I’m going to make this my final installment of “20 lessons learned” for a couple different reasons. The first is that I didn’t want this series to drag on forever. Andrew and I have some cool projects in the works, and I want all our focus to be on those endeavors, but secondly, I feel its appropriate to close this chapter alongside my retirement as a professional baseball player..
As you know from my previous entries, I was successfully rehabbing a torn hamstring from this spring, and I was pitching in games pain-free. My performance on the mound was solid, although I had a feeling the business side of the game had a chance of cutting my season short.
In a similar situation with the Braves where bad timing with the draft and age ended up in my release from the organization, the Twins felt it was in their best interest to let me go in a similar fashion. With new players arriving from the 2014 MLB draft, me being a 26-year-old, and no investment in me financially, I felt it coming.
Even though this feeling was prevalent everyday this season, I made it absolutely certain to the organization that my work ethic, drive and determination to get healthy, and good character would make it a tough decision to part ways with me.
But father time caught up, and that’s exactly what happened. With a few weeks of soul-searching, and support of family members and friends, I made up my mind that after 9 seasons of professional baseball, I am going to retire from the game that has given me so much. I’m leaving this game the way I wanted to, making it to the big leagues or not, they had to rip the jersey from me.
You know, in life we don’t always get exactly what we want despite our best efforts. We do, however, have a choice in how we pursue our dreams. The game of baseball is filled with massive disappointment sometimes, similar to everyday life. I was on one hand extremely unlucky to have to battle through that, but on another, I became impossibly strong and resilient.
While out to lunch a few seasons ago, one summer day before a game in Charleston, SC, I stumbled upon a card that I had to rely on heavily as my career and life advanced. It reads.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our Attitudes.” Charles Swindoll
Lesson 16 – Play on the one string you have…A positive attitude.
I truly feel proud to say that this is how I went about my career as a baseball player. There were so many days where everything was off, I didn’t feel motivated, didn’t have my best, but those were the days I took my positive attitude and played on that string. It’s all you have some days, and it can make a huge difference in your life. There were days when my father was at home in Ohio battling cancer, and I had to go out and pitch at a high level in 1000 miles away. There were times when I came to the field and I couldn’t lift my arm over my head. There were plenty of times when I couldn’t get an out no matter what I threw the hitters. What the hell do you do when this kind of stuff happens? It’s life right? Damn right it is. My pain wasn’t and isn’t unique. We all have demons and battles to fight against, and their kryptonite is a positive mindset in the darkest of times. Give yourself a chance even when there isn’t one. You’ll make it through a better player and person because of it.
Lesson 17 – Cultivate a good support system
Minor league baseball is near impossible without mentors and supportive friends & family. As an 18-year-old coming into a situation where I was expected to grow up, live, and essentially thrive on my own, advice from older players, coaches, and family members was a game changer for me. I had a lot of growing up to do. You have to learn how to budget next to nothing money, eat like a top-level athlete, adequately recover, stay out of trouble, talk to the media, take care of your arm and body, and much much more. Having my family and close friends who wanted nothing but the best for me and my career saved my ass when I would have failed several times. The comfort of knowing that no matter what the circumstance, you always have people to lean on makes the game much easier to play. There are always people out there ready to help. You might find them in the most unusual places, but remember, everyone is a teacher, so do more listening than talking when searching for the right people to form your inner circle. Cut out the people in your life who are a negative influence and drag you down. Sometimes that even means family or friends you’ve known a long time. It’s ok. If they aren’t helping or encouraging you to move forward, they don’t have a place for you.
Lesson 18 – Always take care of those people who take care of you
The only people I ever tipped were waiters and waitresses before I got to pro ball. Now granted, we didn’t make boatloads of money in the minor leagues, but sometimes neither did the people helping us tirelessly to have polished cleats or perfectly clean and neatly organized uniforms. I’m happy to say that I took the time to get to know most of those people’s story. I’m a believer that there are many under appreciated people in professional baseball from clubhouse guys, athletic trainers, strength coaches, and front office personnel. You must make it a point to acknowledge their existence because there are assholes everywhere that don’t. The lesson I learned here is to never make enemies in the workplace with those who are working for you. Take them out to lunch, get on their level, and make it known that you care.
Lesson 19 – Someone is always watching
Even when there obviously isn’t, the great ones pretend there is. Do you ever goto a sporting event and just watch in awe as your favorite player walks across the field or court? The best players have an ora about them…A confident something in everything they do. From picking up a ball to tieing their shoes, there is a swagger or sureness in what they are doing at all times. This is because they conduct themselves the same everywhere they go..alone or not alone. Confident and professional.
Take Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Roger Federer. I can bet you when they are by themselves practicing, they do so in a manner that is exactly how they would conduct themselves in real live action. Even if their game sucks at that particular moment, and their confidence is plummeting, they pretend and conduct themselves like champions at all times. They fake it if they have to, because they know if they constantly change character, they won’t be successful in the long run.
I can remember going to watch Tiger Woods play golf on a Sunday even when he wasn’t close to the lead, he trained hard every day and even got the best equipment for this from this store to be able to improve. He was playing so poorly in fact, that the crowds had mostly moved over to the leaders to watch them play. But of course Tiger had his signature Sunday red and black on as always. His shoulders were back, head held high, and he strolled through the fairways like he could walk on water.
Lesson learned. Even when none is watching, carry yourself like a champion.
Lesson 20 – Don’t idolize professional athletes. Find the things they do well, and appreciate those instead.
When you give a young person buckets of money for having a great swing, a cannon for an arm, or superior genetics, it doesn’t always mean they are the best of people. I certainly don’t speak for everyone, as I’ve had many talented and wealthy teammates who were even better people off the field. There are, though, so many young kids out there that look up to superstar athletes who are absolutely horrible people.
I wish those kids would understand that while sports are people’s job sometimes, it is after all, just grown men playing the same exact game they do, just at a higher level. I think it’s cool to see young kids emulate their favorite player’s batting stance or pitching mechanics. Those players are successful for a reason, but its their swing…not their values as a person which makes them elite athletes. Pay no attention to the crap off the field, and certainly don’t emulate it. Athletes you see on t.v. are just the same as you and me, just better at hitting or throwing a ball, nothing more.
So the lesson learned here is to feel free and digest all that athletes do on the court or field, but do not expect them to be the Dalai Lama when the uniform comes off. You might be disappointed if you do.
It is with these 20 lessons that I would like to give a sincere thank you to all of you. Every single person who found these articles interesting, helpful, or entertaining…thank you so much for reading. This game has brought my family and I more joy than any of us could have imagined. I have built so many incredible relationships that I will forever cherish. To all my coaches out there who sacrificed their time and energy to see me succeed, I love you. Thank you so much for investing in me. To all my teammates who have battled with me and shared the same goal as me..I’ll miss all of you.
And finally to all of my family, blood, and not, you have extended my career with me as far as I was meant to go. I can look each of you in the eye with a full heart and tell you I gave it my best shot. You all should know you had more than a huge hand in making my career long and successful in a number of ways. I am forever in your debt..all of you.
And for my dad, who believed in me no matter what. I love and miss you…I hope I’m making you proud.