A Few Lessons I’ve Learned In Pro Ball

In May 2013, I graduated high school at age 18, then got drafted the first week of June and then maybe 7-10 days later, shipped off to the Gulf Coast League to begin my professional baseball career. Here are a few things I have learned in the four plus years that have followed.

In a sense, this is something as an 18 year old out of high school I would have liked to know.

Everything a player does in this game (on and off the field) is observed, critiqued, recorded, and sent to higher-ups. Baseball is a numbers game; promotions, demotions, and releases are all about numbers – meeting them, not meeting them, setting new goals,etc. My first year in pro ball I was naive enough to only focus on the end result (numbers) and not the process along the way. Four years later, numbers are just as important, but I have realized other things should be paid attention to as well. These have helped me in my career, and ultimately throughout my whole life.

Here are a few of the most important things I have learned.

1. Don’t be on time; be early.

2. Don’t ever shed blame, regardless of the circumstances.

3. Do everything in your power to do your job and do it right.

4. Never forget it is your career.

5. Be real.

In a sense, the five lessons listed above can all be encapsulated in one word: Accountability.

Be early: Most things in Pro Baseball are out of your control. You cannot control if a line-drive you hit will be caught, or if a broken bat single you let up scores two. You can, however, control your punctuality. The two organizations I have had the privilege to play for both stress this concept – showing early and be ready on time – and they are sure to let you know when you screw up. In a game full of uncontrollables, you must take advantage of the few things you can control.

Be a grown up: Never blame anyone else for something negative that happened during the game. The day you throw a teammate under the bus is the day you lose every shred of respect your teammates ever had for you. Respect is not easy to obtain and can be lost with one stupid answer to a question. Regardless of the situation or question the reporter asks you, blaming someone else is not the right response. Shoulder the blame. Learn from your mistakes.

Work hard and work smart: Everyone always says they are the hardest worker you’ll ever meet, but most of the time that is horse shit. Pro ball really opened my eyes to how hard guys work. It is no coincidence that the hardest and smartest workers tend to be the best players. Work smart, be open to new ideas, listen to your body and ultimately do what works. 

People will come to you with many ideas and suggestions. Remember to always be respectful, but don’t feel the need to say yes to everyone. Learning to say no is crucial to your career. Be open to new things, but remember all stats go on your baseball card and land on your shoulders. Try things, do not force them just to appease someone. Do not rush to fix something, cause sometimes it isn’t even broken.

Lastly, keep it real: People can sense if you are genuine or fake so don’t put up a front. In this profession, you are about to spend a majority of the year with teammates in close quarters and under stressful circumstances, so be respectful and do your best to get along with everyone. At the very least, don’t go around trying to be a prick. The only thing worse than a 16-hour bus ride is a 16-hour bus ride with guys you dislike or who dislike you. I’m not saying you have to have 25 best friends every year – but be respectful and endeavor to be a good teammate. Be real. It makes those brutal days easier and makes winning even more fun.

What New Jersey Means to Me

Jersey Jersey.

I somewhat understand why Jersey gets the rap it does.

Most people fly into Newark Airport, take a taxi to New York City, only see the highway, get that questionable whiff in the Meadowlands, ask the taxi driver how far the Sopranos house is from the airport (20 minutes), and then end up in beautiful New York City.

So yeah, I somewhat understand why Jersey gets the rap it does – but I will never agree with it or accept it.

Jersey is much more than what you see on Jersey Shore or what you notice on that short ride up I-95; Jersey is one big, loving, tell you how it is, loud mouth, family. You know how people in some small towns say everyone knows everyone? Well, sometimes it feels like that’s how Jersey is, on a much larger scale.

Three things most New Jerseyans have in common:

1. A strong opinion

2. A sense of pride

3. A love for The Boss

Growing up in Northern New Jersey was such an unbelievable experience for my family and me. I lived in the same town my whole childhood, and to this day I have the same friends I had back then, since I was five years old. I firmly believe that the state of New Jersey played a big part in that.

Just like the residents of any county or state, we like to do things our own way. The Jersey mentality has instilled in me some ideas and values that made me who I am today. Here are a few:

Work your ass off. That “blue collar” attitude is a concept that has been thrown around for a while. The notion is that regardless of the job you have, if you work hard, good things tend to happen. Growing up, I personally saw this with my parents and uncles, they’d truly bust their ass and lead by example. Then when I was at my high school (St.Joes) in Northern New Jersey, I began to notice it again. The more effort and time put into something usually led to greater success. And a good number of kids at my high school did put in that extra mile; they did something until they got it right, not just until when the bell rang. There is a reason why New Jersey high schools tend to be up there with the bigger states in most major sports… and I think it’s largely due to the work ethic bred in the tight knit communities and also the people who come back to teach and coach, closing the circle.

I also have to thank Bergen County for its diversity. I grew up with kids from all different backgrounds. Nobody really cared what religion or race or gender you were or how rich or poor you were. Honestly, nobody gives a shit. The only real “judgement” that was passed was entirely based off a person’s character and how he or she treated others. You pass that test and all else becomes irrelevant.

Being in pro baseball, I meet kids from all over the world. Honestly, I’d bet that for some of the kids I have met, I am the first Jewish kid and/or first New Jerseyan they’ve ever met. New Jersey taught me to be accepting of all, and for that I am grateful. The melting pot of New Jersey has helped prepare me for my career and my life.

I want to end on one particular lesson Jersey taught me, and that is: without being arrogant, be damn proud. Most people within minutes of meeting me know that I’m from New Jersey. How? Maybe it’s my accent (though I don’t hear it); maybe it’s the gold chain I wear around my neck (though, believe it or not, not everyone wears one); maybe it’s the chip on my shoulder, (which I’ve been accused of having); or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Jersey attitude and demeanor have been drilled into my bones, and I could not be more proud of where I came from and who it made me. We Jerseyans carry New Jersey with us wherever we go, and we try to represent it at all times. It is something that is in us.

Regardless of what other people might think, every single time I am asked where I’m from, I am proud to say..

Beautiful, New Jersey.

Spring Training

Growing up, my family and I would head south once a year for our annual family vacation: Yankees Spring Training. Every Feb/March since I was eight years old, we would fly down to Tampa and stay as long as my father could take off from work.

I remember as a young kid literally counting the days until we had off from school so we could head to Florida for the best 5-10 days of the year. It was the only thing on my mind; the anticipation of the annual family vacation literally got me through school.

While in Tampa, we would wake up around 9:00 A.M., grab some breakfast, and then head to the stadium to try and catch batting practice or pregame workouts. The thing that differentiated going to spring training from going to a regular season game was the accessibility to players. While my mother, sister, and aunt usually decided to stay at the game for innings 7-9, we boys had different ideas. We frequently went off around the park to explore – there were numerous side fields where players would get extra work in (usually guys like me – minor leaguers).

I’ll never forget the time when my dad, uncle, brother, and I were having a catch during a game right outside the stadium, around one of those side field areas. It was our lucky day. As we are imitating catching world series final outs, throwing strike three of game 7, etc.. Mariano Rivera strides out to get some sprint work in. Not only did my brother’s and my own eyes pop out of our heads, but so did my father’s and uncle’s. Mariano Rivera. Enter Sandman. 42. The man who actually got the final outs of world series games.

Growing up in Northern New Jersey meant I lived just a few miles from Yankee Stadium. It also meant that I was able to go to quite a few Yankees games each year. We would sit in the bleacher seats. What is cooler than that?

This.

Anyway, when we saw Mo walk out, it was like we were witnessing a ghost float by. We froze. But after the initial shock, we watched him get his work in and noticed how meticulous he was about something as simple as some sprints and stretches. As he finished up, he was walking through the little walkway, only five feet away from my family and me. My father courageously said something to him – and he actually came over to us. He signed a ball for us and just had small talk for what felt like 15 minutes but was probably only 30 seconds. Mariano Rivera, my father, uncle, my brother, and me – just shooting the breeze.

That is still one of my top favorite memories from growing up. Spring training with the family was an unbelievable, fun-filled experience every year. Meeting Mariano Rivera? Once in a lifetime.

Spring training is the ultimate fan experience. And for the last few springs, and hopefully many more, I have gotten to see a little bit of what it’s like from the other side. Now, it is work for me, and it is far different then when I was a fan. But still, seeing kids with their families around the complex is always awesome. It’s what this is all about. And every time I see a big leaguer make a small gesture to a little kid – a wave, a nod – I think back to when Mariano Rivera gave up 30 seconds of his day to make mine – and to give me a memory I still hold dear. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to do the same for another kid with a similar dream to my younger self.

The One Thing

Priorities.

I recently went on a trip to the West Coast. Right before the trip, I had just finished the book I had been reading for a while, and I needed a new one to keep me busy on the long flight. So with a few hours to kill in the airport, I went to one of those Hudson News convenient stores that overcharges for everything and searched for an interesting looking book.

Next thing I knew I was spending a fortune on a paperback I could have bought on Amazon for half the price – and with free expedited shipping.

I thought to myself: What highway robbery. The book was “The One Thing” by Gary Keller,  and it didn’t appear to be anything too extraordinary from the outside… Typical cover, typical creative graphics, typical sounding concept… Nonetheless, something made me buy it.

And now I know why they warn you to never judge a book by its cover. Little did I know how strong of an impact that book – the book I had just paid an arm and a leg for – would have on me and my career. I couldn’t possibly have known, just based off its unimposing cover, how much it would influence the way I would handle the rest of my offseason. Suddenly it no longer bothered me how much I had paid for this book… because to me, it’s worth its weight in gold.

The book is called “The One Thing” and is written by a man named Gary Keller. It has officially become one of my favorite books of all time – and I’d like to think I read a lot. (As a high school draftee, I didn’t have the opportunity to further my education at a four-year university, so I take a few classes in the offseason and read as much as I possibly can.)

A quote from the book that really affected me – and that will now remain a part of my build-up for as long as I can imagine – was the following: “Multitasking is a lie.” As a pitcher trying to climb up the ranks, there is a lot for me to work on: mechanics (2-3 things), adding/subtracting to my arsenal, etc. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but only if you allow it too. But the quote struck me and made me realize: Why try to improve upon five things at once instead of focusing on the most important one first and then moving on to the next?

Two other quotes from the book that impacted me are the following:

“Success is sequential, not simultaneous.”

“Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.”

These quotes rang true to me. They have guided my approach to the last month of my offseason, and I’m confident they will continue to shape my career – and also my life – in the years to come.

Think about them. How can they relate to your life?

Every “to-do” list has to have one thing that is the most important. Everything is not equal; that’s impossible. When you break it down and weigh your priorities, there’s got to be “The One Thing” that requires more immediate attention than the rest. That is the main concept I took away from the book, and I highly recommend the book, as it may have a similar effect on you.

Almost That Time

It is almost that time.

Baseball, believe it or not, is right around the corner.

These past two months have been awesome and tough in the weight room, between strength training, arm care, corrective exercises, etc. But the fun is just about to begin.

Throwing begins in a few days. These past few months have been preparation for what’s in store in December, January, February. And the blood, sweat, and time we put in during  the offseason will dictate how our season goes. This training is crucial.

As I have completed two full seasons and will be starting my third shortly, I feel I know my body and how long I need to get ready. I’ll start with light catches, then head into long toss/drill work, then throw bullpens, then one or two live sessions. Some pitchers like throwing more pens than others. Me, I like to have five to six full bullpens under my belt before I head down to Spring Training.

Day one of spring training, you must be ready to throw an aggressive bullpen. It is not an easy thing to figure out. You want to be ready, but you don’t want to be peaked. I have not perfected this and I continue to learn and solicit advice from guys with more experience then me. But, at the end of the day, you must figure it out on your own. No two players’ plans are identical.

I am excited to start throwing — it’s been a long time for me. I am counting down the days until Spring Training, as I am sure many of you are.

But until then, there is much left to do.

The Offseason

Jared, Next Generation Training Center
         Next Generation Training Center

The so-called “Offseason.”

“Six months on, six months off… Great deal. How could you ever complain?”

Complain? Never. But six months off? Also never. Among other factors, the Minor League “offseason” is longer or shorter depending on whether your team makes the playoffs and also whether you’ll be participating in an early spring training camp or instructional league after the season. But for the sake of this write up, let’s go with round numbers and assume it is six months on and six months off.

The season goes from March 1st through September 1st. Many people assume that we get to play games and make piles of money for those six months, and that we then get to go home for the next six months to do as we please. But that assumption is incorrect.

We do play games and earn an income, (the amount of which depends on a player’s level and experience but is typically around $1,100 to $1,300 per month, once you pay rent and dues, you’re looking at about $500-$800), and then we do head home for the offseason. But the offseason is not so much “off” as it is “on – just “on” in a different sense.

Personally, I take two weeks fully “off.” No baseball activity; only light active recovery. The down time and rest is necessary for recovery and maybe even to clear my mind. To recharge. And at the end of the two weeks, I find myself chomping at the bit. When you’re used to doing something every single day for six months straight, it’s almost a shock to the system to suddenly stop doing it. But like I said, the recovery is vital.

And I’d venture to guess that that is what the offseason is like for most of us Minor Leaguers. We exhaust every ounce of energy and effort we have for the six months of the season in order to do the best we possibly can…. and by the time the last pitch is thrown, we are all physically and mentally depleted. We then take the two weeks off to recharge… and then it is time to get back to work.

But it important to note that having a routine and a plan for every day of the off season is just as important as having a routine and a plan for every day during the season. So what do players do during the off season?

Some players take classes, work a job or two, or give lessons in addition to being in the gym and staying in shape. As pitchers, once we start throwing – (for me, that’s the first week of December) – we are so immersed in lifting and arm care that having another job and downtime is not a guarantee. I am sure the situation is analogous for hitters who focus on cage work and hitting; i.e. time is actually not easy to come by.

The offseason is what makes your season possible. If you do not prepare during the offseason, how can you do well during the season? Personally, I think the offseason is where a bulk of the work is put in, where most changes and goals can be addressed. The work you put in during the six months “off” will dictate how your six months “on” go.

Being around some awesome teammates and coaches during the season and the off season has given me the opportunity to acquire knowledge on how to better handle the six months “off.” For example, after my first season ended, I was in the gym the next day; I gave my body zero time to recover. Now, having learned from a bit more experience and advice from others, I know I can’t do that if I want to be smart and put myself in the best situation. Working hard is important, but working smart is just as important.

The offseason is needed and for a homebody like me, it’s always great to come back home to New Jersey and be with family and friends, and revisit your old stomping grounds. Though time isn’t as ample as you might think, it is still easier to spend time with loved ones and hang out at your favorite old spots when you are actually in your hometown for more than a few days’ visit. And then by the time the New Year rolls around and snow is on the ground, I am getting the itch to head back down to spring training.

Offseason at Next Generation Training Center

9/11

My initial intention in creating this blog was to offer first-hand advice on baseball and insights into the life of a professional athlete to whoever cared to listen. But this particular post is different.

Today is bigger than sports.

How many moments in your lifetime can you recall where you remember exactly where you were, whom you were with, and what you were doing? Probably not so many. But I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading this can recall the exact place you were on this date 14 years ago – on September 11th, 2001.

I was in 1st grade, sitting in Mrs. Wolk’s English class. It was a typical day: kids being kids, a teacher beginning her lesson, nothing out of the ordinary going on. I was taking out my notebook when suddenly, the phone on our teacher’s desk started ringing off the hook. That particular desk phone never rang ever. Strange. Who could it be? This early in the day?

The only time that phone rang was when a kid was called out to go home early for a doctor’s appointment or something like that. That phone signified a positive occurrence. As a kid, that ring meant one thing: one of us was leaving school early, who was the lucky one? But it wasn’t even 9 A.M. yet – no one would be leaving quite yet… We didn’t know the reason for the calls but we knew something wasn’t right.

This time, that ring wasn’t good news for one student – it was bad news for all of us, and little did we know it at the time, but it would shape much of our lives forever. As the phone continued to ring, one by one, each one of us was called out to the lobby to get picked up by a parent or guardian.

Our initial reactions, just as you might expect from any 6 or 7 year old, were excitement: we all got to leave school only 40 minutes after it started. But as we entered the lobby, people were acting differently then they usually acted. Even as 6/7 year olds, we could recognize fear, and we certainly could recognize fear when it registered on the faces of our own parents. At that age, Mom and Dad were Superman and Wonder Woman; they could never be scared or shaken up – it just didn’t happen. But on September 11th, 2001, it did.

My recollection of that day involves the image and sound of that phone ringing off the hook, then registering the universal fear in the air and eventually making it my own, and also the overall feeling of the unknown. But the thing that stands out to me most in my memory of that day is when I was exiting my school to go home… The image that sticks out most and that I will never forget is the chilling image of fire truck after fire truck, EMT after EMT, ambulance after ambulance, and police officer after police officer heading into New York City to help in any way he or she can. They ran directly towards the danger.

I was 7 years old when the attacks happened. When I got home, my family immediately turned on the news, and everyone was in shock. They didn’t want me to watch the news, but as a kid when you’re told not to do something, the first thing you want to do is do that something…. So I found my way to a television and watched image after image of the buildings in smoke. Explaining this to an adult at the time must have been hard… but explaining the image to a 7 year old? What would you even say? All I remember was seeing my mother in shock, which meant I should be worried. Wonder Woman was in tears.

I live in New Jersey off the first exit over the George Washington Bridge, the bridge that connects northern New Jersey to New York City. My father is an attorney in New York City, and his firm at the time was located in midtown Manhattan. He commuted – and still commutes – everyday. My father is the hardest working man I have ever met… and his biggest client at the time was located in the World Trade Centers… With the news of an attack, my family was worried sick.

Thankfully, as soon as my father heard of the attacks, the first thing he did was call home and let us know he was safe, (which I later learned was a miracle because all the phone lines were incredibly busy that day). My Dad had actually flown to North Carolina the day before and was giving a seminar as the attacks happened. Thank God. Friends of mine weren’t as lucky as I was. They lost parents, relatives, friends, other loved ones. What the hell was going on?

As a result of the four planes that got hijacked that day, 2,997 people were killed for absolutely no reason other than disgusting, baseless, blind hatred of America by a faction of evil people. Everyone around the New York City area knows either someone who lost his or her life on 9/11 or someone who lost someone on that tragic day. My thoughts and prayers are with all of those people – including you, my reader, if you were a victim of that horrific day.

Terrorists set out to instill fear and distress in the greatest country in the world. They thought those attacks would make us crumble and give up. They may have temporarily succeeded in the confusion of that day — we can’t deny the pain we felt and the way our lives were altered forever. But what those terrorists never fathomed would happen, happened: as a nation, we rose up.

People from the surrounding areas and first responders from all over immediately ran towards the dust and smoke. To these heroes, nothing mattered except for helping those who were trapped in the rubble and leading them to safety – not even their own lives. That is what makes America so great… When we were at our worst, we are at our best; we have heroes in our midst who will not back down.

Regardless of your political beliefs or if you like him as a person, when our President at the time, President George W. Bush, took the mound at the World Series in New York City for the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 in October 2001, it was special. It was a symbol of hope, a symbol of strength. Here was our President, in front of 50,000 New Yorkers and an audience around the world, delivering a strike. In the background, you could see our heroes – the police officers, first responders, fire fighters, etc. – standing guard. This was the month after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history, and our President was taking the mound in the city where the shock waves from the attacks were still so strongly reverberating.

The United States came together after 9/11. Skin color, religion, political beliefs – none of it mattered. All that mattered was that we were all Americans, and proud of it. We stood together and still stand together as such.

To the many police offers, first responders, EMTs, firefighters, members of our great military, and the citizens who ran towards the flames at the Towers to help however you could, you are my heroes. Thank you. If it weren’t for people like you, I would not be able to live in peace and do what I love – none of us would.

So whenever someone calls an athlete or celebrity his or her hero, remember who the real heroes are.

God Bless America.