There are many paths to becoming a professional baseball player, but I would like to tell you a little about mine.
I was fortunate enough to get a D1 scholarship out of high school, which gave me the opportunity to become a Freshmen All-American and Big East Rookie of the Year and eventually be drafted by the New York Yankees. I played for that prestigious organization for seven years and then ended my career with the Philadelphia Phillies. I got to learn from current Hall of Famers and play next to future Hall of Famers. I got to meet some of the best coaches in the game who hopefully didn’t get tired of me asking a lot of questions and always getting to the field as early as possible.
So, what did I do in my youth baseball days that led me to all of that? I don’t know about other professional baseball players, but I get this question quite a bit. I always give the same answer:
First- my parents never pressured me to play baseball. It was always my choice.
Second- I only played spring baseball until I got to high school. This is not an article to bash travel baseball, or to try to keep you from playing fall baseball. I played fall baseball for one season, and didn’t start playing travel baseball until high school (which I only did in the fall). This was my choice. I can remember not liking fall baseball the one season I decided to play, but my parents made me stick it out and finish the season. This was a huge lesson for me as it taught me not to quit on my team just because I wasn’t happy.
These two points played a huge role in my journey to pro ball because my parents taught me work ethic and never to quit. But, here is the real secret of how I made it to professional baseball…
This taught me how to practice. My dad would give me a sleeve of racquetballs, which I would eventually lose in a ditch, or in the back seat of a convertible that was driving by our house (true story- just ask my brother). I would throw it against the house all day pretending I was different players from the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. We had a double garage door with a two-foot concrete divider, which was my “strike zone”. I remember hitting the garage door and hearing my mom from inside the house yell “THROW STIKES!” She wasn’t yelling that to correct me, she just didn’t want to hear the loud bang from hitting the aluminum garage door. I would throw the racquetball on top of our pitched roof to practice pop ups as it rolled down.
When I started to take lessons in high school, I would come home and throw the ball against the house for hours and work on what I was just taught. My parents never made me do this; I just wanted to do it because it was fun to me.
The racquetball got me to professional baseball. It taught me that you can get better all by yourself. Playing 50, 100, or 150 games a year didn’t get me to professional baseball. Playing in tournaments didn’t get me there either; I never even played in a travel tournament. Practicing for hours upon hours by myself got me there. Begging my mom to throw the ball to me in the pool while I try to make web gem diving catches got me there. Waiting in the front yard for my dad to come home from work with both of our gloves in my hands got me there. Half the time my dad wouldn’t even eat, relax or even change out of his work clothes before he would start throwing with me. On the rare occasion that he did eat first, you know what I would do? Yep, throw the racquetball against the house waiting for him to get done with his food hoping it wouldn’t get dark before he finished.
Look, there truthfully is no secret on how to become successful – you have to want it. Why do you think Latin Americans are throwing 90+ at 15 years of age? How do they get so good at fielding so young? I will tell you why…because they HAVE TO WANT IT. I can guarantee you they aren’t playing weekend tournaments. They are out at the field playing baseball with each other every chance they get using whatever gear they can find. If you can have that mentality as a player, or instill that mentality as a coach, you are setting yourself or your team up for success. It might not translate into a professional baseball career, but it absolutely will translate in life, God willing.