MLB Pete LaForest: Catching, Setbacks and Learning English

FFL 035 | Setbacks

 

We got another guest on the show, Pete LaForest, former Major League catcher, played with the Rays, played with the Phillies and the Padres. I’m excited to have him on the show too because he’s got such a great backstory, such a great path to the game including a lot of adversity over his career as well. Pete grew up in Quebec, so he’s French Canadian which means he didn’t grow up speaking English in his particularly backstory. In fact, signing at seventeen years old his first professional experience, he did not speak the language. I just want you to paint the picture because this is something that I wasn’t even aware of until very late in my career playing with a French Canadian as well, Éric Gagné, tremendous closer for so many years. I didn’t realize that some of these guys grew up not speaking English that they come to the country and the challenge for them to come here and learn the game without even a translator. When Pete talks about his story coming here at seventeen years old, and not a lot of people are aware we have so many players that come from the Dominican Republic, from Venezuela and they can’t speak the language either. They have older players who have been in the country for a couple of years who are beginning to learn to speak English. They have coaches at the very least who had long careers here and so they can serve as interpreters and translators.

For a seventeen-year old French Canadian kid trying to play baseball, we don’t really cover French translators. He had all these challenges to learn the game and deal with that language barrier. I’ll let you tell that whole story from his end and so many stories as well about adversity and challenge, whether getting hurt, whether having visa troubles. Just such incredible approach to life and to the game. One of the things I just deeply respect most about Pete, all these things were happening for him. You could have two mindsets when you’re facing adversity: Is life happening to you or is life happening for you? Pete is an example of the latter, that life is happening for you. The way he tells the stories. The way he says that they were for him to learn to grow so that he was able to give more. He’s able to give more on this future from all these lessons and all these setbacks that he had to endure. He’s just an incredible man.

I’m very excited as well to announce that we got this clinic going on towards the end of the month up in Michigan at his B45 Baseball Academy. We’re going to be doing this mental hitting clinic, this peak state hitting that you’ve heard me talk about. You’ve heard me travel across the country as well going to different states and talking about these four steps, the pattern, the four keys to how really great successful hitters follow this plan. They all are really great at these four steps. Just to give you a brief overview, they all have the ability to breathe to relax their body. Breathing calms your mind. It empties it so you can focus on what’s in front of you. It gets you the present moment as well as it relaxes your body, you obviously can react quicker and you can have better control of your mechanics when you’re relaxed.

That takes you to the second step which is getting into a state of feeling, of knowing, of certainty that you’re going to get the job done. When you play your best, you always know it’s going to happen. Sometimes it doesn’t but when you come from a place that you feel completely defeated, you don’t accidentally run into hits, you don’t run into home runs and doubles. You always get into this level of certainty that you’re going to get the job done. Three and four, they piggy back each other but it’s all about creating the images in your mind and the words affirming what you want to happen. See the ball up in the middle or getting the buttoned-down. Affirm it in your mind, “This is my job. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep it simple. If you get really repetitive with it, I’m going to hit the ball up the middle. Hit this pitch up the middle. Hit it up the middle,” then fewer distractions can get in to your head when you focus on this one simple act over and over again.

I love to teach this topic. We go much, much further in depth through each one of these steps. I also teach it in order, a sequence that could be done between any pitch. That’s probably what I’m most excited about this up and coming clinic is I’ve done this lesson now on coffee shops. I’ve done it in cages, in one-on-one settings. I’ve done it in classrooms. I’ve done it on a basketball court the other day in Texas. What’s going to be truly unique is we’re going to do the talk and then, take a small break or something. Then we’re going to go in the cages and we’re going to start implementing it. Making it a habit doing one, two, three and four and then, hit the ball. Take that swing when you are in your peak state. When it comes to the mental game, so much of it lies beneath the surface. You can’t see it. Everyone sees who’s got a great swing but having a great swing doesn’t necessarily make a great hitter. Being a hitter, you have to be good at things that lie beneath the surface; the ability to focus, the ability to calm yourself down and be present and the ability to be confident in yourself. You have to be able to handle the ups and downs of the game. Handle the failure, handle the adversity.

On that note, let’s go ahead and see you on the other side with Pete. He will definitely give you some lessons in overcoming adversity and having joy and appreciation. Let’s call Pete up to the plate.

Listen to the podcast here:

 

MLB Pete LaForest: Catching, Setbacks and Learning English

Pete, talking about your upbringing being a French Canadian and the unique challenges of transitioning into America playing the game, I know you got this great story about when you first sign. I just want to have you share it with me again. Tell me that story about when you’re signing when you’re seventeen and elaborate on it.

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: Baseball was never a big sport where tons of guys get drafted and get this opportunity.

When it started, I was sixteen. I was in Montreal. I grew up speaking French and English was almost non-existent. I knew a couple of words here and there but not a whole lot to get dropped out somewhere in the US. At the same time, when the call came and I got drafted on the 16th round by the Montreal Expos back in 1995, I was seventeen. When I signed, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Baseball was never a big sport where tons of guys get drafted and get this opportunity. It’s not like hockey where every other kid plays hockey and understands the whole process. I ended up signing the dots and heading down to West Palm Beach. My first ride lasted about eighteen days. Michael Barrett was one of our guy and he was our first-round pick that year along with other guys. The communication skills was extremely hard. Going in to the cages, listening to the coaches talking about what we’re going to do was a major challenge. All I had to do was pick up a couple of words that I knew what they were talking about and waiting until they started doing it and then just jump in the group. As a Latin player, as you know, you have a lot of opportunities. You have a lot of coaches and teammates that will speak Spanish. With French, it was a different story.

I think of my time going to Japan. Even on Japan, we would have a translator where we went. I can’t even imagine having to try and play as your job, your career getting started and not having the ability to understand anything that’s going on.

It lasted eighteen days. After the physical, they saw that I had supposedly five bulging discs. They told me that I had to come back home and probably go back to college and be very careful about what I did physically because I could really hurt myself. My dream was originally crushed and I did not know what to do, what to think. I was crying. It seemed like the end of the world but honestly I was not prepared to even sign that contract. I remember my best friend was a Latin player, William Oropeza and he did not even speak English. I did not speak English but somehow we ended up hanging out every day together, which was absolutely amazing.

What would you guys do? Do you hang out? What were some things you do?

We would just hang out in the room and watch TV and laugh. They would teach me Spanish. The first time you learn a language, you don’t necessarily learn the nice words. It was quite the experience. It was an experience that I needed to go through. Bill Geivett was the GM on the Minor League side of it. When he told me that news that I had to go back home and think about something else to do, when I got home, I ended up seeing some chiropractors and different doctors. Getting more scans and MRIs just to check to see what exactly was happening in my body. I was stiff but five bulging discs, it seemed a little extreme. All the doctors that I saw said that I had normal growth. I was not perfectly straight but who is? We’re playing baseball, we beat our bodies. That it was nothing to be really worried about.

I was still seventeen, still growing. I believe I saw six or seven different doctors and got a bunch of different reports. They all said that I was good to go. That’s when I ended up going to Team Canada, Junior National Team. I had an incredible tournament. In that process, I had five full scholarship offers to D-1 School as OU, OSU, Clemson, Arkansas. That was in ’96 then, all I knew was Clemson was a powerhouse and they had been to the World Series. I decided to take the steps to go to Clemson to find out in January that I was not eligible because I had signed a contract professionally. My reply was, “I never got a signing bonus and I was only there eighteen days.” Their reply was, “You got a plane ticket and $100 pay check, so you’re no long eligible for NCAA,” which again was a hit, and it stung a little.

After that, I was eligible for either NAIA or junior college. I ended up in junior college in Fort Scott, Kansas where I had a great year. That’s where the learning curve really started. That’s what I should have had prior to signing because at that point, that’s when I was in intensive English classes and I could really put it together with my teammates after and in real life situation instantly. I learned English extremely fast. Maybe not the right English because my roommate was from Tyler, Texas so I learned how to bundle a lot of words together. It was a great experience and I needed that. It made me a lot more prepared physically and mentally. Then I ended up signing again as a free agent with Tampa Bay in 1997.

One of the things I want to ask you too, did you grow up playing hockey? I know you mentioned some big names that came from your area. How was this little baseball world created? You’re in Quebec, right?

Yes, we’re in the proving of Quebec. I grew up in Hull and then I ended up heading to high school in Montreal. There was a little sports and study program in Montreal. Growing up, I played hockey every day but we really couldn’t afford to play in a league and doing all that stuff in baseball and travelling. I really stuck to baseball but hockey was a huge part of my upbringing as well because we played every single day. I had a rink in my backyard, lights and nets and everybody would come. We have ice rinks in every neighborhood. I ended up going to the Academy Baseball Canada, which is in Montreal. My last year at high school, I moved over there. I lived in a host family. The year before, Éric Gagné came out of there. After me, there was Russell Martin, Luke Carlin that also were Major League catchers. Russell still plays. I believe Luke had about three or four years in the Big Leagues. Then at the same time as me there was Steve Green that was pitching the Big Leagues for the Angels back in 2001. I had one star and then had back to back Tommy Johnson, just bad situations.

For some reasons, this area just produced out of just little cities around Montreal that we can come up with six Major League players. It was absolutely amazing the talent that we came up with. The program was a good program but it was academy style. We went to school and we would leave a little early, condensed classes and then head to our training center and go train two, three, four hours a day every day. Then play on weekends against colleges. We would go down to Boston College and Seton Hall and some of these colleges in the Northeast, which gave us baseball on the weekend. Also in the spring, we would go down to Coco Beach and play some colleges and professional organizations, some of the rookie teams. We had good competition, good exposure and it was a good program.

That hockey mentality, does that naturally carry you over to the catcher position or what? How did you end up with three Big League catchers like that?

In the Minor Leagues coming up, I always heard that, “You Canadians all have that hockey mentality.” We never quit. Something happens, you just get back up and then get after it. It’s in the DNA to not back out of anything and just go for it.

I can see all the Canadians all then fighting over who’s going to play catcher. Here in the States, everyone fights on who’s going to play shortstop.

I never caught a day in my life. Russell never caught a day in his life either. We all got converted up in the Minor Leagues. I don’t know if it was my character and some of my traits that made them decide to transfer me or the fact that the ball would hit me in the chest, I’d pick it up from the ground and throw it out. Maybe they thought a chest protector might be a better idea because I came up as a third baseman.

Any favorite players growing up? Do you get to access to watching a lot of Big League games, watching games in Montreal at all? Who are the players you admired when you’re growing up?

Larry Walker was always an incredible guy. He’s from Canada, superstar, just fantastic, 5’2 player. Also, guys like Pedro Martínez that I absolutely love growing up, and Vlad Guerrero. Back in ’94, ’95, they had incredible teams. They always were able to bring some incredible talent from their Minor Leagues, some homegrown talent. Unfortunately, they kept losing them to free agency. Some of the players that came out of the Expos days were fantastic. It’s too bad for the strike in ’94 because that team was something special.

I’m trying to think who else was on the squad. I remember Grissom was on the team. Who else was back on that ’94 squad?

Galarraga, we had I think John Wetteland was a closer, I believe. Dennis Martínez I believe was still there. There as just Tim Wallach. That’s when my career started. Every time I think that it’s been 23 years, it blows my mind because it really feels like it was yesterday.

You signed with Tampa. How was that transition for you the second time? Now you understand the language, where did you report to? How did it begin? What was the path to the Minors?

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: They told me that I was not allowed to cross the border because I had lied to an officer about my visa.

I signed as a free agent. I had quite the ride. When I signed, I went to Rookie Ball, I went to Gulf Coast League. Long story short, I had a student visa and then that was good for a couple of years. Then they said, “Just come in with your student visa and then we’ll have your H2B ready when you get here.” When I got there, everything was fine. I applied for the visa or I had a visa. I had my first year in Rookie Ball. Unfortunately, I broke my wrist. It was about the half season. After it healed, I ended up going back home at the end of August. That whole season was much better. I was prepared for that one. I could communicate a lot better. Physically, I was ready. I needed to go through what happened with the Expos and the following year and going to college to really grow as who I was going to be. That first year went extremely well, except for a break in my wrist. I ended up going home in August after the season. I was invited to Instructional League, which started beginning of September. Back in the day, I think now it’s a little shorter. We had a six or seven-week Instructional League. I ended up flying out to Ottawa at custom. They told me that I was not allowed to cross the border, to get in the plane and get into the United States because I had lied to an officer about my visa, which I was already in the US and everything was taken care of. They refused me and I ended up going home. I had to hire lawyers to get through that.

What did they say that you lied about?

It was that whole story when I came in about the student visa. When I went with the student visa, they said, “Go back home. You can’t come in with this.” I handed the case to the Devil Rays and everything was good. I went back home, got my visa and went on and everything was fine. I played a season, no problem. When I came back, for some reason, I was banned from the US. Now, at this point, I ended up going back home and I had to apply for waivers every six months to get in a country. It became a hassle and it became a big hurdle, but everything was fine. I missed that first Instruction League. After that, I went to every season. I went through every step; Gulf Coast League to Charleston, South Carolina, to the Florida State League and to Double-A.

At that point in 2003, I had the opportunity to get to my first Big League Camp. Right before, I had to go home and just renew my visa, everything was fine, and because of 9/11, a lot of changes were made. The year prior to that, I had one that was good for five years. After 9/11, they banned the waivers and I had to reapply. I missed my first Big League spring training. It was really hard to spend that two months being at home and trying to stay in shape and with the lawyers, trying to figure this thing out. Finally, I was able to go back. That whole process from Rookie Ball to Double-A was a really special process with a lot of ups and downs. It really made me grow again, mostly mentally. I always thought I was pretty resilient mentally and that I could accomplish practically anything I really wanted to. If it didn’t happen that I could do everything I could do.

With all these delays and these setbacks, did it get easier through time? How did you just mentally handle again and again problems with visas? I can’t even imagine the blow of being seventeen years old and showing up doing your dream, eighteen days later, you are headed home. Is this something that got a little bit easier through time or was it just you kept finding new ways to deal with it?

I kept finding ways to deal with it. Baseball was always my passion. I wanted nothing else. I always worked extremely hard. I always knew what I wanted. I was prepared to do anything that was necessary or that was asked if me to get to the next level. From there, I never wanted the season to end. I never wanted to stop working out. I never wanted to stop hitting. That’s what I keep telling the kids now, “It has to come from you.” Everything came from me. It was the sheer desire to just get to the next level.

I don’t know if I ever had a dream to get to the Big Leagues because I never even thought that I was possible, coming from my background. Prior to signing, it was never a goal of mine. I thought my baseball career was going to be done at sixteen because there was no baseball passed at where I was from. It really wasn’t anything. Every step higher that I got to, got me a step closer in some of the thoughts about getting drafted and going to the Major Leagues. All that stuff was becoming a reality and it just got me more excited. I never had an ounce of fear about where I was going. Even though I didn’t speak English, signing, I was the most excited kid out there knowing that first of all, from Montreal, the Expos just drafted me. I was ready. I was ready to go, I didn’t care. When I got there, I figured that it was going to be a little harder than I expected. It was always the resiliency, the mental and I feel like I had a ton of ups and downs in my career, a lot of injuries, a lot of visa issues. I felt like most of the steps, I had to start at zero, start over and get back to the top. All those steps really prepared me to who I am today and what I’m trying to accomplish now.

Going from in 2001, having my first knee surgery after Winter Ball in Australia, I had a meniscus done; a very simple surgery. I ended up going to Double-A. About a week later, the knee blew up again and I ended up having another surgery. I missed that whole year. That was the first time I got exposed to incredible doctors and incredible people that taught me how to goal set and all that stuff. My agent took care of me in Atlanta. I got to see some chiropractors and personal trainers and really get me back to where I needed to be physically with a ton of biotonics, which is digitizing the spine and really analyzing all your muscles and making sure everything is working properly. His name was Dan Bouchard. He’s an old hockey goalie in the NHL. He taught me how to set my goals and be as specific as you could possibly be with every single numbers, and everything you wanted to accomplish. Then personal goals which I thought was pretty cool too. You imagine yourself you’re at your funeral and you look at your funeral and you just listen to what you want everybody to say about you, “Pete was a great listener, a hard worker,” or this and that and then wrote everything down. It really got me thinking about all the mental side that I’d never even touched prior to that.

I truly feel like that year in 2001, it took me to the next level physically, mentally. In 2002, I ended up having a great year in Double-A. I hit 23 home runs, 79 RBIs. It put me on the prospect map with all the mental side of it. I’ll never forget, I read a couple of books and one of my teammate, Dan Grummitt, I was struggling, I was probably 0 for 2 weeks. I kept coming back to the dugout, put my bat down and moving on. He stopped me, he’s like, “Pete, how are you even able to do this? How are you able to not just break a bat, throw a helmet, yell or do something?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I think I’m done with that. I think I’m pass that whole aggressive non-producing attitude.” I remember everybody kept looking at me weird like I’m supposed to blow up. Then I got out of it and then I really took off. It was the start of something that ended up being an incredible ride. The learning process from that point on was incredible.

Then you get yourself to the Big Leagues. When was the call? How did that all go down? Describe that experience for you.

Every time I talk about this, I love it. I have two ways to look at it with all the injuries and ups and down. I could be bitter, “I should have done this. I should have done that.” At the end of the day, thinking back is such an incredible experience the whole thing that I can help but laugh and just find incredible joy in it. Every misfortune that happened, I just laugh about them because some of them are just ridiculous, it doesn’t even make sense.

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: I remember breaking bats at the beginning because he was throwing about 80 from 40.

In 2003, after a great season in Double-A, being stuck, and Lou Piniella who was our manager, invited me to go to camp and battling for a spot. Missing that opportunity again was a big blow. I ended up coming back in the US end of April, beginning of May. I’ll never forget the director of Baseball Canada, Greg Hamilton, which was a huge part of my career as well. He lived in Ottawa. I called them and I tell them what was happening and see if there was any place I could work out and hit. He was like, “Pete, you’re going to come to Ottawa every day. There’s a cage at this place, at noon. I will meet you every single day until you leave.” He came in at noon every day and threw an hour of batting practice every day. It was supposed to be only a couple of weeks and then it was dragging in three weeks, a month, over a month. At this point, I go see Greg. I’m like, “Greg, you don’t have to do this anymore. This is getting out of hand. All your lunch hours, you’re throwing BP to me every day.” He was like, “Pete, this is what I was put on this earth for, is to help kids and this is my passion. Trust me, this is the only place I want to be right now.” It was absolutely amazing, the generosity that came out of Greg. His batting practice were practically life kicking. I remember breaking bats at the beginning because he was throwing about 80 from 40.

When I got that call that I was ready to go and join the Rays again, I remember leaving that cage being incredibly confident and heading to extended spring training for a couple of days. Then I went back to Double-A and then went to Triple-A. When I got to Triple-A, that whole time I was on fire. Right from Canada, no spring training, no nothing, just being in the cage and talking to baseball and truly working on mechanics and visualization of where I wanted to be was so powerful that as soon as I got there, I felt like I have been playing for about two months. I ended up being called to go to the Futures Game that was in Chicago that year in 2003. I had my first Major League call up that September, which was unbelievable because there were a couple of games left and I’m hitting 269. Bill Evers was manager and I’m not in the lineup, not playing every day. I go see Bill and I’m like, “Bill, why am I not playing? I’m hitting 269. This looks terrible. This is not okay.” He’s like, “Pete, shut the door. Sit down.” That’s before the game. He sits me down and he’s like, “Pete, why do you think you’re not playing?” I was like, “Honestly, Bill, I have no idea. I can’t tell you.” He’s like, “I’m going to tell you something but you can’t tell anybody.” I’m like, “Okay.” He’s like, “There is a rule that when you get called up to the Major Leagues, you cannot play that day. You’re going to the Big Leagues after the game, but we have a game today. I would really, really appreciate if you did not talk to your teammates about this. I don’t want to see a smirk out of your face. I don’t want anybody to know this. You’re going to be quiet. You’re going to watch the game and then after that you can do whatever you want.”

It was the most painful game ever because I had just gotten the best news. We lost at about 12-9. I was trying to find ways to look upset and be a great teammate and be like, “This is terrible. This is the worst day of my life,” but inside I just cannot wait for this to just end so that I can tell all my teammates and just call my parents and tell them the news and just truly celebrate. It was the longest game of my career and then I got to tell my teammates. We were really close in there. We had an incredible team. We won a couple of championships. It was truly a team setting and it was some of the best experiences I’ve had in baseball. Minor League baseball was the years in Triple-A with Bill Evers as my manager; the way we played, the way we executed, the way he managed the game and the way he made us feel. Bill had zero emotions. It didn’t matter if it was 10-0 for them, 10-0 for us. Bill had his hands in his jacket with zero smiles. Smiles is not part of his daily routine.

When we lost three, four, five games in a row, he would call up a meeting. We thought we would get chewed and get yelled at, and point fingers. Then every single time, he would take all the negative and turn it into positive. They were always incredible meetings and speeches where at 11:00 or 11:30 at night, we were just ready to go back on the field and go win ball games. In those years in Triple-A, there were no ‘I,’ it was always ‘we.’ It was just mind-blowing how incredible and how much I learned in my Triple-A years.

Then I got to call my parents after. My mom and dad started crying and I was crying tears of joy. They’ve sacrificed so much for me over the years when I was a kid. Leaving the house when I was fifteen years old to move to Montreal to go live in a host family, they sacrificed a whole lot more than I did. I have a four and a six-year-old, I can’t even imagine having them leave the house at such a young age and really never coming back home. It was really nice to be able to thank them and show them what all their sacrifices and everything they did for me and the money they spent and the time they sacrificed. The reason I’m here really is a big part because of you, guys. You guys did everything to bring me here, and really sacrificed your only child. It was incredible.

When I got called up and heading to Tampa, practically everybody was on the team. There are guys that came up through the system. It was a comfortable call-up. The only thing that was worrying me was Lou Piniella. It was an incredible month of September. I was used to playing every day and that’s where it became really hard for me. Playing every day, you get to fail every day knowing that tomorrow, you’re going to be on the field. Tomorrow, you’re going to get a chance to redeem yourself. My first couple of call-ups in the Big Leagues, I would go and I had a couple of good games and then, I would play. I would go and then I wouldn’t play for three, four, five days and then pinch-hit here, DH there. It became really hard mentally because I was never put in that situation and it’s a different game when you don’t play every day. You have a whole lot of time to overthink. The preparation is completely different and I was never really prepared to not play every day. That was a hard month but an incredible month. Some of the stuff that I learned from some of the veterans and some of the people that have been there a long time, including Aubrey Huff, Eduardo Pérez and Tino Martinez, just talking to those guys every day. I thought I knew quite a bit of baseball until I got called up and I had learned nothing. A whole new set of knowledge just all of the sudden appeared.

I remember talking every day with Eduardo Pérez and he’s telling me about what to look for and the pitchers like how they tip and how he knows 85% of pitchers that are coming. The preparation that Tino Martinez was having in the mirror work that he did every day and the mental stuff and how he prepared every game, and so on and so forth. It was really eye-opening thinking that, “I got called up to the Big Leagues. I should be pretty good.” Nope, those guys are way better. Those guys’ knowledge is incredible. When you get a chance to play the highest level for so many years and talk to the best of the best for every day of your career for ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty years, the knowledge that comes with that is priceless. It felt like I started at zero again because everything I knew, when I was in the Big Leagues, I feel like I know nothing again. It was quite the experience.

The next year, 2004, I ended up hurting my hernia in Triple-A. I started the season in Triple-A. I had a horrible year. I was hurt all year. I tore my sports hernia, ended up having the worst year of my career and then coming out of it. No call-up, no nothing. I went back to Arizona and ended up having double hernia surgery and rehab that part. I came back. The next year I had a great year, I got called back up. That year, I was in the Big Leagues longer but only playing once a week. I knew when I was going to play, and again, that was another adjustment. The first one was you’ve got to get pass everything, you’ve got to get pass playing and hitting against Roger Clemens, hitting against Pedro Martínez. In September, you play a division. We’re playing the Red Sox and the Yankees in Toronto and Baltimore every day. It felt like every pitcher I face was a Cy Young runner-up. I faced Holiday twice, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martínez, Tim Wakefield, everybody, there was never a break. “Pete, you can’t hit.” I’m like, “Who hits against those guys?”

I had one of those stretches in those 6-2 where I played every fifth of the day to save out for a player that wanted to trade. The same stretch, guys who won Cy Young’s that year, guys who won seventeen games in a row during that streak of this incredible stretch. The same thing, I went 1 for 25 or 2 for 25 and they’re like, “He can’t hit.” I was like, “Who can hit these guys anyway?” I’ve been there.

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: It just made sense that all those games were being lost because there was no team chemistry.

That was tough. I had my year in Big Leagues in ’05 and a lot of ups and downs there. Those years in Tampa, that was a tough atmosphere as well. We were losing every day. We had such an incredible chemistry in Triple-A. When we got up to the Big Leagues, they are losing 100 games a year. I felt like it was reality. People would show up really late and leave. It felt like ten minutes after the game. There was no team camaraderie. Nobody really hung out. It was different. I don’t want to say it felt lonely because I knew all those guys and I had a lot of good friends in there. It just made sense that all those games were being lost because there was no team chemistry. They were just playing for numbers at that point. It was a challenging year. Then in 2006, I ended up going through a waiver and I got picked up by San Diego. That year, I went to my first WBC in spring training. It was Mike Piazza and Doug Mirabelli and David Ross were the three catchers in camp and myself. I left for most of the spring training for the WBC. When I came back, they traded David Ross. From there, I had a good end of camp, offensively, defensively.

Bruce Bochy was our manager. He brought me in the office. There was a couple of days left and he’s like, “Pete, we’re going to send you down to the Minor Leagues for about a week, week and a half. We want to utilize you as a defensive catcher and come in later in the game and play some game, and this and that.” I’m like, “Absolutely, whatever you need.” “We just want our pitchers to establish themselves and then when we get to our regular rotation, then we’ll bring you back. We’ll carry three catchers this year.” That night, about two hours later after I got send down, he’s like, “Don’t go to the Minor League side. Just stay with us. Go get an at-bat.” I get up and I took a swing. He put me in to pinch-hit in the eighth inning. I swung in a fastball or a cutter that might have hit me right in the chest. I hit it behind me and I felt like something stabbed me right in the gut. I went down big time.

At that point, I went to see the trainers. They thought that it was my abdominal wall that had ruptured and whatever. They went and got Rob Bowen. They signed Rob. Then Rob went to my spot and had a decent year and I ended up being in Peoria the whole summer. They were thinking that it was my abdominal wall and I kept saying that, “It really feels like my hernia popped again.” After months of rehab, they finally sent me to Dr. Meyers in Philadelphia, which dealt with a lot of sports hernias. Five minutes later, he comes back, he’s like, “Yes, you’re having surgery tomorrow. The mesh tore my abdominal wall and my adductor and it just ripped off. I ended missing the whole year again. That was hard. I had my opportunity. I practically had a whole year in the Big Leagues and know what my role was. I felt good about myself then. Then I had to go through another surgery and miss the whole year.

After that, I came back 100% again, and did the rehab, did everything and coming to camp. I was told that it was going to be a competitive camp between Rob Bowen and I. Josh was a starting catcher that year. I showed up. That’s the year that I had never felt this good in my life. I was prepared at every single level: physically, mentally. I had worked out. I think that was huge for me is working out in Arizona in a setting with 25 Major League players and Minor League players all together every day. Picking their brain, knowing their routines, hitting with them every day, preparing myself with them daily, physically, mentally, and that was huge.

At that point, when I showed up for spring, I just knew I was going to win that battle. It zeroed down on my mind and I showed up and I did everything I could, home runs, doubles, RBIs average, throwing runners out, receiving. Every part of it was just incredible. Best spring training I’ve ever had in my life. To get a call by Bud Black, bringing me in the office and telling me, “I don’t know how to tell you this but we’re going to have to send you down.” That was another blow, that was another crush right in the face. That was a hard one to swallow knowing that I won that battle. I did everything I could to start that season, to being told that the other guy didn’t do anything to not lose his spot. Mentally, I took it hard. That year, I ended up in Portland in Triple-A for San Diego. That first month, I was in my head big time. A lot of negative thoughts, just a lot of negative. It was either I hit a home run or nothing. I think I was in about 80 the first month. It was tough. I came in feeling extremely good. Finally I just told myself, “That’s it. Let it go. It is what it is. Stop being so bitter and negative and just move on with your life.” I ended up that year, at the half, getting called back up. I had 290 at-bats. I had 29 home runs, some doubles, a lot of RBIs and everything just took off again. I got called back up and I had a chance to have some incredible games with Jake Peavy, sixteen strikeouts and seven innings. That was the year he won a Cy Young. I had to chance to be with Greg Maddux and David Wells. I called David Wells and hung out with him and pick his brain. It was incredible.

I was hitting well, I was catching well. I was hitting 360 and then that was it. Then they stopped playing me for the next three weeks. I didn’t see the field again for about three weeks and then when Josh came back, they sent me down. Then I got called back up at the end briefly and then got traded to Philadelphia for September. That whole year, I came in feeling incredible. It was a good tough year. I learned a lot on that one again. Then going to Philadelphia, it was a playoff race and that was incredible. That was the year the Mets were up by ten games ahead. We came back and won the division and went to the playoff. The two teams that I was with that year: the Padres and the Phillies ended up being in the playoff or the two first-place teams. Unfortunately, the Rockies came in hot. They came in 22 out of 23 games that they had won. Then there was that one game playoff against San Diego which knocked them out. We passed with Philadelphia to go with the playoff. That experience was incredible. The fans, the difference in teams, the difference in atmosphere, going from a laid back atmosphere in San Diego to a jungle in Philadelphia. It couldn’t have been more extreme in terms of teams and cities, but two great team, two great cities. That year my role was to come in late innings and pinch-hit against the closers and the set up guys. That’s never an easy task.

Crazy thing about some of those players you got to play with, pitchers and other catchers to learn from. One of the things I’ve been wanting to ask one on this show for a long time is to find a catcher and really ask them what’s important about the mental game as a catcher. Not so much of what’s important about leadership. We know leadership is important, but how do you lead as a catcher? How I want you to think of it is if you’re talking to some of your players, you’re talking to kids who might be thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-olds, what do you give them as advice to being a better leader on the field in the catching position?

I feel like the catching position comes with a natural leadership position. I was never the leader with the pom-poms and loud mouth and always talking. I was a leader by action. I work hard. What I tell my kids is, “You have a great opportunity here to lead your team. You’re the quarter back of this team and your communication skills have to be on point because you have to communicate with your position players. You have to communicate with your staff. You have to know every single aspect of that pitching staff. You have to know their characters. You have to know who they are or how they react to situation, what motivates them.” As a catcher, you have to be a mom, a dad, a best friend. You have to be every one of them. You have to know the guy that you have to go to and be soft spoken and really positive and tell them, “Come on, it’s okay. I’m with you. Let’s do this.” Or you go to the other guy and you get in his butt. You get after him. You pump him up that way. That’s what gets to him and you have the other guy and you’ve got to be really specific about, “This is the route we’re going to take. This how we’re going to do it. This is how we’re going to accomplish this.” That’s how he understands and how he’s able to make these adjustments.

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: If they see you giving up, you’re giving your teammates an opportunity to give up because you’re giving up.

At that point, by being a leader behind the plate and a catcher behind the plate is everybody sees you. Every single one of your teammates sees you. If they see you giving up when you’re losing by ten, dropping your head, throwing your hands up, walking around shaking your head, you’re giving every one of your teammate an opportunity to give up because you’re giving up. They see you giving up. You’re telling your pitcher that you no longer care, that at this point, it’s you against him. That he is struggling and you can no longer help him because you’ve given up. You’re in the position that you can impact your whole team in a really positive way or really negative way. The fundamentals of catching are receiving block and throwing runners. You have to catch the ball, you’ve got to block the ball and you’ve got to throw the ball to second base or third, whatever.

My goal as a teacher is to make that second nature so that you don’t have to think about it anymore. Whether a guy throws a 100 or 75, you know you’re going to catch the ball. You know you’re going to block that slider in the dirt. You know you’re going to make a good throw to second base. Then the real catching start and the real fun starts because you now get out of your bubble and stop telling yourself, “I have to catch the ball. I have to block the ball.” It just happens. Now, you get out of your bubble. I’ll never forget the day that I saw the whole field for the first time because I was converted to a catcher in 2001. I never caught a day in my life. It took me two and a half years and I was in the Big Leagues as a catcher. The first part of it was to really focus on myself to become a better catcher. Then once I was able to get pass that, which obviously you never stop working on it but you don’t have to think about it 100% of the time, now, I could see the runner. Now, I became a second pitching coach. Now, I became a second manager. Now, I was able to manage tempo and see who was where. If the pitcher was flying open and his head was still thinking if he’s falling, if he was collapsing.

One of our job is to become a second pitching coach. When you see the guy doing the same thing two or three times in a row, you don’t wait after the innings, after there are four walks seven hits and six runs to go say, “By the way, you were flying open.” You get it right away. Just go nip it in the bud. You have your sign with the pitcher. They all know what they need to work on. When it goes bad, what it is that goes bad but they’re caught up in the moment at the adrenaline. They don’t think about it. When you are able to see that as a catcher and truly be one with your pitching staff and know what they’re doing and how you can help them instantly, that’s when they really appreciate the work you do back there. Then it becomes a relationship. It truly becomes a relationship between pitchers and catchers. That’s how it has to be. It can be a job when you go behind the plate. It’s never ending.

You’re thinking three pitchers ahead. You’re looking at the hitter’s feet. You’re looking at the hitter’s hands. You’re looking at how the pitcher is landing. You’re looking at where this ball is going. You’re looking at the runner. You’re studying videos prior to the game. You’re reading the fifteen-page scouting reports from the organization prior to the scenario about every single count with every single pitch. Every hitter of a team, you have 0-0 fastball, 0-0 slider, 0-0 curve ball, 0-1 and then it go on in all the batting averages of every player. Then you get with your starting pitcher and make a game plan. That’s why that position is so amazing is because you never stop thinking, you never stop working and you can never stop getting better because there’s always something you’re missing somewhere on the field and somewhere you can get better and help your teammates and your pitcher. It’s fantastic.

You just gave me a whole new angle of the game. I spent my life in this game too but I’ve never seen it from that viewpoint. They made me think of the movie The Matrix when Neo and the code starts falling down and they seize everything. I know that moment where things become second nature and you are able to get just a different awareness, a different kind of focus. That was really cool. The next question I want to ask you is talking about the B45 Academy, just what you’re doing up there and the mission behind it because we’ve had some talks on the side. Just the way that you talk about it and your perspective of the mission that you have for it, it makes me smile. It makes me excited about it. I just want to hear you talk more about it.

After my career, I managed Independent Ball for four years in the Can-Am League. From there, you get to leave again all summer. I have two kids, right now they’re four and six. I knew the first four years, they are able to follow me to Canada so it made it much easier. I’m going to go ahead and say on record that baseball is my passion. It was really hard for my wife because I get to the field at noon and I won’t get out of there until 11:00, 11:30. I would sleep there. It’s hard when you have a family. It’s a lot of sacrifices that your wife or your significant other have to do in that process of you following your dream and you following your baseball career as an athlete. You’re gone a lot. There are a lot of sacrifices that are made by your family and it’s not always easy.

One thing that I knew I always wanted was I didn’t want to miss my kids. I did not want to miss the growing part. I didn’t want to miss them being in school. I’ve seen some of my teammates and some of my coaches that they blinked and their kids were in college and they missed it. I didn’t want that and I was scared of that. I was trying to find ways to be in the same place, to be at home and to be with my family every day. We had talked about a baseball facility. We have talked about different options because I also flip houses with my father-in-law. We had talked about our construction company if I was going to push that or if I was going to stay in baseball or whatever.

This opportunity came where my partner, which is now my partner built a facility. From there, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I knew that this was the plan, the way it laid out and the way it just unfolded. It ended up being perfect. It was an opportunity for me to help kids and give them some of the knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years and push it to them and give it to them. Stuff that I learned when I was 24, 25, 30 years old, just pass it along when they’re twelve, thirteen, fifteen, sixteen at a young age and truly try to make this game fun and get them better and just pour my energy into those kids. I truly love working with kids. We started B45 Academy. B45 as you know is a bat company. Éric Gagné bought the company. I called Éric and I wanted a name that meant something to me. I didn’t want another baseball lingo name. I didn’t want Grinders Baseball. Every name I was trying to come up with, there’s already ten of them.

I called Éric and I just asked him. B45 was always personal to me because the original owner, Mitchell LeBlanc was a good friend of mine and I was close to him. He took it from nothing and brought it up as far as he could. Then Éric, we were from the same area back home. We became friends over the years. We’ve known each other for about 25 years now. After he bought it, I was looking around and I’m like, “How about B45? I wonder if we can start the first B45 Academy.” I called Eric and I said, “I’m going to push B45 Academy here if I can just utilize your name for the academy. I don’t want any exchange. I don’t need anything from you. I just want to try to help your company in the Midwest. If I can have your help to get the Major League players to my facility to come and do camps and work with some kids, then that would be great.” He agreed and it turned out to be fantastic.

FFL 035 | Setbacks
Setbacks: It’s something new and like anything else, we have to just learn to make adjustments.

Our facility is about to be 30,000 square feet. It’s 22,000 square feet right now, but we’re adding to it. It started about six months ago. We’re new to this. I’m new to owning my business. Being a businessman/baseball player, and a baseball player got always takes over. It’s something new and like anything else, we have to just learn to make adjustments. We’re going to fail at some point, we’re going to do things that don’t work and throw them out the door and start something else, do something else and just try to figure out something that is going to work in the long-term where we can impact as many kids as possible with the best trainers, the best training and the best ideas about the whole thing. I’m not perfect at this. I have a tough turn in business. I don’t consider myself a businessman. I consider myself a baseball guy with a big dream.

From there, I ask a lot of questions and I do that same process that brought us to the Big Leagues. I’m just trying new things. Learning to fail again and try to surround yourself with good people and try to make something successful on the business side. I think that my passion for the game is so powerful that my only goal is to try to impact as many kids as possible from all ages. I want to grab them when they’re five and not let them go until they go to college. I want to cover every single aspect of the game as much as I possibly can where when you come to the facility, you don’t have to go anywhere else. You come in, it’s a one-stop shop. You’re going to work with the best trainers. You’re going to have the strength and conditionings, speed and agility and help to decipher all these college stuff and the mental side of the game that is to me the biggest part of baseball.

I feel like baseball in the young age is more physical. The kids that grow fast will have success. The little ones are going to struggle until they catch up. The smaller kid or the kid that had a late growth had to learn to struggle or had to learn to work harder to accomplish things. When he goes up to the other guy that just coasted, he flies right by. Our goal at B45 Academy is to truly surround those kids with the best at every field. That’s why you’re going to come at the end of the month and really explain to our kids the importance of the mental side of the game and how it’s going truly change not only baseball but your approach to life and everything else. It’s things that can be applied to every aspect of your life really.

I’m beyond excited and honored to be able to come up there. Can you give the location and the dates that we’re going to be doing this on the weekend?

It’s at B45 Academy. It’s in Galesburg at 155 McCollum Road. It will be on October 27th and 28th. From there, it’s going to be from 10 to 4. You will speak to our kids and truly hopefully blow their mind on what’s coming for them and how to approach the game. Like we were talking about earlier, you can only get your swing as good as it can be and then the rest is between the ears. That’s the biggest part. I’m so excited for you to come and hopefully change the way most of our kids approach the game and go through the preparation prior to the game and throughout the game.

I’m really excited. I’ve done these types of talks before when I covered the four steps. It’s the four parts, not only to the mental game, four parts that you could do individually to help players of any ages. Also, if you do it in order before the pitch, if you do it in order before the game, it actually puts you exactly where you need to be. What’s really cool about this is it’s the first time we’re going to go hit with it later. Usually, I talk about this stuff and then follow up with somebody or I’ll check back in next week or something. This is an opportunity where we’ll do the talk, we’ll walk everybody through all the steps and maybe we’ll have a small little break or something. Then we’re going to go in the cages and we’re going to start making this a habit. I’m excited and grateful for this opportunity. I can’t wait to get up there too and hang out with you and hear more of these stories. It’s been a great show. I really appreciate having you on.

I appreciate you having me. I can’t wait to see you at the end of the month, Jason.

Anybody who needs more information or to get in touch with you, how do they do that? You got a website, right?

Yeah, we have a website at B45Academy.com or you can reach us on Facebook @B45Academy or with our email at B45Academy@gmail.com.

To our listeners, if you’ve got any questions, comments, criticisms or sarcastic remarks about anything going on in this show or anything in life in general, feel free to reach me at info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. Until then, aim high, swing hard and smile often.

Guest Bio

FFL 035 | Setbacks

Pierre-Luc “Pete” Laforest is a former professional baseball catcher and was the first manager of the Trois-Rivières Aigles (Can-Am). He is a graduate of Fort Scott Community College.
He was a draft pick of the Montreal Expos, but has also played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the San Diego Padres, and the Philadelphia Phillies. He was part of Team Canada at the 2004 Summer Olympics and 2006 World Baseball Classic.

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