In this short article, I’m going to tell you who you don’t want to be, and what you don’t want to have happen to you. It happened to me…and it sucked.
It was 2008.
After a great fall season, showing well on scout night and in private workouts, I was told that scouts would be coming back out to watch me in the spring. It was my dream, and I was incredibly excited. All I had to do was continue to pitch well when scouts returned to follow up on the spring.
It was a cold, windy day in early March. My home ballpark was a bandbox – only about 360ft to center, and with 15-20mph winds blowing out, I had to keep the ball down.
A scout from the Milwaukee Brewers watched me warm up. He was there to watch me play catch. He watched me chat with my catcher as I got a drink before starting my bullpen. He watched every pitch I threw in the bullpen, perched atop the bleachers above me. I went through my normal pregame routine and tried to act like nothing was different, but I was aware of his presence every step of the way.
A few innings in, pitching against the Manhattan College Jaspers, a heavy-hitting team, I got into trouble. Then, with the scout’s radar gun still fixed on my every pitch, a hitter took me deep to center field.
Okay, I told myself. No big deal. Just one home run.
The next hitter? Took a huge hack, and also got one pretty good. I watched it leave the bat and begged the wind not to take it. Please, just be a deep fly ball.
The wind did not comply.
Back-t0-back home runs? Not good.
I got a little angry and decided I was going to blow the next hitter away. I was mad, I’d make him pay.
The bomb he hit was the farthest of the three. They went back…
Three home runs in a row. I looked back up in the stands a few hitters later, and the scout was gone. He had seen enough.
I threw hard enough, had an above-average curveball, and threw strikes. I had the tools, which is why the scout came to watch in the first place. But, looking back, I really was just throwing, and mixing pitches up in a rather unsophisticated way.
I should have seen the hitters leaning over the plate, eyes big while they cheated on fastballs. But, I didn’t know what to look for. I missed it.
I didn’t know how to pitch.
Years later, I gave up only two home runs in one 50 inning pro baseball season, and only gave up 22 in 360 innings. Vastly better hitters couldn’t take me deep very often, whereas in college I let guys embarrass me in front of scouts who held the keys to my future.
I just didn’t have the tools to make it where I wanted to make it.
Over the next 9 years, I slowly gathered the tools I lacked, because I asked questions and had a burning desire to keep climbing the ladder. But, aging athletes are off the glue factory in a hurry, and once I assembled the pitcher I had always hoped to be, it was too late.
I was too old, and too broken down to get my shot at pitching in the Major Leagues by the time I was finally ready. I didn’t have any regrets, but the reality was that I was too slow climbing that mountain, even if I did get close to the top.
I had the same physical tools at age 24 that I did at age 30, when I played my last season. I just didn’t assemble the mental part of the game – I didn’t have the instructions for my tools.
Learning all of the complex, advanced, heavily nuanced things about pitching was something I LOVED about the game, and I learned new things each year from teammates and coaches. But, I didn’t put it all together until I was in my late-20s, which is the equivalent of being 50 years old in a corporate career.
I have no regrets about my progression as a player, but the reality is that I found all the answers too late.
By the time I had them and was a smart, successful pitcher, I was breaking down.
I was out of gas and rolling, slowly, to a stop. I could have been that same savvy pitcher years earlier, if I had known then what I know now.
So, I’m passing on my knowledge to whomever will listen.
Smart pitchers win championships. Smart pitchers get paid.
The sooner you get there, the better.