This past Thursday afternoon, Rays right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, who made his major league debut in 2012, was involved in a charity event in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina where he teamed up with the charity Good Sports to donate over $58,000 in equipment to help the children at the six Boys and Girls Clubs in the area and give a brief pitching demonstration and lesson as well. It was an exciting opportunity for Chris, but a few hours before that I had the chance to talk to him in a phone interview and hear his thoughts on the 2012 season and how and why he has gotten involved in his community. Thanks to Chris and Good Sports for making this interview happen.
Robbie Knopf: Chris, at this time last year you were a player who had been a major acquisition by the Rays as part of the Matt Garza deal but you had not gotten the type of results you would have wanted in your first season with your new organization as you struggled with control at Triple-A. That seemed to be the case for you as well to begin 2012, but then Jeremy Hellickson went down with an injury and everything changed. You replaced him for your first MLB start and were excellent against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, you pitched great, and then you took off from there. What clicked for you this past season to allow you to crack the major league roster and begin to prove that you belong?
Chris Archer: I think physically I’ve been capable of pitching at a high level for the past few years. Really what happened was that I found myself mentally and learned what I needed to do while I was on the mound mentally and focus on the batter in the box, focus on executing one pitch at a time as opposed to trying to formulate a plan about getting people out two or three batters down in the lineup. When I’m on the mound, I overanalyze things. When I make it simple, I’m successful. Basically, the conflict for me on the mound is that I over-think, that my intelligence needs to be a little more simple when I’m on the mound. Instead of analyzing every aspect of the game, I need to focus on the hitter. I really focused just one pitch at a time and things really clicked for me after that.
RK: What was going wrong when you were trying to overanalyze everything? How did that affect the way you were pitching?
CA: It caused me to try to be too fine- I would try too hard to hit corners and I wouldn’t think about each individual pitch as its own. I would be thinking ahead and then I would fall behind, which in turn led to some struggles.
RK: Something that intrigued me about when you were in the major leagues last year was that you ended up pinch-running in a couple of games, scoring a run in one, and ended up getting caught stealing in another. How did that come about?
CA: We were in a situation where Matt Joyce had just gotten injured, and instead of using a positional player and wasting him just as a pinch-runner, they decided to use the next fastest person off the bench, and it happened to me and I embraced it completely. I am somewhat athletic, I’m definitely more athletic than the average pitcher, so for them to utilize my versatility was awesome. In those two games I was able to make an impact. In the first, I scored an important run in Phily, and although I got caught stealing, Ben Zobrist was actually hitting and it allowed him to be the leadoff hitter the next inning. Even though, I got caught stealing- I would have been nice to be in scoring position, but it allowed him to lead off the next inning and we ended up winning that game so it was all-around just an amazing experience and it just shows how creative a manager Joe Maddon is, using all of his resources and I have a lot of respect for him for allowing me to do that.
RK: One of the big news items for the Rays this offseason was the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. What was your initial reaction when you heard about that trade and does it change your approach going into spring training this year?
CA: My first thought was that it was a bummer that I couldn’t to continue to learn from James Shields and Wade Davis. My approach and mindset is always the same. It might alter the Rays management’s mindset, but my mindset remains the same.
RK: I’m sure you would have rather spent more time in the major leagues the past couple of years, but I’m sure it’s been a very good experience for you being able to pitch professionally in Durham, North Carolina, which is just half an hour away from your hometown of Raleigh. How special has that been for you?
CA: Really, Triple-A is just another stepping stone to the big leagues, and no matter where I’m at, what I’m trying to do is maximize my potential. I think the best part about being in Durham is having my support group, my family, there for every game being able to watch the fruits of my labor. They know how hard I work in the offseason, but during the actual season they only get to see me sparingly, maybe 4 or 5 times at most. But with me being at Durham and it being a short time, they got to see me in 14 starts in Durham, so they got to see me 14 times as opposed to only seeing me five. So that’s the best part about it, being able to play and represent my family and my support group and make them all proud.
RK: How excited are you for the event at the Raleigh Boys and Girls Clubs today where you’re teaming up with Good Sports to donate $58,000 in equipment to the Boys and Clubs and giving over 40 kids a pitching demonstration and lesson as well? How did you get involved with Good Sports and how passionate are you about everything it stands for?
CA: At the very end of last season, I read a book called The Alchemist, and it basically talked about a young man on a journey to find what he called his “personal legend,” which was basically his legacy, what he was going to leave behind that would make an impact. I decided that my “personal legend” would be is to use the baseball platform to positively impact as many people as I can. I had a couple of conversations with my agent, and he said that he need a few organizations that would be completely on board with that. He told me about Good Sports, and I did my research on it and thought it would be a great opportunity, and then they did their research on me and decided that I would be a good representative of Good Sports, a good ambassador and they were willing to help out families in my local area so I’m extremely excited because I’m honored that Good Sports is going to allow me to represent their company, but more importantly that we’re going to help 4200 kids in my area. There’s 7 different Boys and Girls Clubs in the Raleigh area, and we’re going to help out all 7, and it turns out that in reaches 4200 kids. That’s just amazing, and it’s very gratifying to help out so many people. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than I have today.
RK: You’re doing a pitching demonstration and I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing experience for everyone involved, but it sounds like making an impact with all the equipment you’re leaving for all these 4200 kids is what really matters to you.
CA: Yeah, the pitching demonstration is secondary- the most important thing is that these children of the Boys and Girls Club, it’s like a sense of rejuvenation. Some of their equipment was getting worn and they weren’t able to use as much as they would like, so now we’re coming in and allowing for the whole club to be rejuvenated literally and figuratively, so that’s the most rewarding part of it, that they’re going to be able to get new things and develop skills and character traits that you develop when you’re playing sports as you’re growing up, so that’s awesome.
RK: As an aside, how do you get ready for a pitching lesson when you’ve been used to doing the pitching, not the coaching, your entire life?
CA: It’s simple. It’s going to be very basic today, a lot of these kids are younger. It’s not going to be stuff that I actually have to prepare for. It’s just going to be a short, quick demonstration for them and it’s going to be about the equipment that these children are receiving.
RK: How much does it mean to you that you can use your success in baseball as a starting point to work with organizations like Good Sports to make an impact in your community?
CA: It’s my personal legend, so it’s everything that I’ve worked for, everything that I strive to do.
RK: Chris, thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the event today and can continue making an impact in your community, and best of luck for the Rays next season.
CA: Thanks. Talk to you soon.