May 13, 2010
By David Driver
For the Statesman Journal
Used with permission
One by one, minor league players in the New York Mets farm system left Florida in early April after about a month of spring training.
They headed to Savannah, Ga., Binghamton, N.Y., and Buffalo to begin 2010 with full-season teams in the farm system of the National League club. Some stayed in St. Lucie to play high Class A ball in the Florida State League.
But Salem resident Joey August, 23, drafted by the Mets in the 20th round out of Stanford in 2009, stayed behind in extended spring training in St. Lucie.
"They called me in the office and said I had improved a lot. They wanted me to continue to get at-bats down here," he said. "Last year I would play every few days" in the South Atlantic League with Savannah.
Although the left-handed hitting outfielder did not gain a spot on a full-season club, August has taken a positive approach to his situation in his first full season at the pro level.
"It is tough, but it is good, too. It is hard not having a paycheck," said the South Salem High School graduate, who is provided a free hotel room and three meals per day by the Mets with minor expenses.
"We are getting our work in, which is good. I feel I have gotten better since I have been down here" since early March, he said.
"You have to keep things in perspective," August said. "We have it pretty good down here. I feel I have gotten better."
August is on one of two Mets teams in extended spring training that plays games five days per week against minor-leaguers from the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins, who share a facility in nearby Jupiter, Fla.
August and his teammates have every Sunday off, which allows for time at the nearby beach on the east coast of Florida or a drive to the Miami area, where August and other Mets' minor-leaguers attended a Marlins game a few weeks ago.
"I have a pretty good suntan," said August, with a laugh.
The annual major league draft will be held in early June and then the Mets' team in Brooklyn will begin play in the short-season New York-Penn League.
That league begins June 18 and runs for 76 games. August has been working out with the Brooklyn team in extended spring training and hopes to head north with the Cyclones.
The Brooklyn manager will be former Mets second baseman Wally Backman and one of the coaches is Benny Distefano, a Brooklyn native who played in the major leagues with Pittsburgh and Houston.
"The goal for me coming in (to spring training) was to be ready to be a guy that could play every day," August said. "If I got that opportunity, I want to put up some numbers. I think it is realistic I would end up in Brooklyn. It would be nice to be an everyday player and contribute."
For now August spends several days per week working on his hitting and outfield play.
The former Stanford University player said a normal day goes something like this:
He leaves the team hotel at 7 a.m. and is in the clubhouse about five minutes later. He and his teammates have breakfast, then hit in the batting cages and stretch around 9 a.m. The players then prepare five days per week for a game at noon against the Cardinals or Marlins. Most of the time his day of work is done by 4 p.m.
The extended spring training players share a facility with the St. Lucie Mets, a high Class A member of the Florida State League. August said in late April the Mets' Class AA team in Binghamton had an outfielder that was injured, so an outfielder from St. Lucie was called up to Binghamton.
With a spot on the roster, August joined the St. Lucie team for a few days, and was hitless in his only at-bat. August said in extended spring games he normally bats third in the order and has played mostly right field.
August worked out in the offseason in Eugene and Portland. Some of his training partners at a facility in Portland included former Oregon State star Cole Gillespie, who made his big league debut in April with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Other pros in the group included Salem native and former Oregon State player Andy Jenkins, who was playing Class AA ball in the Texas Rangers' farm system in early May.
August also keeps in touch with former Stanford teammate Michael Taylor, who is at the Class AAA level with the Oakland A's farm club in Sacramento.
"He is a good resource. We were pretty close at school," said August, who was an honorable mention all-Pac 10 player in 2009 and all-Academic first team in the conference. August graduated with a degree in sociology, but he wants his baseball career to last as long as possible.
Since he turned pro nearly a year ago, August, who was not drafted out of high school, has confided on a regular basis with his father, Bill, who played quarterback in the NFL with the 49ers after a college career at BYU.
"I talk to him most every day. He and I are really close," Joey said. "He has helped me a lot with the difference between amateur and pro ball. There is a bigger difference than a lot of people realize. He has helped me keep my head on straight."
And that mental approach has helped as August waits his turn in Florida, working on his craft before being assigned to a minor league team.