In order to be a great player at any level you have to constantly adapt to your surroundings, the level you are playing at but the way you learn in professional ball as opposed to college ball are way different. When you enter college at eighteen or so years old, as a male you could still be maturing and are figuring out your limbs and how to get everything in sync, this can be hard enough let alone trying to get better at a sport to possibly get drafted. When I first stepped onto Indiana St, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to practice, I heard the many stories of what it was like but I didn’t fully comprehend what it truly was like until I was there. We practiced, and practiced A LOT!
One of the best quotes that have ever been spoken to me as an athlete came from my high school coach and he said “Sometimes you just do things because they are hard. There is no rhyme or reason coaches make you do certain things but then to test you and see what you’re made out of.” This quote has constantly come up in my mind throughout my collegiate career and my experience as a professional ball player. When I was in college, we started practiced almost immediately when school started up in the fall. We had to schedule our classes so they let out before two o’clock pm and then we would practice anywhere from three to four hours a day five days a week until Christmas break. When you practice you practice in college the coaches try to find any time they can to squeeze in a few more sessions within the NCAA requirements. Sometimes we would practice at 6am, sometimes it was after school or on the weekends. Balancing your studies and practice was hard, as they both take an equal amount of dedication and focus.
When Christmas break hit, we were given a workout sheet, much like the one the Rangers and Nationals have given me throughout my career, and we had to follow that to be ready to go when Christmas break ended. The learning you do is based upon countless repetitions. Whatever the skill set was that day you would practice it until you were blue in the face or could do it in your sleep. But I believe it is this type of coaching that is necessary in the collegiate levels, as you have people coming straight from high school and although coaches are usually building upon basic principles and taking them to the next level. There were a few things you would cover just a bit, but everyday we were going through defensive scenarios, covering bunts, first and thirds, and batting practice. I would be the first to admit I wasn’t too keen on doing so many reps in college, and I kept wondering why we had to constantly do certain things but when I got drafted I became thankful for what the coaches put me thru in the three years I played as a Sycamore.
When you have an outing, as a pitcher in college whether you do well or not, there really isn’t opportunity to break down video at the collegiate level like there is in the professional ranks. Most of the time, when are looking at an outing you are taking in what the pitching coach saw that day and what the various charts said you did. In professional ball, there is always opportunity for you to look at yourself on video, which I think is an invaluable too IF YOU USE IT CORRECTLY. I like to focus on a few batters or remember a few pitches that felt extremely good coming out of my hand and see what I did right in that scenario or if I was bad I would look for what was causing the poor performance. You can spend too much time dissecting video, and cause yourself too much trouble by trying to pick apart things that aren’t there. There are two golden words that I have come to live by as a professional athlete, GO COMPETE. Meaning, whatever it is you do, however you do it go out in between the lines and let yourself be successful. If you start thinking of too many things out there you will out think yourself right into a poor performance. Let your mind work during practice, and with enough correct repetitions and focus during practice it will shine in he game without the player having to put much thought into it.
If you are a nit-picker you can drive yourself crazy with all the negative things you can find even though you might have thrown six shutout innings. Ask any coach, and I certainly tend to fall in this category and this is something I strive to work on. In college there is a lot of talking with pitching coaches, and going through your mechanics constantly to re-iterate certain points or fix certain flaws. When you get to the professional ranks, you are there for a reason and unless a coördinator or coach sees a massive problem in your delivery they will tend to leave you alone and just suggest things but it is up to the person to implament them or not, because it has now become your career and not theirs.
People always talk about the differences between the wood and aluminum bat issue in college and professional ranks, but what I figured is that you have these big, burly hitters swinging aluminum and you learn very quickly to learn to throw the ball down in the zone if you don’t want to get tattooed around the ballpark which can only be beneficial to you down the road in the professional ranks. Although the bats might change, the players start to develop more the higher you go up in the ranks and it all evens out in the end anyway. I view pitching to aluminum bats in college a beneficial thing for me, because it gave me a better understanding of pitching in the professional levels and learning to keep the ball on the ground.
Although the information is always the same no mater where you go to learn this great game, the people who can learn to take what they know and adapt it to their own playing style are the ones who truly succeed in this game and that is a tough lesson for people to learn but those who do ultimately become the greats in this game. One of the benefits of being in professional baseball, is that multiple coaches are able to converse on a flaw you might have and if someone cannot get through to you to fix the problem, someone else might be able to re-iterate it to you a different way that makes you ultimately see the light.
Overall, I think college baseball is about establishing what kind of ballplayer you are and finding out about you, and fine-tuning those tools. When you get drafted talent evaluators already know what you’re about and barring a position change there is not much revamping needed just some minor tweaks and changes throughout the year. There comes a point where you got to understand yourself, and what you can do better than any coach and when you are in tune enough with your body to make changes on a pitch to pitch basis based off feel then you will truly become an élite player in this game.