Joey Butler was drafted in the 15th round of the 2008 amateur draft out of the University of New Orleans. He was assigned to short-season Spokane in the Northwest League and has put up very stellar offensive numbers in his first professional season.
That's all I really knew about Joey Butler coming into this interview. To be honest, you might not leave with any more than that. I'll explain.
Joey Butler didn't really give me a great quote. He didn't give me a detailed explanation about his skill set, and he didn't wax poetically about the game of baseball. Ultimately, it's what Butler left out that ended up being what I will remember the most.
I called Joey Butler when he was on the team bus in the middle of what would be a seven-hour ride to play the Volcanoes of Salem-Keizer. We had a bad connection, but it didn't matter how many times we were disconnected, Joey would call back. Every time the connection prevented me from hearing his answers, he would always politely repeat himself. He actually seemed to care about what I was asking. There was just something about this kid that I couldn't quite pinpoint. Something different.
With Joey Butler it quickly became obvious that it is never about himself. With Joey Butler it is always about those around him. Perhaps this apparent selflessness was sculpted by the horrific events that occurred in August of 2005. Hurricane Katrina absolutely devastated the Gulf Coast region where Joey grew up. The Moss Point/Pascagoula area of Mississippi, where Butler was raised, was basically wiped off the map. It's not a pleasant thing to even think about, much less be directly affected by.
Regardless of what events made Joey Butler the man he is today, the fact remains that his character became obvious to me after only a brief twenty-minute call. This fascinated me, so I decided to ask around to see if I was just creating something that didn't really exist. It exists.
I asked Butler's former coach at UNO, the esteemed Tom Walter, what he thought about Joey as a person and a player. His answer was very similar to all the answers I received when I asked people about Butler.
"Joey is one of my favorite players of all-time," Walter said. "The energy, passion, love of the game and leadership he brought to the ballpark day in and day out are seldom seen in today's ballplayer. It is no coincidence that our two most successful teams at UNO in the past 25 years came with Joey in our program. He is a winner and makes everyone around him better."
I also had the privilege of speaking with renowned JUCO coach and former Cape Cod League coach of the year, Cooper Farris. Coach Farris, who is the head baseball coach for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where Butler got his start, also stressed the high character that embodies Joey Butler.
"You just won't find a better guy," Farris said. "Joey has the talent to make it, but what sets him apart is his heart. Joey battles. You just don't get a bad day out of him. He can go 0-for-4 one game, but you would never know it by his attitude. He's a subdued guy, but once you get inside there is a permanent bond. He is just a special person."
I'm not sure if there is a guy in our system that I want to see reach the majors more than Butler.
Joey was kind enough to answer a few questions about his approach at the plate, as well as his decision to choose baseball over basketball and football.
� � � � �
Q: How has playing in the minors differed from playing in college?
A: When I was in college we were playing four or five games a week, and now we are pretty much playing seven games a week. It's a lot busier. It's all about baseball.
Q: How does that busy minor-league schedule affect you physically?
A: Well, I think it takes a while to get used to. The first time you get worn out and the coaches give you a day off to recover you kind of know what to expect afterwards. You learn how to adjust to it.
Q: What's your approach like at the plate? Do you go up looking to make good contact, or do you have a more specific approach depending on how you are feeling?
A: My approach starts in batting practice, when I go to early hitting. I'm trying to do certain things depending on how I'm feeling that day. I transfer that feeling to the game situation. It's never just the same thing all the time.
Q: You were a three-sport star in high school. Do you have any regrets about choosing to pursue baseball over football and basketball?
A: No, not at all. Baseball was the way to go for me. A lot of people in my family played baseball, but fortunately I am the person to make it the furthest so far. I think I was a little bit too short to play basketball, and football was too risky as far as injuries go. I think I made the smartest decision.
Q: What happens when you struggle at the plate?
A: When you are struggling, that thought needs to be way in the back of your mind. You always want to play the game day by day and not worry about what you did the day before. Whether it was good or bad, you just go out there and give it your best. Sometimes the season gets so tiring that you might not feel as well for a couple of days straight, but you have to play the game day by day. You have to go out there with the same attitude.
Q: You struggled mightily at the plate in July. Were you experiencing an injury, or was fatigue a factor in those struggles?
A: I think it was just a slump. In baseball, it's not if you're going to slump - it's more like when you are going to slump. That July period was just my time.
Q: How does your approach change when there are runners on base? Do you find yourself being more aggressive?
A: Depends on the situation. If there is a runner at second base with less than two outs, then you are trying to move that runner over to third by hitting the ball to the right side. With a runner on third base and less than two outs, you are trying to hit a deep fly ball to make sure you get that run in. Getting that run in is always the most important thing.
Q: Any specific pre-game rituals?
A: My usual pre-game warm-up consists of five to six outfield sprints, lots of stretching, and a little throwing.
Q: Do you consider yourself a home run hitter, or more of a gap-to-gap hitter?
A: I think I'm more of a line drive hitter, gap-to-gap type of guy. The power will come later. I'm just trying to learn how to be a good hitter first. Once I learn how be a complete hitter, then the power will come.
Q: What has been your favorite part of playing in Spokane?
A: The fans and the team. The people here are very supportive of our team. We have a great fan base and I'm surrounded by a great group of guys.
Q: What are your goals for next year when you will be playing in full-season ball?
A: My ultimate goal is to be a .330 hitter, play standout defense and be a leader on the field.
� � � � �
Nice work, Joey.
Baseball Time in Arlington is making a donation to Direct Relief International in Joey Butler's name.