21 January 2011
First a quick note: interviewing Giants players and staff will not be a major feature of this blog. If you want to hear sound bites from major leaguers, you can read the Chronicle or watch Comcast Sportsnet or, if you like the Red Sox or Yankees, you can watch ESPN. I liked interviewing Eric Surkamp, though, and I like the idea of our blog supporting a player with potential who is still working his way through the system. The end result is that Eric gets a base of support at a time when most Giants fans are focused on the big league players. Meanwhile, when Eric makes the majors and strikes out Albert Pujols and walks off the mound and yells “that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, Fat Albert!” all the readers of this blog will feel part of that success. And then Eric will sign lots of autographs for us and maybe let us borrow his Ferrari when he’s not using it. So it’s win-win.
I sat down with Giants pitching prospect Eric Surkamp over a plate of three-way chili at the local Skyline off route 50 in Milford, a small town just outside the city locals call: “The Nati.” Ok, that’s not true. We talked on the phone. I just wanted to show off my southern-Ohio knowledge to any of Eric’s friends and family who might be reading this back in Deer Park or Indian Hill.
Eric Surkamp was the Giants’ 6th round pick out of North Carolina State in the 2008 draft. Last year he pitched in San Jose and posted very good numbers, including an impressive K/BB rate and an ERA just over 3. He was injured in mid-July and missed the rest of the season but is projected to pitch in AA this year. He also has been mentioned as a possible spot-starter should one of the Giants’ starters go down to injury or, in Matt Cain’s case, just decide they’re tired of not having anybody score runs for them.
Eric was extremely generous with his time and we can’t thank him enough. The Eric Surkamp Fan Club will be launching soon and our goal is to get 100 members by opening day.
(photo courtesy of mediascout.com)
24D: Thanks again for doing this.
ES: No problem
24D: You grew up in Ohio?
ES: Yeah, Cincy,OH, Archbishop Moeller high school, pretty well known high school in terms of sports. Barry Larkin went there, Ken Griffey Jr. went there. We’ve had quite a run of players.
24D: Are some of those former major leaguers still involved?
ES: They don’t come back that often; I think most of them have left the area and they don’t want to come back to Cincy in the cold weather. All those guys make their homes in Florida, Arizona, so...kinda don’t blame them not wanting to come back in the snow.
24D: Were you a Reds fan growing up?
ES: I was…I was a Reds fan growing up. They were good when I was younger, but from what I remember, I don’t remember very many winning teams. Cincinnati’s kinda been dying for a winner, watching the Reds and the Bengals growing up.
24D: Compared to the Bengals, the Reds are doing ok…
24D: What would you have done if the Reds had played the Giants in the playoffs?
ES: Actually I was down here rehabbing in Arizona for my hip, I was gonna try my hardest to get back home and go to the games. I would have definitely been rooting for the Giants, though. Being around here, great organization, meeting the guys who are on the big league team, having a couple of buddies who are up there, Dan Runzler, those kind of guys, who kinda put you under their wing a little bit. You always talk to them; they tell you what it’s like…you’re always a fan of the team you get drafted by. I think I’ll always be a Giant no matter where I end up in my career.
24D: That’s interesting because I was going to ask you if you feel like a Giant or if that kind of affiliation doesn’t take hold until you reach AAA or the Majors itself, but I guess you’re saying you already feel strongly connected to the organization.
ES: Yeah, I mean I obviously haven’t made it to the big leagues yet, but I was actually thinking about it today while I was in the facility working out, just how all the people, all the staff who they have in there, ready to do anything for you at the drop of the hat. They have a great organization, from the top down, if you ever need anything, they’re easy to get a hold of and everything like that. So it’s really helpful.
24D: So then you went to NC State?
ES: Yeah, went to NC State and stayed in college for three years.
24D: You left a year early to go pro?
ES: Yeah. After my junior year I got drafted, I felt it was the best opportunity for me as far as having a little leverage.
24D: So going into that draft, sitting there on draft day, what was that experience like? Did you have a round you were hoping to be taken in?
ES: It was pretty nerve-wracking. In High school you get recruited, but you don’t have to really wait around for anything or for somebody to pick you up, you just have a choice of where you want to go. Going into my junior year I think I was a little more highly touted than when I got drafted which is completely understandable since I had a down junior year. Didn’t pitch that well and kinda fell off a little bit. To be honest, people tell you so many things leading up to the draft. Everything I heard was somebody could take you as early as the 2nd round or as late as the 7th or 8th and I ended up getting picked in the 6th. Actually me and my roommate were at the (NCAA) super regional down in Athens, Georgia playing against the University of Georgia in the NCAA tournament the day of the draft. We were just hanging out in the hotel and he ended up getting picked in the 5th round, and not too longer after that I got picked.
24D: And I’m sure he didn’t remind you of that or anything…
ES: (Laughs). No, he actually got picked by the Reds, so that was cool.
24D: Speaking of that, did you have a team in mind, or teams, where you say “I hope they draft me, or I hope they don’t draft me?”
ES: No, it was pretty much I just want to get drafted. You don’t really know anything about the teams, I mean, I think most baseball players will say it, you just want to play in the big leagues, it doesn’t matter where you’re at. That’s the dream for all of us. And you put so much time and effort into the game, it’s the biggest focus to play, no matter where.
24D: Sure, but I think our readers were hoping you’d say you were glad you didn’t get drafted by the Dodgers.
(Laughs, but won’t admit it’s true. Sorry…I tried.)
24D: In terms of the minors, what is it like? Is the stereotype of the long bus rides and everyone kind of chasing the dream…is that accurate? Do you like the lifestyle?
ES: Yeah, I’ve actually loved it; I’ve had a blast with it. The thing is, the Giants farm teams are in good towns. There are definitely some towns that we travel to that aren’t as populated or in the middle of nowhere or that might not be as fun in the middle of summer to play there, but it’s been a blast. I don’t have a girlfriend, I don’t have a wife or anything like that, where that’s holding me down or I’m in a certain town maybe missing my family too much. My parents are able to travel and see me. I just try to take advantage of it because you can’t play the game forever so I want to live it up while I can.
24D: Do you have a favorite minor league road trip?
ES: San Jose is actually the best road trip in the Cal League and that was our home city, but I'll say Charleston, SC. Lexington, Kentucky was great for me because it's very close to my home and my family was able to come out and see me pitch.
24D: How closely did you follow the Giants playoff run?
ES: Very closely, I watched every game. I was very into it.
24D: Did you get a sense for the whole "torture" thing?
ES: I did. Although I think that's just the nature of a team with strong pitching that plays a lot of close games...you get those kind of games. But yeah I saw the signs and all that and definitely felt the ups and downs of those games.
24D: What Giant would you want to room with on the road?
ES: I've talked a lot to my friends on the team, guys like Dan Runzler, and you hear them talking about how much support they get from veterans like Pat Burrell and Huff. I think it'd be cool to room with one of them and get their perspective.
24D: How do you feel about the jump from A to AA?
ES: I'm excited. They say the jump from High A to AA is the biggest jump in baseball, so I'm definitely viewing it as a challenge, but one I'm excited for. It's an adjustment to go from just worrying about making your pitches to also adjusting to what the hitters are doing and adapting based on their tendencies.
24D: Do you have a goal for this season?
ES: I don't really set a goal usually in terms of things like ERA. I'd like to stay healthy for the whole year, and show the organization that I can stay on the mound the whole year. That would be a goal for sure.
24D: There was a report (the day of the interview) that if a Giants starter went on, say, the 15 day DL, you might be one of the names considered for a spot start or two. How do you feel about that?
ES: That would obviously be amazing...I mean, that'd be a dream. I'm definitely honored to have my name come up like that. If it happens, I'll definitely be ready.
24D: So let's say you get called up and you're pitching against the Cardinals and Albert Pujols comes up. What would you throw him?
ES: (laughs) I think I'd throw him whatever Buster Posey tells me to throw him.
(Eric should have said “curveball away, curveball away, changeup in.” and then actually thrown him curveball away, curveball away, fastball up because then Pujols would be completely fooled. Because, you know, Albert Pujols reads my blog.)
24D: For those who don't know you that well, could you name some big league pitchers similar to what you throw to give us a sense of your style?
ES: I don't want to put my name in the same sentence as him, obviously, but I think there's a similarity with Andy Pettite. You hear a lot of stuff. I've heard Joe Saunders. Everyone knows I don't have the most velocity but I'm not up there throwing slop. My fastball is high 80's, low 90's, and I feel comfortable throwing it.
24D: How is the recovery from hip surgery?
ES: I feel great, I feel ready. I'm doing everything, strength wise and my arm and hip feel fine. I haven't started throwing off the mound yet but I'll do that on the 24th.
24D: Are there some nerves involved in that? You know, until you actually throw again there's a fear of what will happen?
ES: Yeah, but I try to look at it differently, as a blessing. I've had over 5 months now to rest my arm, and maybe that'll help keep me healthy in the future, having that time off.
24D: Thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it. We are going to start an Eric Surkamp fan club as our way of saying thank you. In the meantime, if I could ask one more favor, would you be willing to say "Beat LA"?
ES: Beat LA.