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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview Part 2: John Toale, Big Adjustments

Sign greeting visitors to Elmira, NY, in July 2008. John Toale played at Elmira with the NY-Penn League Pioneers from 1983 to 1985. (G21D Photo)

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time

Choosing the Red Sox over Florida State, John Toale had the standard changes to deal with for a high schooler turning pro.

Not the least of those changes was on the mound. In high school, the pitching was erratic, Toale recalled. The short-season NY-Penn League was much different.

"There's a big adjustment to be made," Toale told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I don't personally fell like I caught up to the pitching in the minor leagues for at least a couple years out of high school."

But there were other adjustments, too. The adjustments to life in the minors. The accomodations at the YMCA, the meal money stretched by concession stand leftovers, the equipment problems.

The last players to the club were lucky to get uniforms that fit, Toale recalled. The equipment manager held on tightly to he bat supply. Spikes, Toale had to get them himself.

He needed black spikes, the local Elmira sporting goods store only had white. Shoe polished turned them black. "They were the most ugly, hideous, atrocious shoes you'd ever want to see," Toale recalled.

Toale spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Florida home. Toale played 10 seasons in the minor leagues, without reaching the majors.

The main tool of a hitter, though, Toale ended up getting himself. Making the transition to wooden bats, Toale wasn't even sure what kind of bat he needed.

That process led Toale to simply order his own bats from Louisville Slugger, choosing three different models and settling on one. He then tried not to break them.

"Pretty much early in your career it was pretty much fighting for yourself to get any equipment," Toale said.

New Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, NY, in June 2010. John Toale played at Old Dwyer Stadium as a member of the visiting Elmira Pioneers from 1983 to 1985.

The accommodations mirrored the equipment issues. Toale arrived with the team in early July, during a road trip to Niagara Falls. The series over, the team made it back to Elmira late in the night.

By about 3 a.m., the team arrived at the Elmira YMCA. Toale described the accomedations, as a 10 by 10 room with a cot that folded up and a wool blanket. The shower was at the end of the hall. There was also a smell.

For that, Toale paid $25 a week.

"It was just not the greatest living conditions back then," Toale recalled, "but it was the way the times were."

On the field, it was a struggle to get playing time. The first day he took infield, the third baseman and second round pick realized he wasn't the only one looking for the job. Others were there, too.

A left-handed hitter, Toale also found himself being played against right-handed starters. And it seemed like it was an organizational approach, not related to his own hitting.

The system led to Toale losing at bats and losing valuable experience, he believed.

"I just didn't think playing 2-3 days a week was really any way to get any momentum going," Toale said.

In his second year, Toale recalled hitting well in extended spring training, but then returning to the platoon at Elmira. Whatever happened, Toale never hit above .246 on a season his first three years as a pro.

Then he started to catch on. Moved to single-A Greensboro in 1986, Toale hit .278. In 1987, at single-A Winter Haven in the Florida State League, Toale hit .300, with 15 home runs. He even got a 15-game look at AA New Britain.

Toale did well enough that year that there was talk of an outside chance at making the 40-man roster. But, as what seemed to happen later, when he did well for a team, it seemed like he was starting over the next, with a new organization.

Go to Part 3: Career Pattern

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time

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