DTPR Exclusives: An Interview with Chris Bootcheck (Part 1)
DTPR: You come from a place (Michigan City, Ind.) where there isn't really a hometown team. Who did you root for growing up?
CB: Growing up in Michigan City, IN, we didn't have a hometown team. However, being only 80 miles away from Chicago, which had 2 teams, including daily coverage from the WGN network, we had the lifelong dilemma of choosing to be either a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. During my childhood years I had favorite players on both the Cubs and the White Sox, but team-wise, I chose to be a true blue collar fan and root for the White Sox.
DTPR: How did you end up at Auburn, being from Indiana?
CB: One of the first things anyone thinks of when they hear "Indiana" is basketball, and even though I excelled in basketball, baseball was my first love and having a father who pitched professionally drove me further towards baseball anyways. Much of my high school seasons, which consisted of 35 games or so plus playoffs, were played in less than desirable baseball weather. During my high school career I began to get several letters and phone calls from colleges, and it was then I decided that going to a warmer climate for college was in my best interest. Auburn University made several trips to Indiana to watch me pitch, and talks of an official visit to their campus soon followed. After seeing the university and meeting the staff and players, it was safe to say that I didn't need to look elsewhere before committing to them.
DTPR: As a 1st round draft pick, did you feel any additional pressure to perform in your first couple minor league seasons?
CB: After having 3 successful years at Auburn, I was awarded the honor of being a 1st round draft pick by the Anaheim Angels in 2000. I knew (after being a 17th round pick out of high school), that only the top players were awarded the honor of a 1st round pick. To say that I had high expectations at the time would be an understatement. I knew that there was a lot expected of me, and the Angels organization had invested a lot of money in my ability, so I felt more of a sense of obligation, rather than pressure, to the Angels to prove to them that they had made the correct decision in drafting me. I think that the longer you play and the higher up the ladder you climb, the so-called "pressures of the game", and what is at stake with each outing can definitely weigh on you. You have to be honest with yourself and accept that you are in a performance-based business, and that you are replaceable. The only way you can counter those outside, and sometimes self-created, feelings is to trust in what you've learned along the way, and most importantly, to trust in your own ability.
DTPR: You played in Japan for the 2010 season. Did you change your pitching style to adapt to the different hitting approach of the Japanese hitters?
CB: While playing in Japan, I would say that being able to learn quickly, make adjustments, and take the word "why" out of your vocabulary are all a must. To describe the adjustments is very hard to put into words. It's one of those things that you actually have to experience in order to truly understand. Even though you are playing the same game your grew up playing as a kid, just in a different country, the style of play is not even close to what we see in the States. The way it was explained to me is that Japanese players are truly not concerned at all with individual success; it's all about the success of the team. Each and every player knows what is expected of him, and the first expectation is that he puts the team first. Japanese hitters are taught to time their leg kick along with the pitcher's leg kick. This is why you see Japanese pitchers with a delay or small hitch in their deliveries, so as to throw off the timing of the hitters. Once I learned this, I immediately threw out the idea of changing my delivery that I had used my entire life to one with hitches or pauses, as most Japanese pitchers have. Rather, I opted to use my arsenal of pitches to disrupt the hitters' timing mechanisms, not necessarily my style of delivery. Having a good change up or split-fingered fastball (or "Forkball" as the Japanese call it) showed me the importance of changing speeds and disrupting the timing of the hitters. Aside from adding a splitter, I also had to adapt to the Japanese teams' running style. American pitchers normally have high leg kicks to help them to deliver better pitches, since most American teams only have 2-4 base stealing threats on their roster. When those runners are on base, a pitcher will try to abbreviate his delivery to help the catcher to throw out the base stealer. In Japan, I quickly realized that nearly everyone runs, so you have to deliver your pitches from the stretch with a slide-step delivery, or a single/walk can very quickly turn into a triple. I truly felt like any weaknesses I had in my game were quickly exposed by the Japanese style of play, and that forced me to make adjustments in order to succeed. I am truly grateful for my time in Japan, as I feel like it has made me a more complete person and pitcher.
DTPR: Who is more difficult to get out: Japanese hitters or AAA hitters?
CB: Japanese hitters and American hitters are completely different in terms of hitting styles, so I can't really say if one is easier to get out than the other.
As you can see, Chris's answers are very comprehensive and informative, so for the sake of not posting a 3,000 word interview, I'm going to break this into two parts. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview, which will run tomorrow (Thursday) morning.