By Matthew Petrucci
Toe the left side of the rubber. Look-in.
Start off 2 seams away. Slight pressure on the middle finger to make it cut. Strike. 0-1.
Come back at him. 2 seams away off the plate, make him swing. Fouled off. 0-2.
I love this feeling.
I know at this point that I’ve got him. I can either throw a changeup in or a hard slider away. Either way, he needs to protect.
Look in, 3 fingers down. Nod. Hook the seam. Come set. Deep breath. Step right at him and make it break.
I love this game. The strategy. The execution. The constant challenge.
Joe Torre said it best in his Hall of Fame induction speech, “Baseball is a game of life. It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is. That’s the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect that it deserves.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I love baseball. It has taught me so much about how to handle adversity, be humble, and hone a consistent mindset. And that’s on and off the diamond.
I’d like to tell you that it was always that way, but there were certainly challenges along the way, especially when the pressure of being recruited in high school. Let’s just say I had the highest aspirations; I wanted to play Division 1 baseball.
I mean, who doesn’t?
The challenge for me was I had D1 speed, but a D2/D3 bat. I could, however, pitch at D1/D2 level. I didn’t exactly light up the radar gun pitching, even though I could get people out with my speed differential. That meant that I wasn’t going to be a starter on a team where there are multiple guys throwing high 80s.
So needless to say, I wasn’t recruited heavily. I made the decision to follow my academics to a school with D1 sports instead of going to a Juco, figuring I could try and walk on.
I didn’t make the team.
I could have easily just said that was it. But I wasn’t ready to give it up.
What followed was the challenge of my young adult life. My path was full of walk-on tryouts, failures to make the team, playing in adult baseball leagues, taking 20 credits to play baseball at the local juco while I continued my degree, and a fall season to make the roster.
I didn’t care. I wanted to meet the challenge. I wanted to keep playing the game and play it at a high level. Because I knew that I could.
What drove me? The feeling when you are absolutely dealing. The feeling that there is literally no place you’d rather be at 12:30 AM than be on the diamond trying to win an extra-innings game. The feeling of doing fieldwork after being on the field for 5 straight hours, enjoying the tranquility of sundown on the field as you head to your car.
If I didn’t have the drive to be on that diamond every day, it would have been easy to quit. Just say that it’s too hard. But I thoroughly loved it.
When it came to the time between the lines, the best times along the way were when I played the game for what it was. When I didn’t get lost in comparison with those around me. When I trusted in my own ability and didn’t try to play outside of it. This allowed me to grow as a baseball player and a person.
The worst times? When I made the game more than it should be. In the process of trying to make the team, when we had to cut 35+ to 30 players, I started to focus on the comparisons instead of getting lost in the joys of the game. I remained at this level of comparison instead of allowing myself to trust my capabilities.
Self-doubt is dangerous. It can lead you astray. It is absolutely counterproductive. As John Wooden once said, “don’t let what you cannot do get in the way of what you can do.”
When I made the team, my coach could see I was playing tight, and in my meeting with him before the season he said, “just play the game like you would in the backyard.” He was right. I couldn’t at the time because I felt like I needed to keep up. But the truth was, I was playing with several MLB draft picks, I was playing at the highest level, and I could get outs. I could compete.
In the end, I made the cut, I pitched a few innings to officially become a D1 athlete. And that was it. I accomplished my dream of playing D1 and I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. I’ll forever be grateful to the University of San Diego and coach Rich Hill for the opportunity.
But, something about it felt empty. I couldn’t just play the game.
In the years since, I have found that pure feeling on the diamond again, and it’s because I was able to play the game I love without consequence. I could compete by trusting my abilities. In a recent game that stands out for me, I was a 34-year-old pitcher playing in an 18+ adult league game. After several good innings and just having a blast, I looked at my teammate and exclaimed with every ounce of my being, “don’t you just love this game!”
That’s the passion.
When you play the game for what it is, and you play it with passion, when you play for the love of the game, you can’t go wrong. When you respect the game, it will respect you.
So what’s my advice? Reach for the stars. Absolutely go for your goals, however far-fetched that they may be. But while you’re on the path – TRUST yourself. Play within your ability. Never lose sight of enjoying the game above else. If you do, you will not only reach your goals faster, but you will also be able to enjoy it while you’re in it.
Let the love of the game drive you, because any day on the diamond, is a good day.
Addressing the Future of Baseball in 2021
QnA with 50 Year MLB Coach and Scouting Veteran, Jerry Weinstein.
This week I caught up with Jerry Weinstein, a long-time baseball buff, to say the very least. Jerry began his coaching career back in 1966 as a freshman coach at UCLA, and today, after an unprecedented coaching run that found him atop leading Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, he now finds himself a part of The Colorado Rockies Player Development System as a Scouting Special Assistant.
With fifty-plus years of experience in the game of baseball at the highest level, I thank Jerry for answering our audience’s question amidst a time of significant adjustment for the game of baseball. Upon receiving this great opportunity, I wanted to hear from our audience and have their questions answered by Jerry. Dictated by your questions, this was the extent of our conversation:
What behavioral issues do you run into with players at the professional level, and what can we do as coaches when we have these players younger to foster better habits or character?
“We have fewer behavioral issues at the pro level because there is so much internal competition & there are really no fallback options. The organization has the leverage. With that being said, it’s all about choices & owning those choices realizing that there are consequences for poor choices. Transfer of blame is not an option. The key is establishing standards of behavior & consistently holding the athletes to those standards.”
What are we doing now in the industry that is hurting participation and the retention of good athletes in the game of baseball? As we witness, athletes to the likes of Kyler Murray choose not to pursue baseball professionally.
“Retention-Make it fun. Connect with the players as people & not just players. Be positive. Know what you are doing. Allow for individual differences. Be organized & have enough help to keep players moving in small groups. Short-tempo practices & games. Make it competitive. Player-centric environment. It’s more about them than the scoreboard. It’s a collaborative effort between players, coaches & parents.”
What are your thoughts on the game of baseball missing out on talented players with the shortened draft and college rosters overflowing? With 1,525 draft selections in 2010 and only 160 in 2020…
Professional baseball does not miss very often. Maybe they don’t get slotted the way they end up, but good players do not go unseen. If they are playing somewhere, they will be seen. It may be in an Indy League where many late bloomers & players from lower-profile programs thrive. If they have tools or are playing up to professional standards, they will be seen. The problem lies in the fact that we are losing a lot of the better athletes to other sports. We need to do a better job of attracting those athletes & retaining them. MLB is making a real effort in that area in the inner cities with its RBI program. I’m concerned that the current Travel Team movement has priced a lot of the economically challenged families out.
I want to once again thank Jerry for his priceless insight and wisdom. His generosity in answering these questions I know will go a long way for our audience memebers. The game of baseball, perhaps having always faced unprecedented times, now faces reconstruction and rebranding efforts post pandemic. With the universal designated hitter (DH) now active in both the American and Nation League, the game of baseball now looks to another evolution in rules for greater growth amongst fan bases and most imporantly, youth. Baseball’s ability to keep promising athletes in the sport will set the horizon the future of baseball is destined for.
The Life of a Cheerleader – Grounded in Friendship
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my cheer career is that teammates are the most important part of cheerleading.
When I’m on the floor, what gets me through the routine is my teammates yelling, we got this; we’re almost done, keep going. When you put in the work for yourself and your teammates, the team’s success fills you with indescribable pride.
I’ve met some of my closest friends through cheer, and my teammates make even the most challenging practices enjoyable even when my body wants to give up.
My teammates are my family.
My base Abby who’s been with me for eight years is practically my sister; I can always count on my best friend since elementary school, Meghan, to do whatever it takes to make the stunt work; I love cracking jokes with my Backspot Zora and my flyer Presley, and my friend Emma I can always count on to get me through a challenging practice. Teammates make not only cheer but sports what they are.
Our teammates drive us.
When you spend the majority of your time with just these people, you create bonds that will last forever. Especially nowadays, where the headlines rarely include more than one, it is essential to remember how instrumental teammates are in our success and life. Make sure you make known how much you appreciate those around you that you go to the war and back with. Chances are, wherever you are today, a teammate or many teammates have helped support that success.
How to Become a Great Athlete
Elite, sports trainer, David Mariani, takes us through his life story until finding the work of training revolutionary, Ben Patrick
How do I get better?
Growing up not too far from Chicago, the Bulls last 3-peat sparked my love for the game of basketball.
I wanted to be a great basketball player like MJ, Scottie, and Rodman, BUT I had no clue how to get there.
I did know that I had a lot of work to do, so I headed outside to work on my game. Every day I got shots up and worked on my handles. The sun going down was the only thing that prevented me from being on the court all night. Working on my game for 6 hours in a single day was common for me. My parents led the example of working hard, but neither of them played basketball, so it was on me to find the answers on how to improve.
I didn’t know at the time, but 6 hours a day is a great way to overtrain and prevent yourself from improving at a fast rate. It did build mental strength, which is why I was able to get honors in high school for basketball, but it came at the expense of my athleticism. My collegiate coach called me “the most unathletic player he coached in 40 years,” and he wasn’t mean. It was very accurate. I shouldn’t have even played in college, but I wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I outworked everyone to build trust from my team and coaches.
College was when I started to lift weights to build strength and put on size for my 6’4 150 lb frame. I had no clue what I was doing, and my college didn’t have a strength program, so I spent hours researching how to get better. If I wasn’t on the court, I was studying and studying the greats. I even obtained my exercise science degree and CSCS cert. If someone said they were getting results, then I did everything in my power to learn from them. Not only was I very un-athletic, but I was also constantly getting injured. Spraining my ankles every week, shin splints, torn meniscus, Osgood Schlatter’s and patellar tendonitis, as well as a lower back fracture, was my reality upon graduating college. I tried to play lower-level pro, but I was too slow and too hurt to make any impact. After two years, I decided to use what I learned to help others, and I transitioned to training athletes full-time.
I always trained like I was still playing pro ball because I wanted to experience what I was telling my athletes to do. My athletes kept getting excellent results, but my injuries never fully healed. At one point, I had to take over a year off from playing basketball, even just shooting around. It was one of the most challenging times of my life. I told myself that I would do everything I could so no one would have to experience the pain and suffering I went through.
The darkest dark is proper before the light.
I was depressed, injured, and lonely in my quest to find the best ways to improve fast and safely. That was when I stumbled upon my brother Ben’s Instagram @kneesovertoesguy.
The truth was Ben was training his knees over his toes, something that my education told me not to do. I knew he was onto something by how he moved on the court after all of his injuries. I wasted no time and messaged him on Instagram, asking for his help.
This is something I’ve come to learn: if someone has real answers that can help others, they will gladly help you if you are respectful and show that you are willing to put in the work. I did exactly what Ben suggested. Within the first week of doing his ATG online program, Knee Ability, the pain started to go away. It was an unreal experience. I had gone the majority of my life moving with pain and had completely forgotten what it was like to move pain-free. I started using ATG methods with my athletes and despite them already getting good results, the results have never been. I even had an athlete go from a 20″ vertical to a 32″ in one off-season!
I might be the oldest athlete to get their first in-game dunk at the young age of 33! I always had the belief, and even though sometimes doubt would creep in, it never stopped me from relentlessly pursuing.
Now, I’m entirely pain-free and helping athletes around the world get pain-free themselves. “Pain-free sets the gains free” is something Ben has said that I’ve seen not only in myself but all the athletes we’ve trained.
YOUR POWER IS GREATER THAN EVEN YOU MAY REALIZE