We are currently living in an era of individuality. Everyone has their own voice, their own brand, their own way of selling themselves. But there is a distinct line between being and embracing who you are and doing what you do, and being someone you’re not, to appeal to the masses as opposed to the game or your teammates. In an effort to do something to look cool, many get away from doing what is right. Over the course of a Groundhog Day baseball season schedule, many fail to keep doing the things at the same high level that got them to the high level.
We have a saying in our Minor League system to help our players understand the professional way to go about their business while on their journey to the Big Leagues. “If you wouldn’t do it in Boston, as a member of the Red Sox, then you are not going to do it here.” It is a frequent reminder to our guys who are constantly learning what it takes to be a Major League Baseball player, often used when they encounter bumps along the way.
Every single day, our players have countless choices to make, many of which they don’t even realize. Every single one of those choices is a reflection of who they are and where they want to go. Their actions speak much louder than their words. Whether it be on the field or off, when presented with a choice of how to act, what to do, or something to say, the answer is easily found in whether or not it’s an appropriate behavior at your final destination.
The Minor League season is a grind in every sense. One hundred and forty games over the course of about 150 days takes a toll on us all at this level of the game. It’s both physically demanding and mentally draining to the point where it is very tempting to cut a corner or take a day off knowing that there’s another game tomorrow… and the next day… and the day after that. Spend enough time around Major League players and their Minor League counterparts, and you’ll see two clear separating traits. The first is the consistency to physically perform and work at the highest level on a daily basis. The second, which enables the first, is the ability to be mentally engaged with the highest focus every single day.
Teaching our players to work like a professional doesn’t necessarily mean we get more complex with our drills, nor does it mean practicing for longer hours than their amateur counterparts. Put simply, working like a professional means getting something out of every single rep, every single day. In order to do that, there is a clear combination of both the physical and mental elements of the game. Imagine an entire year of taking batting practice without a single mindless swing, a full year of taking every single ground ball with consistent technique, or 140 games with laser-like focus when simply playing catch. With that type of approach, players cannot help but get better. But over the course of that 140-game season, that approach is incredibly challenging to sustain.
Big Leaguers ARE able to sustain that approach, and can overcome the physical and mental grind. Career minor leaguers along those who never get the privilege of playing professionally often let that grind get the best of them, despite having the talent to play at a higher level.
It’s natural to be locked in and be focused on every swing, ground ball, and throw on the first day of Spring Training, enthusiastic to get better with every rep. It’s just as natural to be thinking about the off-season in the middle of a scorching July day that can easily take your attention away from what you’re doing on the field. If you would work with your best focus while playing for our Major League club, then you better find a way to bring that same focus while you’re down here with us.
It’s easy to run out that routine ground ball to second base as hard as you can on Opening Day. It’s just as easy to dog it in the middle of the summer during a slump when you haven’t gotten a hit in over a week. If you wouldn’t dog it in the Big Leagues, then don’t dog it here.
In April, with the whole season in front of you, you won’t think twice about showing up hours before you need to. In August, with the whole season behind you, you might think about showing up only minutes before you have to. If you plan on reporting early when you’re playing for the Red Sox in Boston, then you better get here early while playing for the Sea Dogs in Portland.
In a world where it’s easy for our players to fall into the trap of getting away from what’s right for whatever reason, it’s our job as coaches to remind them to think and act today, with tomorrow in mind. The right way to do things will always be the cool way to do things.