Saying Thanks to Friends and Mentors
Wednesday, December 30th, 2015
I’ve always enjoyed reading those articles that start popping up this time of year, generally titled, like, “Things I learned in (insert year)”, or something of that nature. So this year, I figured I’d give my own take on it. In light of my recent Indians announcement, this seemed like a good time to show appreciation for those who helped me get here.
I don’t think there’s any question, that my opportunity to work with a progressive organization, like Cleveland, is a direct result of the people I’ve surrounded myself with. I’ve always felt it was important to find friends and mentors who both complement my skill set while simultaneously pushing me to continue developing. This group of people has certainly done that.
- Eric Cressey, Pete Dupuis and the Cressey Sports Performance Family
- Kirk Fredericks – 1st Ballot Hall of Fame High School Coach in Massachusetts
- Matt Hyde – New York Yankees Northeast Area Scout
- Steve August – New England Ruffnecks Program Director
- Carroll and Terry Blake – Rock-Solid Parents
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, as there will be plenty of people I’ll be leaving out here. But, this group of people has been the foundation of my development as a coaching professional, and I’d like to give back a morsel of what they’ve given me. So, we’ll start with the CSP crew.
Eric Cressey, Pete Dupuis and the Cressey Sports Performance family
It’s safe to say that Eric, Pete and the entire CSP family have been the backbone of my professional existence. Without these people, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. CSP has been, and continues to be, a pioneer in the realm of performance enhancement for the baseball community. Its unique blend of culture and individualized programming for the baseball athlete was ahead of its time, and continues to help usher in a new era of athletic development for the baseball market. It has been a tremendous honor to lead the pitching side of the equation from 2009 to the present.
I’ll always look back on my decision to move my pitching business into the Cressey Sports Performance facility as literally the smartest thing I could have done for my career and my own personal growth. It allowed me to learn every day in an environment that was rooted in anatomy and kinesiology and not just baseball jargon.
Instead of dealing with other baseball coaches, I was exposed to strength coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers and orthopedic surgeons, who all had a different lens through which they viewed the plight of pitching. By immersing myself in a different culture, I was forced to learn a new language that got to the heart of movement and allowed me to answer deeper questions about the pitching delivery itself.
All the mechanics information that I had digested before was simply surface knowledge. I knew if I wanted to separate myself in a market with people that had much more experience than I did, I needed to have a more thorough answer for what “high-level” mechanics looked like and how to teach them. By getting to the fundamentals of movement and working back through the intricacies of the pitching delivery, I’ve been able to build a stronger working knowledge of the human body and its capabilities.
As we’ve seen over the last decade, baseball is entering a unique period of performance, where we’re pushing the limits of the human body, and athletes are going down at an alarming rate. In my opinion, the ability to break down the silos of communication between player development, scouting and the medical realms will be where the next “Moneyball” lies.
With that in mind, I would highly recommend any baseball professional find alliances and build relationships with people outside of the immediate baseball industry. After a certain point, that’s where your continued development is going to come from.
The relationships I developed and the information I gained in the CSP culture allowed me to grow at an expedited rate, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. This is a relationship I’ll maintain as long as I’m in the business of developing people, because I know CSP will continue to be at the cutting edge of human development.
Kirk Fredericks – 1st Ballot Hall of Fame High School Coach in Massachusetts
Somehow back in February of 2009, I had the incredible fortune of meeting Eric Cressey and Kirk Fredericks in about a two-week span.
Upon meeting Eric, he made an introduction to Kirk, who was the Head Coach of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, and was in need of a pitching coach to help him that spring. Without realizing what I was getting myself into, I quit my full-time salaried sales position to become a volunteer pitching coach at a public high school in Massachusetts. To this day, it is probably the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made.
By leaving the security of a “normal job” behind, I was unknowingly entering into a master’s class in coaching that would evolve over the 7 years we got to coach together in the high school setting. Kirk is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, “team-building technician” in Massachusetts. His three state championships and 14-year record of 269-68 speaks for itself. If I had to characterize what was at the heart of this successful run for the LS program, it started and ended with cold-blooded execution of the fundamentals. Other than the 2011 state championship team, we generally didn’t overpower the opposition with more talent.
We just played with a steady heartbeat and a level head more consistently than our opponents did over that time. We focused on throwing quality strikes, catching the ball at a high rate, and moving runners around the bases in an aggressively efficient manner. We never worried about who was on the other team, what the score was or what our record was. It didn’t matter if it was the first inning in March or the last inning in June. These teams were constantly striving to get better at executing the basics each and every day. This was a tribute to Kirk’s unyielding pursuit of a fundamentally sound team in every phase of the game. He asked a lot of the kids and they responded because they grew to care about doing things the right way as much as he did. Ultimately, our best teams ended up policing themselves and held each other accountable.
What it led me to understand was that it doesn’t necessarily take an enormous amount of skill to develop a good baseball team. What it takes is an incredible amount of group discipline to execute the fundamentals day in and day out. The effort each athlete has to put in on an every day basis to hold up their end of the bargain is something not many groups are able to maintain. The level of consistency with which Coach Fredericks’ teams played over that 14-year span is a remarkable testament to his dedication to teaching these principles.
Over the years, I have grown a profound appreciation in looking at the great coaches, whether it be John Wooden, Bill Belichick, or Bo Schembechler, and come to realize that their recipes for success generally boil down to similar principles. Focus on the process, own the fundamentals and take care of the team first. “Success” will generally follow if you adhere to that recipe.
I was fortunate enough to see it employed first hand in a high school setting, and for that I’ll be forever appreciative of the opportunity to start my coaching career with Coach Fredericks at Lincoln-Subdury.
Matt Hyde, New York Yankees Northeast Area Scout
Matt Hyde is simply one of the most genuine people in the baseball industry and I’ve been lucky to have him as a mentor over the last 6 years. The numerous discussions we’ve had regarding scouting and developing the whole person, not just the baseball player, will always be at the core of my evaluation process.
When it comes down to it, evaluating the athlete’s tools is the “easy” part of the scouting profession. This part you can see and quantify. The problem is that this game is incredibly challenging and can push people to the brink of despair. Its a long road to the top that involves dealing with a lot of mental anguish. If there isn’t a resilient character with a consistent work ethic and a willingness to receive instruction, it becomes that much more challenging to continue to persevere at the highest levels when talent evens out.
With that in mind, the ability to engage with the human that underlies the “athlete” and learn what they’re about in the dugout and the clubhouse is one of the greatest skills a talent evaluator can have. Very rarely does a player fail because the tools you quantified let him down, it’s more likely that the character traits underlying the tools eroded in the long run. Making sure you understand the people you’re choosing to include in your organization becomes essential in building a resilient culture.
As long as I’m in this game, I’ll value the ability to build healthy relationships with coaches, players, parents, and teachers as an integral part of the evaluation process, because that’s where the story of a player’s developmental path is really being told.
Steve August, Program Director of the New England Ruffnecks
Following the Spring of 2009, Kirk brought me along with him to coach with the New England Ruffnecks, a select Travel Baseball organization that has one team at each age group from 13-18 and draws players from all over New England. Its there where I met Steve August.
The two things that I’ll take away from my time with the Ruffnecks will be the loyalty shown throughout the program and the focus on the individual’s development within the context of the team. I’ve always admired Mr. August’s ability to push back against the modern showcase culture and instead focus on the long-term development of players in this context. Trying to instill team principles to help build the character of these athletes while they pursue their dream of college baseball is not an easy task in this day and age.
Most organizations have multiple teams at every level, trying to acquire critical mass for monetary reasons, and some are trying to get as many “hired-guns” as they can for individual tournaments. There’s nothing wrong with this, if that’s your business model, but it has never fit the mission of the Ruffnecks. Right or wrong, Steve has never relented on that promise to the kids. For better or worse, he has turned away many talented players, who weren’t a good fit for the team culture that they were trying to create. While that may have hurt the Ruffnecks “National Ranking” in the short term, it only helped to solidify the identity of the program in the long run.
As a result, there’s always been a resounding theme around the program that the college coaches seemed to enjoy watching Ruffnecks’ teams play. The common refrain for these coaches, who watch hundreds of showcase teams show up and play lethargically, was that it was refreshing to see a group of players play with energy for each other in these environments.
This is something that I’ve grown to appreciate about the program. Each and every team will have unique qualities to it, but there will always be a sense of shared experience for anyone who has been a part of the Ruffnecks program, knowing that these individuals are willing to put the team first.
With the addition of the New England Baseball Complex as the New England Ruffnecks’ home, it would be easy to let the program get watered down and open it up to the masses. But, if there’s one thing I know about Steve, and his commitment to his vision, its that his loyalty to the team and the people associated with the program will always come first in any decision made about the program’s future.
Carroll and Terry Blake – Rock-Solid Parents
Last, but certainly not least, would be the people who have been with me from the beginning. And, let’s face it – my parents let me decide to major in Psychology and Philosophy at a private Jesuit college with no definitive career plan or return on investment in sight
On top of that, with my choice to quit a salaried sales position in 2009 during the Great Recession to start a pitching instruction business, you may wonder if they just flat out didn’t care about my financial well being, haha…
All kidding aside, without their unwavering support of any decision I’ve ever made, I certainly wouldn’t be the person that I am today. And, without sounding cliché, if they weren’t there to encourage me to align my passion with my skill sets over the years, who knows where I’d be. The thing that I respect the most about them is that they have allowed me the freedom to develop my own vision and trust my instincts in forging a career path.
With my dad’s mechanical engineering background and my mother’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life, I was lucky to draw from both of their skill sets over the years. Whether it’s analyzing mechanics, understanding systems of movement or tending to the human egos involved in this game, I can see qualities from each of them resonate through my coaching skill set. I couldn’t be more thankful for the upbringing these two people provided me.
So here we are, 2400 words in, and I feel bad that on the one hand it took me this long to convey some of the lessons these people have shared with me. On the other hand, I feel bad that we’re not even scratching the surface on what they’ve given me in friendship and guidance over the years, but you should get the point.
You’ve probably also noticed along the way, there’s a lot of recurring themes in this mixture of people, and I think thats by design. If I leave you with anything it’s this: Be open-minded to how information from different domains can help you in your chosen field, work hard to do the basic things really well, and make sure to take care of the people around you.
Here’s to a prosperous 2016, and I’m certainly looking forward to catching up with everyone who’s heading down to Nashville for the ABCA Convention next week. Hope everyone enjoys their New Year’s Celebration in the meantime!