Take away the high salaries of the major league ballplayers and the sold-out crowds that watch them play, and it’s no wonder why many people say that the true passion for baseball lives in the Minor Leagues. Now, go talk to any minor leaguer and he’ll be quick to tell you these two things: 1) he will do just about anything to get out of the minors and into the majors, and 2) there are more levels in the minor leagues to climb than you probably realized (most teams have six minor league affiliates: Rookie Ball, Short Season-A, Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A). Of course, except for the very few, the only way to get to the majors is to start from the bottom and work your way up.
This season will be my fifth year in professional baseball, and I’ve experienced five different minor league levels. I’ve played with thousands of different players, and though each individual has a unique personality, the ones who are successful in this game all seem to do a number of similar things. It also happens to be the case that these habits are what gets you ahead not only in baseball and sports, but in any job or situation you may find yourself in.
Here are 4 lessons I’ve learned from those guys who’ve been successful in working their way up the ladder:
Lesson #1: Find a Routine That Works
Nutrition, weights, batting practice, defensive work; there are so many different things a player has to do to prepare for a baseball game. However, each person is different and something that works for one person might not work for another. Many professionals will tell you that players at the higher levels do not have more talent than players at the lower levels; they are, however, more consistent. Having a consistent approach off the field will likely result in consistency on the field.
I’ve noticed I play better on days when I do a brief workout, run, or yoga early in the morning. As soon as I figured this out, I tried to incorporate it into my daily routine and immediately found my performance improved because of it. The thought of choosing morning yoga over sleeping in would make many of my teammates wince, but that is the beauty of a personal routine.
One of my favorite teammates in particular, Mike O’Neill, is the most disciplined-to-his-routine player I have ever met. He listens to “Lights” by Ellie Goulding thirty minutes before every game, eats the same sandwich for lunch every day (this means the same sandwich for six straight months), and during home games runs to the outfield from the dugout with the exact same stride pattern every inning (he crosses the foul line with his right foot, touches second base with his left foot, and then jogs to his position in the outfield). He is also one of the most consistent players I have ever played with.
Be careful though, there is a fine line between routine and superstition. However, from a baseball player’s perspective, either is acceptable.
Lesson #2: Master the Fundamentals and Constantly Remind Yourself of Them
Michael Jordan said, “The fundamentals don’t change; the only thing that changes is our attention to them.” A baseball player’s job is not too complicated. He has to catch the ball, throw the ball, and hit the ball. As easy as it sounds, we have a tendency to make these things more complex than they really are.
This past year, I was having trouble on groundballs to my left early on in spring training. I finally figured out that I kept looking up at the first baseman before I had the ball in my glove. I reminded myself what my dad told me when I was a kid, “I want to see the button on the top of your hat when you field the ball.” This basic concept ended up making the difference. Anytime a hitter is in a slump, hitting coaches will often give you this simple piece of advice: “Get back to the fundamentals.” That’s why it’s important to learn them and learn them soon; then you won’t waste any time practicing the wrong stuff.