Sikeston's Blake DeWitt talks about his year in the majors
Sikeston native Blake DeWitt made his major league debut as No. 33 for the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 31. DeWitt played a majority of the season with the Dodgers and finished the regular season with a batting average of .264, nine home runs, 52 runs batted in and three stolen bases. He recently talked to Standard Democrat sports writer Matthew Bain and discussed the past season.
What has been the biggest change in your life over the last year?
Obviously, it would have to be the level that I'm playing at. It is definitely the highest level, but you don't realize how different it is until you get there. I didn't realize how different things like travel were. It takes a lot to play at that level.
What was it like at the very beginning of the season and getting called up for opening day?
It was a fun time. I got called over mid-way through spring training to play some games because of some injuries. I played pretty well. We kept getting closer and closer to the season and I was still (in spring training). The day before the season (team management) said "Look, if we don't sign anybody, you're going to be our opening day third baseman." Sure enough, they were unable to sign anybody and I was fortunate enough to get in there and make that start on opening day. The night before opening day was tough. It was one of those 'you may be here, you may not be,' and that was hard sleeping on that. Somehow, I was able to get a good night's rest and got to make the start.
On March 31 Blake DeWitt became the Dodgers opening day starting third baseman after the team's top three projected third basemen -- Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu -- were injured during spring training. In his first major league at bat, DeWitt singled and went 5-for-9 with 3 walks in the three-game series.
What was it like getting your first major league hit?
It felt pretty good. There were a thousand thoughts running through my head. I was excited before the at bat. I told myself to remain as calm as I could. Obviously, I wasn't going to be completely calm. I just told myself to have fun and relax. When I got the hit, I knew it was a for sure base hit, but I still think ran as fast as I could (laughs). I just remember thinking 'man, I ran really fast down the line.' Then getting the standing ovation from the crowd was great. I don't think I really took the time to step back and realize, 'hey, they're cheering for me.'
What has been the biggest culture shock for you?
The biggest culture shock for me would have to be being in the big city everyday. There are a lot of things, but being in the city really sticks out. Growing up in Sikeston, the city is quite a bit different. But I ended up really enjoying it and got to experience and learn a lot of new things.
What is it like living out of hotels?
It can be grueling at times. I didn't rent a place in L.A., so even when we were at home I lived in a hotel. It's tough, but at the same time we are staying at nice hotels and that makes it a little bit easier.
Do you like all the traveling your required to do?
I love the travel, going to different cities that I've never been to. Playing in new parks is always fun. My favorite would have to be Chicago and Wrigley Field. At Wrigley, the fans are right on top of you and screaming at you the whole game. It was a fun environment and a great place to play.
What is it like interacting with fans?
That is one of the really fun parts of the game. You have 45,000 to 50,000 people at a game. Being able to interact with them really makes the day special.
What do you like about Los Angeles?
The fans and Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium would have to be my favorite part about L.A. Getting to go to the park everyday and to play at Dodger Stadium is special. There are not too many parks in baseball that have that kind of history.
What do you miss the most about home?
Friends and family. They were able to come out a bunch this year, but friends and family is what I have missed the most.
What was the best piece of advice you've received in the last year?
It was one of the first couple days of the season and Mark Sweeney (Dodgers pinch hitter and first baseman) came up to me and talked to me. I was still in the critical stage of 'are you ready to be here, are you not ready to be here?' You're not doubting yourself but it's unknown to you if you have what it takes to play in the big leagues. Obviously, I had the confidence that I could. But, Sweeney came over to me and said "Hey, just remember you belong here, you've earned your way here. Don't ever forget that. Just go out and play and have fun." That was the best piece of advice I got all year.
What's it like facing Major League pitching?
A. It's tough, day in and day out. You can't let down for one second or let your mental game slip up. You can't allow your physical game to slip up. If you do, you're going to fail. You have to be on top of your game every night to have any kind of success at all. You have pitchers who watch tape of you to see exactly what your tendencies are and where you like your pitches. They know ahead of time what to stay away from when pitching to you. You have to make adjustments, it's tough.
DeWitt was optioned to the Dodgers AAA minor league team in Las Vegas on July 26, following the team's acquisition of third baseman Casey Blake from the Cleveland Indians. However, when second baseman Jeff Kent was sidelined, DeWitt was recalled to Los Angeles to start at second base.
How was it dealing with getting sent down to the minor leagues?
A. I just had to be patient with it because I knew I had to learn a new position. That's what they told me. At the same time, when I got sent down I was struggling a little and we had Casey Blake, who is a phenomenal third baseman. So I knew when we signed him that I was going to get sent to Las Vegas. It's not a situation that you get pumped up about. But, once they told me they wanted me to learn to play second base, I was excited because that gave me another avenue to get back to the big leagues.
How has it been adjusting to second base?
That was fun. They told me when they sent me down that they wanted me to learn second base in case something happens. I had some so-so games adjusting to that in Las Vegas (AAA). I was real robotic and mechanical with it at first. After a week or two, I was able to relax and react out there. I started having fun with the position and felt like I learned something new everyday. Sure enough, I got called back up when Jeff (Kent) got hurt. So, it was like 'ready or not.' I just told myself when it happened to just go out and have fun. I had worked on it in AAA and now it's just time to go play. I had to forget about trying to do things right or perfect, just catch the ball, throw the ball.
What is it like being coached by Joe Torre and sharing a locker room with big name players like Manny Ramirez?
It's everything you dream of, especially in my first year, to have a manger like Joe Torre and to be surrounded by veterans like Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez and Greg Maddux. It's unbelievable. They have experience in this game and know what it takes to play at this level. To have them there and willing to help me and show me what it takes to play at this level was just great.
What was your greatest moment of the last year?
I think it would have to be clinching for the playoffs. We clinched on a loss. We had lost to the Padres that night but Arizona had lost to St. Louis earlier in the day. It is such a long process to play the season and clinch a playoff spot. 162 games is a long, long process. I think as a team, it is a satisfying feeling when you have been 162 games together and made it to where you have worked to be. Obviously, you're not done yet and that's not your goal. But it was great making it to that point.
Was there more pressure in the playoffs than the regular season?
I don't think so. Obviously, it's on a bigger stage and a different level. Each game means a little bit more. But when you get on the field and the game starts, you forget all about it. You just concentrate on winning the game just like you would in any other game. It is also what makes the playoffs fun. Every pitch, every swing, every ball you throw is magnified. If you make a mistake, it may mean a run. If you get a base hit and score a run it may mean winning a ball game. That makes the playoffs fun.
Do you have any advice for young players?
Be patient. That is something I have had to learn. I was pretty impatient last year in high A. That is where I really learned my patience, from struggling at that level. It helped me get through this year and I may not have been there on opening day if I hadn't learned that patience.
What would surprise people the most about your life these days?
I guess it would be the fact that I live this pretty 'boring' life. I think people feel that I live this super fast-paced life. It's actually pretty easy going. I live in Pasadena and the traffic isn't bad getting to the park. All I really did is wake up, go to the park, play the game, come home and go to sleep. A lot of the other guys went to the beach a lot and things like that. I just really looked forward going to the park, so that is mainly what I did.
How are you going to spend your off season?
Mainly working out and getting ready for next year. I'll take ground balls at second and third base. I'll try to stay in shape, try to get stronger, try to get quicker. In my free time, I'll hunt and fish and that's about it.
What does the future hold for Blake DeWitt?
I don't know. It's just one those things, I'm not even going to guess. I'm just going to continue to work hard and try to get better. If things work out, great. If they don't, you gave everything you possibly could to get to where you wanted to be. I'm happy right now that I've been able to not worry about what is ahead of me and just prepare as best I can. If it works out, it works out. If not, you gave it everything you had.