To paraphrase an old beer ad, if you’ve got the time, we’ve got the interview.
When we sat down to phone-chat with newly-minted Chicago White Sox catching prospect Tyler Flowers, he was chilling at home, fresh off of his honeymoon to Aruba. With his wife at work and unlimited minutes on his cel phone plan, the 22-year-old slugger was in a talkative mood and GotMiLB was the very fortunate beneficiary.
So here are Flowers’ very impressive creds in a nutshell and then we’ll just move right along to the good stuff: standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he was selected in the 33rd round of 2005 by the Atlanta Braves as a draft-and-follow, signing the next spring. After a brief stint at short-season Danville that summer, he moved up to Class A Rome in 2007 where he hit .298 with 12 homers and 70 RBIs, mostly at first base as he returned from a knee injury.
In 2008 Flowers raked at Advanced A Myrtle Beach, hitting .288 with 17 homers and 88 RBIs, exclusively at catcher defensively with extra at-bats thrown in at DH. He moved on to the Arizona Fall League, though he took a quick break to get married the weekend before the game action started. With the Mesa Solar Sox, Flowers was one of the top MVP candidates as he led the loop with 12 homers and a .973 slugging percentage, batted .387 and drove in 23 runs, while also playing errorless ball behind the plate.
Less than a month after returning home from Arizona, Flowers made another on-paper address change as he was dealt by the Braves to the White Sox as the key player in the deal for veteran pitcher Javier Vasquez.
Note to media that covers the White Sox: rejoice!
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Flowers: The most recent one in the Fall League, especially since I was a little excited but concerned since last year I played in Hawaii which did not go so well. I didn’t have a good time and my success on the field wasn’t very good either (.192 with three homers at Honolulu). So I am very proud and happy with how the Fall League went, that I got the opportunity to go and took advantage of it.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Flowers: My brother and my dad have gotten into go-kart racing where they go in excess of 100 MPH. They started two years ago and I went last off-season. It’s unreal, exciting and scary and nervewracking and one of the most intimidating things I’ve done. We’re all car lovers and ‘the need for speed’-type people. My friends and I and our dads built our go-karts when we were growing up, where we’d go to local schools and race around against each other.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Flowers: I guess I’d be done with school by now, I think. I think I could have made it through school in four years. I always wanted to be a lawyer, but the other side of that is I wasn’t much for school, I didn’t enjoy it, so that got rid of that thought early in my college days. I went to Chipola Junior College and there were a few of us out in Arizona Fall League this year: (Cubs catcher) Steve Clevenger was our shortstop, (fellow White Sox catcher) Cole Armstrong was the catcher at Chipola before I got there. (Dodgers catcher) Russell Martin was the catcher there before that. I feel like I’d be good at sales, whatever aspect that would have carried me into. Growing up we’d do the fundraisers, selling Krispy Kreme donuts on the corner, and I’d always sell the most.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Flowers: Like most baseball players, video games are important. But my wife hates it so I haven’t played video games in awhile. You have roommates everywhere and you get to pick your roommate so you pick people who like the same games. The most popular game was Halo, but now it’s Rock Band. I play guitar and drums and pretty much anything. I’m pretty good.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Flowers: I am a pretty good artist. I enjoy drawing a lot. Nothing in particular, I’ll more or less pick something out in the room or something from my mind, maybe a logo. I’ve always enjoyed that since I was a kid. I have a hard time drawing people though. It’s the one thing I can’t do.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Flowers: The biggest challenge is definitely going to the field every day with the mindset to continuously work hard every day. You realize it’s a long season and I think the hardest part is staying motivated every day when obviously that’s what you’re supposed to do.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Flowers: One would be the road trips and from what I understand (having been in the Sally and Carolina Leagues) I haven’t encountered the bad ones yet. Eight hours on a bus isn’t what I imagined, but I hear about other teams who have like 15 hours and that’s unreal. And on top of that, I don’t know what I thought it would be like, but you have like zero food options. You can order pizza or maybe there’s a Waffle House. And that’s another challenge, day in and day out and trying to figure out what to eat. It’s hard for larger people to try and stay healthy. Skinny guys can eat McDonalds every day and not worry about it but I try to stay on top of my diet and it’s not that easy.
GotMiLB: Which coach/manager have you had that you think should be in the big leagues?
Flowers: (Myrtle Beach manager) Rocket Wheeler. He’s on you all the time and I think that’s what I was raised with, with my dad being my coach most of my life. I think it’s important to have a coach like him who’s always in it. Plus he’s a great guy. He genuinely cares about his players and I think he would be a great manager at the major league level.
GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club, what was your favorite thing about playing there?
Flowers: At Myrtle Beach we had good fans and consistent fans. We had 10 diehard fans and by diehard, I mean if we got back from a road trip at 4 in the morning they’d be there with tables of snacks and coffee and juice. It was unreal. I love baseball and I wouldn’t be up at 4 in the morning to welcome home a team. They were at every game. And me and Travis Jones and Jay Chapman and later Jason Heyward got a penthouse on the beach the second half of the season. Chapman plays the guitar and sings and we had a balcony on the beach and that was nice to hang out there.
GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip and why?
Flowers: Charleston, S.C., as a road trip because the downtown area is really nice, plus the stadium is really nice, the best in the Sally League. It’s almost like a big league atmosphere, with big locker rooms, stereo speakers and the tunnel underneath the stadium. But Charleston is also one of my least favorites because of the fans. Once during the second inning of a Thirsty Thursday game when I was playing first base, there was a pop fly that I missed so I was getting harassed for that for the next four innings. Then a ground ball hot shot went right between my legs and it got to the point where I didn’t even want to go back out there.
So, as promised (or threatened), a few thoughts about the recent Carolina-California League All-Star Game played June 24 at Myrtle Beach.
First the good, of which there was a lot:
Well, for one thing, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more ideal place to spend a Minor League Baseball summer than at BB&T Coastal Field. I’d say it’s a fabulous stadium for a Class A ball club (the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are the Atlanta Braves’ Carolina League affiliate) but it doesn’t need that qualifier … it’s just a great stadium, period.
It manages to capture the old-time feeling of the fun aspects of Minor League baseball while being clean (but not sterile) and just a little bit quirky (such as the beach area with the lifeguard tower out in left field).
You can’t beat the location … just off the famous Strand, literally across the street from Broadway on the Beach (a complex with restaurants, movie theatres and all sorts of entertainment) and a short drive from the ocean. Oh and it’s right next door to a Courtyard by Marriott (sportswriters’ best friends) so we could actually walk to the park from our hotel.
Plus, their general manager, North Johnson, is one of the best in the game. The longtime GM at Kinston, he moved west to Rancho Cucamonga for a few years but clearly left his heart in the Carolinas and the Carolina League and came back to take the helm of the Pelicans a few years ago. There are few classier gentlemen that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my 20 years covering the Minors.
It was a perfect place to have an All-Star Game, a setting the league could be proud of as it hosted 22 of the rival California League’s best and brightest. The night before the game, the league hosted what I am told was a great gala at the brand new Hard Rock Cafe amusement park.
And the players had a lot of fun at the game as well. One thing I always love watching is the players being sort of spectators as well as participants.
During the pre-game Home Run Derby, three of the California Leaguers — Bakersfield second baseman Jose Vallejo, Inland Empire catcher Carlos Santana, and Visalia pitcher Cesar Valdez — must have taken about 40 pictures of each other on their respective digital cameras.
In this shot on the left, Santana is getting Vallejo into focus (you can’t see him in the shot), while, as you’ll note, other Cal Leaguers are signing autographs for a young fan down the left field line. And in the shot on the right, Valdez gets a baseball card-worthy shot of Vallejo.
Things I didn’t like. Well, there wasn’t a whole lot that I didn’t like but I have to confess I could totally have done without the pre-game “entertainment” of a few hot chicks in bikinis dancing on the home dugout ostensibly leading the crowd in some contest or something. I know, I know, I am such a party pooper. And I know I was probably in the minority of folks on hand who didn’t enjoy it. But hell, I don’t need to be reminded that I will never look like that in a bikini (nor, for that matter, did I ever look like that in a bikini even in the old days when I tipped the scales at 100 lbs.).
Oh, and I didn’t really like the part of the night when, after interviewing the game’s heroes on the field, I made a run for the second-level pressbox to retrieve my computer and actually finish my work since, you know, that’s what I was there to do. Only to find that I could not GO to the pressbox because let’s just say there was a BIG FAMOUS PERSON (hint: his son was playing in the game) in one of the luxury boxes, and a few dozen fans waiting by the lone elevator for him to eventually come down and so they were not letting ANYONE onto that elevator to go upstairs. Didn’t matter if we happened to be working media who could care less about getting his autograph. We’d just have to wait.
So take the stairs, you say? That’s what we said too. Turns out the stairs were ALSO LOCKED and the guy with the key was on the field waiting for the fireworks display so he couldn’t come and unlock them for us.
FINALLY, I guess because I whined a lot, they managed to find the guy with the key and let us take the stairs so we could actually finish our work. Luckily I wasn’t under a heavy deadline or … well, my awesome editors would not have been happy with me. (Apparently our intrepid intern who WAS writing managed to sneak onto the elevator. Nice job.).
Moving off the subject of All-Stars for a little while (and with my upcoming New York-to-Louisville trip I am sure I’ll be back on it soon), I’ve really been enjoying getting to know two of my favorite baseball bloggers who just happen to be other amazing, witty and interesting women baseball fans (we gotta stick together, you know?).
Both are prominently featured in my widget (that’s the column over there on the right) and I can’t recommend highly enough that you be sure to read both “Girls Don’t Know Anything About Baseball” by “Marla Hooch” (yes, that’s her pen name, duh) and “The Sporkball Journals” by “Chiburibird” aka “BeesGal.” The two are diehard fans of, respectively, the Texas Rangers (and their Minor League affiliates) and the Angels of Anaheim (and their Minor League affiliates, most notably the Salt Lake Bees).
I had the pleasure of having lunch with “Marla” when she came through town on a mini-vacation (and to see her Rangers on the road) and while much of the conversation was about baseball, not all of it was … we have very similar tastes in music including mutual fanaticism for Steely Dan so in her most recent blog entry she listed her five favorite Dan songs … so here, in response are mine:
1. “Pearl of the Quarter” from “Countdown to Ecstasy.” Arguably the closest thing to a “ballad” the band has done (with the exception of a few unreleased bootleg songs I’ve heard such as “Sun Mountain”), I have never seen them do this in concert and I think I would faint from delight if I ever did. This was the B-side on the single to which the A side was …
2. “My Old School” … I think they’ve done this as their final encore every time I’ve seen them. I never get sick of this song and always have to play “air piano” when I hear it. I have never understood why, say, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was a monster hit and this wasn’t.
3. “Bad Sneakers.” Another brilliant single that never was hit. What is wrong with people listening to AM radio in the 70s? This is also the song that really turned me onto the band. I knew them by the hit singles (“Rikki,” “Reeling in the Years,” “Do It Again”) but this made me run out and buy “Katy Lied.” My daughter is working on a great acoustic cover of this one for when she gigs and has to go beyond her originals.
4. “Pixeleen.” Though I wasn’t a big fan of “Everything Must Go,” I love this song and it reminds me of my daughter who was obsessed with it for several weeks. And she is my three-times perfect ultra teen too.
5. “Don’t Take Me Alive.” From “The Royal Scam,” I defy anyone to not hear this and simply HAVE to blast it on their car stereo and sing along at the top of their lungs. Even if it is about a guy who killed his dad. In Oregon. I think.
So which band’s Top 5 should I feature next week?