Memorial Day MusingsMay 25, 2015
In light of it being Memorial Day Weekend, and the unofficial start of Summer, I figured I would take a second to reflect back on some thoughts I’ve had over the Spring season, and in particular this past weekend’s events.
For those of you who may not know, we recently had another long-time Cressey Sports Performance client, Oliver Drake, make his Major League Debut on Saturday night with the Baltimore Orioles.
It got me to thinking about the long & winding road that Oliver has taken to get here. From his time at the Naval Academy, through parts of 8 Minor League seasons, and ultimately arriving in Miami to make his Major League Debut in the 9th inning of a scoreless game. It always intrigues me to see who the guys are that persevere through the dog days of minor league ball and then look deeper into what it is about their makeup that allows them to continue moving against the odds.
There are plenty of guys with higher profiles and more amateur accolades, who end up stalling out in the Minor Leagues. And to be honest, it’s easy to find reasons to want to opt out of the drudgery that is low-level Minor League ball. Especially, when it sets in on you that you’ve made $900 in the past month, and you’re crammed into a bus with 25 other guys for the next 13 hours, only to arrive at your next 3-day destination on the traveling circus act that is pro baseball. It’s not glamorous in the least. Start throwing the developmental pitfalls of injuries into the equation, and the fact that each June, you will have 40 more amateur players invited into the organization trying to take your job away. It becomes very easy to ask or be asked off the bus.
At the heart of it though, this is what makes the shiny object at the end of the road so satisfying. Watching players like Oliver persevere through the different stages of development, whether it be dealing with injury setbacks or coaches telling him his stuff will never play at the next level, only to continue to prove them wrong at each turn. This is what makes it all worthwhile.
Every player is inevitably going to face some level of adversity along the way, for some it might come in their amateur career, for others it might be all sunshine and roses until they get to pro ball. At some point though, every player is going to have to look in the mirror, and ask himself, if this is what he really wants to do? Is this how I want to spend my time on this planet? There’s plenty of other things you could be doing with your time instead of chucking a baseball, so is this anguish worth it in the end?
If the answer is yes, then you need to ask yourself another question, “Am I doing everything I possibly can to give myself the best chance to succeed when it’s my turn to pitch?” If you are, then let the cards fall as they may.
If you’re not, then you have to do some soul searching to get your habits and actions to align with the level of commitment it takes to be the person you envision. There’s going to be a lot of noise along the way telling you that you can’t be that person, so you have to be able to tune that out and stay committed to your process.
Take Tyler Beede as an example, another long-time CSP client, who just celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday night, throwing 6 shutout innings in High A for the San Jose Giants. He happened to be able to do this in front of friends and family. This a great example of one of those fun nights. You’re able to finish up an outing, in the midst of a 26-inning stretch with only 2 walks to be found, where everyone is smiling and the critics are quiet.
The difficult nights, on the other hand, come when you’re 18 years old, and have to live with the incessant noise in your head, knowing you turned down 2.5 million dollars as a first rounder out of high school. Every time you turn around, there’s the noise of someone who doesn’t know you, questioning your decision to get a degree and gather experiences instead of embarking on your professional path.
This noise gets a lot louder when you’re walking off the mound in the 3rd inning at Mississippi State your Junior year, having walked 5 guys and given up 11 runs in every possible manner. You don’t get to choose the noise level on a night like this, and it includes people questioning your makeup, compete factor and your ability to throw strikes. Its one thing to deal with this on your own, its another thing altogether to have the Googlesphere compound the problem. Anyone can have a voice and add to the noise, telling you how bad you stink, and how dumb you were to turn down that kind of money. What a bust this kid’s gonna be…
These are the moments when you have to have the big-boy talks in the mirror with yourself and ask, “Do my habits and my daily intentions really align with the player or person that I strive to be?” If the answer is no, then you have to decide if this is something you’re really willing to commit yourself to, because it’s a long process and its not for the faint of heart. When reframed correctly though, these can be moments of growth, where you work to decide who you are, and who you want to become. And, when you proceed to keep your head down, knowing you’ve committed yourself to the cause, hopefully you get to have nights like this:
For these athletes, who appear to live charmed lives on the outside, the reality is they’ve probably visited the depths of their soul and questioned their path just like any of you might have. The difference a lot of times ends up being the resolve that each player finds in these moments. Have you honestly prepared yourself to live in these moments? To keep your head down, keep working and wait for your next opportunity to silence the noise?
I’m not just talking about college and pro athletes, I’m talking about the Junior in high school, who gets cut from his varsity team, and has to look himself in the mirror and ask if he wants to keep playing. It’s easy to walk away here, because people are telling you that you’re not good enough to play baseball anymore.
The difficult decision is saying, “I think you’re wrong and I’m going to set out to prove this to you by making you tell me I’m not good enough again next spring.” You’ll be amazed at how these moments help fuel your path. And, hopefully in 12 months, when you pick your head back up, you’ll have put in the necessary work to change the outcome. In the craziest of cases, you’ll do so with an ACC Scholarship in hand, like one of our high school pitchers, Morgan McSweeney, just did, which is another story in and of itself. Needless to say, when you begin to see the fruits of your labor, from taking heed in the process, it becomes that much easier to tune out the noise.
It doesn’t matter what part of the life cycle you’re on in your developmental path, whether it be making the middle school team or rehabbing from Tommy John in pro ball, there will be doubters at every turn. It’s your job to decide whom you’re going to listen to and how you’re going to let that affect your state of mind.
In my short time coaching, I’ve been lucky enough to witness and take part in some incredible developmental stories. Hopefully, the next crop of throwers I work with can bear witness to the struggle of those who went before them and use it to help fuel their journey.
At the end of the day though, I’ve come to find that there’s really no greater satisfaction than watching your athletes experience the full range of emotion chasing their dreams. When they learn to take the good with the bad, adhere to their process and continue to believe in themselves, its exciting to watch them discover who they can be.
So, I’ll leave you with this quote from Carl Rogers, who was an influential American psychologist, as I think it sums up this stream of Memorial Day thought well:
None of the players I described here are finished on their player development journey, and there are surely plenty more hiccups and bad days ahead of them. One thing I’m certain of though is that when these days do arrive, the process won’t disappear for these athletes, and they’ll continue in the direction they’ve set forth on, just like they have before.
Whether that gets them into the Hall of Fame or not, doesn’t really matter, as the process of growth transcends into everyday life. These athletes have built great infrastructures of support and they’re constantly refining their daily habits, so they’ll continue in the direction of the “good life”.
With that, I hope everyone had a great long weekend and now we can all look forward to a great summer ahead!