One of my players is struggling with the choice of where to attend college next year. He is a talented pitcher, one whose fastball is regularly 90-91 MPH, yet he doesn’t have a flood of D-I offers. There are varying reasons for this, but the main one is the fact that he hasn’t been healthy to pitch in two years – and when he did, his fastball was more like 86-88 MPH.
Both schools that he is giving strong consideration to have above-average baseball programs and academics (important for him, he is not a stupid kid). However, one of the negatives he finds in University A is the fact that the pitching coach there doesn’t have a background in pitching. I coughed into my hand and kindly reminded him that his current pitching coach doesn’t have much of a background in pitching. He sheepishly replied: “That’s different.”
“Is it? How? Now, you know I don’t care where you go to school – I will be happy if you decide to take the offer from [school he rejected two weeks ago]. It’s your life. The only advice I will give you about choosing a program is that you shouldn’t let someone’s experience as a player dictate whether or not he knows anything about pitching. Some of the best pitching coaches never stepped on the bump beyond high school – Dave Duncan of the Cardinals, for example.”
“True. But,” he paused, “let’s say I go to University A and the pitching coach isn’t very good. Would you help me through college?”
“Yeah, of course. I take care of my players. Let’s cross that bridge when – and if – we get there.”
“OK, thanks a lot,” as he walked off to take some more batting practice.
I never really considered that my relationship with my players would be any other way. But then I got to thinking about it… and yeah, I realized that pitching coaches tend to just use the private lesson model and don’t offer some form of on-going consultations with their clients. (This strikes me as a model doomed to fail. If you don’t have someone guiding you – however lightly – while you are in-season, you are doomed to forget and be in non-compliance of all the hard work and planning you did in the off-season.)
Something these players will learn over time is that the higher you go up in this game, the less people care about you. Once you start accepting payment for your services – scholarships, bonuses, salaries – rather than the other way around, the game changes for you. You still need to get 27 outs and score more runs than the opponent, but nothing else is the same. A part of your financial future is now wrapped up in this game – a kid’s game, they say – and that can be a very foreign and scary experience.
I am slowly realizing that my role as a trainer and pitching coach will need to address many more areas than I ever thought. You’re a therapist, psychologist, agent, trainer, nutritionist, biomechanic analyst, teacher, mentor, and friend.