March 6, 2009
Justin Christian, who played at Auburn in 2001, sat down for an interview while he was in Auburn preparing for the 2009 MLB Season, his first with the Baltimore Orioles after making his big league debut in 2008 with the New York Yankees.
TRACKING THE TIGERS: You get the call from the Yankees. Tell me about the day you got the call and how excited you were.
JUSTIN CHRISTIAN: You know just the opportunity. I spent four or five years in the minor leagues working my way up from the very bottom, short-season A-ball, actually rookie ball, all the way and they gave me a heads up on the 23rd that I would be going up on the 24th of June. Just getting that opportunity, all the hard work and dedication you put in, the perseverance. It was just a wonderful opportunity and you can't help but get excited and just enjoy the moment. It's almost like it's not really happening. But once you really get out there, you realize this is happening. You just naturally let your body take over and do what you've been doing for so many years. I've been playing this game since I was four years old so being in between the white lines is something that I've always felt comfortable, even on that stage. It was just a wonderful experience.
TTT: You're in the outfield at Yankee Stadium, they are doing roll call, the first time, what's it like?
JC: It's funny because a bunch of the guys weren't going to tell what was going to happen. They were going to be laughing out there, hearing them chant my name for so long. I didn't realize, I knew they had done the roll call, I just didn't know how to acknowledge it really. Shortly after the national anthem when I was running out there they kind of gave me the heads up, acknowledge them when they call your name and stuff so in between pitches I'm waiting for it, I'm waiting for it. I don't know how they were going to start it but eventually they got to my name and I gave them a wave and all of that stuff, and it was pretty exciting. That right there was pretty much a signature to realize that, "Man, I'm here, this is exciting!" and just to be a part of that, play in Yankee Stadium is just a wonderful experience.
TTT: Offseason comes and you sign with the Orioles for spring training. Why the Orioles?
JC: I became a free agent and had an opportunity to go back with the Yankees. However, it was a minor league deal for Triple-A. The Yankees are an organization that has a lot of high profile players and it is very difficult to break that, to make it back up there. There are so many guys that are able to play in the major leagues that aren't getting a chance with that organization. They are a wonderful organization to play for, but for me, I felt it was more beneficial for me to live my dream which is to play in the major leagues and to continue to play and the Orioles were just one of the teams I was looking at that were actively pursuing me in terms of trying to get me to sign. They presented an opportunity for me to go to big league camp and actually make the team out of spring training which was what I was looking for. All I've ever wanted was just an opportunity, and to be able to get that opportunity, if I fail or succeed, at least I got that opportunity and that's all that I've ever wanted. Whereas with the Yankees, I'd go to big league camp and I knew I wasn't going to be making that team out of spring training. So that's very difficult when your going to go out there for the player I am, I'm going to give it 110 percent everyday and to know that I was going to give it 110 percent and still not get that opportunity, it's kind of disheartening, so I knew where I was with them. My time with them was done for the moment and the Orioles were there and they gave me an opportunity and I'm going to see how it pans out from here on out.
TTT: You come back to Auburn a lot to train. Why Auburn?
JC: I fell in love with this place. I was recruited to come here in 2001 and I just enjoy it. I had opportunities to go to Long Beach State and Texas and a number of other schools but I just fell in love with Auburn when I came here - the atmosphere, the people, the environment and the coaching staff. I spent two-and-a-half years going to school here and then I returned to school and got my degree. It is a place I love. I'm able to train full time here. The people are so nice, I'm welcomed here. Being from California, it's so fast pace over there it's tough to get to and from where I'm trying to go to train. There are a number of guys that come back such as Gabe (Gross), Lavalle (Speigner), and Steven Register - and you know it's a place where all of the old guys come back and train, work out and it's just a wonderful environment for me and I just enjoy it. And my girlfriend graduated from here so that was part of the reason too, but I always find my way back down here one way or another.
TTT: Did you know anyone on the coaching staff before you came back this year?
JC: You know I didn't. I had heard of some guys. Brett Gardner, who I played with in Triple-A and in the big leagues, Coach Pawlowski was his coach at College of Charleston so I knew him based on that because Brett had told me about him. Previously I hadn't known anyone but I've heard of Jeff (Duncan) and Heat (Matt Heat) and a some of those guys from playing against them.
TTT: What have you seen from them?
JC: To me they seem like really great guys. Everyone is so nice, willing to accommodate, and you know the attitude is just a welcoming attitude. I've never really seen Auburn, in terms of the players work this hard. You know we work hard everyday and these guys are in there when we're in there everyday and they don't have to be, they got classes, I mean I don't have classes anymore so it's easier for me to get here at 9 or 10 or 11 or throughout the day and work out and train whereas these guys are making the time to come, which is great and it's probably a tribute to the coaching staff, implementing that kind of work ethic. Anytime you see that kind of stuff is great. I have nothing but good things to say for them. I just hope that that carries over and translates into the games and these guys play well because they work very hard.
TTT: From your pro career, at any point, who is the toughest guy you've ever faced.
JC: I've only faced him a couple of times, a guy by the name of Mike Pelfrey. A starter for the Mets this past year, he has been with them for a number of years. I faced him in the minor leagues and did fairly well in the minor leagues but when I get to the big leagues and face him, it's like another person. He has a really good two-seam fastball that he can locate in and locate out and he throws upper 90's. He's got good off-speed stuff and he is a very challenging guy. He's not too big of a name but he's got some great tools and to me that has always stood out.
TTT: Growing up, is there anyone that you patterned your game after?
JC: I was always in the infield up until 2006. I played shortstop and second base and I always watched Ozzie Smith whether it was old highlight tapes or it was games when I was little and to me just the way he played the game, he played it hard he wasn't that big, he made great plays, he made routine plays. He's a switch hitter. He battled from both sides of the plate. He didn't hit many homeruns and that was kind of how I was, when I was in little league, high school and college. I never was the biggest kid, I never was the fastest kid. I played a decent shortstop and I was just trying to play that game. Play hard, make the routine plays and every now and then make some great plays. I always remember watching him because I played that position. I liked guys like Will Clark and Mark McGuire, (Jose) Canseco and those guys just because they, the Bay area where I was from, those guys were so big. You know I grew up watching Carney Lansford and Walt Weiss, some of those guys from those Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants.