It all started with me trying trying to hit left-handed, even though I was a righty.
Playing wiffle ball with my friends in Millville, New Jersey, I used to mess around and hit that way, because I just loved Ken Griffey. I was always trying to re-enact Junior’s swing. It’s the best left-handed swing in baseball history. I loved his approach at the plate, and the way home runs looked coming off his bat. So it didn’t matter that I was right-handed. Kids growing up, that’s the way you do it.
I’ve always tried to watch and learn. It may sound silly, but the smallest things matter. Baseball is so hard as it is. Life in the big leagues goes by so quickly. When you go out and you’re not comfortable, it can affect your game. I’m incredibly lucky to have the kind of support I have, with people helping me with everything going into the game so I can focus on playing. I couldn’t do it without them. Great teammates and coaches. I have the best trainers to work with, and even people designing equipment just for me.
I remember as a kid going to Champs or Finish Line once a season. I’d see the Griffeys on the shelf, and think how cool they were. You wanted to yank them off the shelf so fast. It’s amazing and humbling to have my own cleat with Nike. For the third year in a row, they came to Millville, sat in a conference room with me, asking what I want and don’t want in a shoe. The Vapor Trout 1 was great, but I wanted the new one to be lighter. They take it apart, figure it out, and put it back together. The little details at the end are fun, too. I’m a weather guy. Seriously. I’ve DM’d guys at The Weather Channel about storm models. So, they put a radar graphic on the shoe. I hunt, so there’s a camo look.
And they put a trout on the toe.
Certain things about being a big leaguer will always remind me how lucky I am to be here. I used to get one pair of cleats every season. Now I swap them out every couple weeks. (Unless I’ve got some hits in them. Then they stay. Same with the bat, gloves, and anything else. And if I’m in a slump, it all goes. Like a lot of players, I’m a little superstitious.) That feeling that comes from hitting home runs is the best in the world. The ball coming off the bat, and the sound you hear from the crowd. It’s pretty cool.
To be successful at the Major League level, you have to understand who you’re playing against. Details matter. Take Max Scherzer, He can throw it 100 miles an hour, and his arm angle makes it tough to pick up his offspeed pitches. The first time I faced him was during a day game in Detroit. It was so tough to pick anything up. He struck me out twice … but I did manage to hit a solo shot. Nothing Felix Hernandez throws is straight. Nasty stuff. Certain pitchers fall into patterns. Maybe it’s fastball-fastball-slider-change. Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke never do. They change their sequence every at bat, mixing pitches and throwing them all for strikes.
And if you can get to first against Kershaw, now you have to deal with his pickoff move, which may be the best in the game. You don’t know if he’s going home or coming to first, because he doesn’t give anything away and his timing is perfect. But whether it’s Kershaw or other pitchers around the league, you just have to study and learn to read guys. If he moves his shoulder or leans back just a little bit. Finding those little patterns they might not know they have, then seeing that first move. That’s the key to getting a good jump.
It’s a strange experience to walk into a store and see your shoe on the shelves, kind of like the first time you can play as yourself in a video game. I remember turning on the TV last year and watching an amateur game of high school All-Americans and they were all wearing Nike Trouts. It’s crazy to think that one day, someone may walk into the store looking for the shoe of one of those All-Americans, just like that All-American wanted my shoe, and I wanted those Griffeys. It’s an amazing feeling to be part of that cycle.
Because whether whether you’re big leaguer or a kid imitating one in the backyard hitting wiffleballs with your friends, we’re all just trying to get the details right in the game we love.