My family and I traveled to PA this past weekend and passed several cars that were obviously “college-bound”. Cars were stacked with dorm room supplies with mom and dad in the front and a nervously excited recent high school grad in the back. Driving by these cars, I couldn’t help but think about the time, 20 years ago, that my father and I made the 8.5 hour trip to Wake Forest University. It made for a fun drive to PA as I got to share some stories from my first college experiences with my eight year-old son.
Unfortunately, my arrival in Winston-Salem 20 years ago was accompanied by rain, making an already chaotic scene even more crazy. But, after navigating through a maze of cars, and finding our way to a building (my dorm) that looked like every other building we passed, I finally made it. Kids were everywhere. And I say kids, even though we were all around 18, because we were all looking and acting as if it were Christmas morning. My room was in the “Dry” dorm and was located as soon as you walked in the door. The constant sound of the front door slamming would be an annoyance; but there was one BIG perk. We had the only room in the building that had its own bathroom! I think everyone speculated that it had to do with the fact that we were baseball players; but, we did have two football players in the dorm. Maybe the coaches flipped for it and the baseball side won. However it happened, I was truly grateful.
My roommate, Corey Slavik, walked in shortly after me. We spoke once before coming to campus but I was incredibly nervous about meeting the guy I would be living with for the next nine months. But, we hit it off real quick. Not only was Corey one of the best players I played with at Wake, he was all the entertainment I needed. Your freshman year roommate situation is a hit or miss. Being an athlete helps the odds since you’re paired with someone that shares a common bond; and likely share other interests as well. But I was one of the lucky ones. From a baseball perspective, Corey was as hard-working as they come. He always wanted to be on the field or with the team. So, he was a great influence on me. He also was one of the funniest guys I ever met. He kept things loose, and for someone that was uptight like myself a lot of times, I needed his balance.
After an hour or so of walking around campus, a quick drive to the baseball field, and some sad goodbyes to our parents, Corey and I settled into our new digs. For an 18-year-old that spent only a few nights away from home prior to going to college, the feeling of being alone quickly settled in. My family now was 8.5 hours away. Not exactly within the driving distance for a quick weekend trip home if you ever felt homesick. Fortunately for me though, that feeling quickly dissipated.
Not long after our parents left, a few of the older players on the team called us, telling us they would be picking us up to get everyone together for some introductions. This was the first sign that I had made the right decision. The older players taking the time to show us younger guys the ropes. It goes a long way in helping the new guys feel at home. Over the course of the next few hours, I would meet the guys that would fill a large void in my life. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to enjoy my time at Wake. Yes, there were some tough times; but those four years at Wake were four of the best years I have had in my life.
Being an athlete in college is great but it isn’t always easy. Balancing athletics with the academics and social life takes discipline. I made a lot of mistakes in my four years; but that’s life. You figure out things as you go. And hopefully, like me, you have teammates and coaches that are there for you every step of the way.
As thousands of high school athletes begin their collegiate journey, I’d like to offer my advice on a few areas that I feel are essential to not just surviving, but excelling in college.
- Be open-minded. All eight of our starting position players my sophomore year were from different states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, North Carolina, California, and Maine). We also had guys from Wyoming, Arizona, Massachusetts and New Jersey. We had different accents, liked different things, and dressed differently. You need to start your relationships with your teammates with an open mind. Get to know them. Try new things. These are your brothers for the next one to four years. Make every effort to find where you connect. You don’t always have to get along and like everyone; but give it a shot and I’m sure you’ll develop relationships that will last for many years following college.
- Being on time is being late. My freshman year, my locker was next to Pat Malloy, a Junior rightfielder that could hit a ball a mile. Pat was from New Jersey and acted every bit “Jersey”. He was as intimidating as they come. I spent the first few weeks tip-toeing around my locker; but over time, Pat’s presence really helped me developed a toughness that is needed when you’re grinding it out in college baseball. During the first week of my freshman year, I showed up to a “player’s only” BP session about 5 minutes before the starting time. When I arrived, most of the players were there setting up the field. As I wandered onto the field to shag, Pat walked over to me, and told me that I wasn’t hitting today. “If you can’t show up and help set up the field, then you can’t hit.” Those words ring in my ears still to this day. Don’t get somewhere early just to be seen. Be early to help make sure no one person, or a group of people, are left stuck doing all the hard work so that the rest benefit. Be there for your teammates and they will be there for you.
- Find the right balance when it comes to social life. I rarely went out in high school. To me, I preferred spending my Friday night’s hitting in the cages. When I arrived in college, things changed. I still spent a LOT of time at the field or in the cages. But admittedly, I probably missed a few too many hours of sleep during my four years. And I definitely missed a few hours in the books. I can’t say I have any regrets; but there were some times when I probably should have called it a night much sooner. Or, I should have had the books open an hour longer before I started my night. There’s always gonna be time to hang out; so make sure you get in your work, both on the field and with the books.
I consider myself incredibly lucky for the four years I had at Wake. I made tremendous friends. I played with some incredible players. I was fortunate to have some of the best coaches around. Our teams were successful, winning three ACC Championships in four years. And to top it off, I received a first class education. I understand that not everyone will have the same experience as I did; but I always talk about my experiences with young players. My hope is that they will be inspired to work hard to reach that next level with their baseball careers.
To all of those that are starting their collegiate journey, I wish you the best, and remember, enjoy every second of it!