Playing Winter Ball in Panama: The Chris Swauger Guest MLB Blog
Friday December 2, 2011
MLB reports: We are proud to welcome Chris Swauger (aka Swags) back to the Reports! After our interview with the St. Louis Cardinals prospect, we are fortunate to have Swags return as a Guest MLB Blogger. Have you ever wondered what goes through a player’s mind playing winter ball in a foreign country? Swags is here to give you the scoop on the experience of playing ball in the offseason. A big thank you to Swags for his time in preparing this feature, as well as the photographs used which were supplied for from his personal collection.
Chris Swauger- Guest MLB Blog: I was walking out of a LA Fitness in Tampa when I got the call to play winter ball in Panama. After an hour of being stared at like I was an alien by the juice-monkeys for actually using the squat rack and leg machines, I figured why not be a true alien in a foreign country again? Having played the last two years in Colombia, I was used to the funny looks and had become fluent in Spanish. It seemed like a great opportunity to see a new place and continue to improve my baseball skills. So a week later I said goodbye to my family and the motherland and got on a plane to the middle of nowhere.
I didn’t see the sun for the first 5 days I was down here. I was a new member of the Caballos de Cocle, and I felt like I should have been playing in galoshes instead of cleats. Our practices started at 9 AM because it poured every afternoon. It felt a lot like Spring Training, with the heavy eyes and constant practicing of fundamentals. However, the practice field was slightly different. I had played on fields with pebbles and rocks sprinkled on the field, but this place had full-blown boulders laying around. The warning track consisted of grass as tall as me and was home to a family of iguanas. But I figured if we could play defense on this field, when we got on ours we would all be Gold-Glovers. We grinded it out for a week and went into opening night feeling invincible.
We were exactly that for two games. We pitched, hit, and played defense like seasoned veterans en route to two straight walk-off wins. I had both of the walk-off hits, but before we crown me a clutch performer, I must inform you that they were the only hits I had in either game. I would have probably been put on a plane home if I hadn’t come through in those at-bats. Going into the final game of our first series, we were pretty much fitting ourselves for championship rings. Then reality kicked in.
We started blowing saves and our clutch hitting disappeared. Guys on the team, including myself, continued to put up good numbers but the wins did not come. As a team we could not get in sync. We would pitch well and not hit. Then we would put up four runs in the first and our pitchers struggled to hold the lead. It is one of those things that happens in this game. Rough patches are bound to happen, but they take the highway to panic mode when the season is only 36 games long. I sit here today writing this blog with our team sitting 5 games out of the playoff race with 3 games left to play. On paper our team should have not lost a game, but that’s why you play. The better teams are in the playoff hunt, and ours is sitting here like me trying to figure out where we went wrong.
When the game starts challenging you on the field you start to look for positives off of it. In a town as small as Aguadulce, Cocle, Panama, you have to look really hard. By my official head count the town has 50 people in it (I might be off by a few hundred). The biggest structure in the town is the church, and, outside of a few restaurants and dollar stores, there really isn’t much to do. My roommates and I began to find humor and entertainment in the smallest things. Such as:
The gym that has every piece of Tony Little endorsed equipment from the 80s and 90s…but has no free weights or squat rack.
The ability for men to wear Capri pants and be considered stylish.
The maid that works diligently every day cleaning and scrubbing the entire 4 room two-story house every day…and also has a habit of turning off the A/C every morning so we wake up like we are in the middle of a Bikram yoga class.
The Korean player on our team who plays “light-field” and complains about the “blain fleeze” he gets when he eats ice cream.
The fact that one of my roommates thought a mothball was a Mentos.
The flocks of geese people have as pets.
The amount that the Latin guys on my team enjoy mayonnaise sandwiches.
The Thanksgiving meal of ham and cheese sandwiches.
The clubhouse attendant who scrubs down our lockers, shoes, uniforms, AND batting practice balls. No one has hit a home run in BP for 3 weeks because they are water-logged but they sure do shine like pearls.
The fact that I only eat at two restaurants because the others have made me do my best bus-driver impression on the toilet seat.
The team bus that is an Aladdin movie prop during the day, and the hottest club in town at night.
As you can tell it’s not the most glamorous of lives, however it is quite amusing. Paying dues in the Minor Leagues and foreign countries can be a bit of an adventure, but it has provided me with many life experiences. I hope to use this blog as a means to share those experiences. I would like people to see what players like myself go through to chase their dreams. Follow me on Twitter @cswag8 if you would like to get a daily perspective and interact with me.
Until next time,
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Posted on December 2, 2011, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged baseball, batavia, caballos de cocle, chris swauger, citadel, mlb, muckdog, panama, st louis cardinals, winter ball, world series. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.