The latest C’s Chat is with 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Mark Simon.
The recently-turned 27 year-old’s stay in affiliated professional baseball was a short one. After signing as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays January 28th, the Houston, Texas native was released by the club July 29. Simon endured a tough first half of the season with Vancouver but had turned things around with a strong month of July. The righthander put together four scoreless appearances out of six (five of seven if you include his last outing in June) in which he surrendered just three runs (one earned) in 7-1/3 innings to record a 1.23 earned run average.
The good news for Simon is his baseball season is not over yet. He has rejoined the Missoula PaddleHeads of the Pioneer League, where he picked up a win against Great Falls in a recent outing. Simon got on the Blue Jays radar by winning Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year honours in 2021. The 6-foot-0, 185-pound righty won nine of 11 decisions with a 3.00 ERA and struck out 87 batters in 60 innings. That helped Missoula capture last year’s Pioneer League championship in which he earned the win in Game 1 of the best-of-three final against the Boise Hawks.
Simon starred at Houston Cypress Falls High School during his senior year of 2013 when he put up a 0.63 ERA and won All-District and First-Team All Greater Houston plaudits. He went to spend a couple of years at New Mexico Junior College where he went a combined 13-4 with a 4.51 ERA with 149 strikeouts in 155-2/3 innings. He transferred to Oklahoma City University and won 17 of 23 decisions in the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined, earning a spot on the Sooner Athletic Conference second-team squad in his senior campaign.
Simon’s baseball journey also extended into Mexico for a couple of stints in 2017 and 2018 with the Aguascalientes Rieleros of the Mexican League. He was out of the game until 2020 when he made four appearances with the Salina Stockade of the independent Pecos League where he won both of his decisions, including a six-inning, two-run outing to help the Stockade to beat the Rockwell Invaders to reach the league final.
C’s Plus Baseball spoke with Simon during the team’s mid-July homestand against Hillsboro. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
C’s Plus Baseball – You had a tremendous year with Missoula. You were named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year and that helped you land a contract with the Blue Jays. Talk about that season in Missoula.
Mark Simon – Yeah, it was good to kind of just see all the hard work kind of unfold and all the guys come together for a common goal and that’s win a championship really. So it was good and everybody did their job. So it made baseball and winning a lot more fun.
CPB – What was the key to your success last year in winning Pitcher of the Year?
MS – I honestly couldn’t even tell you that. I think I was just trying to stay grounded and take it day by day and kind of just be in the moment. I think that helped me a lot and just staying grounded in my faith and win my family.
CPB – How did you wind up with Missoula?
MS – I was retired from 2018 to 2021. I was working, just travel ball with kids back home training and just kind of doing my stuff on the side, making them kind of a priority. And then I just joined like a Sunday league basically, and some numbers on the radar gun I liked and I thought I could get a chance. Being 25, I felt like I could help a team win. So I just went on Meet A Prospect on Facebook, posted a couple of videos. Shortly after, (PaddleHeads manager) Michael Schlact hit me up so it was good. He kind of found me kind of like just out of nowhere.
CPB – You also pitched in Mexico. Talk about those experiences.
MS – Pitching in Mexico was good. It was fun. I enjoyed it. It was a high level of talent I thought. I got to learn a lot at an early age, I think, but it was good. Just kind of getting to learn how to attack guys as a pitcher and learning their tendencies, what they do as a hitter.
CPB – How intense is it (during games) in Mexico? I hear the crowds are pretty intense.
MS – Yeah, the crowds are pretty intense. Everything’s pretty fun. I mean, it’s constant loud noises for about nine innings. The fans down there, they’re into it all nine innings. They will let you know when you’re doing really good and when you’re doing bad but it’s awesome. I think the atmosphere and, like I said, the talent level is there and it just matches the fan base with all the teams that we got to play against.
CPB – You went to Houston Cypress, talk about your high school experiences and what stands out for you when you look back?
MS – Honestly, for me, I’ve just always been the guy in the shadows kind of thing. I pretty much didn’t really play my first three years of high school. My senior year, being as I was a senior and being as the only senior pitcher, I got to kind of get some innings and got to show people what I was capable of so it was good. I didn’t really like to talk about my play. I kind of just let it happen on the field but it was good. I enjoyed high school and Carl McClosky, he was my high school coach. He’s been a really good mentor for me up until this point too. So it’s been good.
CPB – So you wind up with the Blue Jays.. How did that all happen?
MS – Man, it was awesome. (Blue Jays pitching coordinator Cory Popham) hit me up, I want to say, late November. And then I didn’t hear a word from him. And then probably like the first week of February, he said ‘If I was interested in being a Blue Jay’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely, that’s (been) a dream of mine since I was four.’ And three days later, he hit me up with a contract. I had talks with everybody in the Blue Jays (system). It’s been a blessing so far.
CPB – You get here to Vancouver. I know it’s been a year of ups and downs for you, but lately it’s been on the upswing. How have you found things so far in your first professional season?
MS – It’s been good, man. You know, just trying to stay consistent, just trying to stay level-headed. I think that’s the hard part and you know, the ups and downs, especially in a game of failure. Baseball’s hard. It’s not supposed to be easy but it’s been eye-opening and I’m just having fun with it. Like I said, it’s been a blessing, been a dream of mine since I was four years old so it’s awesome.
CPB – If you had to give a scouting report on yourself as a pitcher, what would you say?
MS – Don’t let me get hot, probably. I’m a dog. I like to compete. I like to win. Winning doesn’t suck. I’m just trying to maintain that and keep that dog mentality. I went to Oklahoma City. He actually just passed away, the head coach, Denney Crabaugh. That was something always that stuck with me, ‘Winning doesn’t suck.’ And so I just kind of keep that mentality. He helped a lot with that mental side of it too.
CPB – Talk about the pitches you throw right now.
MS – I throw a fastball. I guess it moves both ways. It just depends on the side of the plate we’re on. I’m throwing a slider, trying to really get the horizontal break that I want. I got a slurve that’s pretty good. I’ve had it since I was probably 12 years old. It’s probably been my bread and butter. And then my changeup has really developed in the past two years and I’m pretty happy with it.
CPB – Did anyone show you any grips for the slider or the slurve?
MS – I’m trying to take apart like little pieces from guys that I see are successful with the slider, trying to see what works for them, see how I can modify in my own arsenal and the way I can grip behind the ball and maximize the spin up behind it.
CPB – It seems like your velo has picked up. It just seems like you had a little bit more extra gas in the tank.
MS – I’m just staying within my body, getting my legs again. You know, I was out a little bit for my arm. It’s cold up here. I’m not going lie to you. The first month and a half, it was a struggle for the Southern guy. Just trying to maintain that velocity. I know it’s in there and the Blue Jays have confidence in it.
CPB – Yur very first appearance was against the UBC Thunderbirds (in a preseason game April 6). What was your initial impression pitching at Nat Bailey Stadium?
MS – A dream. I mean, you can’t really describe the environment here. It’s easily the best ballpark in all of the minor leagues and the fan base is unreal. Just behind the players, behind every play, it’s awesome. Everybody’s into it. You can’t ask for a more fun summer. Honestly, the place is sick.
CPB – What would you say you have learned so far as a professional baseball player?
MS – What stood out for me probably is the level of play. I think the way a lot of the hitters are aggressive. The way a lot of these guys know the game a couple years back. I think I would’ve asked a guy probably who was 22 years old my age and probably wouldn’t tell me the answers some of these guys have. So it’s the level of play and the knowledge and the mental side of it. It’s gotten better over the years. And I think that’s what’s helped a lot ina lot of aspects.
CPB – Starting or relieving, does it matter to you?
MS – Relieving. I love that. I love the adrenaline rush. I like the ‘Let’s just get after it.’ Don’t think about it. Just throw this pitch and just throw zeros, get outs.
CPB – Being from Houston, are you a fan of the other professional sports teams there?
MS – I’ve been a lifelong Astros fan since 1998. I want to say, unfortunately, the Houston Texans since ’02 and then off and on with the Rockets. It just kind of depends with how they’re managing their players, but you know how that goes down there. Yeah. we’ve been in turmoil for the past 12 years, so I’m used to it with everything that comes with it. So as long as I have faith, I got to wear it, but I can also kind of give some facts.
CPB – Did you have a favorite player growing up or pitcher?
MS – Yeah, it was actually Brandon Backe. He wore number 44, but if it wasn’t him, then it was definitely Roy Oswalt, a hundred percent. What he did in Houston for those three, four years was just unreal.
CPB – What is it that you like to do when you get away from the park and try to unwind after?
MS – I like to go to the gym. I like to work out for me if I’m not here, obviously. I like working with kids. I like teaching and getting to pick people’s brains as far as baseball and just keep adding to the library of knowledge and stuff like that.
CPB – Is there anything that anyone should know about you? Do you have a hidden talent or is there something maybe you want people to know about you?
MS – I’m mean on the grill. I can whip up some mean fajitas, you know. If you talk to my family back home, you know, I’m the guy so I’m good on the grill. If I didn’t play baseball, I’d probably try and dive into the barbecue, master grill master and all that stuff.
CPB – Final question. What are your goals for 2022?
MS – For 2022, obviously everybody would like to finish on a good year. I’d like to finish on a really strong note for the second half. I’m seeing where God decides to take me. Just kind of taking it day-by-day and staying grounded when I can I’d like good things. But like I said, just trying to keep myself grounded for right now.
Thanks a million to Mark Simon for taking part in this C’s Chat and I wish him the best in his return to Missoula and his future endeavours. You can follow him on Twitter @markymark_16 and on Instagram @s1m0n_sez. Thanks also to Tyler Zickel for arranging the interview.