My success in 2006 should benefit me this season. I'm more calm and more relaxed instead of trying to make the team with every pitch I throw. My attitude last year at this time was "gotta make the team, gotta make the team." That can wear on you. This year I feel strong and focused.
At the same time, I don't like the term "comfortable," either. Comfortable can translate to a lack of urgency. To me, it sounds like an excuse for a bad outing when you hear players say that having a spot on the team allows them to work on something or tweak their delivery.
The time to work on things and tweak my delivery was in the Minor Leagues. I had plenty of time there to work on things and tweak my delivery. When you're at the Major League level you're supposed to be polished and do what you need to do from the beginning. You need to get the job done. You either have a good outing or you have a bad outing.
There's no doubt I pitch with a chip on my shoulder. That chip has helped me get to where I am. When someone tells me I can't do something, I become even more determined. All along people told me, "Oh, he'll never be a starter." It just made me work harder to get that spot. All through the minors I pitched with a chip on my shoulder and I still do. It's always going to be there. When that chip falls off, it will mean I don't have anything left to prove.
I spent almost six years in the minors, from 2000 until last year. But baseball is a meritocracy. If you prove you can do the job, you're going to make it. If you work hard, you get rewarded. If you slack off, you don't. That's the way it should be. It depends on how bad you want it, and I wanted it really bad -- so I busted my tail to get it.
I'm going to keep at it this year, too, because I have plenty left to prove. I want to be on a winning team. I want to get more wins, I want to lower my ERA, I want to have a better walk-to-strikeout ratio, I want to pitch a lot of innings. My goal is to win a championship in Pittsburgh. This franchise is where my heart is. I just want to help our club win again and get back to the playoffs.
When Jim Tracy came here I heard him say he wants to win, win, win. That really stuck in my head. It resonated because that's all I ever want to do. That attitude was a big factor in my success last season and it's going to make me do better this year.
That's the way I can help -- by pitching well. I can't say, "Hey, let's go." I have to go out and pitch well. When you pitch well, the team plays well behind you. It starts there. I like to help keep the team energized and keep the electricity flowing. Sometimes that means turning it up a notch and striking someone out with a 98 mph fastball or getting someone on a nasty slider. That's my way of telling my teammates, "I want to win this game."
I don't see myself as a young player, just a player. Growing up, my parents taught me never to take any bull from anybody. So when I first came to the Majors last year, I didn't take well to the way some veterans can try to push you around because you're a rookie. The way I look at it, I earned my way to the major leagues and we're on a team -- everyone is on the same level.
Everyone wears the same uniform, plays in the same stadium and dresses in the same clubhouse. Some guys just have more years than others, but that doesn't give them a right to bully you. I would never treat anybody that way. I think it's disrespectful, degrading to a player who's worked hard to get here.
So I try to treat everyone the same. If I'm joking with you, I'm joking with you. If I'm mad at you, I'm mad at you. Doesn't matter if you have six months or 16 years in the big leagues.
There were a handful of veteran players here who eased my adjustment to becoming a major leaguer -- Salomon Torres, Ronny Paulino and Jack Wilson were very helpful. Then when Shawn Chacon came over in the middle of the season he kind of took me under his wing and taught me about things on and off the field.
Shawn showed me how to carry myself professionally on and off the field. He also spent a lot of time with me just talking about pitching. It was awkward in the beginning because I really didn't want to go to him, but now we're real good friends. We have a lot in common and he teaches me a lot of stuff.
Shawn and I know how each other are going to react to certain things. We joke around and have a good time together. A lot of the guys get on us because we're always hanging out together, but it's just that we tend to think alike.
A 26th-round draft pick in 2000, Ian Snell emerged as a dominating pitcher in the National League last season, going 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA and 8.18 strikeouts per nine innings. The 25-year-old right-hander from Dover, Del., is projected as the No. 2 starter in the Pirates' rotation this season.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.