“He works like he has no talent. He works hard every day like he wants to make the team.” – Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks on Kevin Durant
I will never forget the day that the travel squad for my first Florida trip was posted on Coach’s door. It was a week before the first game in Spring 2002 (technically late Winter). I walked anxiously toward the office and saw the handwritten list taped to the outside. Line by line I moved my finger down until I saw it: Noah Welte 2B. I smiled.
Every subsequent trip the same thing would occur. Coach would end practice by saying the travel squad for whatever road game would be posted in the morning. I would wake up, anxiously stop over on my way to class, and move my finger down hoping to see my handwritten name on the travel list. When I saw it, I smiled. Every time. That feeling was always as great as the first time.
Today is February 15th. In the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, that means it is the first day for high school baseball practice and/or tryouts. Mother Nature welcomed this day to us in Northern Kentucky with a wonderful snowstorm. The ground looks as though teams have taken bucket after bucket of BP and the pearly white baseballs have blanketed every inch of grass.
For the first time in eight years, I arrive at this day a fan. With no team to call my own this year, I still anxiously await this day. I cannot wait to stop by the practices of several of my coaching colleagues and watch them begin to mold their teams into contenders, overachievers, and sleeper picks.
Allow me to provide you with a little advice as your season begins.
1. Take nothing for granted. You are not promised tomorrow. Leave everything out there today. You may think you are already in the lineup as a starter, but do not let anyone else know that. Do not tell yourself that. This breeds complacency. You never know what may happen, and someone is busting his tail to get your spot, to prove himself. Get after it today, and when tomorrow comes, be thankful, then get after it again.
2. Have a purpose. Every rep matters. Every swing, every pitch, every throw, every catch, every ground ball, every drill rep. Do them with focus and concentration. Do not go through the motions. Know what you are trying to work on and do it. This will make you better, this will make you tougher, this will help you lead by example.
3. Assume nothing. You are guaranteed nothing. Tryout like you are trying to make the team and impress someone, not like you are already safe. You may think you have a read on the coaches, but leave nothing to chance. Then, when you do make it, appreciate it. Then, treat each day of the season the same way.
4. Have your teammates’ backs. Everyone who shows up for tryouts is a part of the team. Every single day until they are no longer asked back. Treat them that way. Support them, cheer for them, encourage them, respect them, and help them. Start building team chemistry from Day One. This means being a team all day every day, on and off the field.
5. Be a good student. Of the game and in the classroom. You are no good to your team if you cannot make the grades. Give the classroom the same commitment you give your baseball. Ask questions when you do not understand. Learn the signs. Learn the coverages. Learn the plays. Know what will be called before it is called. Study patterns, study situations, study tendencies. Learn about your teammates. Figure out what they know and what they don’t. Help each other. You can never know too much.
6. Talk the game. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Help position your fielders. Know where they like their feeds. Know their arm strength. Let them know where you are on the field. Talk about the pitcher. Talk about the hitters. If you see something, point it out. If you think something will work, speak up. Share ideas, share stories, discuss situations.
7. Gym practices will make you tougher and more disciplined. There will be gym time. Lots and lots of gym time. There is only so much work that can be done in a gym. Once you have done it all, do it again and again and again. We get better through repetition. When you start to talk about hating the gym practices, your practices will suffer. They get monotonous and boring. Embrace the gym. Work through the monotony. Have a purpose. Love every rep. The hard work you do now will prepare you for the moments to shine in late May and early June.
8. Respect the game. Baseball was here long before you ever were and will be here long after you are gone. No one is bigger than the game. Do not show up your teammates, coaches, umpires, or opponents. Do not throw your bats, helmets, or gloves. The game will frustrate you, but try not to show your frustration. The game will give everyone the chance to be a hero, embrace it.
9. Have fun. Day in and day out, remember that this is a privilege, and more importantly, it is a game. There are people who would love to have the opportunity that you get to play baseball. Maintain proper perspectives through the tough times, and enjoy every single second.
10. Get better daily. This is all that we ever want for our teams. We demand a lot and have high expectations for you. But, at the end of the day, we push you so that you may push yourself to be the best you can possibly be. Work hard to be better today than you were yesterday. At the end of the year, when all of those days of getting better add up, we will be happy with where we end up.
Good luck this season to the players and coaches. I cannot wait to watch all of your hard work translate onto the field. Have a great season and take nothing for granted.
Bring your best today!