As the holidays are here and the first semester comes to a close, we begin to hear from and see more of our guys who are finishing up their first fall season as college players. While many are happy with their fall and their standing within their program, some also come back a little bit disillusioned and frustrated with their role, their opportunities, their performance, and their coaches. For a large portion of these players, this is their first real taste of a highly competitive atmosphere within a program, and the first time that their performance dictates their playing time and position on the depth chart.
Well here’s the reality fellas….there is a highly competitive atmosphere within all college baseball programs, and your performance dictates your playing time and position on the depth chart. One of the advantages that college programs have over high school programs, is that they have an entire fall season to train, scrimmage and generally get a clearer picture of who each player is, and how they can help the team win ballgames come spring.
This brings me to my main point, and that is understanding the roles and perspectives of players and coaches in college baseball. Let’s start with the coaches. Whereas high school coaches have job security, college coaches are paid to recruit and win baseball games. Seeing as they need to win games to keep their job, their sole focus is putting the best team on the field at all times in order to do so. They have no incentive to think or act any differently. Period. They have to look at the big picture and where each piece fits, which is a complicated puzzle given the specific strengths and weaknesses of each player. From the position player side, he has to evaluate how the offensive and defensive skills will play for each player, and how those can be leveraged at each of the 9 positions. For pitchers, the same applies, and having the ball in reliable hands as much as possible in a variety of game situations is the key.
This brings me to the players perspective, and here’s what is should be in my opinion. Work as hard as possible to prepare, and perform when you get an opportunity. Plain and simple. So many guys (myself included, long ago) spend so much time fretting about where they stand. The more energy you spend worrying about the coach’s perspective, the less you have to spend on your job, which is to be the best player you can be. And as much as you think that you may be getting the shaft, the reality is that your coach would be stupid not to have you on the field if you’re one of the best players. Tough pill to swallow sometimes, but true. It’s a little cliche, but so true….make it so they have to put and keep you in the lineup!
Here is the good news…Nothing is permanent. Development is real. You can get better. You can work and play your way into an everyday role. But if you are not there yet, it’s going to take some mental toughness to get to that point. It’s up to you whether you can fight through being where you don’t want to be, in order to eventually get to where you do want to go. For some guys this takes a year, others four, but the reality is that the cream always rises to the top, and your ability to grind it out has a lot to do with how quickly you rise.
The last thing that should be addressed is the option to transfer, where is ever present in today’s world of the transfer portal. When thinking of transferring, I think there is really one main thing to consider. Are you transferring because you don’t like where you are on the depth chart, or is it because you don’t believe you’re in a quality program where you can develop? If it’s the former, refer to the mental toughness section above and understand that there are probably good players wherever it is you end up next. The dogfight won’t just go away. If you are in a quality program with quality coaches, you’re lucky. If it’s the latter, make sure to do your homework on the program and coaches, so you don’t repeat the cycle at the next stop. The third scenario is that maybe you overshot and ended up at a level that is too advanced for your skill level. This is reasonable and gaining that experience and understanding is part of the process. Taking your medicine and finding a better fit is likely the best course of action.
Just like anything in life, everybody’s path is different. Just because your goals aren’t being accomplished right away, doesn’t mean you wont accomplish them. Often, greatness takes time. Focusing on the process and grinding in college baseball will ultimately serve you well, in your career and your life.