“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller
June 6, 2006 was a date that would change the course of my early adult life forever. After a very successful season for our top 5 nationally ranked high school baseball team, Walsh Jesuit, we won an Ohio State Championship title for the 2nd time in my four year career there. It was already such a special moment to spend with all of my closest friends and family, and it had surely topped the list for best day of my life in the 18 years I had spent on planet earth.
Leading into this day, I was also a highly scouted pitcher whom many thought would be selected in the first few rounds of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. I had finished my high school career with a perfect 18-0 record, and was lucky enough to finish as the player of the year in Ohio. As a skinny, but athletic left-hander who could touch the low 90s with a “projectable” 6’3″ 170lb frame and clean delivery, scouts felt like I had done everything in my power to warrant a high pick, as did I. The feeling of winning it all had consumed all my energy that afternoon though. My mind was not on the draft at all. It was just trying to savor every second of the last high school game I’d ever play. Jumping in that dog pile in the middle of the diamond was sure to be the last moment I’d play the game as a boy whether I decided to play in college (signed with Kent State University) or not. In the very near future, I’d be trying to live out every kid’s biggest dream by playing at a level most will unfortunately never achieve.
Soon after celebrating on the field, our whole team, family, and friends, would gather at a local restaurant to continue the party. The buzz was starting to shift from the memory of winning the state title, to now, when would Chad get drafted. As I glanced up on the tv screen, I watched the first round names go by on Sportscenter’s bottom line. Many of today’s household names were on that list. Hochevar, Lincecum, Scherzer, Kershaw..The list goes on. These names meant nothing at the time to me except for numbers to pass until I was hopefully selected.
Not much long after, I was in a conversation with my friends when I looked over at my father talking to my head baseball coach. It looked as if he had some good news. My stomach wrenched as I clinched my seat hard. My coach said “Can I have your attention everyone. Chad Rodgers has been selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 3rd round (100th overall). Congratulations Chad!” The whole place erupted with cheers. I remember looking over at my dad and grandfather and seeing them both crying and hugging each other. Neither of them had missed a game of mine since I began playing 12 years earlier. My heart was full of joy for them, not me. They were the ones who sacrificed everything for the betterment of myself. I got much more pleasure seeing my friends and family excited. It was one of those surreal moments you can easily draw back on and say that everything went absolutely perfectly. One thing that rarely ever happens in this game.
From that perfect day in June 2006, I began a journey that would bring and take from me many things. Excitement, disappointment, victory, loss, tragedy, anxiety, hopefulness, and strength among many other unique feelings and new experiences. I realize that it is my duty to share these moments as a way to help you up and comers out there. Athough my journey hasn’t brought the fame and fortune many expected, it has instilled in me qualities I wouldn’t otherwise possess. Courage, commitment, work ethic, responsibility, and most of all, perseverance are some of the things I’d like to talk to you about here in this blog series. These are the lessons I’ve learned playing 8 years of professional baseball….
Lesson 1 – Learn something from everyone, but mimic no one – Baseball coaches and instructors tend to be very passionate, and often stick to their guns when it comes to what they believe is the right way to do something. The sport is rich in tradition, but lacks open mindedness for different ways to get better. I can remember being fresh out of high school standing on a set of perfectly manicured mounds in the Orlando heat, getting ready to throw my first bullpen session as a professional. To my right and left were the other pitchers drafted that year, and behind us were a slew of Braves coaches and front office personnel. I was so young, and looked up to these folks with such high admiration, that whatever they would suggest to me, I would try and perfect. Looking back, I see a huge flaw in this mindset. Then, every coach would offer opinions as to how I could get better, improve my mechanics, or hold a pitch differently. Then, I would listen to everything, and execute it all to a T. As a result, my mind and body were filled with contradicting ideas and methods, halting my progress and suppressing my athleticism in their tracks. If I were to go back to that time in my life, I would still keep my mind wide open, but my filter would be refined. I would throw out what didn’t feel right, and keep what clicked. The best athletes do this so well.
“Adapt what is useful. Reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Bruce Lee
Lesson 2 – There is a big difference between “control” and “command” – Minor league pitchers control the baseball pretty well for the most part. Most of us have a good idea which side of the plate the ball is going, and if we don’t, then we aren’t going to be playing for much longer. In my experience observing some of the best major leaguers of all time up close, including John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Tim Hudson, the differences were not what most of you would expect. They didn’t necessarily throw much harder or throw tighter breaking balls. What they did do, was throw the ball where they wanted to way more often than the minor league pitchers. Much of it was repeating a consistent delivery, something lesser pitchers do not do. I remember watching Tim Hudson in a side session, and I counted 26 out of 32 executed pitches (pitches thrown exactly where he wanted). The other 6 weren’t that bad either. His misses were pitches that could still be outs. I left in awe because of how far I knew I’d have to come, just to have a bullpen as tight as that. When he called for pitches in off the plate, it was off the plate. If he called for a slider in the dirt, it was getting dirty, not crossing the belt. All of the guys in the farm system have the ability to command, they just don’t repeat it with the same consistency as the big boys.
“Consistency is something you can always improve on. You can be more consistent with your mental approach, the things you do physically on the mound. Instead of executing 5 good pitches an inning, try to make six. You can always do more of what you are doing well and try to be as consistent as you can be.” Greg Maddux
Im really excited to share more in the coming weeks. This is my introductory article for what I think will be a game changer for many up and coming baseball players and athletes alike. I hope you enjoyed the two lessons, and learned a little more about me from a baseball perspective. Let me know what you think! Be back soon with much, much more..