How Hard This Game Is

Hey Parents, Do You Really Know How Hard This Game Is???

So I’m walking into the cages the other day, and I run into a dad that I know fairly well but haven’t seen in a while. We get to talking about his son, and he proceeds to tell me how his little slugger has been doing.

“Well, you know, he’s not swinging it the way he should,” he sighs.

I ask, “What’s going on with his swing?”

Then he starts talking to me about his numbers, saying, “This past weekend, he went 1 for 7.” And in his face, I see a look of disgust.

I prod him some more, asking, “So what did he do with his seven at bats?”

He continues, “He only struck out once, and he walked a couple of times. He hit the ball hard three times, and a kid made a nice catch on one of his balls.” And then comes the kicker — he says, “He has got to get out of this slump.”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it, although I could see in his face that he was hot at me for grinning from ear to ear. Finally, I said, “SLUMP? 1 for 7 is not a slump. That’s a tough weekend, but not a slump. Try hitting 1 for 48, or a 6 for 70-something. That’s a slump. I hit that in A Ball one year. Your son is fine. If a couple of those outs would have found some holes, then this would be a whole different conversation.”

My conversation with this father got me thinking about some parents and how they seem to view this game. The game is all about failure, and it’s a tough game for all ages and all skill levels. Even at the big league level, we all heard that if you fail 7 out of 10 times then you’re considered the best. But so many parents have missed the memo when it comes to this.

Hard This Game

You can’t get too mad, upset, or disappointed at your kid if he’s squaring balls up all over the field. When you should get mad is when you see him in games scuffling a little. That’s when you know you should have gotten your child some extra work in the off-season. But by then, it’s too late, Parents. They’re smack dab in the midst of their season — and now you want to consider getting them extra swings?

You have parents who think, “Hey, it’s baseball season now, and my little Johnny hasn’t touched a bat since his final game of last summer or fall. Now that it’s spring time, I guess we ought to pick back up with the hitting coach.” And that’s only if you even have a hitting coach — but it’s still too late, by then, to start saying, “Okay, I’m going to bring my kid outside to start working on his swing.”

A swing is a delicate movement, a motion that needs to be perfected daily, if possible. And let me say this: this really only goes for you parents who want your kids to play at the next level past high school. You can’t expect that the two measly times that he may practice each week — while not even so much as glancing at a ball or bat on the weekends besides whatever games are scheduled — is going to be nearly enough for him to get to the next level. Not in these days and times where every sport is becoming so much more specialized than ever.

This is why you see the Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world hitting the big league level at age 19 and becoming impact players right away. Do you think they just practiced their swing twice a week and played games on spring and fall weekends? Heck no. They were constantly working on their swing, all year around. Am I saying that if your child practices her swing all year round, that she’s going to be the next Trout or Harper? No way. But what I am saying is that you absolutely cannot expect your sons or daughters to go out every weekend and put up ridiculous numbers if they’re only getting a little bit of work in each week.

Let me fill you in, Parents, just a little more. I’m going to really break it down to you because I care — just remember that it’s all love over here. Now that we understand each other, I want you to close your eyes. And before you do that, please note, again, that this is only for the parents who want to see their kids go on to play past high school. If you’re a parent who is just happy to see your kid out on the field, and you couldn’t care less whether he or she plays next year, or in high school, or in college on a scholarship, then this isn’t for you. This is for the parents who, along with their kids, have aspirations of seeing them go on to play beyond the high school level. So I want you to picture a few things along with me.

I want you to picture a kid the same age as yours, practicing in a small town in the Dominican Republic. Or another kid, practicing his swing in Fresno, CA. Or another kid, working hard on her swing in Carmel, IN. Then imagine your kid at 16 or 17 years old, hearing about kids he believes he’s better than, who are matriculating into So-and-So University while he’s not seeing any offers on the table for himself. What you fail to realize is that the competition isn’t just the kid your son or daughter is playing against on any given weekend in your hometown. It isn’t just Johnny or Jennifer on your travel ball team. It’s these kids all over the country, who are getting it in every single day. Those are the kids getting the offers and opportunities that you were so sure should have been coming your little slugger’s way.

So let me wrap this up in a bow. If you want more than high school ball for your son or daughter’s future, you have to do more than most parents are going to do for their kids. That means you’re going to have to get with a qualified hitting instructor — or pitching instructor, for you parents who’ve got pitchers at home — in your town, if you haven’t gotten one already. And then, once you’ve found a good one, don’t just use them when baseball or softball season comes around. Remember that it’s all about the next level — and the way to get there is to continue grinding while everyone else is resting. Your kid should be perfecting the necessary changes to his swing more and more in the off-season, so that when the season comes, your little slugger is on auto-pilot, just killing the ball.

I understand this can be a pricey endeavor for some. But again, it’s all about what you want for your child, and what your child wants for himself or herself. If nothing else, go spend a little money on a net, tee, and balls, and get him working on that swing at home. If even that’s not possible, then just go old school — have her grab a bat and/or broom stick and swing it in the mirror every night. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make the most of what you have, to find a way to get ahead and stay ahead.

I’ll bet you right now that there is a kid in the streets of NYC or somewhere in Mexico, who doesn’t have much but is fighting hard at this game for only a slight chance at even a meager opportunity. Think about what that kid would do if he had just a fraction of the opportunity some of your kids have but waste year after year.


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Don’t Give Up On Kids

 Can’t Give Up On These Kids Too Early

Now that I’m a coach and no longer in-between the lines, I see things totally differently, especially now that I’m a part of decisions that affect kids’ futures. I often see, in these kids, things I used to do, as well as things I wish I’d done.

One thing that perplexes me is when I hear of kids being told, around the junior high level, that they aren’t as good as the next kid — or that they have so-called “peaked” and will therefore never become a good player at all. It kills me when I hear this from coaches, as if they can just tell the future.

Sure… when “this” kid is standing next to “that” kid who has matured a little faster and whose skill level is head and shoulders beyond the other kids, then the deficiencies in “this” apparently less talented kid seem magnified. I get it. But don’t get it twisted. You can never measure what’s in a kid’s heart. I can’t stress this enough. Yet it’s disappointing how quickly kids are so regularly and so casually written off, told that they can’t play and shouldn’t even bother trying.

So now “this” kid has to pick himself up off the mat and — hopefully — try to continue playing with another team or organization despite the risk of being told the same thing again. I understand that if you run a travel ball organization, you want the best kids, the ones who don’t need a whole lot of work. But far too often I see kids with some talent get left behind, confidence shot by an organization that accepts only the greatest, most talented players and leaves everyone else in the dust.

The Reality

The reality is this, however: If your child is junior high or middle school aged, no one knows who or what they are going to become. NO ONE!!! This, I know from experience. It’s crazy how many times I’ve seen certain guys in the minor leagues and thought to myself, “This player will never make to the majors…” only to end up seeing them thrive with great Major League careers.

It’s easy to spot the no-brainer kids, those kids who stand out as soon as you see them throw, hit and run. And of course, everyone wants those kids, the ones they call the “can’t miss”. Those kids are great because they don’t need a whole lot of coaching up. You just write their name in the line-up and let them shine. They make your team look great — and with so little effort from you, no less!

Ooohhh, but wait… you have to remember that these kids are no more than 14 years old or so. And they may have matured faster than the other kids, physically — but once those so-called “less talented” kids eventually grow into their bodies AND have the work ethic to go along with it after repeatedly overcoming being told they weren’t good enough, you don’t know how this turn of events is going to tip the scales after that!

The Difference is Made in Dedication and Preparation.

I’m going to tell you a little story. (If you get to know me, you’ll find that I love to tell stories. Probably too much. But anyway…) I once played with a kid who was one of these so-called “can’t miss” players. At age 10 or so, he was a beast on the field — faster than everyone else and hitting bombs without fail. I played with him from our Little League years until the end of our high school years. From the ages of 10 to 14 he couldn’t be touched. He was so good that I even started emulating his swing, in hopes of getting the same results I’d seen him achieve — and to be fair, I did end up doing pretty well swinging like him. But my point is, for all the time that this kid could run circles around most players, everyone was positive that he would go on to do amazing things in baseball past high school. If nothing else, he was a shoe-in for a scholarship somewhere to play college ball. And that was only his worst case scenario, as far as we were all concerned

give up

But as time went on, by the time we got to high school, he just didn’t stand out as much as when we were younger. Don’t get me wrong. He was a good, solid high school player. But by the time he was a junior, it was evident that he wouldn’t be playing college ball. It was eye-opening to me, to see how someone could be so good early on and then just fizzle out once everyone catches up to him in terms of development — and then soon surpasses him in terms of talent. What happened to him is what we call “peaking too early”, and it’s not uncommon. It’s what happens to a lot of these so-called “can’t miss” players. Just like you can’t know what will happen to them — you can’t know what will happen to the so-called “can’t play” kids either.

The difference is made in dedication and preparation. If “Mr. Can’t Miss” takes his advantages for granted and never learns how to grind on and off the field, then he may very well end up among those getting left behind in the end. Yet if “Ms. Can’t Play” takes her grit and runs with it, then she just might catch up to that “can’t miss” status in the end. You never know.

You see, where coaches and even scouts make their money is with those in-between players, those players you may see a little something in but have to also do some projecting in order to see where their skill, commitment, and determination can take them with once they’ve seen more training and more opportunity.

But far too often, and at far too young an age, players are getting tossed aside. My message to the coaches and decision makers behind these words of discouragement: Don’t be so quick to give up on a kid. You can’t measure heart. You can’t measure grit. You can’t measure passion. You can’t measure potential. You can’t measure perseverance. The kid isn’t always the problem… it might just be you. (Yep. I said it.)


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The Best Players Are Not Playing Baseball

The Best Baseball Players Are Not Playing Baseball…

One late spring afternoon a couple of years ago, I was on a conference call with some fellow ex-pro players from around the country, catching up with some former teammates and competitors. The former players on this call came from different races and backgrounds — some Southern blacks and whites, some white and black dudes from up North, some Latin dudes from here in the U.S. and beyond. We had a great conversation about the state of baseball now compared to back when we were coming up, with topics ranging from race, to money, to youth baseball, to post-baseball depression.

During the course of this conversation, one of my ex-teammates, who is now a pro scout, mentioned something that stood out to me. He said he had just spent a couple of weeks down at Perfect Game in Lake Point, GA outside of Atlanta… and that he hadn’t been impressed with many of the high school kids that were signed to big time D1 programs like LSU, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt. He told me that he was convinced, based on the few years he had been scouting and seeing the lay of the land, that not only were the so-called “best” players not the ones in the Major D1 level programs, but that they weren’t the ones at the Major League level either.

It was a bold statement for him to make. Yet I believed him with every ounce of my being. He shared that, in actuality, the best kids there at Perfect Game tended to be the ones who were uncommitted and had probably never even been on a showcase tournament stage like this before — and had probably only gotten down to Perfect Game with a grant or non-profit organization. Meanwhile, the other D1 commits had been on the Perfect Game scene for years, which appears to “validate” their status as prospects because of the way our industry’s system of recruiting is now structured.

The Formula is Simple

Not Playing

Let me say this on record: I’m not here to bash PG, or to say that what they’re doing isn’t helpful. However, it does appear to be the lay of the land now, that financially privileged amateur players wind up with disproportionate access to major D1 and Major League opportunities despite not always being up to snuff with their lower income counterparts. There’s a lot of money involved with high level travel ball and the benefits of the exposure that comes with it — so the League ends up missing out on the best of the players whose backgrounds do not expose them to those showcase opportunities.

The formula is pretty simple, and therefore, a bit unfortunate. If you have the means to get onto these high level showcase teams and go play at these PG tourneys around the country, then you’re way ahead of the game compared to a really talented kid who can play some damn good baseball… but doesn’t have the means to travel, or play on a high level travel team to get the exposure that he needs to go further. And the same conundrum goes for girls playing softball.

Times are a little different now because of social media and the internet — so at least if you can play well and market yourself, then you have a chance to gain some attention. But what happens far more often is that incredibly talented kids and their parents simply opt out of the

 


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