|Will Stewart, image- Jay Floyd|
The Phillies' 20th round draft choice from 2015 reached an innings limit (113 2/3) set by the team and was kept back from pitching in the post-season, in which the BlueClaws fell short, losing in the finals to Lexington.
Last week I talked with Stewart, 21, about his 2018 season, missing the playoffs, how he's spending the off-season mentoring young pitchers and plenty more. Read ahead for that complete interview.
-How do you feel now, in hindsight, about your 2018 season?
I'm still over the moon about it, but you're always told to keep a short-term memory, so I am over the moon about it, but I've put it on the back burner, to get back into the swing of things and get back to being better than I was last year.
-At the time, it's a big season for Lakewood, as the team reached the Sally League finals, and you're a huge part of that, helping to lead the pitching staff and the team's charge toward first and second half titles, but you reach a team imposed innings limit and were kept from pitching in the playoffs. So as successful as you were you don't get to compete in the post-season. Does that stick with you? Is that still a disappointment to not be able to go forth with the team and try to win that league title?
I mean, you know, as a player you always think maybe I could have helped out a little more and I could have done something different and all this other stuff, but honestly it was the organization's decision. They put my career and my future ahead of winning a few more games and I appreciate it. But the competitor in me wanted to be out there and wanted to be the guy that could help my team and be the guy that could come in and maybe save the day or maybe put us in a better position so that we could have won, or something like that. But, I mean, you've kind of just got to drop it. You've got to move on from it. You can't let it eat you up.
I think the big thing for me was that, yeah I didn't get to pitch in the playoffs, but I got to experience it. I got to be there for my teammates and got to be more of a leader, not on the field, but in the dugout. Trying to consult with people, see how they were doing, see if I could help in any way like if there was a way that I could help you pitch to a batter or something like that. So, I mean I took the positive out of everything and I was really proud of myself for that. But, yeah I wish I could have been in there pitching, of course.
-It's good to make the best of it and help out behind the scenes too, so that's excellent. It's been a few months. The post-season wrapped up in September. Obviously, you guys are together every day for over six months. Are you in touch with many of the guys since the season wrapped up?
Yeah, I do. We talk every now and again, but everyone has their own training program, their own lives going on. And people are out here getting engaged, getting married, getting all different kinds of stuff. I mean, there's a bunch of different stuff going on, but we try to stay in touch as much as possible. You know, we are human. There are times we don't talk for a little while, but I actually attended strength camp (hosted by the Phillies in Florida) and I got to see a bunch of the guys from my team, so that was good. I got to reconnect with them for two weeks and then we all went home and we all obviously wish each other happy holidays and stay in touch for the most part.
-Okay, cool. I did want to ask about the sessions the Phillies host and you mentioned the strength camp. Share some thoughts on how that goes and what you take out of it.
It was cool. I think the biggest part of it wasn't going down there for the strength camp, it was getting back in tune with the baseball life. Because you leave the season, and you basically come back to the real world and it's not playing baseball everyday, you're not on a bus, you're not surrounded by your people, so you kind of decompress just a little bit from season to off-season and I got the call to come down to strength camp and it gave me a chance to get back into a baseball frame of mind, which was really cool. And obviously we all worked out, we got our strength up and we did some yoga and cool stuff and it was fun. And it was a good experience. I think the biggest thing for me was I got to go hang out with my guys again, which was really cool.
-How's the yoga? Do they bring in a special instructor? Is it one of the regular strength and conditioning guys on staff that will coach you through it? How does it go down and then how do you feel it can be beneficial for you?
Yeah, they bring in a special person for our yoga thing. It does work. I love yoga. I think it works really, really well. Everyone always says you need to stay loose and stay flexible and being a pitcher there's no one position that benefits more from being loose and flexible than pitching. I mean, you've gotta be loose. You can't go in and be tight. And I think it prevents injury a lot too, so I love it. It feels good. I mean, it hurts during, but afterward you're all loose and stuff. So, yeah, I think it's a great thing that they introduced into our organization and I'm thankful for it. Some organizations don't get to do that. The Phillies really set us up nice.
-When we talked initially to set up the interview, you mentioned something about work. What are you up to?
Yeah! I do pitching lessons. I have a group of guys that I go and help. I run it out of this building that one of my really good friends owns and they let me have a spot and I do that. It's really cool because we always talk about giving back to the community and I don't think there's any greater gift than giving kids the hope that one day they can do exactly what I'm doing. And going out and teaching the kids-- you know, baseball is a great sport and this is what it takes to get there. Not everything that someone tells you is true. If someone tells you that you can't make it, well I'm a prime example of that you can because I came from a very small town just like most of the kids I train, who were told, "You come from a small town. There's no way you're going to be able to get there." So to be that little voice in the background that gets to tell them, "Yes, you can.", and I get to help them on their journey to hopefully making this their job one day is worth more than any amount of money that they give me. So, it's awesome!
-That's terrific. That's good to hear. Do you have anything lined up like a vacation or anything like that before you go back to baseball?
Yeah! My family, we take New Year's Eve vacations every year. Last year we did New York City, which was ridiculous and incredible. And this year, we're going to Savannah, Georgia to have that more laid back, just go and have fun type thing as opposed to the hustle and bustle of New York City. So, I'm excited about that.
-What were some of your favorite things about New York when you visited up there?
The people. I love the people up there. They're so different and they're so unique. The food's amazing, obviously. And then just being in a city that's so much more bigger than anything I've ever seen was crazy. I love New York City. I feel like I could live there one day.
-Were the people similar enough to those you encountered in New Jersey this season with Lakewood?
I mean, yes and no. There are definitely some very unique people in New Jersey. I will not take that away from them. But in New York, there's just so many of them. There's just so many people that-- there's literally millions of people in that city and if you walk down the street in New Jersey, there's plenty of room, but if you walk down the street in New York and you're bumping up against each other, so it's a lot different.
-I want to ask you about your off-season routine also. At what point do you pick up a baseball and truly try to start knocking the rust off?
Actually, right now. I'm on my way to one of my training facilities that I get to use and I'm actually on my way to get started on it now. We're full force ahead to get ready for March.
-Is that something you've been ramping up toward or is today a genuine first session?
Yeah, I've been ramping up toward it for about four weeks now. I had an extra month off than everyone because I didn't pitch in September, so I had all of September, all of October and most of November off and probably about a month ago I started to get really deep into it.
-There have been some staffing changes in the Phillies' developmental levels. Josh Bonifay takes over as director or player development. Chris Truby earns a promotion to field coordinator. When those changes are made, is there any communication toward the players or would you expect maybe more of an opportunity to have it addressed or someone introduced once players head back to Clearwater in the spring?
You know, sometimes I feel like some guys are more in the know than others, but I don't know. It's weird, because I was around when we brought in the new front office and we got our new G.M. and that was more of a "we'll see you in spring training" and everyone reads the headlines, everyone knows. But it's more of a you go in with an open mind and say, "Hey, you're the guy! So, let's see how this goes." Everyone's really excited to see where Mr. Bonifay goes with it and see how this all works and we all love Truby. He's a great coach, great mentor, great at everything he does, so we're excited. It's more of a wait till spring training thing. I don't really know.