Mind GamesAugust 28, 2012
To see what the future might hold for Wisconsin Timber Rattlers infielder Mike Garza requires a quick study in his past. Before he was drafted by the Brewers in the 20th round back in June, Garza began plying his academic skills on two of the best campuses in the country.
“I actually went to Stanford my freshmen year, transferred out and went to Georgetown where they welcomed me with open arms,” said Garza. “It was more of an academic decision than anything else. The prestige of Georgetown, that for me was big coming out of high school, getting a degree and have something to fall back on when my playing career is over.
“And hopefully I’ll never have to use it, but the chance that I do, it’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”
Garza was a hit on the diamond and the classroom in Washington, D.C. where he double majored in Government and Classical Studies. As the Hoyas starting shortstop, Garza hit .393 and finished second in the Big East batting race. Juggling a demanding athletic and academic workload in college was simply an extension of his prep days growing up.
“My parents kept me balanced, nothing got done until homework was finished and studying was complete,” said Garza. “Tournaments and travel ball, that stuff didn’t happen unless the grades were there. With baseball being so important in my life it made me get things done in the classroom. I didn’t want to miss a tournament or a practice because my grades slipped.
“When you’re young, you don’t want to do the math problems and stuff like that, but once you get older you understand the importance of it.”
Garza was the poster child student-athlete growing up in Texas, able to bring his A Game to both the diamond and the classroom, comfortable fitting in no matter the setting.
“Being an athlete and having good grades kind of took some of the pressure off the quote-unquote nerdiness,” laughed Garza. “I was in advanced classes with 10, 12 kids and I was the only athlete in there. I could tell some of the kids were wondering ‘What’s he doing in here?’
“My Dad was a doctor and he wanted me to go into medicine but it just wasn’t for me.”
Dr. Ramon Garza, who specializes in diabetes treatment in San Antonio, won’t have am offspring following in his footsteps but he will have a son who made his mark representing Georgetown baseball and giving the program a booster shot.
“That’s something the coaches and I talked about for a couple of years,” said Garza, who was a First Team All-Big East selection, socking eight homers and driving in 44. “Georgetown gets overlooked in that conference and it’s tough. There was a lot of personal gain for me to be able to play professionally and give myself an opportunity. It gives people who don’t know much about the program to see when one guy does it, maybe the next kid will be able to do it as well.
“I tried to give back and promote to the sport as much as you can because they gave me a chance to play, progress and be where I am now.”
Now happens to be in Appleton, but you wouldn’t blame the 22-year-old if he took a class in Geography just to get his bearings straight. From Big East baseball, to Montana for Rookie League seasoning then a call up to Wisconsin on July 7…a hectic pace for someone who always strives for routine and balance.
“Just getting drafted, in and of itself is something that was unbelievable for me,” said Garza. “I take a lot of pride in it and I’m blessed to be in this situation, but it has been hectic. After you get drafted, you soak that in for a couple of days, then you’re on a plane and going to play. You have to step on the field and do things right and try to perform.”
Garza’s bloated Big East numbers carried over to the Pioneer League to produce a .407 average in 19 games, tacking on 2 home runs, 13 RBI and swiping five bags for Helena. His promotion to the Class A ranks meant another change of scenery and a drastic change in those statistical digits.
“You have your ups and downs, and I have struggled since I’ve been here, but you have to keep an even keel and understand it’s a learning process,” said Garza. “Every day, every game shows you something new and if you spend too much time getting down about it or get frustrated you miss out on those learning experiences that will help you.”
“Pitchers here are a little smarter with better pitches and better location,” said Garza. “The faster I can adjust to that and teach myself to make those adjustments the better off I’m going to be. The struggles I’ve faced here have been a little bad luck, a little inconsistency, but for the most part I’ve felt pretty good, hitting a couple of balls hard but right at someone.
“It’s just how the game is. When I was in Helena, everything felt good, everything was falling and here it’s a different game. At some point those will fall, but you just have to keep at it, because if you get too frustrated you lose sight of the process.”
Part of the process is getting acclimated with a position switch on the infield. A shortstop in high school and college, Garza wasn’t about to bump Yadiel Rivera for playing time, so a move to third base became the suggested route for Garza to advance.
“I’m perfectly fine with shifting, I don’t think it has messed me up at all,” said Garza. “The first couple of games that I played there was a little bit of an adjustment period. The speed of the game changes being a little closer…footwork and reads and situations, all that changes. But the coaches here have done a good job helping me out with that. At this point, I’ve figured out what needs to happen and where I need to go and I feel comfortable there.”
Garza is banking on an offseason to get reacquainted with that comfortable vibe he felt at the plate for most of 2012. When the calendar flips, and 2013 offers a more stable starting point, Garza hopes to get back on track without any roadside assistance.
“Routine plays a role in it, jumping from one place to another to another having to get situated with a new living situation or a new locker room and figure out a new routine,” said Garza. “Once I get to spring training and I take the experiences that I’ve had here in Helena and Wisconsin, I think I’ll go into spring training a little bit smarter, a little bit more comfortable.”
Law school may be on the horizon, perhaps he’ll become a baseball front office man when his playing days become numbered. But living for the moment and the dream to make the moments become a tangible entity are the current thoughts rolling around in the masterful mind of Mike Garza.
“Everybody wants to play in the big leagues, that’s a no-brainer,” said Garza. “Not everybody can and it’s not an easy road, but for me I’ve got to keep my eye on what’s important…keep working, keep doing the little things right, keep getting work in everyday, because if you can do that the numbers and statistics will take care of themselves.
“The biggest thing that I have learned the last couple of years is that the process is more important than the result. The guys that keep that in front will find themselves playing in front of 40, 50-thousand a few years from now.”
(PHOTOS BY BRAD KRAUSE)