* RHP Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) won 13 games, made 25 starts and pitched 132 1/3 innings for Class-A Hagerstown in 2014 in his first season of pro ball. Pivetta is a graduate of the Victoria Eagles, New Mexico Junior College .Thunderbirds and the Victoria HarbourCats.
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
There aren’t a whole lot of people who look forward to failing.
Maybe Nick Pivetta is just being realistic, or maybe he’s making the most of the inevitable, but when the young right-hander thinks about his future, he knows he is bound for failure in the game that he loves, one that embraces the smallest successes and revolves around the opposite.
So he looks forward to it, knowing he will become a better person and a better player with each step he takes to overcome whatever obstacles come his way, big or small.
“You learn the most from your failures,” the 22-year-old said. “There’s no amount of knowledge that can match what you learn from failing over and over again. Once you’ve failed, you can only get better.
“You can have success [after] success, but then maybe you get complacent, and that failure gets you right back, puts your two feet on the ground, gets you away from those clouds, and shows you where you are and where you stand. Having those failures is one of the most important things about being in pro ball and in baseball.”
The Washington Nationals prospect has experienced varying levels of failure over the years he has spent playing baseball, but to this point none bigger than the trouble he ran into at the end of his most recent season with the Hagerstown Suns, in the Class-A South Atlantic League.
He started off well, and in the first half Pivetta went 8-3 with a 3.95 ERA over 12 games and 57 innings, walking 22 and striking out 45 batters. In the latter half of the season, the native of Victoria, BC went 5-5 with a 4.42 mark over 75 1/3 frames, all five losses coming over his last 10 starts, when he posted a 5.51 ERA in his final 49 innings.
Despite Pivetta’s late struggles in the rotation, Hagerstown topped its division going 43-27 in that second half, and the team took its post-season run all the way down to the wire. In the best-of-five championship series against the Asheville Tourists, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty started the opener and came back to start the fifth and final matchup to close out the season.
Pivetta took the loss on both occasions, a less-than-ideal ending to the year for both the Suns and their young hurler. But Pivetta is using the experience to learn and be better for his next opportunity.
“This season my biggest [period of failure] was my second half,” he said. “I really had some ups and downs. I lost a couple games in a row, gave up a couple home runs, gave up some big-number innings, and got out of the baseball game and it showed me that I need to work hard and get more mentally strong in my game to become a better baseball player.
“I need to work a little bit harder and not get lackadaisical with things; really go out there and compete. It became a bit of a job about the middle part of the second half, and that was really tough. I needed to relax, go out, and have fun doing it. Once you start having fun, the success comes with it.”
With every new and tough experience, Pivetta realizes that the last one might not have been so bad. Previously, the pitcher thought he really knew what failing was like as he was entering his final year of at Lambrick Park High School. Straining his ulnar collateral ligament just as he was heading into his first period of draft eligibility, and throwing well with the Canadian Junior National team, he was devastated.
“I thought I had failed before, and I was having lots of success,” Pivetta said. “I was on the Junior National Team since I was 16 and doing really great against the competition I was facing, I was getting a lot of attention from scouts, and it was awesome.
“I was 16 years old and the first team I faced was the [New York[ Mets [summer league] team in Dominican Republic, and I went out and threw three innings and didn’t give up a run. That’s amazing when you’re 16. I thought I was great. I kept going, kept making the Junior National Team, won a couple gold medals [with Team BC] at the Canada Cup, kept having fun, and everything was good.
“Then boom, it all stopped once I got injured. It was like going through the clouds and then falling right down on my back on the concrete.”
Though it was incredibly hard to take at the time, hindsight is 20/20 of course. And looking back at it now, Pivetta thinks that his injury might have been the best thing for him.
“It really built me, and built me in a great way, but it’s a tough thing to get through,” he said. “When I was in high school, I strained the ulnar collateral ligament in my elbow, so I didn’t get drafted.
“A lot of my friends got drafted, like Jesen Dygestile-Therrien[by the Philadelphia Phillies], Dustin Houle [by the Milwaukee Brewers], Tom Robson, Justin Atkinson [both by the Toronto Blue Jays], and I went to junior college down in the States. It was tough to watch [them], but it was actually the greatest two years of my life. It was a great opportunity and it really helped me become the person I am today.”
Pivetta had no doubts that he was ready to enter the realm of professional baseball back then, but now realizing how important his two seasons at New Mexico Junior College were for his development and growth, the former fourth-round pick knows he was wrong.
“One hundred per cent, I was not ready to go into pro ball at that age,” he said. “At the time I thought I was. I thought it’s awesome, there are so many great things, we get paid to play baseball and it’s tons of fun, but now looking back getting injured was the greatest thing that ever happened to me…
“I’m happy now that I got injured because I could do so many good things. At the time it was an extremely hard thing to do, but those hard things help build your character.”
Knowing now how many things he didn’t understand when he was a teenager looking to move to the next level as quickly as possible, Pivetta does his best to share what he’s learned with the next generation of young players.
Currently living in downtown Toronto for the off-season, Pivetta has been working out at the Toronto Mets facility in Scarborough. He spends whatever downtime he can talking to the high schoolers and hoping that his knowledge can help them make more informed decisions as they move forward.
“Growing up, I had a lot of great coaches and they instilled a lot of great knowledge on me,” he said. “What I want to do here, now that I have the opportunity, is to try to help those younger players. I want to help them get past everything, really focus on what they need to do, and stay away from injuries. That’s the biggest thing, because injury was a really big factor for me …
“There are a lot of guys who are ready [for pro ball out of high school]. At 16, you want to get drafted. It’s everybody’s dream. And everybody has to figure it out on their own. You can’t tell them what to do. You can help them, and tell them stories and tell them your life experiences [to give them an idea] that maybe if I get drafted after the 10th round I shouldn’t sign, or maybe I should go to my good scholarship opportunity in the States and play baseball for two or three years.
“You can’t have that big an impact on them because they’re 16 years old. They’re not going to listen to you that much. But you can help in a lot of ways, getting them to that level, helping with mechanics … helping them progress and maybe getting them on the Junior National Team, which gives guys a great chance.”
Pivetta’s time with Team Canada certainly gave him plenty of great opportunities before his ligament strain, including a first glimpse at the positives of pro ball, though not quite the in-depth look he got when he joined the Nats organization.
“With the Junior National Team, the competition is right there with professional baseball,” he said. “But you’re only doing it for two weeks. You’re not doing it every single day. They’re going out, they’re fresh, it’s fun, they’re getting all this cool gear, staying in great hotels, getting great food, short bus rides to the park, on game a day and you go hang out by the pool later.
“When you play for the Junior National Team everything is there, but the reality of pro ball is not there, and the mental side of pro ball is not there, [but] you can only do so much. The program is an amazing program. It’s one of the best Olympic programs that there could be, and the way Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] has built it is outstanding.
“But the way you’re going to finally figure it out is by getting drafted and playing 152 games.”
The schedule was the biggest adjustment for Pivetta, who got about seven days off in his last six months down on the farm with Washington.
“You have to be mentally strong to get through all of that,” he said. “… I had a lot of ups and downs in my second half, and that was based on me being mentally strong. I had some mental lapses, I had some success, and then I had some failure. The coaches who helped me out, I couldn’t thank them enough. They really taught me and helped me grow as a person.”
Optimistic about all of the aspects of the game he’s encountered so far, the young pitcher is great at taking each experience he’s had and realizing how it has helped mould him into the top Nationals prospect that he is. He earned Canadian Baseball Network minor league pitcher of the year last season,while Dalton Pompey won the Randy Echlin award as the top hitter.
“The most exciting part of pro ball for me is going out and building friendships with guys I’d never met before, doing something you love every single day, and having all the experiences that come around with it,” Pivetta said. “The long bus trips, the late-night games, going out and practicing before you go to a game, the homestands, the road trips, having success, making the all-star team, having failure and going through a rough patch. That all builds your character, and who you’re going to be as you grow up through the system.”
And more of the same is exactly what he is looking forward to as he heads into the upcoming season with the Nats, probably still the only guy excited about failing.
“I’m looking forward to really learning a lot and changing, and building my skills,” Pivetta said. “And having success and having failures. I’m excited to have a better year than I did last year. I want to compete with myself. I want to do better next year and have a better year, maybe move up an extra level this year [to Class-A Potomac], or maybe into Double-A. That would be awesome.
“You never know what’s going to happen, so with that you take everything with a grain of salt. You want to focus on what you’re doing and have fun with it. I’m excited to go out there and have fun with my friends and try to win that championship that I missed out on last year, and build my structure and build who I am.”