HOUSTON -- The luxurious travel in the big leagues, where five-star hotels and charter flights are the norm, is a different world from rugged travel life in the Minor Leagues, where long bus rides and early-morning flights can make something as simple as finding a good night of sleep challenging.While
HOUSTON -- The luxurious travel in the big leagues, where five-star hotels and charter flights are the norm, is a different world from rugged travel life in the Minor Leagues, where long bus rides and early-morning flights can make something as simple as finding a good night of sleep challenging.
While Major League players get their own hotel rooms, and in some cases hotel suites, Minor Leaguers have roommates and shared spaces. Astros rookie pitcher Josh James got his first taste of travel in The Show last month when he was called up to make his Major League debut, but it was a Minor League roommate who helped vault his career.
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When James -- a 34th-round pick in the 2014 Draft out of Western Oklahoma State College -- was rooming with teammate Ryan Thompson in Rookie ball in 2014, Thompson complained about James' incessant snoring. James later realized he was constantly tired and relied on naps and coffee to make it through his offseason workouts in Jupiter Fla., about 60 miles from his home in Hollywood.
"I'd wake up in the morning and didn't feel good. Just lazy," James said. "I'd have to drink multiple cups of coffee just to get me through the day. I was driving up to Jupiter every day and I'd have to drink a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of coffee on the way back to get me home. I was falling asleep as I was driving. It was rough."
James did some research and finally saw a sleep specialist in December 2016. He spent the night hooked up to monitors and was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. The condition caused the 2004 death of NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White.
James was given possible surgical remedies that included removing his tonsils or fixing his deviated septum, though none of those were a guaranteed fix. Instead, he chose to start using a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), which delivers pressurized air through a mask that's worn at night to stop snoring.
The effects on James' energy were gradual.
"Just a little bit more refreshed in the morning, a little bit more refreshed about the day, and slowly I started feeling a little bit better every day," James said. "No naps needed. Normally, I'd come home and need a nap, and now I'd come home and be able to do stuff or cut the grass or watch TV."
The effects on James' career began blossoming this season. He went from sitting at 91-94 mph with his fastball, occasionally hitting 95, to touching 100 mph, to go along with a good slider and changeup. A beast was unleashed.
James struck out 171 batters in 114 1/3 innings in 23 games (21 starts) combined at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno this year. It was the fourth most in the Minor Leagues in 2018 and the most by an Astros Minor League pitcher in more than a decade. The Astros took note and called James up to the big leagues in September. He appeared in six games (three starts), striking out 29 batters against seven walks in 23 innings.
The 25-year-old right-hander became the lowest-drafted player to start a game for the Astros in their history, and an electrifying performance at Fenway Park on Sept. 8 -- throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings in his second big league outing -- put him on manager AJ Hinch's radar for a possible spot on Houston's postseason roster. James didn't pitch in the American League Division Series, but he threw an inning in his playoff debut in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series on Sunday in Boston, allowing two hits and one run. His fastball reached 100.6 mph.
"We started talking a little bit about what he could do maybe in the 'pen," Hinch said. "And then we had a spot start available and he came up and did exactly what he had been doing in the Minors -- struck out guys, calm demeanor, plus stuff across the board. And he stuck."
James still drinks coffee, though not nearly as much, and isn't as dependent on naps, though he still takes a few now and then. He's full of energy, both on and off the mound, and isn't surprised to light up the scoreboard with his velocity.
"It's the norm for me now," James said.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.