Astros relief pitcher Wesley Wright remembers those days. It wasn't that long ago he was one of those guys, just another name in a row of lockers. He came to a big league camp in 2008 after being taken in the Rule 5 Draft and at 23 years old looked as if he could have been the batboy.
That's why Wright can't help but chuckle at how much things have changed in five years. He's the longest tenured member of a club that has undergone a huge transition in the past few seasons, and he has a prime locker spot in the middle of the clubhouse -- the same one Wandy Rodriguez had the last few years.
"Every time I walk in here, it takes me back to my first year and how nervous I was walking in here and now I've been here for a little while and feel a little bit more confident walking in here," he said. "The last couple of years, there's been a lot of different faces in here, but it keeps you motivated. You keep that edge because everybody is working so hard for spots. It allows us not to become complacent."
Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail was a veteran in the bullpen when Wright walked sheepishly into the clubhouse as a rookie.
"I pitched with Wes when Wes finally realized, 'Oh my God, you started your career before I was born,'" Brocail said. "I was like, 'That's right. Shut up and watch the game.'"
Wright, 28, is certainly a survivor, but he's gotten here with hard work and dedication to his craft. The Astros have tinkered with his delivery, convincing him to try to pitch sidearm a few years ago, and in 2010 they tried to convert him into a starter.
He endured it all, emerging last year to go 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA in a career-high 77 games. It marked his first full season on the big league roster since his rookie year. Wright has been used primarily as a left-handed specialist and last year held left-handed hitters to a .226 average.
"It's a little different because I'm used to being a guy that's kind of chasing other people's jobs and now to have a lot of young guys pushing me, it's kind of good for me," he said. "It keeps my edge and I think everyone is kind of thriving in this environment of competition, and I think it's something that's going to play out over the course of the spring. Hopefully we'll see the results during the season."
Astros manager Bo Porter is leaning on Wright for leadership. He had him read the daily inspirational quote to the team on Tuesday and is counting on him to be a dependable member of what should be an inexperienced bullpen.
Brocail said Wright has become a man young players should learn from.
"Wes is stepping up," he said. "He knows what his role his. He paid attention. He sat down and asked questions to myself and [former teammate LaTroy Hawkins]. If he had a question he wouldn't hold back. That's important and that's helped him learn. This kid is stepping up."
Speaking up is not exactly Wright's forte, though he's certainly not shy about pulling a younger guy aside and giving him a few tips on how to carry himself in the clubhouse or on the mound.
"If I see something where I can help a young guy, I'll pull him to the side and mention some things to keep him from making mistakes," he said. "These guys have been great. We really haven't had to do a whole lot of meetings to keep guys in line. Guys have been focused and getting work done."
The fact that he's one of the established members of the bullpen doesn't mean Wright is about to take his role and his stature for granted. He's seen too many guys come and go in the last five years. And he knows there are some who are gunning for his spot.
He uses that keep him focused and motivated because he knows how fast time flies. He knows you have to make the most of your opportunities.
"I think it adds a different level of pressure because you expect something of yourself and people expect something out of you," he said. "I've actually been more focused this year than I never have in my career. People are really counting on me to be one of the guys in the bullpen to get outs. My focus has gone up a notch to get off to a good start and establish myself again and show last year wasn't a fluke."