Who wants it?
I can go round and round about why some players succeed and others don’t. I remember as a kid my dad always telling me that if I wanted to be “good” I had to do more than the rest of the team. What he meant was I had to be the first one to practice and the last one to leave.
I’ve heard sayings over the years like Larry Bird was a “gym rat”, Jerry Rice was a “workaholic” and I (myself) was a “cage junkie”. Well, no matter how much talent you have or you don’t have I’m a firm believer that you get out of it what you put into it.
I think the everyday person doesn’t realize how much work is put into training your “craft”.Throughout my pro career I spent hours in the off-season working on my body and my sport.
A typical day for me was 2 hours of weight-lifting varying the upper-body and lower-body, half-hour of running (whether it was sprints or distance), then 2-3 hours on the field hitting, fielding, and throwing. I did this 6 days a week for a few months leading up to Spring Training.
Man, now I know why I hate going to the gym these days.
I was always worried about my weight and my flexibility. I wanted to get bigger, stronger, and faster, but I didn’t want to look like a bodybuilder. The drive needed to be on top of my game was obsessive.
The first day of spring training when you walked into the clubhouse players were scoping each other out and seeing who had done what. It was almost like a beauty contest.
For many of the Big League spring training camps I attended I knew I had to be ready to play from the jump. I didn’t have the luxury of having a guaranteed or long-term contract so I had to come in ready to play.
I knew my chances of making the squad were slim so I made sure I was at the ballpark early and I always stayed late.
A full day in spring training could be very tedious as we would arrive at the park at 7am. Sometimes we would have early work (i.e. hitting, fielding, or conditioning). Then the regular practice would start. I never would forget my time with the Montreal Expos. In the Spring of ’96 every practice began with a 12-minute run. Wow!!
What a wake-up call!! Then we would do the normal stretching and agilities. Then we would go into a “fundamental” such 1st and 3rd defenses, bunt plays, base-running, pick-offs, or something geared towards the team. And since I played the OF we were always used for “demonstrations runners”, so more running. After our fundamental we then would go to individual defensive station such as fly-balls for the Outfielders, ground-balls for the Infielders, blocking for the catchers and pitcher doing PFPs (pitchers fielding practice). Thereafter we would get to my favorite, BP (Batting Practice). Man, I lived for hitting. There was something about hitting the ball, it was like catching a fish. I could hit and hit and never get tired.
After going thru this 3 to 4 hour workout we would go in the clubhouse get a sandwich, soup and change into our game uniform. You didn’t have much time in between if you were playing a road game in Spring Training. I’m talking like 30 minutes to change, eat and get on the bus. Sometimes the games would be 45 minutes away so a lot of players would take a power nap on the ride over to whoever we were playing. Then you would have to get stretched and be ready to play.
As a career bottom of the roster guy I got very few starts in Spring training and a lot of my time was spent on the bench then I would usually get in the game late just in time to face the closers. I’ve had Spring Training at-bats against Mariano Rivera (and yes he broke my bat with that cutter) and Troy Percival to name a few. It was tough hitting against these guys after sitting on the bench for 2 hours and their FB were 95+, but somebody had to do it.
Some of my memorable Spring Training starts were, I was the starting RF in the game against the Diamondbacks when Randy Johnson hit the bird with a pitch, going back-to-back “homer” with Jeff Kent off Ben Sheets and starting in the Bay Bridge Series in San Francisco against the A’s and Mark Mulder on the mound.
My thing was that I was always ready and wanting to play. My theory was the bench was cold, lonely and just flat-out boring.
Now that I’m retired from playing I don’t have any regrets because I know I left it out on the field. For me, this is the quality I look for in a ballplayer, because playing baseball is no easy task and if you are fortunate to play on the pro level this is quality a ballplayer must have.
I’ve been watching the Olympics and I love hearing the stories about some of the hardships the Olympians have overcome.
My favorite story has been how the trainer of USA Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson discovered her. Her trainer is originally from Beijing and he moved to the US to open a Gymnastic Facility and two months after he opened guess who walked in…….(Shawn Johnson) and one of the first things he asked her is how bad do you want to do this? Sounds familiar!!
See a lot of times in sports we only see the end product, but what a lot of people fail to realize is the hours and hours of work done behind the scene.
Recently, one of the parents in our program brought me something that I have now dubbed as our BMP Anthem:
“Ballplayers are not born great. They’re not born great hitters or pitchers or managers, and luck isn’t the big factor. No one has come up with a substitute for hard work. I’ve never met a great player who didn’t have to work harder at learning to play ball than anything else he ever did.’’—Ted Williams
So in closing where's “Shawn Johnson” or has she already entered the doors of BMP?
Till next time,