It’s been quite a ride for several East Valley baseball players over the past few months. They went from starring in high school to being selected in the Major League Draft to entering the minor leagues.
The Tribune recently caught up with Riley Unroe, Cody Bellinger and Jamie Westbrook to get their thoughts on their first few weeks of playing professional baseball in the Arizona and Florida rookie leagues:
Q: How does being a minor leaguer compare to what you expected?
Riley Unroe, SS, Desert Ridge (second-round pick by Rays): It’s a little bit more mental work. I never expected it to be easy, but you have to stay on your toes and out-think your opponent every pitch.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Hamilton (fourth-round pick by Dodgers): I knew coming into this that it would take a lot of work and effort to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, (so) working for hours in the heat was expected. It has been a fun ride so far.
Jamie Westbrook, SS, Basha (fifth-round pick by Diamondbacks): It’s definitely a surreal experience! It’s everything I expected and more. I’m so blessed to be in the situation I am. Not many 18-year-olds get their dream job.
Q: What has been your favorite on-field moment?
Unroe: Hitting my first professional home run.
Bellinger: Hitting a walk-off grand slam for my first professional home run.
Westbrook: My first professional home run was an awesome feeling!
Q: What has been your favorite off-field moment?
Unroe: Going to the beach with my teammates on off days.
Bellinger: Meeting all of the new people. It is nice hanging around your new “friends” and going to movies and just chilling in the hotel lobby just talking baseball.
Westbrook: Off-field it’s nice to know you actually have a job and you have to carry yourself professionally and with class at all times.
Q: What has been the biggest on-field adjustment?
Unroe: Waking up at 6 a.m., practicing until 10 and then playing a nine-inning game.
Bellinger: Most definitely my timing at the plate, I haven’t seen anything under 90 MPH so getting the timing down and seeing the ball has been my hardest adjustment.
Westbrook: The speed of the game. Everyone is used to being the best on whichever team they were on. The pitching is a lot better also.
Q: What has been the biggest off-field adjustment?
Unroe: Finding something to do after games besides watch movies in the apartment.
Bellinger: Living by myself and having to do my own laundry. We get three meals a day handed to us so I don’t have to cook right now; it has honestly been pretty easy living so far.
Westbrook: Living away from home even though I’m 30 minutes away has been different. Doing your own laundry and feeding yourself too!
Q: For Riley, do you enjoy being in Florida or do you miss having your family and friends around?
Unroe: I enjoy the feeling of being independent but will always miss my friends and family at home. Growing up and experiencing life is a lot of fun in Florida.
Q: For the Arizona guys, do you like being in the state, or are you looking forward to getting out on your own more?
Bellinger: It’s cool that your friends and family can come out and watch you play but on the other hand your main goal is to get out of rookie ball as fast as you can so I am looking forward to get out of here.
Westbrook: Well though it is nice being in state this is the lowest level so I know in order to reach the big leagues I’ll want to be out of state as soon as possible, but it is nice to have family and friends there to support me.
Q: All of you had a ton of success at the plate in high school. Is it a big change being less successful, or were you prepared for this since everyone’s numbers go down in the minors? Is it a mental challenge dealing with the slumps?
Unroe: I knew this wasn’t going to be a high school deal where you would get your pitch almost every at bat. The challenge of professional ball is getting used to the day-to-day grind and getting ready to go out and get a victory for your team as well as adjust to the pitching, better defense and faster play. Doesn’t take long to get adjusted and start making preparations and get into a groove.
Bellinger: I knew that getting a hit in the minor leagues would be a very difficult task and it has showed that so far. At first I was getting frustrated with myself, but I am starting to mature in the baseball stage a little more and starting to realize that failing is part of the game and if I fail 70 percent of the time I am doing great.
Westbrook: At first it is hard, but you realize that’s how baseball is now and the days of hitting home runs all the time and having multi-hit games are over. Yet success is different now, 1-for-3 with a walk is a great day in pro ball!
Q: Did you splurge on anything special with some of your bonus money?
Unroe: I plan on buying a new car and some clothes and then investing and saving the rest with my dad.
Bellinger: No, I have not spent a lot of money on one item yet.
Westbrook: Nothing, really. I helped my parents out financially and then got some clothes and stuff but nothing big, and I don’t plan on it.
Q: Anything else noteworthy from the first few weeks of your pro careers?
Unroe: Just a message to kids hoping to reach the dream of playing in the major leagues: Enjoy this game! Nobody can play baseball forever but you can have your name and baseball go hand in hand forever.
Westbrook: I’m just thankful for my parents and family and support system for doing everything they did for me to allow me to live out my dream!