Monday, March 10, 2008
Fighting For A Job--Rob Mackowiak
Over the past few seasons--Rob Mackowiak has proven to be a quality left handed hitter off the bench for The Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres. At least until a double hernia operation prematurely ended his 2007 campaign. For parts of five seasons--Our New Number 12 made a name for himself in Pittsburgh. None more so than on May 28th, 2004 when he homered twice in a doubleheader sweep of The Chicago Cubs at PNC Park--the very same day--his son was born.
Today--Rob finds himself on the bubble fighting for a spot on the 2008 Version of Our Washington Nationals. He's got a tough hill to climb. Besides Rob, there are still seven additional outfielders at Major League Camp in Viera. And to make matters worse, Rob Mackowiak still is not 100% healthy. His lingering recovery from surgery has limited his action to just one preseason game so far in Florida.
Concern that doesn't appear to bother Mackowiak. He has a one-year $1.5 Million Contract and a left handed bat needed off the bench for Our Manager Manny Acta's prominently right handed swinging lineup. He might not be ready for Opening Day--but that has not taken away his spirit. In Viera, The African Queen and I found him willing to chat with fans before or after practice. He even agreed to speak with us one afternoon. A man that still enjoys playing the game and appreciates the opportunity given to compete on the highest level--with the best players.
With that, here we go with Rob Mackowiak.
Why did you come over to The Nationals? (SBF)
“I don’t really know. They have a lot of good players out there. They got (Elijah) Dukes coming over here. I see Wily Mo (Pena) came over last year. There are some guys with a ton of ability in the clubhouse—a lot of competition—so it’s very interesting. Of course—a lot of that stuff is out of my control. So, you go out there, play hard and try to get your hits and do the best you can do. Things tend to take care of themselves sometimes in the long run.”
What skills do you provide for The Nationals that they may be looking for? (SBF)
“I bring everything to the table each day. I try to give 110% on a daily basis. That effort is all we control as players. What happens roster wise—there's nothing we can do about it. It’s totally out of my control. I am going to play hard. I am going to take someone’s butt out (chuckling)—so to speak. If you have to—you are going to give all you can to make the team. Also, I have been around for a while—so I can probably help some of the youngsters. Of course—I am not saying I don’t need help. I might be one of the guys needing the help (laughing). But, I might be able to help (youngsters) to guide them through some things—hopefully give them some experiences from my past. I have played with some of the best. I have hit with Jim Thome, Paul Konerko—a lot of guys over the past few years that are some pretty darn good players.”
How difficult is it, after being a Pirate for a number of years—to move quickly among a handful of teams. How do you find your way? (SBF)
“It has been tough, because I played with Pittsburgh for so long. But, to go to The White Sox was odd. Chicago is my home. I grew up in Chicago. To go to that city to play was the best thing that ever happened to me. To play for the team that was The World Champs (the previous season) and be around all that talent—was a tremendous amount of fun. Then, at the end of last season—I got traded to San Diego—which was a good experience too. We were in the playoff hunt. That was the very first time in my career where I was with a team that had a chance. Obviously, we had a chance in the previous five (in Pittsburgh), but we were out of it within a week or two (of the season start). In San Diego, we had a heck of a team there too.”
“Probably the most heartbreaking game of my career was that final game in Colorado (The Wild Card Tiebreaker Game). Something so very sad and I wasn’t even playing. I was hurt—having already had surgery (double hernia).”
I have said that was one of the best endings to any game I have ever watched. (SBF)
“Oh my God!! —Back and forth all game long. The last inning was just amazing.”
And to think—the runner never scored the winning run. (SBF)
“He was OUT!! He was OUT!! He didn’t even touch home plate!! But, its all irrelevant right now and over with. Although, it was a great experience to be with guys like (Jake) Peavy, Greg Maddux—some guys I got to be around and get to know. It was really, really fun.”
There are some quality players on that team. (SBF)
“Yes, no question about it. Trevor Hoffman also. There were some great individuals there.”
So, you are coming back from your double hernia—how is that affecting you getting ready for the season? (SBF)
“Well, its been going good right now. I worked hard this off season to try to get stronger there—obviously—get my legs a little bit stronger. I have not noticed any pain, a little soreness—but I think that goes with working out. I live in Chicago during the winter and when you get out on the grass for the first time—that different atmosphere changes how you feel. It sounds dumb that you ran in the gym on a treadmill, but when you are out on the grass and on the run—it’s an entirely different experience.”
Outside of your conditioning—what do you need to work on—when it comes to your baseball game to make this team? (SBF)
“Like I said, there is nothing guaranteed here. There is a lot of athletic ability. I am sure Austin Kearns and Wily Mo are pretty much guaranteed a spot (on the roster). But, I can’t worry about it. If you go out there on the field and get your hits, bust your butt and do the right things—those little things will take care of themselves.”
Has Manny (Acta) or Jim (Bowden) said anything specific to you? (SBF)
“No, I have not really had the chance to talk to Manny or Jim. There are so many guys in camp its difficult to get (personal) time. Certainly, there will be times during games or batting practice where I am sure Manny will come up and talk. He seems like a guy that is genuinely interested in his players and wants to get to know his players. Hopefully, I will have my chance with him soon.”
Does that make it tough—when management doesn’t really know you? (SBF)
(Laughing)—“Well they know who I am, I wouldn’t be here otherwise. But, they know what they can get out of me. They should know what I bring to the table on a daily basis.”
How about the other players? They may know you from baseball, but not necessarily know you personally. How difficult does that make it to bond with a new team? (The African Queen)
“From what I have seen so far—there seems to be a good group of guys. They don’t have a lot of egos. They (The Nationals) have a lot of guys that just want to play baseball, try to win and improve over what they have done in the past. Coming from my experience, everyone has made this transition as easy as can be, because you have a lot of genuine people. The players come up and talk—which makes it so much smoother for me—to be treated like you are one of them. That part of being here has been excellent so far.”
“Having played for Pittsburgh for such a long time—I have gotten to know many of the players here. Of course—there are a lot of people here from Cincinnati—we were in the same division. Kearns, Dmitri (Young) Felipe (Lopez) were all over there—(Aaron) Boone. So, I have competed against these guys for a number of years. Knowing the guys through past experiences—makes things easier when you arrive on a new club.”
May 28, 2004—The Greatest Day In Your Life!! (SBF)
“Definitely, without a doubt. If I had ten years in the Big Leagues—I might have handed in my jersey after that night. I still can’t believe it. To have our child born and to accomplish what I did in the field—unheard of—I guess. I wish EVERYONE could have that feeling that I enjoyed while leaving the park.”
Those moments are what make a great baseball story. Why the game is special sometimes. (SBF)
“Even when I got to the hospital after the games--my wife is crying in there. It was an incredible time. You realize what just happened and you still can’t believe it. I think about that day even today and still I am amazed. I was very fortunate that a lot of fans in Pittsburgh were kind to us. I tried to save everything so as my son starts to get older—he will understand. I saved the bat; I got both (Home Run) baseballs back. (Very Nice—AQ). Yeah, so that will be very cool in a couple more years when my son and I sit down and look at what happened on the day he was born. He may not care, but its pretty cool—I think—to have a lot of that stuff around.”
With that, our conversation with Rob Mackowiak came to an end. Friendly and outgoing are the best descriptions of Our New Number 12. We have no idea what the outcome will be for him on Our 2008 Roster--but Sohna and I find ourselves rooting for this man. His veteran experience can help--and his fun attitude can only be infectious.
Fighting for a job--let's see if one of the Good Guys--Rob Mackowiak-- Wins A Spot On Our Washington Nationals.