(EDITOR’S NOTE: Those familiar with Eric Sim and his Twitter account are well aware that the former professional baseball player uses colourful language on a regular basis. While the writers and editors of Alberta Dugout Stories are not personally offended by such expressive terms, we do prefer to keep our articles as family friendly as possible. With that in mind, we are letting the S-bombs in this story slide safely into home plate, but we have decided to replace any F-bombs with baseball terms that begin with the letter “F” – we hope the compromise is satisfactory to both Mr. Sim and our readers.)
By IAN WILSON
Eric Sim may just be the hero that baseball deserves, even if the sport doesn’t need him any longer.
A self-professed “washed up” catcher and pitcher, Sim has found happiness as a bar manager and in baseball exile at his bat cave, where he still trains like a pro but professes a hate of the game he spent seven minor-league seasons playing.
Both outspoken and entertaining, Sim isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If his unfiltered talk doesn’t send people to the exits, his unabashed opinions might.
Yet, the same in-your-face expression that turns off many baseball fans is also what makes the former Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) Canadian Rookie of the Year a cult favourite and a voice for the minor league experience.
He only follows 95 accounts on Twitter, but Sim’s @esim3400 handle boasts 21,000 followers. Over 3,100 people also keep track of the 30-year-old on Instagram.
Who invented baseball?
No one knows for sure.
But I feel like it was a bunch of kids, they found some sticks n any hard round subjects, probably first started tossing underhanded, then some asshole of a kid started chucking way harder overhanded, then baseball was invented.
— Eric Sim (@esim3400) June 30, 2019
With that platform, the University of South Florida (USF) alumnus spends his social media time posting pitching and hitting videos from his “prison” cages; getting in Twitter feuds about how difficult it is to play baseball at a high level; and reflecting on his time in the San Francisco Giants system, including descriptions of the low pay that accompanied that experience.
“I don’t really sugarcoat anything. I just tell it how I feel, whether it’s right or wrong,” Sim told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“Nobody knew that we were going through that kind of shit. Even to this day, I still get comments like, ‘Oh, well, if you didn’t like it that much then why didn’t you just quit and flame-throwing work at McDonald’s?’ I’m like, no bat flipper, it doesn’t work like that. That’s the stupidest solution I’ve ever heard. How are the best players ever getting treated like this?”
A 27th-round selection of the Giants – 828th overall – in the 2010 Major League Baseball (MLB) entry draft, Sim said his signing bonus was $15,000 before taxes.
“I was getting paid like shit, obviously. You get paid $400 a paycheque for only five months of the year,” recalled the South Korean-born righthander.
“I’m not going to change who I am, but I want people to know that we go through this kind of bullshit and things should change. Whether it changes or not, it’s up to (MLB) but I like sharing my stories and they’re real and a lot of people can relate to them.”
FROM KOREA TO CANADA
Long before Sim put a bullhorn to the plight of the minor leaguer, he picked up baseball as an elementary school kid in Busan, South Korea.
“I never really wanted to play. It was more like a forced thing, you know?” Sim said of his parents’ decision to get him a ball glove and a cap.
“In Korea, when you play baseball, you don’t go to school, so I wouldn’t go to school. I would just play baseball all day … there were some 12-hour days and that kind of thing.”
At age 13, his family immigrated to British Columbia and Sim continued to play baseball throughout junior high and high school, something he credits with helping him learn to speak English.
“I had to learn it, especially being a catcher, too. It definitely helped with that,” said Sim, who attended Robert Bateman Secondary School in Abbotsford.
“It helped me, too, to socialize and that stuff. But I never played baseball for the love it and because I loved it. I never once told my parents as a kid, ‘Oh, can you take me to a ball game?'”
Despite a lack of passion for the game, Sim conceded he was “pretty good” at it and he stuck with baseball because he realized there were opportunities to get full scholarships at schools in the United States if he kept playing.
“My parents are not that wealthy and I got a full ride, so that’s pretty much why I picked that route,” said Sim, who now manages a hotel bar in Duncan on Vancouver Island.
Sim ended up taking the junior college (or “JUCO”) path, attending Colby Community College in Kansas. The Trojans were rich in Canadian content, with Alberta assistant coach Matt Dickson helping the team recruit a dozen Canucks to the roster.
“It really just kicked my fireballing ass when I went to JUCO, because I thought I was pretty good and I went down there and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, I might not play.’ It really woke me up. There were some big-ass dudes and I thought I might not play,” remembered the 6-foot-2 backstop.
“So, I went to the gym and stuff and I was a fat ass. It was a big wake up call, really, and I think that a lot of players that are in JUCO currently, they kind of go through the same thing and they can relate to it a bit. And again, not everybody is successful with it. A lot of my buddies will just be like, ‘Ah, foul tip it,’ and just quit and go home.”
Motivated to maintain his scholarship and his place on the squad, Sim competed against his Canadian teammates for playing time. His first year produced lacklustre results, but his second season went well enough to earn him a full scholarship to USF.
In between his freshman and sophomore campaigns in 2008, Sim sought out a summer league so he could work on his game. A coach referred him to the Western Major Baseball League (now the WCBL) and he joined the Moose Jaw Miller Express.
“It was awesome, dude. I had a good time,” said Sim of his time on the Alberta and Saskatchewan summer circuit.
“I didn’t know where Moose Jaw was or what it was like or anything like that. I went there and I was like, ‘Holy fastball, what am I doing here?’ My buddies were playing for Swift Current and some cool teams like Okotoks and shit like that. I’m like, ‘What the foul pole am I doing here in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan?’ But I actually had a really good time and I’ve got stories from there for days.”
GET YOUR GAME ON, GO PLAY
Sim put in a solid season for Moose Jaw – so good, that he was selected to play in the All-Star Game in Okotoks. He was also picked to participate in the home run derby at Seaman Stadium.
“When I walked on that field for the first time I was like, ‘Dude, this is the nicest field I’ve ever been on.’ It was super nice, man,” said Sim of the highly-regarded facilities in Okotoks.
“It was really cool making the All-Star Game and there were a lot of good players on there, so I had a lot of fun.”
Sim capped off his summer season – which included a heated exchange with one of his coaches – with Canadian Rookie of the Year honours and then he set his sights on climbing the baseball ranks.
He was drafted by San Francisco after his junior year in the Big East Conference and reported to the Arizona League in 2010, where he began his minor league journey with the rookie-level affiliate.
Sim’s best offensive output at the professional level came the following season. In 43 games with the Arizona Giants, he batted .352 with 37 RBI, 30 runs and six home runs. In 2012, he was promoted as high as Triple-A for a pair of games with the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League. That would be as close as Sim would get to reaching the major leagues.
But what Sim experienced in the minors by that point had already made a big impression. In addition to being battery mates with MLB pitchers like Sergio Romo, Joe Biagini, Brian Wilson, Derek Law, Barry Zito and Yusmeiro Petit, he had witnessed lesser-known talents that also looked out of this world.
MAJOR LEAGUE TALENT
“I played with a lot of guys that are still in the bigs right now and I met a lot of them being in the Giants system,” said Sim.
Infielder Ryan Rohlinger, who played all of 46 MLB games over four seasons, was the first big league player he took the field with. Rohlinger was also possibly the best player that Sim saw up close.
“We’re all riding a bus and sweating … and he shows up in his own ride. He shows up, he gets three at bats, hits three dingers and just leaves,” laughed Sim.
“It was the most bad-ass thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That was my first interaction with a big leaguer. I’m like big leaguers are all studs … I was like, ‘Holy five-tool player, who is this guy?'”
Sim also played alongside Okotoks Dawgs Academy general manager Tyler Hollick, a 14th-round Giants pick in the 2012 MLB draft.
“Hollick was awesome,” said Sim.
“I remember because we only had three Canadians at the time. When he first came, he was hitting .400 and the Giants actually told him to swing more because he would walk so much. He’s probably one of the most disciplined hitters I’ve ever played with.”
By the time Sim wrapped up his 2014 season playing for the Augusta GreenJackets in the South Atlantic League, it was evident that he didn’t have the hitting ability to take his game to the next level. But he had a strong arm behind the plate and a solid track record of throwing out would-be base stealers. Augusta pitching coach Steve Kline took notice of his arm and suggested Sim throw a bullpen session to see just how well he could chuck the ball 60 feet and six inches away from home plate.
HERE’S THE PITCH
He rebuffed the idea at first but following a game in which he hit 92 miles per hour on the radar gun, Sim accepted the transition to the mound.
“I didn’t have a choice. I was 25 at the time. I was a second-string catcher in fat pitching low A. I was like, this sucks. I was hating my life. But I had a good arm and I threw a lot of guys out,” he said.
“The Giants were like, ‘You’re going to come back to instructs as a pitcher’ … there was my turnaround there. I didn’t have much of a choice, it was either that or just not play as a catcher.”
The immediate results were successful. In 2015 with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Northwest League, Sim appeared in 26 games, putting in 32 innings of work and striking out 32 batters. He also posted a 1-1 record with one save and a 2.53 earned run average (ERA).
Despite the solid showing, the Giants decided to part ways with Sim, so he returned to Canada for his final stint in professional baseball. In seven games with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the 27-year-old reliever struggled. He managed to pick up a save, but he also issued nine walks over six innings.
About six weeks into his time in the independent American Association, Sim found himself out of work yet again.
“I was just miserable and I shit the bed … I hated my life and I hated baseball, period. I hated baseball so much that I just wanted to not deal with it at all. When I got done I wanted to do something that was not even close to baseball, something totally different,” said Sim.
The family business came calling and Sim took on the role of bar manager in Duncan, B.C.
“I just rolled with it and now we’re really busy and we’re pretty successful, so I’m very happy about that. It’s a good change for me because I’ve learned a lot,” added Sim, who is now responsible for staffing decisions, bar promotions, event planning and what appears on the menu.
My new PR goal is to hit 100mph Left handed then hit 100mph Right handed back to back with no edits.
— Eric Sim (@esim3400) July 2, 2019
Yet, Sim hasn’t left the game entirely.
“I hate baseball, but I love training for it. That’s the biggest thing for me. I can go by myself and train for two hours but I cannot watch a baseball game or talk a lot of baseball,” said Sim, adding he doesn’t have a favourite team or player that he supports.
“I just love the training aspect of the game and I’ve always been that way. I have zero desire to make a comeback … I actually like baseball more now, doing what I’m doing, than when I played professional baseball. I’m happier now. I don’t think I deserve to be shitty in life just because of baseball.”
We’ll drink to that.