“You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” Roy Campanella
As you all could see from >>Part One<< of this series, the beginning of my professional career got off to a tremendous start. I really could not have asked for a much better intro into pro ball than the events that unfolded for me on June 6, 2006. From there it immediately got even better for the young, fresh-armed high school Chad. Read on….
After signing, I was fortunate to have been handed a hefty signing bonus along with a college scholarship paid in full. What else could an 18-year-old want or need!? I bought a brand new truck and put the rest away for later. (<< lesson upcoming..)
I can remember going to the park for the first time so nervous I could barely remember how to drive. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I was actually a professional baseball player. Someone who everyone in my life including myself expected me to be. A straight-laced kid with a golden left arm, destined for the majors. Not a worry in the world..Not yet, at least. Around me, were immaculate fields surrounded by the most up-to-date infrastructure I’d ever seen in a sporting complex. I’m talking about the Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, a mecca of sorts for athletic teams of all kinds to play at. Coming straight from high school a couple of weeks prior, that was such an awesome experience to pull into that parking lot for the first time. I remember that day…and then of course my last day nearly 6 seasons later. The 2000 or so days in between changed me from a boy into a man. A kid with a future so bright, into one filled with uncertainty. A career on the fast track into one derailed by injury, tragedy, and inconsistency. But most of all, it has brought me a profound knowledge of the game many will never fully understand. Here are 3 more lessons from my career.
As a side note, Scott Kazmir is a player I’ve really learned from and looked up to in my career. Countless injuries and complete mechanical transformations, but rising above them to become a great impact again is really inspiring, and tells me a lot about him as a guy. I can relate to his story quite well. Read more >here< and >here<
“There were a lot of questions I had to answer after I got released. What am I going to do? How am I going to go forward in life? At the time, I was — for lack of a better word — angry at the sport. When things aren’t going well, this game can humble you and make you think twice about pursuing your career. When you’re out on the mound, scuffling, it feels like you’re on an island by yourself.” Scott Kazmir– A top 5 MLB pitcher in the mid-2000’s. Injured several times, left the game for personal reasons, played independent ball with little success, and now back to the MLB playing at an elite level.
…Leads well into this lesson.
Lesson 3 – When the shit hits the fan, some guys run, and some guys stay….Stay – I think the Pacino quote suits the game of baseball quite well. It’s certainly common knowledge that baseball is a game of failure, especially for hitters. Getting a hit 3 out of every ten at bats will get you a really nice paycheck at the Major League level these days. On the pitching end of things there are two parts of the game I’d like to speak to. Injuries and struggles. These two things happen to every pitcher in the world if they are lucky enough to play for a long time. The problem is, sometimes we can’t take the heat. Injuries naturally lead to a negative, or destructive outlook toward the game. It’s very easy to just chalk up being hurt to bad luck or overuse, and just sink into a hole of feeling bad for yourself. We’ve all been there as pro athletes, but I’m here to tell you, if you want to beat the odds when they are stacked up like a firing squad against you, you’re going to have to solve your problem with a positive outlook, one step at a time. Be honest with yourself. Why did you get hurt? If you don’t know, find someone who truly does know. How can you prevent it from happening again? Were you in shitty shape? Was it a lack of effort in your strength or conditioning program? Do you have a flaw in your mechanics that will take a considerable amount of time and effort to fix? It’s a sinking feeling knowing you have to work an injury from the ground up, (I’ve rehabbed a slap tear in my labrum in 2008 and had Tommy John surgery in 2010) but worth it no matter the outcome. It teaches you about how to hone resiliency.
Same goes for the in-season struggles. Giving up 11 runs in 3 innings one year, and then going to the clubhouse to cry in a bathroom stall really wasn’t my plan for one start I had in the summer of 2007. Nor was it the right way to deal with it. Did I live though? Of course. Did I bounce back. Yes. I wasted precious time dwelling in my failure though. I never, ever do that anymore. I’m too wise for that bullshit. Struggling is the name of the game sometimes. The best players in the world brush it off so seamlessly. It bothers them, but they see past it. They see the solutions, and waste no precious time in the negative world. The best players I’ve ever been on a team with have had absolutely brutal stretches in their minor league career. Craig Kimbrel was sent down from a team I was on to a lower level, because it was embarrassing how badly he was missing the strike zone. After games, even then, he would be the happy-go-lucky kid we all know and love as the Braves all-star closer today. Jason Heyward went dozens of games in a row without getting a hit. Never did I see him hang his head or say ‘I suck.” It’s just not productive, and he knew the game would eat him up and destroy him if he thought that. Lesson to be learned is that no matter how bad things seem, there is always a solution, and it’s found in both effort and un unwavering positive attitude.
Lesson 4 – Long distance running doesn’t help pitchers, it hurts them – One of the downfalls to getting drafted out of high school, with little experience under my belt as to what works for me in regards to strength and conditioning, was my acceptance that running like a marathoner was the norm and encouraged. I would make sure I ran long and hard like everyone else because I thought it “flushed” lactic acid and soreness out of my arm. I believed this for a long time, because coaches and players who were older and around the game longer told me it was how I “must” condition. The problem was, I was getting more sore, moving more poorly, losing strength, weakening my immune system, and throwing slower. All while getting skinny-fat in the process. Oh, but it was flushing my arm out so it’s all good, right?? Wrong. It took me a few years, but I finally knew something wasn’t right when I was always hurting and weak. My finding of world renowned strength coach Eric Cressey helped me dispel the myth of running long for pitching, and he is now leading the good fight against the traditionalist baseball dogma nonsense. Here are a couple, more in-depth articles, further proving my point.
Should pitchers run? Here’s what the research says. by Rob Rabena <<< Click To Read
The facial knock on distance running for pitchers by Eric Cressey <<< Click To Read
Lesson 5 – What works for me, doesn’t usually work for you Becoming a true professional at anything takes years and years to accomplish. Even though I play and have played professional baseball for nearly 8 seasons now, I’m still learning what works for me in every aspect of the game. There are so many interworking parts that make someone successful at it. Everything from eating right to detailed long toss programs play integral roles in making me a better player. Everyday I’m soaking up knowledge and applying it the best way possible to suit my progress. As a young person though, its natural to follow. As a young ballplayer I did just that, never once reflecting on my daily progress, but doing what seemed right, and what everyone else was doing. You follow an elders lead. Most times though they will lead you into the safest, most comfortable situation so that you are on their level. If you are a younger player reading this, understand this for me. You must separate yourself from the pack somehow to be a remarkable success. Take what I told you in lesson 1 > learn from everyone, but mimic no one. You see a veteran running long distance to flush their arm? It doesn’t mean you need to, or should follow. Learn why before you put forth the effort. See a teammate with a fancy arm care program? Seek the truths. Is it making me a better baseball player today? Everybody’s body and mind respond to stimuli differently, therefore we must carry and learn accordingly to become the best version of ourselves.
That’s all for today my good friends. I really enjoyed writing this, and would love to see some comments below. I will respond and answer any questions you have for me!