As a kid, my summers always consisted of traveling the states with some of my best buddies playing baseball, the game we loved. I can remember my dad throwing me batting practice until my hands started to bleed or his shoulder started to hurt, the latter being the more frequent reason for quitting. I loved it though. I could never get enough. Many of my friends were the same way, and that passion carried them all the way to the collegiate ranks or even to the professional level, which I so fortunately have climbed to. Undoubtedly physical size, strength, and ability played a part, but more than that, I truly believe the environment for learning and growing as a player played an even bigger role in keeping me interested and passionate for the game. In the book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin talks at length about how “deliberate practice” for many years in succession, is the way top performers in their respective fields ascend to the very peak of their profession. I can’t agree more that focused practice for a long period of time has helped me accomplish all that I have in baseball. I’ve been on little league teams that nearly reached the World Series, high school teams that won state championships, and professional teams that had some of today’s greatest players. It’s a fact that extremely hard work on my craft played a huge part getting me into those incredible positions. In my opinion, however, it was staying interested, staying on course, staying hungry for success, and having some incredible family, coaches, and mentors that meant more in achieving my dreams than any natural talent that I possessed.
Here are a couple more detailed lessons I’ve learned throughout my life as a baseball player, and how you can use them to better your chances for improving beyond what you think you are capable of.
1.) Don’t fall for the products or people who promise overnight success. Instead, seek out the places and groups that inspire camaraderie and enjoyable hard work.
I was lucky on this front that my parents had a keen eye for what was truly best for me. My fondest memories as a kid playing baseball were traveling the countless miles to the best hitting and pitching facilities, and learning from instructors that were willing to stay past closing time to throw me extra batting practice or watch more video with me on my mechanics. It’s the people who were truly looking after my best interests and always willing to go that extra mile to see me succeed that made me realize my potential. No matter what ability level a kid may be, it’s these people and places that will get the best out of them. Have a sharp eye for these places and people because they are special, and will mold and develop talent that even you didn’t realize you had.
It’s not irony that as a kid, and now as an adult, these are the places I’ve thrived in. In fact, the winter after my 3rd professional season in 2008, my dad and I traveled from Akron, Ohio to Boston, Massachusetts in search of the best training facility out there to develop my baseball ability. I planned to stay for a weekend at Cressey Performance, but the people there were too interested in my health and my success for me to leave. I’ve been here every offseason since, and will continue to go back because it’s a healthy environment that inspires success.
2.) Don’t take the easiest, most comfortable, or most traveled route. Instead, surround yourself with friends and mentors who share the same drive, and are equally committed to their dreams as you are to yours.
Whether it was in school, on the basketball court, on the golf course, or on the baseball field, I was always drawn to the people who were the most successful. I knew that if I wanted to bring the best out of myself, I was gonna need to hang out with these people. So I did. I competed, studied, and trained with them, and as a result I became better than I thought I could be. As a youngster, I was lucky enough to goto the best schools, play on the best teams, and therefore, I became friends with some very successful people with whom I competed and admired. My parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they constantly put me in situations where I would surely interact with the brightest minds, best athletes, and most driven people.
A more recent example of this came at a point in my life where it would have been easy to take a more comfortable route. This summer, after spending almost 7 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, I was released. After working so hard to come back from elbow surgery, the day I was supposed to come off the disabled list for the first time in over a year, I was sent to my truck with my bags packed for home, and not a team. The easy way out would have been to take the rest of the summer off, hang out on the beaches of sunny Florida thinking about what to do next, and maybe workout or throw a little bit. That’s not me though. No one who becomes great at what they do can settle that easy.
Instead, I decided to take action and go back to Cressey Performance in Boston to surround myself with likeminded people who would push me, inspire me, teach me, and help me back up on my feet. Even though it might not have been what was comfortable at the time, it’s what I needed to do. It’s what competitors and successful people do when they are knocked down. They dust themselves off, put themselves back together with the help of other strong individuals, and keep pushing forward. With the help of some amazing friends, mentors, and family, I turned a potentially career ending setback into a positive by spending the rest of my summer busting my ass in the gym, carrying out excruciating mental tests with one of my best and most driven friends, Sahil Bloom, to re-examine our self-imposed boundaries. I also accepted various coaching opportunities to teach kids some of the things I’ve learned along the way, which turned out to be my most rewarding therapy by far.
There are so many different reasons young baseball players and young people don’t live up to their abilities. There are many things that we just can’t control, and many obstacles that we just can’t move. I do, however, believe young athletes can put themselves into some awesome situations by taking it upon themselves to seek out the best in every aspect of their life. If it’s your goal to be the best baseball player you can be, make sure the people around you are the best for nurturing your talent. Make sure you continue learning from those people, competing with those people, and then become friends with those people. If you do this, your dream of becoming that player that you want to be is so much more likely to come true.