|Damek Tomscha, image- Jay Floyd|
Over the winter, Phillies minor leaguer Damek Tomscha dodged the winter weather of the midwest to tackle new challenges and work on his craft.
In 17 contests with Santurce in Puerto Rico, the 26-year-old righty batter posted a .321 average with a pair of home runs and five RBI.
Tomscha, a 17th round selection by the Phillies in 2014, plays first base, third base and left field. He has tallied a .282/,372/.417 slash line in four pro seasons to date.
This week prior to opening the season with Double-A Reading, I talked with Tomscha about his experience playing in the Roberto Clemente League. Read ahead for that full interview.
-Do you feel like playing in Puerto Rico was a valuable experience for you?
Yeah, it was unbelievable. I had a great time, just getting more AB's, facing those older pitchers. They were pitching more backwards to me, not as much (velocity), but they had good stuff and they threw any pitch in any count, so that helped me out a lot. Any time you're getting more AB's it's gonna help you out and, for me, I thought it helped me out tremendously to just understand where my swing needed to be for the season and I had those struggles early and I made adjustments quick and that should help me out quite a bit this year.
-Was there anyone down there that rubbed off on you a lot...whether it's a coach or a teammate?
I played with Robert Andino, who played with the Baltimore Orioles. He helped me out by talking about his (batting practice) routine, just what he's trying to accomplish. Also, just watching Ivan DeJesus Jr., from the Red Sox, he was fun. But those were the two main guys. They're a little bit older than me, so I would try to pick their brains and learn what they were trying to accomplish. Obviously, they've got some big league time and I'm just trying to learn.
-You play the same teams often there, so were there any sorts of fun rivalries with Jesmuel Valentin or any other Phillies guys down there?
Nah, nothing too crazy. Being an American and being an import, you don't know who the big rival is. And I think Santurce/Mayaguez is the big rivalry, but because the way the league was, you play a lot of day games, so you don't get a lot of the same fans. But, it was fun to play against them...him, Yacksel Rios, (Jiandido Tromp) and having Jan (Hernandez) on my team too, there were a lot of Phillies out there, which is fun because that's the highest level of baseball down there. I definitely enjoyed it.
-How does it work with you getting signed or assigned to go down there and play? Is your agent involved, are the Phillies involved?
My agent helped me out a lot with that. He called me up in November and said, "We have a spot here. Do you want to go? Are you interested?" And I said, "Let's do it!" It was either me go play for a month in Puerto Rico in January or be in Iowa and be in the snow. I thought it would help me out and I'm a huge fan now. I love the culture and I'll try go play there every year if I can.
-How does it work with the team here? Do you have to get it cleared with the Phillies before you go?
Not really. I signed my contract and then I called Andy Tracy to just let him know I was going to go play. A lot of the Latino players play down in those leagues and they would actually push for you guys to go play in these winter leagues because it is a big help. Any time you get more AB's, it's going to help you out.
-What did you see recovery wise down there? I talked to Valentin in the off-season and his family and his area were good, but I'll still see occasional news reports that say some areas are struggling with storm recovery.
Well, I was in the Condado area of San Juan and it was still pretty tough. I'd walk outside my apartment and go to the grocery store and their intersections, they didn't have-- their lights weren't up. So, people were just kind of creeping through the intersection and it's a really nice area of San Juan and the power lines are hanging low and you could touch and grab the power lines on the ground.
Things have gotten better, obviously. By the time I left in January, the stop lights were up again and running, but it was crazy to see because all the trees were bare and there's buildings that have windows out and there's a lot more work to do for them. You see a lot of houses with tarps on the roof because the roof was blown off. It was pretty incredible. But those guys are really resilient people and they love their island. They're gonna be fine and they're gonna figure it out.