By Tristan McCraw
I was always a smaller kid growing up.
Guess you could say I was that kid who, without the spark of athleticism I had, could just barely keep from being surpassed by all the bigger kids.
I was a late bloomer, one could say.
Most of my work on and off the field was done in the shadows. My smaller size threw me into the stereotypical group of trivial athletes lacking physical prowess. Because of that, my family was the only real group of supportive people I had around me. Everyone else, couldn’t really care less how I ever played or was, to be honest.
The passion comes at all different ages for people but mine came at the age of 3.
Baseball to say the least was and still is my lifeline. It goes beyond personal identity for me. Baseball allows me to express myself in no other way possible.
The infinite amount of self-expression and passion I found within the game led me into playing baseball full time. I remember always traveling with friends to all sorts of different prospective, club ball events, and tournaments.
Although I had a great time with all this, my long-awaited meeting with reality followed shortly in high school.
High school was just not it.
My physical size made it extremely tough for me to even get a glimpse at the field let alone playing time opportunities. My only varsity innings came my senior night…
Ya, I was that kid.
When my high school career came to a close I was left with no offers at any level of collegiate competition.
This led to my only option left, to walk on at a junior college.
I still remember like it was yesterday that my mom and I drove four hours to the middle of nowhere for me to try and earn another opportunity to play. Unfortunately, I became more of an experiment than a pitcher. Coaches tried working with me on new pitches and deliveries, even at one point recommending that I try to be a “knuckleballer.” For those of you not familiar with baseball, that sort of thing does not really just… happen.
What did happen however was that I had entered a post-graduate role.
I know what you’re all thinking.
That at this point I decided baseball was over and I had had enough.
On the contrary.
I went on to spend almost every waking moment of the day in facilities working. Working on getting stronger, on becoming a better pitcher, and on keeping things upstairs positive.
I could finally start seeing some light at the end of this tunnel that had started to feel more like an endless abyss at times.
Finally, I was able to climb into the low 90s. This is the speed that almost every division 1 coach needs to see to even let you think about walking onto their field. Luckily for me, I convinced them.
The following fall I walked on at my first D1 school. The hard work and time I had put in seemed to start paying off. I went on to earn a role that season on the 27-man roster that would travel.
At this point, I honestly thought things were about to start rolling.
And well, things started rolling, just in the wrong direction.
When I returned to school the next fall I found that a coaching personal change had left me at the bottom of “the totem pole.” Seriously, that’s what they told me. Discarded and categorized as a guy who couldn’t serve a useful role on the team, I was let go.
Again, I felt like I was back to being the kid who couldn’t compete.
As an athlete, more or less as just a competitor, this was shattering.
Dreams and aspirations shattered in hand, I went back to the only place I ever belonged, home.
Not to play or give it a shot at another school but to train. My goal was to become so dominant I could not possibly be turned away.
And that’s exactly what followed.
I began waking up every day around 5 a.m. to get my school work done. Then heading to the facility mid-morning and often staying until 8 or 9 p.m. This time grinding and working away changed the trajectory of my career.
I was able to gain 30lbs and my velocity soared up into the upper 90s. Upon consistently posting my pitching videos on social media and sharing my journey I started receiving offers. This led to me accepting an offer to play at Texas State University that was just too good to turn down. The coaches there believed in me, and I was going to return their investment in me tenfold.
Looking back at my crazy journey of course I am beyond grateful and excited to continue this chapter in my career. But there is more to it.
The biggest thing I could stress to anyone and want to share with others is one particular element about my story.
I walked on three times.
Three times, I openly put myself in a situation in which I would have to fight for every moment of playing time and attention. Three times I agreed to go in as the bottom of the barrel.
That’s just it though.
My journey through baseball has certainly been magical. But more than anything I want people to realize how dangerous it is to believe the “stereotypes” around them or made for them.
The only reason I got to where I am today is that I never gave up.
I refused to believe that because I was smaller or less physically capable than others that I should somehow then be ENTITLED to certain opportunities.
Entitlement is a dangerous thing.
I have seen it destroy careers and I was smart enough to not let it destroy mine.
Working hard, staying neutral in thinking, using resources, asking for help, are all great things and yes they helped me get to where I am now.
Just remember to never become entitled.
As players and as human beings we aren’t really entitled to what we think we are.
Entitlement leads us to believe we do not have to work as hard or that we are owed something we don’t really deserve.
When in reality, being a successful athlete at any level and making it through any level of difficulty in life is about seeking the most out of every situation, culminating in gratefulness for a chance to plan a shot at starting and accomplishing something people thought would be impossible.
What can I say…
It’s the blueprint of a walkon.
Dealing with the Pressure of Your Family Name
The Grieves: A Family of Baseball
Baseball has always been the center of my life. When I was growing up at a young age, I never really felt the pressures of having so much rich baseball history in my family, but the older I got, the more people noticed my last name.
The pressure that came with my family name impacted how I treated the game. My parents did not put any pressure on how far I made it playing. They always just wanted me to play the game respectfully because the name on the back of my jersey carried a lot of baseball knowledge and experience.
My dad Ben was drafted second overall in 1994 by the A’s, my uncle Tim was drafted in 1994 by the Royals, and my grandpa Tom was drafted sixth overall by the Senators in 1966.
Consequently, the pressure was on my younger brother and me to be baseball players.
I doubt my brother realizes that yet, and I definitely didn’t know it at his age, but now, I realize. Every coach that I have ever played for knows who my dad is. When I go to big tournaments, people come up to me and ask if I am related to Ben or Tom. I definitely feel like people are always watching me when I am playing and that there are always high expectations for me to perform well.
However, I have taken this in the best way possible most of the time as I use the pressure to motivate me to reach the expectations people have on me.
Other times, it has been more challenging, though. When I make mistakes, I feel even worse than I should because I feel those same people watching are disappointed. It is nearly impossible not to compare myself to my dad or grandpa when everyone else is.
When I am playing at my worst, I wonder if my dad experienced those same struggles, and that weighs over me.
It is a blessing to have so much experience and knowledge of the game at home with me, as I essentially have the best built-in hitting coach possible in my dad, but it is also hard to learn from someone who had baseball come so easy to them.
My dad can give me all the mechanical advice I need, but when it comes to mental advice, he cannot offer the same direction as he does on physical parts of the game.
I struggled majorly with the mental half of the game for most of my life, as the pressure I put on myself was often way more than I knew how to handle. In comparison, my dad was the top prospect in the world when his senior year in high school rolled around, which is where I am right now.
He never dealt with the mental struggles I have endured, at least not as a high schooler. In that sense, I feel helpless when I get in my head, as the tremendous mentoring of my dad becomes less and less valuable.
He can offer some changes to my swing and slight adjustments that might help me get back on track, but he can’t help me get out of my head when I go through a rough stretch at the plate.
With that, I have learned to embrace the mental toughness I have developed, as I have never once thought about giving up. Despite all the struggles I have endured playing the game, I still only want to be better and work harder.
Maybe my mental struggles are a blessing more than a downfall.
I have used them as my motivation to practice more with my dad when I am struggling. Yes, I get down on myself, but everyone does when they struggle. And baseball is a sport of struggling, but I have never backed away from the competition or the challenge. What I once considered my weakness in baseball, I now consider a strength. When I am at my worst, my inner doubt has only forced me to become better. It is a unique part of my game that no one can compare to my dad, uncle, or grandpa.
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 San Francisco Giants 107 Win Season Should Be Remembered for More Than Painful Ending
Recapping the Incredible Run of the 2021 San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants season came to an end in game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past week.
The game ended in San Francisco with the Giants down just one run on a check swing appealed and called a strike against the hot bat of Wilmer Flores. It is by no means a surprise that much of sports media has run with the Giants’ season-ending call.
Some even rank the Giants among the top teams in MLB history to have the most painful season-ending loss. But the fact of the matter is the ’21 Giants might have pulled off one of the most impressive seasons in MLB History.
From the resurrection of Buster Posey to the resurgence of past greats like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, Gabe Kapler’s squad should be beyond proud of their efforts. Kapler not only led his team to 107 wins after the team had finished with losing records for the last four years but utilized vital players off the bench like Donovan Solana and Austin Slater to plot many late-inning comebacks.
The ’21 Giants also saw the birth of unlikely heroes unforeseen going in Spring Training like Kris Bryant, who was picked up at the trade deadline, and LaMonte Wade Jr., whose late-inning heroics all year, earned him the title “Late Night Lamonte.”
Overall, to let the Giant’s season go to waste or be manipulated to provoke fan and public reaction because of one “highly disputed” call would be an act of great injustice. The fact also remains that no one game comes down to any single call; the Giants had missed out on multiple scoring opportunities before the 2-1 deficit.
And at the end of the day, the Dodgers had just played better baseball that evening; Gabe Kapler said after the game, “I have no regrets, congratulations to that very talented squad on the other side.” We hope to acknowledge the magic the San Francisco Giants created this season for the fans and world of baseball and remind people never to be swayed by the narratives of “BLOWN CALL RUINS SEASON” columns and tabloids. Congratulations to the 2021 San Francisco Giants!