Jason Bergmann on Pitch Counts and Existential Despair
One of the last interviews I conducted before I left Viera was with pitcher Jason Bergmann, who had proved willing to provide sarcastic responses to virtually any question I asked while in Florida. Somehow, that made me think that I should try to ask him questions concerning existential workplace despair. I just listened to the audio, and it sort of makes me want to beat myself over the head with a tire iron.
But hey, content is content. So here's a three-week-old Q&A with Jason Bergmann. Some of the questions were asked by Nats scribe Chico Harlan, who joined us mid-stream. This was the first day the full team reported, and the mood was happiness and Boston Market spreads. I tried to take care of the former. I was never offered a crack at the latter.
Bergmann: This is probably the youngest group in Spring Training I've seen. I'm 27 and I'm old. Half these guys, Martis is like 21, Balester, Lannan, all these guys are younger than me. Jordan Zimmermann. It's kind of remarkable to see so many young guys at this level, and performing.
Sports Bog: Do they ask for your veteran guidance?
Bergmann: Well, I'm not really a veteran. I mean, I wouldn't consider myself I've veteran. I've had years of experience, but I consider guys like Nick Johnson a veteran, Kearns a veteran, Dunn a veteran. I feel like in the grand scheme of things I'm still a young guy. I'm learning just as much every day as they are. I've been in the organization a long time now, my fourth or fifth Spring Training with the same team. Not a lot of guys can say that around here. So I've been lucky to be with this team the whole time, and to see so many new faces every year, and this year even more.
Sports Bog: How many pitches do you think you've thrown in your life?
Bergmann: How many in my life? Well, are we talking about just game pitches?
Sports Bog: No, how many times do you think you've thrown a baseball? Tens of thousands probably.
Bergmann: Oh my God, easily.
Sports Bog: In a pitching motion.
Bergmann: Well, if I had to guess....If I go out there and throw 100 pitches in a game, that's not including the eight in between innings, that's not including the 50 in warm-ups, that's not including the long toss beforehand. So I can throw about 300 balls a game, on gameday. That's just one game. So we're gonna say maybe 1,000 balls a week.
Sports Bog: So that's 50,000 a year
Bergmann: That's just one year. Granted it's probably a little bit more now, but even in college I threw a lot, I was on traveling teams in the summer. I'd say that times about 15 years, at least.
Sports Bog: So you'd be pretty close to a million.
Bergmann: I'd say by the end of someone's career they've probably thrown well over a million pitches, WELL over a million.
Sports Bog: Does it ever get boring?
Bergmann: No. Because for me, I'm 27. I'm not great yet. I think it's hard, until you're great, and then it's fun. Like Greg Maddux, I'm sure he wasn't always picture perfect, painting the corners. I'm sure once he found that and everybody looked up to him, it was probably just silly for him. Just throwing the ball and making a guy look stupid.
Sports Bog:: You've done that in your career, though.
Bergmann: I've thrown some good pitches. But, not like a Greg Maddux or a John Smoltz, who could do it pretty much every time out. I mean, that's why I'm still learning and adjusting.
Sports Bog: When you were a travel league pitcher, you would make other kids look stupid?
Bergmann: Yeah, sometimes. I mean, I've given up my fair share of home runs and runs and everything else. It's kind of interesting to look back. I mean, growing up in high school I was always the best pitcher on my team, and it was fun to throw the ball by people. Then, it was fun. But it's hard work getting there. Guys like Maddux, guys who have stature, once they get to a certain level of greatness--Pedro Martinez in the late '90s, guys with just unbelievable stuff--it's probably when they get that air of greatness about them. They perform so well, and they know it, and then you know it. It's got to be so much more fun. When you go out there and you have your absolute best stuff out there....
Collin Balester: He's good to talk to, huh?
Bergmann: I'm good to talk to for information, you're good for stories.
Balester: I'm good for a lot of stuff.
Sports Bog: [Bergmann's] got a good sense of humor.
Balester: What do I have?
Bergmann: You're silly. You're goofy.
Sports Bog: Ok, so I wouldn't ask this to many professional athletes, but I think you've got a pretty good sense of humor about stuff, so let me ask. No offense at all....
Bergmann: You can offend me, I don't care.
Sports Bog: It just seems like when you talk about the effort you put forth to find greatness, do you ever step back and think, the thing that I'm spending my life trying to be great at is, like, throwing a baseball past other grown men? Do you know what I mean?
Bergmann: I'm sure you could make that case for any job. Your profession is making me talk. So if you take a step back, [your] best performance is not even YOUR performance.
Sports Bog: That's true.
Bergmann: I mean, when you think about it, certain people, when they go to work, their jobs are not even doing anything. They're making sure that other people do stuff. Take a step back from everybody's job....Think about publishers for books. Their job is to reprint what someone else already wrote. So what's their job? When you take back and look a step at everybody's job, what exactly are we doing here?
Sports Bog:So what percentage of your days at work do you find satisfying?
Bergmann: Hmmm. What percentage of my days at work do I find satisfying? I think if I go out there and pitch twice a week, in the game; if I do a good job, not allowing the other team to get the advantage on me, then [they were] successful days leading up to that. So if I don't throw for a month, then I throw that one day, really good, that's satisfying for that whole month. Because it's a culmination of things. It's the gradual improvement and striving to be good up until a point. Now if I had more time to relish that, that's great, but if I do good on one day and do terrible on another, then do good the next day, I don't like the middle day, but the next day is sweeter. It's really tough to answer that question for me.
Harlan: So on a day like today, is there any way to be satisfied?
Bergmann: My college coach always told us, always try to get better each day. And I feel like today, we go out, we had to run the mile. I hate running, but I ran the mile and completed it in a time that I was satisfied with, 7:47, which for me is probably pretty good.
[Chatter about running times]
Sports Bog: Do you remember when you thought you actually could be a professional baseball player?
Bergmann: Yeah, someone asked me this the other day. I told her I had always dreamed of being a professional baseball player, but it probably wasn't until I got sent to Double A that was I like, 'Hey, I actually have a shot at this.' I mean, I was so young. I went to rookie ball, you've still got five levels to go. I was telling this story about Javier Vazquez, who was with the Montreal Expos. He came down to talk to us. It was like, wow, that's Javier Vazquez.
That's a big deal, a Major League pitcher. I was like, 'Wow, I'm so far away from that.' Then I got to Double A, I took that step back and was like, you know how many people actually never get to Double A? I mean, I was an 11th rounder, which means I was kind of in between a good pick and kind of filler. I was like, 'I've got a shot at this.' Double A is a huge milestone. That's also where the competition started getting really hard.
Harlan: When I was a freshman in high school I remember the seniors were so big, but when you become a senior you're like, 'Whoa, we're really not that big.'
Bergmann: There was something that did happen, my very first Spring Training, the first time I came into this clubhouse with big league guys. I mean, Livan Hernandez, all stars, big league players. I was a minor league guy, a couple of us, came over here to back up like they do every year, and I got my opportunity to come up here. And I was like, 'Wow, this is a locker room of Major League Baseball players.'
So I mean, this was a huge deal for me, seeing these guys...I was four inches taller than Livan. Their size, you see them on TV, they seem so much bigger than they are. I'm sure if you saw a movie star--no offense--but if you saw Tom Cruise, he's 5-6, 5-7, 5-5, whatever he is. He seems like such a big personality, and he's just a little guy. So if I were to walk up to Tom Cruise, it's a little different view of him. You see people of immense stature, and then you get next to them and it's like, 'Well, I'm the same size as that guy, I throw the ball just as hard. It's just he's been there and is a little more established. Maybe I can get there too.'
Sports Bog: So people tell us all the time, man you've got the coolest job in the world, isn't it so great, you get to go inside clubhouses, you get to watch sports all day. And it's cool and all, it's fine, but at some point it's a job. Is it the same thing with you?
Bergmann: Yeah, when you first get here it is incredible. But after that, you're around the same guys, there's no level higher, so you know you need to work hard to stay here. But the surroundings are always gonna stay the same. This is my fourth or fifth Spring Training, and every year we come to this clubhouse, same spread, same setup in the locker room, same lockers are being filled by the same guys, and a lot of that's just repetitive.
Harlan: So is there any of that first day of school excitement on a day like this?
Bergmann: At this point, I've been here for four or five straight years. You get that first day of school, and it's like, 'Oh, I've got to keep going?' Then the next week, you fall into a pattern, fall into a routine, it's just the same days, every day. It's fun to start things up again, but it's just like school. As it goes you get used to everything, and it's just my job, so I'm used to coming here. Now if it's someone coming in off the street, or a relative, or somebody who's like, 'Aw man, professional baseball!' there's that awe factor. But if they came here every day, at the end of a month, they'd probably be like, 'Yeah, it's cool.'
Sports Bog: So when was the last time that you were like, man, this is awesome. Does it still happen sometimes?
Bergmann: Every time I visit a new stadium, or a place that I just haven't been. Last year we went to Seattle, really cool. We went to San Francisco, I'd never been there. Every time we go to a new city, it's a lot more fun. But I've been to Shea like 12 times now, and now it's gonna be cool because of Citi Field. I've been to Turner Field a bunch. Oh, my locker's over here, where it usually is. The TV's the same. It's just the same thing every time. It's just repetitive. It's just a business trip.
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