R.I. native Chris Iannetta (right) has been hard at work this winter preparing for the upcoming season, his third with the Los Angeles Angels, at the Rhode Island Baseball Institute on Post Road in Warwick.
WARWICK ā Twenty years ago, Tom Hanksā silver-screen portrayal of the slow-witted Forrest Gump earned the acclaimed actor an Academy Award and a huge payday. The 1994 release is remembered for the lead characterās array of quirky and quick-to-the-point quotes, some of which still hold merit today.
There is, however, one quip from Gump that seems to never go out of style. Remember the scene when he was seated on a bench and began rambling to a female stranger? As he waved a box of candy in her face, Gump declared, āLife was like a box of chocolates, you never know what youāre gonna get.ā
In Forrest Gump parlance, his ode to a Whitmanās Sampler pertains to sweet, gooey center covered in a chocolate shell. In some respects, Chris Iannettaās professional baseball career can be interpreted as a ābox of chocolatesā or in more conventional terms, a mystery wrapped inside an enigma.
This might be hard to fathom, but this June will mark 10 years since the Colorado Rockies drafted Iannetta out of the University of North Carolina. Much has happened in the decade since the St. Raphael Academy alum set sail on an odyssey that like any Greek mythology strikes the right balance between triumphs and tragedies ā productive moments on the diamond that have been accompanied with demotions to the minor leagues and getting traded away by the franchise that drafted and developed you.
āI never would have scripted it this way,ā he openly admitted.
Iannetta departed for Tempe, Ariz. on Sunday. Spring training across Major League Baseball begins in earnest this week with the local lad set to begin his third season with the Los Angeles Angels and ninth in the bigs. Heās no longer viewed as an up-and-comer. Iannetta turns 31 on April 8, and judging by a recent conversation in-between hitting and catching sessions at the Rhode Island Baseball Institute, he seems to have a good grasp of whatās taken place and what the future possibly has in store for him.
āI definitely donāt feel like Iām a 20-something year-old kid anymore. As for a veteran guy, Iām starting to see that a little bit,ā Iannetta said. āIām not done playing. Itās not out of my system. I love what Iām doing and still strive to be the best that I can.
āI donāt think Iāve played to my potential yet. Iām still trying to get to that point,ā he added. āAll I wanted was to go out there and care about succeeding, but early in my career, I let too many little things bother me, maybe an 0-for-4 or an error I made.ā
The Chris Iannetta of 2014 feels that heās better equipped to better deal with rough stretches at the plate. He touched upon his 4-for-30 start to the 2010 season and how it resulted in a demotion to the minors as well as a rough two-month interval last season where he hit .189 in June and followed up with a .162 average in July.
āIāve always said that Iāve had a lot of struggles in the game. I need to minimize the times that I havenāt been very good and turn a 1-for-20 into a 0-for-10,ā he said about minimizing long batting droughts. āYou start looking around, and Iām playing with some very good players and they go through it too. Itās just that they do it once during the season and itās a little bit shorter.ā
āEarly on I put too much emphasis by saying this was a big deal. Now itās something you go through. Itās more of a learning process,ā added Iannetta. āI realize that this year, thereās going to be a stretch when Iām really bad, but itās going to change and change quickly. When I come out of it, Iām going to be really good.
āAnyone that struggles, if they knew what the fix was, they would do it that day and not look back,ā he said. āItās kind of like you just throw your hands in the air and you know what? Iām going to wear it for a little while, knowing that itās going to turn around.ā
Even when he was battling himself in the batterās box, Iannetta felt he was able to resist the temptation of letting his slumps affect his ability to call a game or serve as a caretaker for the pitching staff. That wasnāt the case for much of 2013.
āOne thing thatās always been a rock for me is my defensive side. Thatās always what Iāve valued,ā he stated. āLast year, I was even struggling defensively for a stretch. Itās tough when youāre going through it on both sides of the ball.
āThey talk about not taking your offense behind the plate. Iām kind of the other way around. Iāll take my defense to the plate,ā Iannetta explained.
In August, Iannetta came to the realization that he needed glasses and contacts. The returns were overwhelmingly positive ā he batted .286 in September with four home runs while posting a .911 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average). In spite of his fine work in the seasonās final month, Iannetta ended up batted just .225 despite logging a career-best 115 games.
āI was getting to the point where the ball was jumping on me when I was catching. Iām like, āThis is weird.ā Iāve never had an issue like this before,ā Iannetta said. āThe first day I put the contacts in, I was āOh my God.ā My eyes relaxed and then the rest of my body relaxed. I felt I could react again and be athletic as opposed to being tense and straining. It had a big impact.ā
Out of the body of work Iannetta has turned in thus far, he feels fortunate āto have some fun stuff happen.ā Heās authored three career walk-off home runs and helped guide Jered Weaver to a no-hitter on May 2, 2012. When the 2009 World Baseball Classic took place, Iannetta was part of Team USAās entry.
Heās also signed two multi-year deals and according to baseball-reference.com has thus far has pocketed over $14 million in career earnings. In one regard, Iannetta views the contacts heās been fortunate enough to sign as āsafety nets.ā In other ways, job security is not always assured or guaranteed just because youāre locked in for a certain amount of years.
āToo many things happened to me in Colorado that I realized that I couldnāt take anything for granted,ā said Iannetta, referencing the occasions when the Rockies began the season with him as the clear-cut No. 1 backstop only to eventually split the duties or completely turn them over to his alleged backup. āYouāve got to battle and win, create your own opportunities and play enough to win a job every year.
āThere is some security in a sense that youāre taken care of financially and thereās more motivation for them to keep you around or trade you as opposed to sending you to the minor leagues. As for playing time, thereās a starter and a backup or thereās a platoon situation that youāre always fighting for time,ā he said. āI understand the nature of the game more. Itās a business that surrounds itself around production. If you produce, youāre going to be there for a long time. If youāre not and they find out they have a better option, or can get a piece for you that makes the team better, then you find your way somewhere else or even out of the game.ā
Iannetta, who is signed through 2015, was asked if heās scratched the surface following a decadeās worth of ups and downs. Heās a career .234 hitter in 652 MLB games with 83 homers and 301 RBIs.
āI hope so, but I donāt know. Anything can happen physically. You donāt know how your body is going to hold up or if your career is going to get cut short,ā was his frank response to an open-ended question. āI think I can look back and see the amount of things that have happened over the course of those 10 years and say itās been quite the journey.
āI would like to say that I could play a little while longer, but all I can say us that Iām going to play as long as the game allows me to,ā he said. āIf I catch and block balls and help the pitching staff and put up offensive numbers, Iāll play. If not, Iāll be the backup guy or get traded.
āWhen Iām done playing, itās going to be because I physically canāt do it anymore, I canāt get a job, or I quit,ā he says with a slight chuckle.
Spoken like someone who has seen and experienced plenty in a career that hopefully still has plenty of chapters waiting to be written.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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