My playing career in baseball. A little bad advice, a lot of poor decisions, with a happy ending.
Updated: Jun 23
This is not the easiest story to tell. It embarrasses me. Not the level I played at, but just how stupid I was.
I would have addressed this earlier but frankly I didn’t know it was as much of a topic of discussion until recently. For the record, that is not a passive aggressive “say it to my face“ thing. I live in the real world, this is an awkward topic for people. The people asking these questions have legitimate concerns. You don’t
want to be a jerk but you want to know.
I’m not taking my kid to piano lessons from someone that just learned piano 2 years ago.
I get it, I understand.
I do naturally find myself getting defensive when I hear people think I did not play the game so I figured this would be a good time to address the elephant in the dugout.
- I played the Catcher position in approximately 40-50 games per year from 2001-2003.
- During that time I caught approximately 25’ish Division 1 and professional prospect pitchers and played along side many more despite missing the bulk of my HS career.
This blog is not meant to tell a story about how I had this obscure, yet somehow still magnificent career in baseball, it is mainly to inform anyone reading that:
A) I did play the game at a higher level than HS baseball. And have a surprising amount of experience in it, despite missing the bulk of my HS career.
B) I know the game.
C) I have spent the better part of my adult life learning how to help people not make the mistakes that got me in a situation that requires me to write this blog.
First things first
I grew up playing baseball at Bernard Holland in Benton, Arkansas in the late 80s and 90s. There was no freshman baseball team at Benton HS at that time so you played league ball until 10th grade. Beginning in 6th grade, at the conclusion of the season an All-Star team was chosen and that group was able to continue playing. If you didn’t make that all star team, you were pretty much done playing baseball for the year after playing about 16 to 20 games. There wasn’t even a playoff at the end of the league season. Whoever won the most games won. Tie? Kiss your sister.
In 1995, my last year of league baseball, I played for Coach Tim Hines, I was selected to the all-star team. Coach Hines coached that team as well. I still have a t-shirt that has one of those cartoon characters drawings of us all. My character had like a beard because I’ve been the size I am now since 7th grade unfortunately.
We played deep into the tournament that year. We won the district tourney in Sheridan then played I guess for State at Taylor field in Pine Bluff. We either won it or came very close, I can’t remember. Probably safe to assume we didn’t since I don’t remember.
In eighth grade which was 1994 I played for Dave Karnes. The year before that I played for Coach Tommy Adams. I was selected to the Allstar team these years as well and played on what I assume was one of the first “Travel Baseball” teams around here. It was an AAU Baseball team believe it or not. That still sounds funny to me since AAU is predominately associated with basketball.
I will spare the details from earlier years but I want to tell a funny story very quickly. If you know my dad, you will chuckle to think, he was guilted into coaching my team in, I think, 3rd grade. He will watch football if its on and hes not doing anything else, but can take or leave Baseball. I will never forget as long as I live we were not very good and we are playing the best team in the league the last game of the season. I know now he could tell that we were already beat before the game had started. He pulls us together and asks how much effort we were going to give that night? “A full dollar bills worth or *tears the dollar bill in two* are you going to give me this much effort?” Everyone of our eyes bout popped out of our heads and we went out and won that game! To this day, it was one of the most awesome pregame speeches I’ve ever seen. If you know my dad you know that is just not his thing he’s just not the “Rah-Rah” type but that impacted my life I remember that to this day. Very very vividly.
High School Baseball
In 1996 I was a 10th grader at Benton HS and was a member of the Benton high school baseball team. I mostly played first base and third because my cousin Dusty Echols was a very very good catcher as well as Jared Dixon who is a very good close friend of mine to this day. Coach Pryor was the assistant coach. Funny sidenote (and I guess I’m giving these details because I do feel like I kind of have to prove that I’m not lying) I have no idea if you can look this up or not but I batted 1.000 for the varsity team that year because we beat the brakes off of Hot Springs both times we played them and Coach Balisterri inserted the JV team and I hit successfully every time I was up I don’t remember how many AB’s I had though.
I played American legion baseball, Wes Gardner was our coach, it was an amazingly fun time to be playing baseball we had a great time on that team.
This is where the waters begin to get a little muddy.l If I had a rebellion period in my life, this was it. I had discovered alcohol, was hanging out with some different friends and my GPA dropped to a 1.0 at the conclusion of fall semester. Straight D’s. So obviously I was academically ineligible to be a part of the Benton baseball team. I was not as involved as I should’ve been with the team during that period of time. Like I said, I was messing around way too much and had other things on my mind. About the only positive thing I did was work to get my GPA back to a decent number. Needless to say I’m not very proud of my junior year of high school. It's kind of a black spot in my memory. I was under the impression that I could not play American legion baseball if I was not a member of the Benton baseball team so I did not play in the summer of 1997. Subconsciously I’m not sure that I wasn’t just being a lazy piece of trash though. I’m really really really not fond of the person I was my 11th grade year of HS.
What I did do later that summer though,thanks to a good friend to this day, Jeremy Thompson, I discovered my passion for strength training, nutrition, and human performance. Ironically,Jeremy never cared that much about sports but he is solely responsible for the path that I am on to this day. It's funny how that stuff works. Along with that passion for strength training, etc. I found work ethic I didn’t realize existed for me. Up until that point even before my junior year, I was lazy. I didn’t get it. I was the kid that I am trying to help kids not be right now.
I cannot remember when tryouts were at that point but it seems like mid-November. I trained that summer and all of that fall. We had the tryout, everything went well except there was basically a mixup with the listing of the people who made the team, it had to do with my GPA from the previous year versus cumulative or something, regardless,I was under the impression that I had been cut.
If it weren’t for another very good friend to this day whom I think the world of, Blake Roberson, that would’ve been the end of it. I would not have asked Coach Balisterri about it, but thanks to Blake, I did, and was reunited with the team three weeks after the tryout.
This is why if you have a 1998 Benton high school yearbook I am not pictured with the Benton baseball team. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter I spent most of that season in the dugout. At that point in time I felt like I was being slighted but really I had let a bunch of really good players in front of me establish a role that was working, the team was very good, why on earth would Coach Balisterri take a risk on me when I had proven that I couldn’t be trusted as far as he knew. At that point, of course I was upset but it wasn’t long after that I got old enough to see what was really going on and who was truly to blame.
College Ball…….Not really.
After my senior season at Benton, a quite uneventful senior season. I managed to secure a walk-on spot at Henderson State University.
Most of this story is pretty vivid to me, but how I got in touch with Coach Preston at Henderson State University is still kind of blurry to me. I can’t remember how I did it, but I did.
The other funny/strange part about the story is nobody in my family knows any of this. For better or for worse (usually worse) when I get something on my mind that I want to prove, I won’t tell a soul that I am doing it. I’m sure that’s partially so I can hide it if I fail. I’m sure it’s also some kind of protection mechanism so I don’t have to deal with hearing how bad my idea is.
*To this day I don’t talk about this much because I’m an adult now and I realize how asinine all of this is*
I lived in an apartment during my one semester at Henderson with my cousin and she doesn’t even know about this.
So on the off chance someone in my family reads this. Sorry bout that.
So anyway, I was enrolled at Henderson State in the fall of 1998 and I declared my major as sports medicine. Mainly because I didn’t know what else to major in, I did not want to be an AT. I knew I wanted to be some type of trainer/coach or something. Looking back, I wanted to do exactly what I’m doing now, but places like mine did not exist for amateur athletes at the time.
Regardless, I trained (what I thought was hard) that Fall.
About halfway through that fall semester I got word through a family friend that a new gym was expanding in Maumelle, Arkansas and that they were interested in hiring me as the floor trainer. So I went to coach Preston told him the situation and he was gracious enough to put me in touch with Coach White at the University of Central Arkansas. Coach White agreed let me TRY to make the team in the spring of 2000.
So essentially, I was what we refer to now as a “gap year” athlete. Someone who takes off a year of competitive sports after graduating high school to focus on training and preparing to be better at the sport they wish to play in college. I moved to Maumelle and the owner of that gym, Mr. Travis Fulfer allowed me to train there for free while they built the new facility. Fast forward to the fall of 1999. This is the part that I have the most trouble saying out loud, simply because it illustrates my ignorance and immaturity.
Long story short, I moved into a fraternity house, and obviously pledged the fraternity, the rent was cheap. It was fun obviously but there was one problem, Coach White had a very strict team rule that you could not belong to a fraternity and play for him.
Of course I threw a fit about it, because anything that didn’t play in my favor, at that point in my life, was clearly wrong. But of course, as I aged, I realized how right he was by having team rules and how wrong I was. You may have picked up by now but that’s a pretty common theme in the story.
Bush League Ball
If you’ve been around me on the rare occasion I talk about my playing career, you’ve heard me talk about “Bush League Ball”, well thats this part of the story.
Fast forward to the summer of 2001 some of my high school teammates and I somehow managed to get together, I don’t remember the details on that, I feel like they either weren't playing summer ball, or hadn’t left yet, but we played several games against other teams with Players about our age. I wish I could remember more details on how that was organized because that is ludicrous to think of now.
Of course, I was the only one that wasn’t playing collegiate ball at this time but I had been training and my skill level was, decently close to theirs, definitely not as high as theirs.
But I could easily be on the same field with them and not stand out as the one non-collegiate player. While playing these games I met a man named Mark, his last name doesn’t matter. Mark was trying to do something really awesome, I truly believe he was simply ahead of his time.
He was putting together what he called a “semi-professional team”, looking back that was a very, very fancy way of saying he would pay for our hotels and SOME food while we traveled and played in what would be called showcase events these days. These events featured teams made up of players just like the guys we had on our team. I do not know if this was a network of people like Mark that had came up with this idea or what but it truly was a good idea because the competition level was very good. Now days we have hundreds of resources at our finger tips to get over looked players an opportunity. At this point in time, I had only recently got my first email address.
This is circa 2001- 2003. Perfect Game, existed but was not what it is now. I remember him saying that we were going to “showcase” our skills but nobody ever referred to the events we played at as “showcase” events(that I recall).
We played in the summer, ALL summer. I was just playing ball at the time, I didn’t care about the labels. I described them at the time as “grading tournaments” in which professional scouts and college coaches would “grade” the athletes playing, and search for potential suitors for the needs their teams had. Some affiliated clubs, a lot of Indy ball teams and obscure leagues from around the country.
I caught and played a little bit of 3rd.
We played a lot in Lexington, Ky and Kansas City, Mo and a few places in between. Particularly in Kentucky, we were there a lot. We did play in Clinton, Arkansas every year. There was like a festival going on. It was a pretty cool environment. It was almost like we were a gypsy summer ball team.
Between “grading tourneys”, Mark picked up games with amateur organizations all over and we also played a lot of games against summer teams that needed more games or had a game cancelled because a team folded or something like that.
This team also doubled as a way for collegiate players to get reps, without having to travel a long way from home. I did not play with any of my HS teammates from then on, but I did play with several Division I and 2 athletes and a ton of JUCO guys. Of course none of those I will name, because that feels weird to me. Its not like any of them turned out to be big leaguers that you might know of.
I cannot fathom anyone reading this caring that much THAT much anyway.
Most of the guys wore a T-shirt representing the school that they played for, those of us that did not play for school or did not want to wear the school logo had gray jerseys with two buttons at the top.They were that really stiff, scratchy mesh material. Mark always referred to us as the Little Rock Robins and that's what brackets would have us listed as, but the jerseys did not say anything on the front. Just a red number on the back. We always wore white pants with red piping.
I caught a vast majority of the time so my jersey was covered 50% of the game anyways so I didn’t really care. I was just happy to be playing and contributing at baseball.
I have absolutely nothing from this time.
I don’t have the jersey, because I gave it back to Mark.
I don’t have any pictures. I do remember there being pictures taken at several events but I don’t have any of them. I’ve never been wild about having my picture taken so it just didn’t cross my mind. Of course I would pay a lot of money for one now. I have lost contact with most of the guys that I played with.
This went on for 3 years. I spent some of the third summer playing with an organization that still exists today, called the Pine Bluff Braves.
I feel comfortable saying that we played every bit of 50 games per summer, I really feel like it was more like 60 but we’ll go with 50. If we played 50, then I would say I caught approximately 40 of them.
Yes, it was brutal, but I didn’t care.
I felt redeemed. So I never really complained or anything, I just soaked it all up.
Not redeemed like your normal story of how somebody gets slighted by coaches in high school, because I didn’t get slighted by any coaches.
I slighted myself.
I knew deep down my whole life that I could play a little, but I couldn’t stop shooting myself in the foot.
It gave me a level of appreciation for the game that honestly I don’t see in some guys that played at a higher level.
There is something about having to fight and claw just to have a jersey to put on that changes how you look at it.
Much like a person that goes from homeless to being a millionaire, they just appreciate the money more than the person that’s been a millionaire their entire life. So all of this did give me a great appreciation and love for the game but it also gave me a ton of unique experience handling a variety of pitchers.
I caught Division I pitchers and I caught guys that threw absolute fuel that could not hit the broadside of my grandpa’s thoroughbred barn. Catching a professional pitcher is usually the easiest day you will have as a catcher, it’s the guy that throws 90+ that has absolutely no idea where it’s gonna land that will make your life miserable and I have few scars to show for it.
Remember everyone on this team was college aged, playing at a relatively high level, or searching for their opportunity to do so. There were no high school kids. There weren’t even kids that just graduated high school, everyone was removed from high school for at least one year. So the competition levels that we played with and against were very comparable to at least a division 2 level, I feel very very confident in saying that, although it felt like we were a nomadic bunch of JUCO guys. It was A LOT of fun. I think its why I find myself identifying best with JUCO guys.
As previously mentioned, this gave me a lot of experience with relatively high levels of competition. Three years of catching 40+ games is comparable to what some collegiate catchers get. If that catcher only starts for 2 years then its more. In fairness though, I did not get the practice reps those guys get.
I hate that I missed out on that, but I also feel like it is directly linked to why the things I do with our team, and how I run practices and workouts don't look anything like what a person with traditional experience in the game would do.
Not only did it give me a a lot of experience, it set me on the path that I am still on today.
At that point, lifting weights was thought to be taboo for baseball players by many, but we had just watched Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa gain a bunch of weight and CLEARLY get stronger in the weight room and break the home run record. I was also watching our pitching coaches give ques to our pitchers that were clearly not happening for that particular pitcher. As long as the coaches desired result happened, he would nod in approval as if his que was the reason for it.
If it didn’t, he would repeat the que as if the pitcher hadn’t heard the first time. The thing that bothered me the most was the ques were exactly the same for every one of them. If the que happen to work for a guy, he was labled as “coachable”. But if a guy created his delivery in a different manner, regardless of result, he was labled defiant, or uncoachable. This impacted alot of guys lives, this was like the UFC for baseball. There were no contracts, if the coach didn’t like you, you just didn’t get invited to play anymore and you were done.
This process would repeat at nauseam. I saw this type of contradiction all over the place. Baseball players being told to jog in order to get in shape for a game that never involves movement for more than like 3 seconds at a time or even worse, to make their arms feel better.
All of this impacted me a great deal.
In the book The Power Of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they talk about “Defining Moments” that you look back on and clearly see it set you on the path you are on now.
These were my defining moments.
All of this impacted me a great deal.
It literally formed the coach I am today. This type of thinking is what led me to find Eric Cressey (Owner of Cressey Sports Performance; Strength and Conditioning Coordinator New York Yankees) and pay a large sum of money for the opportunity to learn at his facility. And its why I have been such an outspoken advocate of Kyle Boddy(Owner of Driveline Baseball; Director of Pitching Initiatives/Pitching Coordinator Cincinnati Reds). The first time I heard Kyle speak it was like someone had been living in my mind for the previous decade and was perfectly verbalizing all the thoughts I either didn’t know how to express or didn’t want to say out loud because I didn’t want to be looked at as a baseball heretic.
Regardless, I have spent my adult life learning and building networks of people to help baseball players achieve the things I did not. That is really the bottom line. Nobody’s playing career teaches them how to be a good coach. You have to desire to be the best, If you do, you will be on a constant quest to find the best way. That is the type of coach I want to be viewed as.
I occasionally am scoffed at because
A. I didn’t pitch
B. I didn’t play at what is labeled as a high level.
I get that.
I will just tell this story. Another defining moment in my coaching career was a few years back one of our remote athletes and his dad came in for an assessment.
His dad pitched in the league. After about the 4th time of me saying “Well, you know as well as I do....”
He stopped me. He said “No, I don’t know. I’m not being arrogant. In fact, I’m being very humble when I say this but, it came naturally to me. I have no idea how I did it. I just did. I don’t need to be coaching anyone. I want the guy that had to figure out why he wasn’t as good at it. He had to ask himself ‘Why do I suck at this?”
He was so right.
I’ve always said bodybuilders make really bad personal trainers because they don’t understand they have a natural amount of self discipline that some people don’t possess or have idea how to harness.
There are some similarities there.
Thank you for reading my blog!