draft," Duncan said. "Have as much fun as possible and do whatever is best for you. Don't get pressured into doing one thing or the other. You don't have to take the money right away, but you also have the rest of your life to go to school. Do whatever you feel is best for you at that time."
Michael Echan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.