So I ran into Dominic Altobelli on Dust Devils media day. Actually, I didn’t recognize him at first, sad to say.
He didn't take it personally.
If I had three wishes, I swear one of them would be to have a stronger memory recall. It would make my job so much easier. That and speaking Spanish.
Anyway, I always hate asking the question of returning players, so what’s it like to be back in Tri-City? There’s always a handful of guys coming back to the Dust Devils, and I know it’s never an easy thing to accept when the rest of your draft class moves on and you remain idle.
Dominic, bless him, spared us both the trouble of my asking. He knew what I was thinking before I asked it.
“It’s good to be back. A little bittersweet, but it’s good to be back,” Altobelli said with a smile. And it was a genuine enough smile that I actually believed him.
He’s truly happy to be here. He went on to explain why.
Last season, Dom was one of the players who was pretty adept at keeping things loose. Which you have to do in this atmosphere. When you’re going 12-14 hours daily in a strange city with the pressure of fighting for your job every single day, it can take a toll.
What’s the line from Tom Hanks in “League of Their Own”, the great movie about women’s baseball?
“It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
I think Dom understands that there has to be balance between serious and fun in baseball. It echoes a sentiment expressed by new pitching coach Dave Burba, too.
After all, I do believe there’s a reason they call it a clubhouse.
“We have a few guys on the team always having fun,” Altobelli said. “And we should. This game is fun. This life is fun. Life as a pro baseball player is a good life, and we should embrace it.
“Once we get on the field, we’re serious, but we enjoy the company of this baseball team.”
I’ve heard from a few players returning from last season that this year’s team has a better feel in terms of chemistry, and Altobelli’s comments about enjoying each other’s company are a great sign.
I remember the 2007 Dust Devils had that special chemistry that comes along only once in a while. I would step into the clubhouse and different times during the year I would find them singing, joking, laughing, smiling — usually not after a loss, of course. But last year it seemed like there just wasn’t a lot to feel good about.
“I don’t know if there was one specific reason. Maybe we got down on ourselves after two losing streaks,” Altobelli said. “We didn’t come out and forget about things and just play. Sometiems we let things compound. We’d let a few walks and things take over.”
I like the attitude Altobelli brings to the park. He wants to move up, but he’s not going to bury a teammate to do it. He’s the type of guy who will offer help to a first-year player, even though they might be fighting for the same position.
That’s the way it should be. It’s not always the way it is, though.
But I think he understands that if he takes care of himself and puts in the work, things will work out for him. That’s one of the biggest things he learned last year, he said.
“(I learned) the mentality it takes to come out and be an every day player,” he said. “It takes almost physical work getting the right mentality right every day. In order to move up, which is my goal, I need to come out every day, every at bat, and do it.”