His hobby, he’s proud to report, has yet to cause any beef on his block.
As Mike Soroka, ace pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, waits out the sporting shutdown, the Calgary-raised righty has had extra time to try to perfect the sounds of Metallica, Volbeat, the Eagles and others on his PRS Custom 24 or 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars.
“I’ve been living in my place — it’s a townhome — for about a year now or a little over, and I don’t really hear the neighbours at all and I’ve yet to hear a complaint that my guitar is too loud,” Soroka said. “So (the volume) kind of just keeps creeping up. I’m obviously respectful for hours, but I spend quite a bit of time on that.”
Soroka, of course, would prefer the roar of a packed stadium.
The start of the baseball season has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Friday would have been opening day across the majors. Although the Braves had yet to confirm the assignment, it was widely believed the 22-year-old Soroka — a product of Calgary West Little League and runner-up for the National League’s rookie-of-the-year nod in 2019 — would be on the mound for that first game on the calendar, a significant honour for any starting arm.
“That was a weird day, especially because I obviously had aspirations and hopes that I’d be pitching,” Soroka said. “I’d been taking questions like that for the entirety of spring training and really putting yourself in that mood of that’s your game, that’s what you were looking forward to. Really, the whole off-season and building up to it, it was like, ‘Alright, March 26 th — here we go. Game on.’ Then you get to that date, and we’re all sitting on our couches and we’re watching highlight games.
“It’s a strange feeling. But it’s something that has affected truly everybody … I don’t think, for us as ordinary civilians, anybody was ready to just have everything shut down.”
When the trick of your trade is a fastball or a slurve, working from home is not that simple.
Soroka, who opted to stay in Atlanta rather than return to Calgary because of the potential impact of the border closure, has been online-shopping for extra weight-training and workout equipment. He’s been meeting teammate Sean Newcomb every day to play catch in an empty field.
“I think one of the hard parts about this for baseball is throwing is not exactly something you can do in your basement and get good work out of it,” Soroka said. “I mean, I could make a makeshift board and throw against the board or push my mattress up against the wall and throw at that, but the quality of work isn’t there.
“We want to be back out there as soon as possible, obviously. So we have to keep it going. Because let’s say we shut it down and don’t throw a ball for two weeks, I can’t ramp it up in three and be back on the mound or else you’re going to see half the starting staffs in the big leagues are going to go down with injuries when we start back up. We have to be careful that way and finding avenues to make sure we can do our work, it’s been different.”
Soroka was one of baseball’s best breakout stories last summer, posting a 13-4 record and becoming the youngest Canadian to ever earn an invite to the MLB All-Star Game.
In addition to being a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award, the Bishop Carroll grad also finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting.
Soroka’s 2.68 earned-run average was third-best in the NL, trailing only Hyun-jin Ryu — the Toronto Blue Jays’ prized off-season signing — and New York Mets stud Jacob deGrom in that category.
Whenever baseball is back, the Calgary kid is determined to grow his game, up his strikeout totals and continue his quest to be considered one of MLB’s masters of the mound.
“Although there were some numbers that matched up, you get to watch guys like Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer (of the Washington Nationals) pitch in your division all year and you get to see why they are the names and the dominants and you get to understand why they are the aces of baseball,” Soroka said. “And there are still more than a few things that are separating them from me, and that’s just been something that I’ve worked towards for I don’t how many years. You always look at the people that separate themselves from you — ‘Why is that guy better than me? And how can I close that gap?’
“I think if you want to be the best of best in today’s game, you can’t have a weakness. They all have to be strengths. I know that sounds crazy, but you go up to the plate against Jacob deGrom and his fourth-best pitch is a 90 m.p.h. changeup, and it moves. It’s insane. Yes, it’s his fourth-best, but it’s still so good. And that’s where you want to get to. That’s where you want to get to with your stuff. That’s where you want to get to with your aggressiveness.
“You watch the way Max Scherzer is able to go out there and be intense every single day … Whether it’s a mindset he’s tricked himself into, he does have that something that is putting him over the edge compared to everybody else. So I do think there are still a ton of things I can learn in that respect and understanding how to be completely at my best every single day.”
That work, for now, continues solo.
Soroka is anxious for whenever he can return to the Braves’ ballpark, whenever the loudest noise won’t be coming from his guitar.
“I’ve never had a problem doing work on my own,” he said. “But having the guys around you to constantly question and push and compete, that’s what really gets you better and that’s what is fun to me — the competition aspect between us as players.
“You know, if I’m throwing a bullpen and I have two or three of my teammates behind me watching, there’s a good chance that I want to show off a little bit. And that’s good. That’s the kind of thing you’re really missing when you’re doing all your work on your own.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020