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Articles > Josh Appell: It can be tough, but if you stick with it hopefully good things can happen

As a two-sport athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, Josh Appell figured he could double his chances at a career in professional sports. He was a punter for the 2002 and 2003 Ivy League champion Quaker football team, and earned first-team All-Ivy honors in his senior year. In the fall 2004 season, he caught the interest of NFL scouts. In the spring he traded uniforms to pitch for the Penn baseball team, where he was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Week after a 13-strike out performance against Columbia.

But when he didn’t get drafted by teams in either the NFL or MLB, Josh decided that if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain, and he arranged for tryouts by clubs in both sports.

“As a punter, there aren’t too many jobs in the NFL, so I was just hoping to get into a training camp,” Appell recalled. The effort eventually paid off. “I think it was the first week in July, the Mets called me and said they were going to sign me. They flew me down to Florida (where the Mets have their rookie league affiliate), and that is where I started my career. Actually, just two weeks before, I had been up in Buffalo at camp with the Bills.”

“My preference was always baseball, but I wanted to keep both options open. It wasn’t like there were all these NFL teams and all the Major League Baseball teams wanting to sign me. I would have been just as happy playing football, but the Mets called me, and the rest is history.”

Appell noted, “I grew up a die-hard Mets fan (the family is from Long Island) so actually that was pretty cool. I got down there and Gary Carter – who was with the Mets when they won the World Series in 1986 - was my manager. It was cool to get to spend time with him, and it was just a great experience the first year. Since that time I have just kept trying to have good seasons and keep trying to move up the ladder.”

“I had just come from playing in the Ivy League where basically a lot of my friends and teammates came from pretty similar backgrounds. Not that I wasn’t able to adjust to being with guys from all over the country – and the world, actually – but when I got down to Port St. Lucie I found myself with 17-year-old Dominican kids, 18-year-old Venezuelan kids, guys that had been drafted right out of high school, so there was a wide variety of players with whom I came into contact. For me it was actually a pretty great experience because I spoke Spanish, and down there I became fluent in it, so I would say that being with people all over the world was a pretty cool experience. In fact, the guy I am closest with this year is a kid who was drafted out of high school, and several years younger than me.”

Appell noted that there were some clear differences between competing collegiately and his current pursuits. “The ultimate goal in college baseball (other than perhaps being drafted) is that you want to win. You want to win the Ivy League championship. You want to win the NCAA championship. You’re really there to develop as a team, to have that team chemistry. When you get into the minor league professional play, it’s still competitive, you still want to win, but the ultimate goal is to get to the major leagues and have a successful major league career. That is what you’re there for, that is now your occupation. For me, that’s an investment that you’re making whereas you could be doing something else, getting on with your life in some other area. So you still want to be a great teammate, you still want to do all the things that you’ve done as an athlete for your whole life, but now you really have to worry about yourself. You’re really trying to take your career into your own hands.”

“If you’re successful, then a lot of the time you’re moving up. You could have a really good month and then get called up to the next level. The team that starts the season in April is very often not the same team that ends the season in August or September. So the team chemistry isn’t as emphasized as much as your development as a player.”

“I had a good year in 2005. I had a great start in 2006, and then I struggled, so the 2006 season proved to be a very humbling experience. By the end of the season I wasn’t pitching that much. I came down to spring training camp in 2007 and had a great spring, then went back up to Brooklyn. I had a really good season last year. I was very happy with how I did. I pitched a lot. I definitely felt that it was a success. After the season ended I had a very tough decision to make: whether I wanted to go back and play. A lot of guys just want to play until their arm falls off or until a team says they can’t play anymore. For me, even though I had a good season, I wasn’t sure if my baseball career was going anywhere. I didn’t really know what my opportunities were with the Mets, and I just had to decide what to do. I had a job in the off-season. In November the Mets called me and told me they had traded me to the Astros. At first I was kind of in shock. I don’t know that that kind of thing happened that much at the minor league level. But I figured that if a team was interested and wanted to take a shot with me, that seemed to be as good a situation as I could have been in at that point in my career. I figured that I have the rest of my life to do everything else and decided that I owed it to myself to give it a shot while I am young, and I decided to keep playing, and now we’ll see what happens from here.”

‘The thing is that everyone here (in spring training camp) is very talented. Some guys got drafted in the first round, so they’re more talented than others. But for everyone here, there is someone who thinks they have a shot at making the big leagues. In the end, what it really comes down to is being consistent. It’s hard because it’s a long season. You’re playing 142 games, with about 5 off-days. Factor in maybe 25 spring training games, and it comes out to over 165 games in about 175 days. There’s no break, and it’s a lot to handle. You’re not going to go out and have a great outing every single night, but you have to minimize the bad outings. Over the course of a season, the guys who are consistent more often than not are going to advance.”

“When you’re working out there are a lot of the fundamental things that you’re working on, covering bases, learning new plays, things like that. At this point I have my repertoire of pitches that I know I will be using. I know I’m going to go out there and throw my fast ball, I have my slider – I don’t see myself adding any new pitches to my arsenal. Mostly it’s about going out there and trying to get a consistent arm angle. You come to the park every day with a routine. You get your workout in, and when you’re in a game, you just try to shine.”

“It can be a tough process moving up the ladder. There are some guys that just seem to breeze through the system – the first round picks who signed for $2 million or $5 million. These are guys that the teams have a lot invested in. Unfortunately for me the Mets didn’t have that much invested in me, so they had no special reason to “push” me beyond whatever abilities or limits I had. It’s tough. It can be a grind; you go out there every day and it’s the same stuff. You can have an off year, but if you have a good year it can get you a lot closer. For some guys the path (to the bigs) can be one or two years. There are some guys who have been playing for ten years trying to make it into the big leagues, so it’s different for every guy. In the NFL there are 8 rounds, so most guys just go straight to the NFL. In baseball every team has six or seven minor league affiliates leading up to their major league team. There are hundreds of guys in each organization. You really have to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack, and by having a very good year you can. You might have an unbelievable year, and then you jump ahead. Or guys might have a solid year and they slowly move up the system and wait for their shot.”

“Baseball is probably the most mental sport. First of all, you’re playing every day. And it can really be a grind. I have had moments where I felt like I can go out there and just dominate every single time and my mind is free and it seems like just a joke to go out there. And other times it is very stressful and you think to yourself, “I don’t want to do this again,” and your main hope is just not to fail. I’ve had nights where I have slept unbelievably, and then I have had nights where I was so stressed. You go out there and you’re trying to be aggressive. It can really wear on you. But if you stay with it, hopefully good things can happen."

“I’ve been playing here with a lot of guys who were really good players in high school and came right from there, and they never failed. They were always the best and they never had to really work that hard for their success. All they’ve even seen in life is that success. When you go the college route like I did, you come in as a freshman and there are older guys who are better than you and who know what it takes to succeed at a higher level. And you realize “I have the talent, but talent alone isn’t going to take me anywhere.” In college you have to work hard in season, you have to work hard in the weight room, and you have to work hard in the classroom. So it really helps you develop a sense of discipline. When I see guys coming into camp out of shape it’s really mind-boggling. You see some of these young kids who don’t see the need to working as hard as you can and aren’t taking advantage of all that’s out there for them. When you see the other guys here who came out of college they understand that there’s more than just your talent. There are some guys with huge talent and they are going to make it in any event, but for someone like me, that isn’t going to cut it in this game. From the physical standpoint I do what I can to maximize my abilities. From the mental point it can sometimes be pretty draining and I wish I could I could be better at that aspect of the game. But for me I would definitely say that the college experience has definitely guided and helped me in the transition to professional baseball.”

Through it all, Appell remains positive and focused. “My dream growing up was to play professional baseball. I get to go outside every day. I get to play a game that everyone loves to watch, and everyone loves to play. If I get to do that for the next ten years, that’s great. If I get to do that for the next two weeks, or the next two months, or the next two years, I’m happy with the opportunity I’ve been given.”

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