The Western News caught up with Penticton’s Dustin Houle, a former product of the South Okanagan Minor Baseball Association, who is a catcher in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He just completed a season with the Brewers Class A Advanced Affiliate, the Brevard County Manatees, in the Florida State League.
PWN: How did your season go this year?
DH: This year started out good. There was some ups and downs through the course of a long season. I was just happy that I was able to get through the whole year without any injuries, which was the No. 1 goal for the season.
PWN: Is that something that has plagued you in your past seasons?
DH: Yeah. Pretty well my whole career has just been kind of one injury after another. It’s been hard for me to stay healthy. This year was different and I’m fortunate I was able to play all the games this year. Being a catcher, I don’t play everyday. It’s hard on the body. Being a catcher, you will play three in a row or two in a row or four or five in a row and have a day off. It was good.
PWN: What are some areas you think you made your biggest strides?
DH: I’d say catching every year I feel like I’m getting better. Catch and throw, blocking. Hitting, it was just inconsistent this year. It’s really figuring out who I am as a hitter. This year was big for me. Knowing that I’m a guy that hit the ball (64 total) in gaps and spray line drives out of the field. I’m a guy that’s not going to strike out (66 strike outs in 317 at bats, .201 batting average).
PWN: What is it like to be battling for a major-league job?
DH: It’s tough. There are so many guys in front of you and behind you. Everyone is battling to be those guys in the big leagues. There was only two catchers, so it’s tough to get that spot up there. As long as you keep working and stay healthy and just do what you can do, then you are going to leave yourself an opportunity eventually.
PWN: What is the life and culture like of minor league baseball?
DH: It’s not as glamourous as everyone would think it would be. You’re at the field about 11 hours a day. Not making a whole lot of money. Sometimes there’s certain rain outs, rain delays. It’s not as easy as people would think. It definitely is a grind on your body and on your mind.
PWN: You mentioned that the pay isn’t great, what do you usually eat for meals?
DH: In the mornings I like to make my own, I’ll cook bacon and eggs. On the road late at night, nothing is open, you’ll have to call Dominoes at 11 p.m. I usually get the medium pepperoni, bacon pizza. That’s usually a go-to on the road. At home, it’s a little more structured. We get fed well, especially at home.
PWN: Do you guys get a per diem?
DH: Yeah, on the road we get paid $25 a day, which is basically all meal money.
PWN: Do you guys fly anywhere?
DH: Not in A ball and AA. AAA you will fly. We just bus everywhere.
PWN: Are there a lot of card games that are going on?
DH: Some card games, a lot of movies. All the guys are plugged into their iPads and their iPhones. Kind of just doing their own thing. Reading books. Just to pass the time.
PWN: What do you usually like to do?
DH: I have been reading some books. Usually watching a movie or on the phone.
PWN: Have you seen the different baseball movies such Bull Durham?
DH: Yeah. There are some similarities between the movie and actual life. There are definitely a lot of differences. It’s hard to explain. You’re on a bus basically with those 30 guys packed down. It’s a grind. Some cities, there’s a lot of fans, some cities there’s 100 fans. The atmosphere at the different ball parks around the league is different from one park to another.
PWN: What are the crowds like at Brevard County?
DH: We get about 1,500 to 3,000 a night. Depending if they have fireworks night or jersey giveaway night, like Star Wars night, stuff like that. We’ll attract more crowds.
PWN: What are autograph seekers like?
DH: Some people will hassle you quite a bit. It’s either kids with baseballs or old men with about 100-year cards. You have to get there and try to sign as many as you can before you gotta go on the field and have pre-game stretch and stuff.
PWN; Have you had any interesting experiences with people wanting autographs?
DH: There was a time where I had been signing and signing and signing and it felt like forever and the game had almost started and I’m still out there signing because there was so much stuff. Before I knew it the national anthem was already played and I was still signing autographs. That was funny. The kids love it. It’s good. Everyone appreciates the autographs.
PWN: What has it been like living in the U.S?
DH: I love it. I have met a lot of people here. I had a lot of good experiences. It definitely is different than Canada. I go home every year and I’m like ‘Wow, culture shock.’ I guess one of the main things is the price of tobacco (he laughs.) The price of a can of tobacco is pretty staggering compared to back home. I definitely do miss home. I will be back in Penticton in mid-September. I’m pretty excited about that. This year I will be home longer than off-seasons in the past. This year I’m not going to be at fall ball with the Brewers. Last year I was in Taiwan with Team Canada. Will be home from mid-September until mid-January.
PWN: How long are you prepared to wait for your shot at the big leagues?
DH: As long as it will take. I’ll play until they say I can’t play anymore or I’m not good enough. I’m going to play as long as I can.