Showcase Vs. Team Play
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, a former rival baseball player, and current high school baseball coach. We had an interesting conversation about showcase baseball, high school baseball, college baseball, and development of athletes. I wanted to share with you a few points from this conversation that you may find beneficial in your journey as a baseball player whether that be amateur or beyond.
1. Baseball Is A Team Sport
The first point that most of us should already realize is that baseball is a team sport. Most teams are comprised of about 15-25 individual athletes, who work as a collective, cohesive, and sometimes incohesive unit.
I have been a part of some tremendous teams in my baseball life. I was involved with a team as a 12 year old that placed 9th in the nation back in 1998 when we went up to nationals in Minnesota. That same team was first in the state of NC and first in our region. We also made the trip to Cooperstown that year and placed 2nd in our tournament. We had a very good team. Most of the kids on that team had been playing together for 5-6 years already. Although that team won a lot of games, not many guys on that team went on to play at high levels like Division 1 baseball or professional baseball. I was one of the few who was fortunate enough to have those opportunities. So with a team full of guys who did not make it to high levels, how were we so successful in these tournaments? We played well together as a team. We each contributed to the team in the way that we needed. That is a big part of being a good ball player. Being a contributor, and giving the team what it needs in certain situations. Like a two hole hitter laying down a bunt with a man on first to give the three hole and clean up hitter a chance to do their job, drive in the runner. It is this kind of selflessness that allows teams to be ultimately successful.
In college I was a part of an amazing group of ball players at UNC. We placed second in the college world series two years in a row, losing to Oregon State both years in 06 and 07. We had numerous guys drafted off of those teams with the likes of Adam Warren (Yankees), Andrew Miller (Tigers), Daniel Bard (Red Sox), Alex White (Indians), Tim Federowicz (Red Sox), Tim Fedroff (Indians), Luke Putkonen (Tigers), Jonathan Hovis (Yankees), Tyler Trice (Rockies), Seth Williams (Mets), Jay Cox (Rockies), Reid Fronk (Rays), Andrew Carignan (A's), Josh Horton (A's), Matt Spencer (Phillies), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Kyle Seager (Mariners), Colin Bates (Nationals), Rob Wooten (Brewers), Mark Fluery (Reds), BJ Dail (Cubs), Brian Moran (Mariners), Robert Woodard (Padres), Benji Johnson (Braves). That is a lot of guys, 24 to be exact. Of those 24 guys over those two teams almost half of them played in the big leagues or are currently playing in the big leagues. That is pretty amazing. We had a lot of guys who made it, and we played well as a team. No individuals. It took all of us doing our part to reach the CWS in 06 and 07. Our road to the championship in 07 was a lot harder than the previous year, but because we were so good as a team and worked together we got to the championship series again.
It was in 06 that I truly started to embrace playing my role on the team when our coach approached me to tell me that if I focus on the team goals ahead of my own personal goals that I would reach my personal goals. He was right. At the time that he told me this, I was really struggling. We were two weeks into the season and I was hitting under .200 to start the season out. I was putting so much undue pressure on myself and couldn't get anything going. Our hitting coach sat me down and talked to me about keeping things more simple at the plate so I could start making better contact. I was too concentrated on hitting the ball 500 feet. He told me I might lose some power but I would hit the ball and stay in the line up. So I listened. Turned out I hit 14 homers that year tied for 5th in the ACC. I started doing what the team needed me to do, laying down bunts, doing hit and runs more effectively, moving runners, knowing the game situation when I came to the plate. All of these things removed the pressure to perform and I actually started to perform. My coach was right, by putting the team goals above my personal goals I started to reach my goals. I went from .200 to .330 in a matter of a month, received ACC player of the week honors, was awarded an MVP award by the University of North Carolina carlyle cup MVP which is between UNC and Duke sports. I was also awarded the most improved player award for that season. It works. Putting the team first works.
2. We Play To Win
The second thing my friend and I talked about today was playing the game to win. I can remember playing baseball in middle school and high school and how important it was to win the game. Yea I wanted to perform well, but more than anything I wanted the pride of winning the game. I wanted to be able to walk through the halls at school the day after a game knowing that we had won the night before. I remember being in the dugout screaming my head off as a 16 year old trying to pump up my teammates to play harder and to win every single game. To compete. High school baseball was some of the most fun I ever had. In addition to the high school ball, I also competed in some showcase baseball. I wasn't able to do as much as I wanted to do because of injuries. At 15 years old I fractured my back twice and was sidelined for 9 months. That almost cost me my career altogether, so needless to say I was not able to play in showcase ball the rest of my high school days. I did however make it to a few showcase camps where I was able to showcase my skills to college coaches and scouts and still got recognition which enabled me to sign with UNC and get scouted through high school and eventually drafted out of college.
The one thing that was/is different about showcase ball was that it was less about winning and more about being seen which can sometimes lead to guys losing that grit to play for a win and put more pressure on themselves to perform rather than focusing on the team first. I think it is highly advantageous for baseball players to play to win. It heightens their awareness on the field and their natural competitive nature which in turn allows them to reach their own goals as well.
The final point, compartmentalization. I think it is important for athletes to have the ability to compartmentalize. Players need to know the difference between showcasing their skills at a skills camp or tournament and high school baseball. High school baseball is preparing them to play for a program. If athletes go to college to play they will be a part of a program that is geared towards winning. College coaches are not in place to get your baseball player drafted. College coaches are there to win baseball games. They get paid to win and they feed their families by winning. So athletes must be able to buy into a program in order to continue playing to win, not just to showcase their own skills. If you are involved with a winning team, more scouts are going to be likely to see you play simply because winning teams are more fun to watch. Trust me, I have done scouting myself, and the teams that are getting crushed are not much fun to watch and I started to lose interest. Other scouts are no different. Bad baseball is just no fun to watch. So, athletes, be able to know the difference between a showcase camp and being a part of a cohesive unit, a team, and never forget how to play the game of baseball for the purpose of winning.