Secrets To Unlock Your Potential
I hope that title caught your attention. What I am about to tell you is probably some of the most important information you will read regarding your baseball success. Yep, that is what everyone else says. I know, I have read the articles and listened to those catchy tag lines people use to sell their products. My aim in this article is to give you an insight into my life and my career so that my experience will help you. Because I respect your time I am going to go ahead and list out what I will be talking about in this article so you can determine if you want to read all the way through. I think it is in your best interest as a parent and as a player to do just that. I am going to let you guys into some experiences I have gone through as a youth player that completely ruined my chances of maximizing my potential. Then, I am going to talk to you about what allowed me to tap back into my potential when I was in high school and college then again in professional baseball. Yes, I found and lost my potential over and over again because of one huge mistake that I continued to make time and time again, and I do not want to see you make that same mistake. If you are interested in reading my story and finding out what I'm talking about then I hope I have your attention and I hope you will read this article through.
This is probably the most difficult part of this article for me to write and to share with you. It brings back a lot of painful memories and even tears still to this day. So here we go..here's my story.
I started playing baseball at 6 years old. My dad had already noticed I had a knack for the game before I ever played organized baseball. He told me that as a kid I picked up the bat and was a natural. He gave me no instruction outside of "look at the ball and swing." So I did. I looked at it and swung with everything I had and I crushed the ball over and over and over. I can remember being in my back yard as a kid throwing balls up and hitting them into the trees in the woods behind our house. I used to throw up rocks and acorns and hit them with a broom stick too. I'm sure that helped in developing my hand eye coordination that enabled me to hit so well, never even swinging and missing at a pitch until I was 12 years old. We will get to that in a bit.
So I had this knack for playing the game. It was like I was born to do it. I could throw the ball hard. I could hit the ball hard. I always hit my target when I threw. I also always hit the ball when I swung. My dad decided to put me into organized baseball so I could continue doing what I was already a natural at and the thing I showed the most love and interest in doing. I started out in machine pitch at 6 years old. Because of the way my birthday fell I was actually playing as a 7 year old. So in every league I was one of the youngest players on the field, but had one of the biggest hearts. I absolutely loved every second I got to spend on a baseball field or with a bat or ball in my hand. There were even some games that I didn’t get dirty so I decided to sit in the dirt and dump dirt all over my body to feel like I really played the game. I was under the impression that if you played the game the right way you wold be filthy afterwards. Night games were the best. I got to stay up late and play under the lights, where I felt like I was a big leaguer because every game I saw on TV was under the lights. I remember watching Cal Ripken Jr. break the streak and set a new record at Camden Yards under the lights, watching the Braves playing in the world series under the lights, and the list goes on. That was the fun part. The innocence of the game. The purity of the game. But for me, it all got tainted around the time I was 12 years old. I will share with you what led up to that in the next paragraph.
As I said, my first year in organized baseball was at 6 years old, playing up as a 7 year old. I’m not quite sure what my batting average was that year, I’m sure if I searched old scrap books I could find it, but I know it was somewhere in the 900’s. I got out like two times that season. The next year, at 7 years old, same thing, another year hitting in the 900’s, only getting out a couple of times. At 8 years old I had to move up to the next age group, 9-10 years old kid pitch and I got the same result. Another year of hardly making an out. The next year I was 9 and I started hitting balls over our little league fence when my dad and I would go to the field. I can remember hitting my very first one over the fence and it was slightly foul, but to me it was a huge accomplishment to get the ball over that 200ft fence. Once I knew I could hit it that far I kept striving to do it more and more which I did and hit my first over the fence homer in a game when I was 10. All through little league I was crushing the ball. Hitting off the fence and over the fence almost every game. The most impressive thing was that I never swung and missed at a pitch, not until I was 12 years old.
When I was 12 years old I had just finished up my first middle school baseball season where I hit around .700 with 6 home runs. I was the second youngest kid on the team and was dominating the older players. Because of my physical ability, my dad decided to start taking me to get hitting instruction. Up until that point, the only instruction I ever had was from my dad, who as I told you before just said “look at the ball and swing.” It had worked like a charm for 6 years and I was on track to be a pretty good ball player. I can remember at 12 years old going to a college camp at Campbell University and those guys starting the recruiting process then, telling me they would be the first to call me on July 1 my junior year and they did. But, back to the story. So at 12 years old my dad decided he needed to hire a “professional” to help me with my advanced skills because he felt like he didn’t have the knowledge to help me anymore. And as most of you dads know, sons don’t typically take well to your instruction as they start to get older. It must just be part of growing up, sons love to stop listening to dads, and this makes coaching them almost impossible. So my dad like most dads sought outside help. He hired a local hitting instructor who had given countless lessons to people in our community. I’m not sure how my dad found this guy, but he did, and it was the start of my decent as a natural ball player.
I can’t remember the first time I met this guy that called himself a hitting coach, but I do remember how he made me feel and what he did to my swing. This guy came in and completely changed everything I was doing as a hitter, made me change my stance, my load, my grip, how I swung, everything. Mind you I had never even swung and missed before. Like most 12 year olds, I was compliant with the coach and did everything he asked me to do. I immediately began failing. Over and over and over and over…and over. I went from never swinging and missing to struggling to simply hit the ball. Not only did he screw with my natural swing, but he also screwed with my natural confidence. I was naturally an extremely confident player. Not after this guy. He was scream at me, his face would turn red, he made me feel like a complete failure. So now I had two issues, terrible mechanics and no confidence. Talk about a perfect combination to fail at baseball. That summer I hit like absolute crap. Not sure what the numbers were, but I remember hitting became a struggle. It would be like standing up from reading this and your legs not remembering how to walk and being afraid to attempt a step. I was paralyzed.
My 8th grade season rolled around and after my 7th grade season everybody thought I would be a stud. Most guys improve from 12-13. Not me. I got worse. I hit barely .300 that season with 2 home runs. Nothing like my 7th grade campaign. I wasn’t the same player anymore. My skills had been stripped away from me. Not only did I have this horrible hitting coach, but I also had horrible middles school coaches who attacked my psyche even more. They made fun of me the entire season. It was brutal.
By 14, my dad had found a new hitting coach. This guy we were told really knew his stuff. Again, he didn’t. He started teaching me all kinds of techniques that didn’t make any sense and that really didn’t work. My natural power was killed even more and I was barely hitting balls out of the infield. The one thing this hitting coach had going for him was his ability to help psychologically. He was a great mentor and was really good and building the confidence of a hitter, but not so much the physical skills. So there I was, 14 years old, starting on my high school varsity team, mainly because I could catch my but off. Luckily my dad never got a catching coach for me so those skills remained in tact. I had an ok freshman year and a better sophomore year. At the end of my sophomore year I fractured my back…..twice.
The diagnosis from the doc came back and they said I would never play baseball again. I had fractured my lumbar spine, I think it was the L4 vertebrae, and injury typically only seen in football linemen, not baseball players. I can remember walking out of that exam room, about to board the elevator, and with tears in my eyes looking into my dad’s eyes telling him that doctor was wrong and I would play again. Obviously, I did, 12 more years. But because of the injury I ended up spending 9 months in a back brace. After the first 3 months, I was released to start hitting off a tee. After 2 days the right side of the same vertebrae fractured. Six more months in a back brace. No baseball activity. I could’t hit, run, or throw. However, I could lift weights because it was pain free and I could work on my psyche. This was my first experience with mental training.
After 9 months away from the game I loved I got to start playing again. The first pitch I saw as a junior in high school for my high school team was launched 450 feet over the left center wall. I was back. The real me, the natural me. I hadn’t taken a single hitting lesson for 9 months and I didn’t take a single hitting lesson that entire year which turned out to be my best year and put Benji Johnson on the map. I was highly sought after by colleges and had 15 MLB teams chasing me down. Because of all the attention I panicked. I thought I needed to be working harder and harder so guess what I did. Yep, I went back to my hitting coach, the one I started with at 14, and I started taking two lessons a week to “prepare” for college and the draft. Needless to say, my senior year sucked. My batting average dropped about 80 points and I hit 7 less home runs as a senior. Again, the hitting coach bug bit me. I went undrafted out of high school. I did, however, still receive a scholarship from UNC, so after high school I attended college for the next three years.
My freshman fall was tough. I had a new school work load and was faced with the task of hitting in our scrimmages against the best pitchers in the country, namely Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller. Two guys who went on to be big leaguers and who threw right at the 100mph mark. Needless to say, it was challenging. I struggled. Even with a good swing I probably would have struggled. So I kept buying into my hitting coach. Kept believing in my hitting coach. I failed, miserably. It was a horrible freshman campaign for me. I didn’t play as much as I wanted, my swing was so inconsistent that catch couldn’t trust me in the line up, even though I was one of the best catchers in the country.
My sophomore year rolled around and I decided to stop using my hitting coach. I decided I was just going to play this game that I was so in love with and was so gifted at playing from my childhood. So that is what I did.
Now, here is the big secret I want you guys to hear. This is probably the most important part of my journey and is so important for so many other players as well. Especially guys at the highest levels. My sophomore year my dad decided instead of a hitting coach I needed a “head” coach. Or a mental coach. So he hired one. It was the smartest decision my dad made to help me in baseball. After working on my mental game following my freshman year, I almost made the all ACC team as a sophomore and blasted 14 home runs. My freshman year I had about 60 at bats. My sophomore year I earned over 200 at bats. All because I stopped buying in to bad hitting philosophies and got my mind back where it needed to be. With my mind clear, I was able to excel.
You would think after all of that I would have learned my lesson. Nope. I went on to get drafted my junior year. And guess what I did…yep, I was using my hitting coach again. And, I stopped doing my mental training. Big mistake. I had a rough first couple of years at the plate in pro ball, getting me released by the Braves 3 years in back in 2010 out of AA. After that, I made a decision, no more hitting coach. I’m working on my mind. I went on to play in an independent league the rest of the year and hit over .300 with 10 homers in 50 games and made the all start team.
And that is about where my story ends. After that season I started accumulating the injuries. 2011 was my wrist. 2012 I was invited to camp by the Angels and blew out my hip/groin. 2013 I was involved in an accident that almost broke my neck, and subsequently ended my playing career. But, I am still able to have an impact on the game that I grew up loving by sharing my story with you. I cannot stress enough the importance of mental training.
If you have read this far, I am grateful you stuck around to read my story. It was a rough and bumpy road filled with many ups and downs. My hope and prayer is that by sharing with you all of my experiences I might be able to help you have more ups than downs. So here is what I have to offer you. I have a link at the bottom of this article that will take you to one of the top “head” coaches in the industry. You do not have to buy anything by clicking the link. Just by clicking the link you are showing that you are willing to do the right thing to either better your career or better your child’s career. Please, click the link and take a look at the information. I have full faith that if you do end up buying into the program you will be helped immensely. Don’t overlook the mental part of the game. Without a healthy mental game, all the talent in the world will not be enough to help you tap into your full potential.