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.

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.