I recently had the opportunity to return to Mexico to play in spring training for a great organization. I’ve been coaching for a while now, so I was very excited to be able to compete at that level again. Below I’ve shared my experience being there and how it all came about.
Last November, I was contacted by a Mexican league scout. He said there was interest from several teams to bring me back to catch. I told him I was interested and to keep me posted.
Months went by without hearing anything so on March 1st, I went ahead and accepted a spring training invitation with the Vallejo Admirals of the Pacific Association. On March 4th, I got an email from the scout saying the Freseros de San Quintin wanted me for spring training in just 10 days. The reporting date for all players was March 14th.
The trip there was an adventure… Of course, the experience started in Chicago; instead of getting into San Diego at 10PM Monday, I landed in Los Angeles at 3AM Tuesday, thanks to our airline. Then I had to immediately hop a bus to San Diego. I finally arrived in San Diego around 6AM. I was picked up at 9AM by the team scout and got on the road to Mexico for a 4-5 hour drive.
The stadium is in San Quintin, but the player’s apartments were in Camalu. Bad cellphone reception and no Wifi was frustrating, and made keeping in touch with my wife and daughters a challenge. However, the complex was really nice. Imagine a large rectangle gated in with 12 foot high cement walls. Along the inside were all rooms, as well as a gym. The kitchen/cafeteria was in the middle. There were two players per room with each room having two beds, a closet, a fan, and a bathroom with a shower.
Practices started that Tuesday afternoon. Being extremely tired from traveling all night, I was fortunate there were no bullpens to catch. Just throwing, BP and then a 25-minute run.
The next morning at breakfast, I was told I was going to be playing infield because a SS, due to an injury, wouldn’t be playing. The team was aware of my background as an infielder and wanted me to take reps at shortstop instead of catching.
The manager was Benito Camacho from Cuba. He had coached in the 2006 WBC for Cuba. I liked him right away. Practices were very up tempo and I almost died during infield work. His infield practice is basically a HIIT workout. On the first day, I had a bag of seeds (they aren’t too easy to find in Mexico.) Benito walked by and I offered him some. He took the whole bag, and walked away. When it came time for me to leave a few weeks later, he gave me a hug and told me I had a spot on any team he coaches.
The ages of players on the team ranged anywhere from 17-40. Most of the pitchers were from Cuba and Venezuela and all had affiliated experience. There was also a Venezuelan third baseman and a Venezuelan catcher. The team is in the Liga Norte, a minor league for the Mexican major league. Each Liga Norte team is affiliated with two Mexican major league teams that send down their prospects to play. The Liga Norte team then signs import and veteran players to build the team around the prospects.
Practices varied between 9:30AM and 3:30PM. Whatever time they said the bus was leaving, it left. Every single player was on the bus every day at least 5 mins before the bus was supposed to leave. Players were expected to be on time and to act professionally. There were not many rules. Actually, the only rules were in regards to dress code when you were in the cafeteria, and I believe bringing females into the complex. That’s one thing I’ve always stressed to college players… Baseball is a tough game. It’s tough to control what happens on the field and at times, it can be tough dealing with situations with a team and coaches. However, it is never too soon to start acting like a professional. Always be early to everything. Always wear the right apparel. Always treat everyone with respect. Not just the GM or manager, but the lady making your breakfast or the batboy/cubbies cleaning your cleats. How you interact with the people serving you shows how you are as a person. And you better believe the higher ups are watching that.
Every morning when we got to the field, there was a meeting followed by a prayer. Then the pitchers and position players split up. Pitchers went through their stretching and throwing programs, while position players did the same. Stretching itself lasted probably 30 minutes every day. Stretching was followed by infield which lasted about 45 minutes. Then the pitchers joined and we went through situational plays. Rundowns, first and third, pickoffs, etc… After 30-45 minutes of that, it was time for a break. I usually slammed a pedialyte and a protein bar, and then it was time for BP while pitchers threw their bullpens.
This was the BP routine each day.
- 2 bunts
- Hit and run
- Get him over
- Get him in
- Infield in
- Infield back
- 10 swings oppo.
- 12 swings – line drives, hit the ball where it was pitched.
- 10 swings, hit the ball where it was pitched
- 2 swings, “long ball” (hit HR)
- 3 swings, “long ball”
- Everyone in the group got one swing. If you got a “base hit” (BP throwers call) you stayed. If you didn’t, you got eliminated. It kept going with one swing each until there was one player left, and that player didn’t have to pick up the balls.
After practice, it was back to the complex to eat. And then the rest of the day was free time. There was no mandatory gym time, but you better believe the coaches noticed who was working out and who wasn’t.
Overall, I had a blast. It was great being on the field as a player again. It’s too easy to get out of touch with that side when your coaching. Coaches tell you what you need to do, and it is simply expected that you do it. There was no talk about being on time, or wearing the team gear, or telling players to shag, etc… If you didn’t carry yourself professionally, you were gone.
I had a great time playing again. The Freseros is a great organization. The owners, the GM, Benito, all the coaches, the clubbie, and the kitchen ladies all went above and beyond to make sure I felt welcome. Benito wants me to return next season, but my daughter keeps telling me that the airplanes have all flown away forever so who knows…
Contact Dustin for private lessons or if you are interested in joining a team.