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.

The World of College Recruiting

Have you ever been told you have a 72 hour window to make a decision that’ll impact the rest of your life?

Welcome to the world of collegiate athletic recruiting.

At the age of 17, I took a tour of a university I was interested in. I met with the baseball coaches, some of the players, and saw the facilities – and then we immediately got down to the business of it all. The university offered a scholarship and, needless to say, I was elated. You might assume that I was then given a few weeks to think it through – to really mull it over – to discuss the pros and cons with my family and friends, teammates and coaches – and to ultimately make a calculated, informed decision.

But that wasn’t exactly the case. After the university made the initial offer to me as I stood on that particular campus, they told me it would remain on the table for only 72 hours. Seventy two hours! That’s three days – three days to make one of – if not the most – important decisions of my life up to that moment. At 17 years old, many people would be easily pressured – and I, too,  would have been if not for the fact that my parents had made the trip with me and understood what was going on more than I did, in all my naivety.

In general, the world of recruiting is tough on an athlete. Every year, athletes ages 15-17 have to make decisions on not only where to attend school for the next four years of their lives but also where to live and breathe their sport – whom they want to represent. That is not an easy task. That is not a three-day task.

You want me to come to your school, play baseball on your team, and represent you – but you’re only willing to give me a 72-hour window to say yes? It is no wonder why this sort of rushed set-up leads to many athletes transferring after their first year. The pressure athletes face when given ridiculous “deadlines” to make these important decisions is so great – and many athletes cave and just say yes without fully thinking it through. And you can’t blame a 16-year-old kid for having clouded judgement – especially in this day and age with social media and other influences pushing kids in so many different directions.

I understand the belief that certain student athletes “just know” or “ fall in love” with a certain school. If that is the case, a student will let the coaches know, and a timetable of a few days shouldn’t be necessary. When a student  athlete knows, they know. But if he or she doesn’t know, putting a time restraint on the decision-making process is not right and pressures them to make a decision they are not ready to make.

The decision should be well thought-out by the athlete and his or her loved ones and mentors. Nobody else should have a say in the decision. After all, a lawyer doesn’t make a case alone, and a doctor doesn’t cut someone open without a whole slough of assistants. But in the end, it is the athlete’s life, and it’s the athlete who should have the final say.

In my opinion, it is better to have the student athlete at the “wrong” school if they make the choice then it is to have someone else make the “right” decision without the student truly wanting to be there. In baseball, we pitchers are taught that it is better to make the wrong pitch with conviction, then the right pitch with uncertainty. I believe that lesson can be used in this case, and many others.

The best advice I can ever offer to an athlete going through the recruitment process is this:

Opinions only matter if they belong to people who matter.

Family, CLOSE friends, and people you look up to (mentors) are the only people who should have any sort of influence on your decision.

Coaches and recruiting coordinators need to understand how big a deal it is when they offer a scholarship to an athlete. It represents an incredible opportunity and a humbling honor, but also a weighty responsibility. And no university/college coach should ever pressure an athlete regarding a decision on where to attend college. If you have to pressure a student athlete to attend your school, maybe he or she shouldn’t be there in the first place.

For any coaches reading this, take it from someone who has been through it… Pressure is a turn off, and if you do pressure a kid and he or she accepts your scholarship offer based on your pushing, then shame on you. Pressuring a teenager to attend your school solely because you  want his or her talent and ability to benefit your team is plain wrong. Realize the stress these kids are already under, and appreciate their need for some time to weigh their options with their support network and really think it through. Give students a respectable timetable.. not 72 hours. Show them the school, give them all the information they want, and, simply, let them make an informed, un-hasty decision. To put it in the most simple terms, just imagine it was your child that was going through it. Would you want them making a decision due to the pressure they felt? Or would you want them to make decision based off where they feel comfortable and will enjoy the next four crucial years of their lives. Act as if it was your own child.

And yes – being given a scholarship is a privilege, and perhaps those presented with such a privilege should not be complaining. But the thing most people do not realize is that these athletes are not given scholarships; scholarships are earned. You earn the scholarship through hard work, sacrifice, and being relentless in your craft. So when you get a scholarship, it is quite rewarding and you should be able to make appropriate decisions without added pressure.

Another thing some people do not realize, is that, just because you are going to school with a sports scholarship, that does not mean you are going to walk out of there with a professional contract. As fans, we see them on ESPN and National Television and assume they’re all first round draft picks in their respective sports, but that is not the case. One of the reasons I chose to write this blog was because I saw an interesting stat floating around social media. Here it is:

COTPWaRWoAAH5nT.jpg-large

That chart just shows an example of how important a decision this is for a student athlete to make. This is bigger than who has the best sports program or most fans. College is a crucial 4 years for any student and a clouded, pressure induced decision shouldn’t be pushed on a student athlete.

I completely understand that coaches’/recruiting coordinators’ jobs are not easy and they need answers and commitments as soon as possible. They must move on and recruit another student athlete if you don’t accept their offer.. But be respectful of the student athlete and give a respectable timetable. Whether that student attends a specific school, that school will still field a team, and fill that scholarship offer. The student however, if they make the wrong decision, it can impact their entire life and future.

The easiest way for this to happen is to be open and honest with each other. Athletes, do not lead coaches on for weeks on end if you are not truly interested in attending that school. Give them a chance to move on. And coaches, be respectful of the decision making process and if a timetable is needed, make it reasonable.

After all, it is the athlete’s life we are talking about. Let him or her decide what to do with it.

Some things are bigger than sports.

Please remember, this is my point of view and opinion. This was an example of something I went through and figured if one kid can relate, then it was worth writing. The recruiting process is not always like this and not all coaches and universities pressure athletes. However, this does happen, and I am sure student athletes are going through this as you read this. So please understand, this is not the case with ALL universities and not the case with ALL student athletes. This is an opinion and also my advice for student athletes going through this or that will go through this.