I was 15 years old and just really starting to find myself in baseball. I began lifting weights, doing agilities, and learning from playing with some great players. Baseball was starting to become a lot of fun for me.
But one of the biggest factors in my progression had to do with the fact that I got to play with my older brother Mike, who was primarily a pitcher. Mike was ultra-competitive; never backed down to anyone; and worked harder than anyone I have ever known (besides my parents). Every day I had the luxury of learning from him.
There were countless lessons I can remember learning from Mike; but one sticks with me more than the others. And I can recount it with such clarity that I have to believe it could arguably be the single most influential point in my life.
Once or twice a week, Mike would grab a bucket of balls, load them into his car, and drive up to the local high school. He always told me that he was going to throw; and when I asked him if he needed me to go with him, he abruptly would say no. One day I decided to walk to the field to see who he was throwing with. When I arrived, I saw that Mike was by himself, throwing balls into a large padded target, hanging on the batting cage. I watched him for a good hour (out of sight of course) and was amazed at what I saw. Mike had about 30 balls in his bucket. He would stand about 60 feet from the pad, and throw ball after ball. Then, when done, would pick up the balls, and start all over, but back at about 100 feet. Then at 150 feet…200 feet…250 feet…then 300 feet. He then threw a final bucket from about 60 feet away, going through his windup and stretch.
I don’t quite know what impressed me most. Was it the fact that he was working this hard when no one was watching? Was it that he was doing this when no one told him to do it? Was it that he was doing this on a hot summer afternoon when most kids were in their air conditioned homes or at the pool? I guess it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it affected me. I remember walking home thinking that I need to be doing these things. I need to be working harder if I want to make it.
I did end up talking to Mike about seeing him throw, and he did allow me to come with him when possible. Probably b/c it meant less balls for him to pick up. I also began putting in my time. I spent a lot of time throwing a tennis ball against a wall to practice my fielding. I made a tee and set it up in my basement; and hit into the mattress in the bed of our pull-out sofa. And when Mike wasn’t around, I would get my own bucket of balls and head to the high school to throw.
Fast forward to today…With every lesson I give or practice I have; I always try to give ‘homework’ to kids to help them improve on their issues. And I always try to make it so that the homework can be done with little to no equipment, and with no help needed from others. I try to eliminate excuses as to why the homework cannot be done. Players need to learn to be more independent, and to work at their game when it’s just them and no one is around. Ted Williams used to flip pebbles or acorns in the air and practice his hitting. I think players have gotten away from doing things like this. Maybe b/c it’s that they don’t enjoy the game. Or because they are just lazy. Or because they don’t like working by themselves. Or because they just don’t know what to do. Whatever the reason, this needs to change. Without the discipline to work on your own (or being proactive to learn what you need to do to improve), it will be really difficult for you later in life to achieve what you want to achieve.
The decision to follow Mike that day to the field was one of the greatest decisions I ever made. It helped shape me to be the person I am today. Those lessons learned that day are lessons I am still practicing, and lessons I am still teaching.