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The field is my classroom now

Former Gainesville High and Georgia Tech standout Victor Menocal recently completed his first season in professional baseball with the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs, the short-season Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. This diary was compiled by Times correspondent Jacob Pomrenke.

I had a feeling this season would be one of many ups and downs. It ended on a down note last Wednesday as I took the loss in our final game of the year, a 6-5 loss to the division-winning Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays. But there were too many ups to make up for it. I didn't realize just how much I would learn in a few short months of professional ball.

There were a lot of things that I had to learn to adapt to when I made the transition from college to the minors. Obviously, the biggest change I had to make was becoming a full-time pitcher for the first time in my life.

I made 19 appearances for the Muckdogs and every one of them was a different experience.

As a relief pitcher, and primarily as a closer, I came into games in a number of situations. I came in to start innings with no one on and I came in with the bases loaded. I came in when we were getting blown out and I came in with the game tied. There were times I pitched for only an out or two and others where I pitched for three innings.

The most important thing I probably gained from it all was the confidence to throw any pitch in any situation. The first thing my coaches wanted me to do as soon as I reported was work on locating my fastball better -- and that meant learning to throw inside.

College teams are allowed to use aluminum bats; if you make a mistake on those guys, you're going to pay for it. But we can afford to pitch inside when the batters have to use wooden bats. Of course, that can lead to hit batsmen, and I had my share of those (five in 31 innings pitched). But it's an important tactic to learn and I'm going to work on it more when I get to Florida.

Another thing I'll be working on is adding pitches to my repertoire.

Every pitcher probably has a fastball and a curve, but I began working on a changeup in college and I was taught a split-finger fastball when I got here.

I only got a chance to use it in a few games early in the season before coach Arbuckle, a Phillies' minor-league roving instructor, told me not to use it until I got to triple-A because of the strain it puts on the elbow.

All in all, however, I was very pleased with how everything went and how successful this summer was for me. I got two wins and two saves and I learned a lot about how the game is played at this level. You can learn from everything that you do, even from the failures, and I think that I was able to do that every day.

"Life in the Minors" runs Sundays in The Times. It will continue Sept. 22 after Menocal begins play in the Fall Instructional League in Clearwater, Fla.