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Who is heck is Chris Bootcheck?

February 27, 2012

Photo by Roger DeWitt, click to access his Flickr photostream.

As spring training unfolds in Lakeland there are big names attached to big bodies getting big attention. Big name national reporters have arrived to deservedly give them that attention.  But if you look in the background of the photographs that accompany these big stories there are guys in uniform you can’t always match with a name. Perhaps Chris Bootcheck is one of these guys. Today he is pitching his second live bullpen session and he is working hard to make an impression with the Tigers.

Bootcheck was drafted in the first round (20th overall) of the 2000 draft by the Angels out of Auburn University.  He steadily worked his way up the minor league ladder and made his major league debut with the Angels in 2003.  From 2003 to 2008 he found his way back and forth from the Angels to their AAA squad in Salt Lake City.  In 2008 he was granted free agency and caught on with the Pirates organization for the 2009 season. In his major league appearances he complied147.1 innings pitched with an ERA of 6.54 while striking out 105 and walking 64.  With the attraction of more stable pay in Asia, Bootcheck played with Japan’s Yokohama Bay Stars in 2010 where he pitched 25.1 innings with a 4.62 ERA while striking out 25 and walking 7.

“Spring training in Japan has 2 one-hour long toss sessions per day”, says Bootcheck.  “Here we have 1 20 minute session. Those guys throw in their sleep! From an American pride standpoint I never wanted to show them I couldn’t do what they did. It helped being accepted and respected by my teammates.”

Being away from your family is hard enough, but the 14 hour time difference made it especially difficult for the rest Bootcheck family in Indiana to connect with Chris.  So Bootcheck make the decision to return state side in 2011. Last season he did excellent work with the Durham Bulls in the Rays’ organization (58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 48 K, 19 BB) before opting out of his contract and finishing the year with the Lotte Giants in Korea.

In early December of this year the Tigers expressed interested in him and shortly thereafter they had an agreement in place. When he arrived at camp Phil Coke was one of the first guys to make him feel welcome. Camp has gone well so far for Bootcheck. He observes, “it is amazing how bad hitters look at first, but with the amount of reps they get daily they catch up fast.” His approach in camp has been to strike a balance between wanting to make a strong impression early and getting himself ready for the long haul.  “[There is a] fine line between being ready, and being too ready in spring, and gassed in September. Takes time to learn your body, getting a solid routine that works for you and puts you in the position to succeed. Not demanding perfection. Riding out the peaks, minimizing the valleys, and not letting the schedule beat You physically. Not letting little things turn in to big things either.”

So what does Bootcheck aspire to this spring? “The breakout season”, he says. “It happens all the time. Can’t rest on the past, no matter how good or bad you were!”

The Tigers clearly noticed something in Bootcheck, and time will tell if this season is indeed a breakout year.  But after strong work in Durham and overseas he has a real chance to surprise some people.  One brief bullpen session in Lakeland today may be the start of something big for an otherwise overlooked player.

_________

Follow Chris Bootcheck on Twitter – @RHPBOOTCHECK

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 4:26 pm

    I was waiting for a punchline or something goofy, but there was none! Nice work, Brain.

  2. jim arnolx permalink
    February 27, 2012 8:56 pm

    Chris: Excited for you. Stay in touch as I will be following. Uncle Ed and I spoke last week. Can’t wait to see you in Chicago. Stay focused.focuses

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