Baseball will humble you. If you’re a player or a coach at any level, you can’t ever forget that. No matter how comfortable you may become with your situation on the diamond, you can never forget that. Never, ever forget that. The second you forget that is the second that it happens. You can have all the talent in the world, and baseball will find a way to let you know that you don’t really know anything about the game. Ryan Braun could be the best player in baseball right now. This offseason, the game knocked him down a peg or two. Chuck Knoblauch, a 4-time All-Star, developed a nearly paralyzing case of the yips towards the end of his career in New York. After one of the most hyped starts to a baseball career, Stephen Strasburg’s elbow exploded, prompting a year-long recovery.
One of the most deflating experiences is experienced by every player fairly regularly. Standing in the batter’s box after a strikeout, that 4 x 6 rectangle quickly transforms into one of the loneliest places on earth. There’s nowhere to hide; you’ve been bested in a one-on-one showdown and have to walk back to the dugout by yourself with no one there to pat you on the butt and tell you it’s going to be okay, other than the guy on deck who is probably anxiously awaiting his chance to tempt fate and look to drive a hanging curve into the left center gap. But for every cruel experience baseball appropriates, there’s beauty in it. On the way back to the dugout, you should be thinking about how that pitcher got you out. When you’re sitting on the bench before you head back out into the field, you should be thinking about what you’re going to do the next time you’re faced with a 2 – 2 breaking ball. And then, the next time you’re up at bat, you should jump on a fastball early in the count and smile when you dust your self off at second base after ripping a ball into the gap.
I coach varsity baseball and at times I think it can be the most poetic job on the planet. I get to deliver cliché phrases that most of the young men I coach are hearing for the first time. “You don’t know anything about baseball until you realize you don’t know anything about baseball.”
“If you’re not doing it on offense, do it on defense. If you’re not doing it on defense, do it on offense. If you’re not doing it on either, pick someone else up.”
“It’s the work you put in when no one’s watching that makes a difference.” I love it. I’m a walking truism for three or four months out of the year and, quite frankly, that’s not long enough for me.
Like all things in life, baseball is about growth. I tell people all the time, whether it be other coaches, fans, or the players themselves, if you measure your success in wins and losses, you’re going to be upset a lot of the time. If you measure how much you’ve grown as a player since you started playing, and you see progress, that’s where real successes are developed.
Baseball is one of the greatest metaphors for life. Every success is built from failure. Every failure should be a teachable moment. It’s an ever-evolving process. And that, to me, is where I find the most enjoyment in baseball.