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Mudville: February 7, 2023 9:46 am PDT
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Scott Linebrink

"It turned out probably 100 people knew I had been drafted by the Giants except for me."

It’s Christmas weekend and we at BallNine hope you and your loved ones have a fantastic holiday.

We recognize that the commercial side of Christmas has taken a front seat for most people who celebrate, but we shouldn’t lose focus on the Faith and giving aspects of the holiday. After all, the first Christmas celebration in Rome can be traced back to the year 336 AD while the version of Santa Claus that we know came from Coca Cola marketing in the early 1930s.

All of this is important because Scott Linebrink joins us for this week’s installment of Spitballin’ and the former star reliever most certainly embodies the spirit of Christmas.

Linebrink spent 12 seasons in the Major Leagues and his best seasons came with the great Padres teams of the early 2000s. Linebrink was a key component in a strong Padres bullpen, oftentimes working the eighth inning as a bridge to Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman in the back end of the pen.

Linebrink’s three best seasons came from 2004-2006 as a workhorse reliever. He appeared in exactly 73 games each of those three seasons, working a total of 233.1 innings with an ERA of 2.51. Linebrink went 22-8 over that span and held opponents to just .221 average against him.

It’s no coincidence that the Padres had a winning record all three of those seasons, winning two National League West titles in the process.

While Linebrink’s on-field legacy is full of success, his off-field accomplishments are even more impressive. Linebrink has been involved with Water Mission as a stewardship advisor for a decade and has traveled the world to help bring safe, clean water to communities in need.

In addition, he hosts the Get in the Game podcast, which brings together professional athletes to discuss their Faith, sports and ways that they have served their communities and families. Guests on his podcast have included baseball players Albert Pujols, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Andy Pettitte and many others. He has also spoken with NFL players Justin Forsett and Mark Herzlich, NHL star Nate Prosser and even Olympic gold medal figure skater Scott Hamilton among others.

Mixing baseball, Faith and service sounds like the perfect way for us to celebrate Christmas, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Scott Linebrink.

Pitcher Scott Linebrink #38 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the game against the San Francisco Giants at SBC Park on April 22, 2004 in San Francisco, California. The Padres defeated the Giants 9-4. (Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB via Getty Images)

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Linebrink! I’d love to hear about your podcast, Get in the Game, and all the great volunteer work you have done, but let’s start out with your baseball career. Actually, let’s go back to when you were young. What was baseball like for you as a kid?

I was influenced a lot by my dad. He was a good player and played ball in college. I played throughout Little League, All Stars, high school and college but always felt like I was an underdog. I was never really a standout and you could say I was a late bloomer. When I had the chance to play in college I felt like I was already exceeding expectations playing on that level; forget about the Major Leagues. What I really think happened was that I just needed to grow. I was always the youngest kid on the teams I played on and ultimately that helped me. Because I wasn’t the most talented, I had to work harder and be more disciplined. That ended up serving me well, because when I did grow and develop, I wanted to keep excelling. From an early age, I always wanted to work and I carried that throughout my career.

You were drafted in the second round in 1997 out of Texas State. Were you expecting to go that high? Take us through your draft experience.

It was a total surprise. I was not expecting to go in the second round at all. My first two years of college I played NAIA at Concordia University in Texas and then I had just one year on the Division I level at Texas State. We had a great season that year though and went to the Regions. That gave us a lot of exposure. I had talked with a lot of scouts and knew there was a lot of interest in me, but the word was that I could go anywhere from the bottom of the first round to a day two or three pick. I was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s and scouts told me I had good potential, but I had no idea I would be picked that high. In fact, I didn’t want to wait around all day for a call, so I went golfing with my buddies. This was in the advent of cell phones and I didn’t have one yet, so when I go to the turn, I called home to check in. My mom answered and I heard all this commotion. It turned out probably 100 people knew I had been drafted by the Giants except for me. I was the last to know! I was excited to be going to such a storied franchise.

Pitchers have a tendency to think they have to focus more, or throw harder and you have to be careful of that. You just have to have confidence in your stuff and stay within what you’re capable of doing.

You were drafted in 1997 and by 2000, you were in the Majors. What was it like to go through the Giants system pretty quickly and make your debut?

It was a huge honor to be called up, but honestly I didn’t feel like I was ready. I had an injury in AA in 1998 and had diminished velocity, so I spent a second season in AA the next year. It ended up working to my benefit though because with my diminished velocity, I learned how to pitch. I couldn’t just overpower batters. I learned how to pitch instead of just throwing. The Giants ended up putting me on the 40-man roster, which was surprising to me. I had a good year in the Arizona Fall League and I think that made them think more highly of me. I thought I was a year or two out, but they called me up in 2000. Going out on the mound for the first time, I was overwhelmed and nervous. It was this new beautiful stadium and it was an experience that made me feel nervous. I don’t know how I pitched, but I just let my body take over. I got through a clean inning in my debut and took a deep breath and just went from there. But then after just three appearances with the Giants, I was traded to the Astros.

What were your feelings being traded after only three appearances by the club that drafted you?

I was surprised but excited by the trade. I had grown up in Texas rooting for the Astros and rooting for Nolan Ryan. Then when he went to the Rangers, I rooted for them too. It’s funny, growing up in Texas and watching the Astros I rooted for Craig Biggio too. The Astros had a photo day with fans and I got to take a picture with Craig Biggio. I was 12 years old and he was a rookie. Then I ended up being his teammate for a few seasons.

Pitcher Scott Linebrink #38 of the San Diego Padres delivers against the New York Yankees during the interleague game at Yankee Stadium on June 12, 2004 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Padres gave you your first real chance to be a main cog in the bullpen and you flourished. Between 2003-2006, you went 18-6 with a 2.48 ERA out of the pen. How much did that mean to you to succeed when given your first real chance?

This was now my third team and I started to learn what to do to be successful. I needed to gain that experience and learn to trust my ability. I had to realize that my stuff translates to getting Major League pitchers out. It was like I had to convince myself that I belonged and that I could do this consistently. Not really getting that chance in Houston or San Francisco made me pitch with a chip on my shoulder. At times I felt like I got a raw deal and never got a fair chance, but I understand that’s the business of baseball. When I went to the Padres, they were in last place and there were no expectations. This allowed me to pitch without too much pressure and find my groove. I started out as a mid-innings guy and built it up from there. Eventually, I started getting into the seventh and eighth innings and I really started to enjoy it. I was pitching in the late innings and handing the ball off to Trevor Hoffman.

You spent five seasons in the bullpen with Trevor Hoffman and at times were the eighth inning man in the pen leading up to him. What was your experience like being in the same bullpen with him?

I learned so much from Trevor. By the time I got there, he had already had his shoulder injury and went from pitching in the mid-90s to the mid-80s. But he was still able to command an inning. He attacked hitters and I learned to do that watching him. I learned that I couldn’t be passive, just throwing my best pitch and hoping it didn’t get hit. I developed the confidence to go after hitters. Trevor taught me a lot about the mental part of the game too. He was always in great shape and was religious about his workouts and his routine. He might be in the pen when the game started, joking around and relaxing, but then he’d go do his thing to prepare and come back in the seventh inning as a totally different guy. He flipped that switch and was all business. But Trevor was great. I learned a lot about the finer aspects of pitching from him too. He would sit with me watching the game and always ask me questions. He’d say, “Now what would you do here with this guy?” Then we’d talk it through. I was always worried about not having an answer for him, so I really started to develop that knowledge for pitching.

Scott Linebrink of the Chicago White Sox tags out Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on May 8, 2008. The White Sox defeated the Twins 6-2. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB via Getty Images)

We have now reached the part of the interview where we talk about hitting, which is always a favorite thing for pitchers to do. You batted .222 in 20 at bats, which isn’t bad at all for a reliever. What do you remember about your hitting experience?

When you only have four hits, it’s easy to remember a lot about it! I hit my only career double against the Braves and it was in a game where we actually set the Padres record for hits in a game. I always say that if I didn’t get that hit, we wouldn’t have set the record! It came off Jason Marquis in the seventh inning and for a minute I actually thought I hit it out. Being a reliever, whenever I came to bat it usually meant the game was already out of hand, I figured Marquis was thinking, “OK, here’s this reliever, I’m not gonna mess around here.” I was looking for that center-cut fastball and swung hard at it. The pitch just found my bat and I hit this bullet into left-center field. Swing hard in case you hit it, right? For a minute, I thought I got it, but it hit the warning track and bounced over for a ground-rule double. It was much different than my first hit, which came in my first big league at bat. That was just a bleeder to right field.

You pitched in three different postseason series as a high-leverage reliever. You also pitched late innings in tight games in really close pennant races. As a late-inning reliever, how do you approach those high-pressure situations?

It’s like there’s a different air in the atmosphere. So much more is at stake and when that’s the case, you have a tendency to want to do something different. Pitchers have a tendency to think they have to focus more, or throw harder and you have to be careful of that. You just have to have confidence in your stuff and stay within what you’re capable of doing. You can’t put undue pressure on yourself and start squeezing the ball. You can’t tighten up. You have to stay free and easy, trust your mechanics and let it fly. You can’t aim and be worried about making mistakes. You just have to trust the ball is going to go where it wants to go. You’re there to get guys out and have been there before. You can’t psych yourself out because it’s a different situation. You have to recognize that it’s the fans and media that are putting that extra pressure on you and you’re just out there to get guys out like any other time. Once you let go of the pitch, it’s literally out of your hands. Baseball is unique because it’s the one thing where you can do everything right and still not get the result you want. You could be looking to throw a ground ball, execute it perfect, throw the pitch right where you want and a grounder could still squeak through. That’s the only business where that can happen so frequently. So you just trust your stuff, stay free and easy and do your job.

Colorado Rockies against San Diego Padres Scott Linebrink on May 4, 2005 in San Diego, Calif. The Padres won 8-7. (Photo by John Cordes/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Who were some of the more influential managers or coaches you had in your career?

Bruce Bochy is the first that comes to mind. I was so happy to see Boch get back into the game with the Rangers. He always put me in a position for success. I always felt like I was right where I was supposed to be with him. He never had me doing something where I wasn’t set up to succeed. Dusty Baker was great too. He was my first manager in San Francisco. I was so happy to see him win a World Series last fall. I just enjoyed having former players as managers. They know the struggle because they had been through it before. I liked that better than having coaches who had never been through it trying to tell me to do things that they had never done themselves. I had a couple of great pitching coaches too. Darren Balsley with the Padres and Donnie Cooper with the White Sox come to mind. I really loved Coop. He was this New York guy with the accent and a quick wit about him. Good coaches can recognize talent and draw it out from a player. I had some coaches, even some who were former players themselves, who would think players should do things the way they did them or only the way they wanted you to do them. For instance, I didn’t throw a curve ball. I couldn’t throw one because of my arm angle. But then I’d have coaches telling me I had to throw a curve. I would rather have maximized my potential by working on the pitches I was able to throw.

You pitched for six different teams during your 12-year Major League career. Is there a team or city you most closely associate yourself with?

San Diego stands out to me because I spent the most time there. I was there for five years. I appreciated everything ownership did for me and the coaches and opportunities I had there. It was such a great laid-back city. You asked me about my influences and I have to mention Sandy Alderson too. He was with the Padres when I was there and he meant so much to me. Sandy is a military guy and he’s this tough guy who is all business. San Diego is a military city too, so Sandy always encouraged us to be supportive of veterans. He showed me the difference we could make with our platform and that’s what I have become very involved with in my post-baseball career. One thing with Sandy really stood out to me. I got traded to Milwaukee in 2007 and was devastated. My previous trades I was happy to go to the teams I was going to, but this was different. I loved the Padres organization and the city of San Diego. The trade was like a punch in the gut and I didn’t want to go. I was on the plane to Milwaukee and my phone happened to ring. It was an unknown number, but I picked it up anyway. It was Sandy Alderson. He said that he appreciated the way I went about my business in San Diego and thanked me for everything I did on and off the field. That call meant so much to me because if you know Sandy, he’s a tough guy who doesn’t always tell you stuff like that. He influenced me so much in my career and what I am doing now.

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Scott Linebrink throws in the eighth inning of a MLB game against the Kansas City Royals. Linebrink got the win in the White Sox's 5-3 win. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This has been awesome to catch up with you. Before we go, I wanted to ask about your podcast. Can you tell your readers what it’s about and where they can find it?

My podcast is called Get in the Game with Scott Linebrink and it’s available on Spotify, Apple and anywhere you get podcasts. I get to catch up with a lot of my buddies and we talk to guys about the ways they are giving back and serving others. We talk with former Major Leaguers and pros from other sports too about how they have learned to be servants and how they give back in their communities. I have been working with a non-profit called Water Mission for 10 years and we help provide safe water to communities that do not have it. So on the podcast, we share the work we do and the causes that we support. We talk about leveraging our platform for the greater good. Major League Baseball clubhouses are full of alpha males and we talk about how we encouraged others to serve their communities or families in those environments. It’s great to catch up with the guys I talk to and I think fans enjoy hearing that. We challenge others to be servants of their communities and families and talk about putting others ahead of yourself to serve the greater good.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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