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Difference Between High School and College Baseball

There is a big difference between having the talent to play college baseball and having the mindset to be successful at the next level. College baseball is a completely different animal than high school baseball. The sooner the athlete realizes that, the less of a surprise that will be if they wish to continue their playing career past high school. College baseball brings forth many new challenges. A prospective athlete not aware of (or ignorant to) this could unknowingly ruin their college experience. Here are a few of the biggest differences between high school and college baseball:

Time commitment

During the week, the average high school baseball player will wake up and go to school at 8am, then have practice after school for two to three hours or a game if you are in-season. On the weekend, they will probably have a practice on Saturday and then have the rest of the weekend to relax. In the off-season, most players will work at their own discretion to get better, whether that be with a separate program or your high school team.  This is generally optional.

College baseball is an entirely different commitment. You are expected to be at the field at least six out of the seven days a week year-round, in-season and out-of-season.. An average week for a college baseball player consists of three to four mandatory lifts, which can start as early as 6am. After finishing classes for the day, practice will usually go for at least 4 hours focusing on every aspect of baseball. Catchers, infielders, outfielders and pitchers will all work separately before all coming together to work on team defense and then some form of batting practice or intersquad. All of this is ON TOP of work you are expected to do outside of practice, such as cage work or other defensive reps. After those hours at the field, you need to complete your studies and coordinate anything you need to be successful in the classroom. This includes communicating missed classes due to games/travel with your professor, attending study hall and completing all of your work for the next day. Then you get up and start this cycle again the next morning.

Competition

Competition goes beyond playing against other teams. A collegiate baseball player must  compete within his own team for that one starting spot. At the high school level, it is easier to find playing time if you are talented, so there is no tough battle to get at bats or innings if you put in a little work. However, at the collegiate level, everybody was one of those talented players from their high school.

The playing field is as balanced as possible and the reality is the starting role can be won or lost in a single day. You need to have that drive to compete against your teammates all day every day, in intersquads, practice, lifts, extra work and everything else. Each day, you need to ask yourself “did I beat my teammate today” and then think “how many more times do I need to beat him before I can solidify that starting spot.” If you did not win that day, you need even more conviction to go out tomorrow and win. And if you aren’t the one playing on game day, you shouldn’t ask yourself “Why isn’t that me?” Instead, you’ll need to use it to motivate you even more to take that spot. The hard reality is that your opponent probably outworked you and you need to work harder. A great example of a college athlete who worked through this adversity would be Mac Jones, the quarterback for Alabama, who went from third string to a Heisman finalist.

Apology to Mac Jones: From projected benching to Heisman finalist

Culture of the program

This aspect is the biggest difference between high school and college baseball. In high school, leadership comes mainly from the coaches with the help of some accomplished upperclassmen who try to lead the way for younger players. The coach will preach the culture of the program, but the reality is that a culture does not come to fruition unless every single player buys into it. Sadly, there will always be high school players who find the culture as something that’s “extra” and not necessary.

In college, how the culture is laid out and how much you buy could single handedly enhance or ruin your career. While the culture is set by the coaches, it is reinforced by the players. As a member of a program, you are in charge of holding yourself and everybody else accountable to continue to move in the right direction. My college coach would always say “culture is the boss when the boss ain’t there,” meaning it was not his job to reinforce the culture, it was ours all the time. There is no option to ignore the culture and just think your talent will make you successful. By committing yourself to a program, you are committing yourself to the culture and all the players that live that culture. And if you let the culture down, you let yourself and all of your teammates down.

Who will come out successful

College baseball is full of challenges, but there is always a path to succeed. Everybody on the roster wants to be the guy, wants to get the playing time or pitch in high leverage scenarios. If you compete everyday, hold yourself accountable to the standards of the team and take pride in the work you put in, you can set yourself up for success. None of these keys to success take talent…it is merely your effort, which you can control. So the question is, do you want to put in that work?

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MLB’s Handling of the Coronavirus Sucks

It’s been just over a week and baseball is already not off to a hot start. Two teams missed a full week of games and another separate series was postponed due to COVID outbreaks. With the subpar restrictions and poor judgment by the league, I knew that something like this was bound to happen. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the MLB doesn’t get through the 60 game season.

So far, 17 players on the Marlins and two coaches have tested positive, five more members of the Cardinals, and two members of the Phillies’ club…all within the last week! On the other hand, we have the NBA and NHL both reporting ZERO coronavirus cases since July 13 and 18, respectively. My issue is that the way the NBA and NHL are doing it was attainable for the MLB.

Both the NHL and NBA are putting their players in a “bubble” in set locations, with the NBA being in Orlando and the NHL being in Toronto and Edmonton. This allows them to isolate themselves from other people, keeping the possibility of an outbreak under control. If players do leave, they are required to quarantine for 10 days and take multiple COVID tests before returning to play. By forcing players to do this, the leagues have kept them safe and healthy.

The thing is, the MLB had the opportunity to do this by isolating teams in their Spring Training facilities in Arizona and Florida. Each team would have their field, facility, and hotel to stay in, with their only travel being within the state to other team’s fields. Everything else would be the same as it is now, with no spectators and minimal interaction with people outside of each team’s “bubble.” The players wouldn’t be allowed to go to restaurants or travel or do anything else that could potentially put others at risk.

So why didn’t baseball do this? For the same reason the season got started so late as-is: the owners. The owners are so worried about minimizing their losses this year, that it may have put their players and the likeness of the game at risk. The league has set records in revenue each year since 2001, so you’d think they could take a hit for one year in order to promote the game of baseball.


Major League Baseball total league revenue from 2001 to 2019 in billion U.S. dollars (Statistica.com)

But the greediness of the owners just reared its ugly head again with the lack of safety for the players. If the owners had been willing to take this hit, the season would have started earlier in these Spring Training facilities. This would have allowed for there to be more than a measly 60 games and it would have made the players safer.

As much as I blame the owners, Rob Manfred has also done a poor job. His overseeing of this season’s set up was subpar. The league allowing the Marlins to play the Phillies last week after four players tested positive on the Marlins is absolutely ridiculous. Then, just this past weekend, he blamed the players for the spike in coronavirus cases and threatened to shut the league down. You can’t blame the players for getting sick when they are within the guidelines set forth by the league. It’s just an awful look by the league.

As a fan who’s been watching everything play out since Spring Training got canceled back in March, it’s obvious at this point that the MLB has done the worst job in caring for its player’s safety and wellbeing. This league obviously prioritizes revenue over the wellbeing of players. Hindsight is always 20-20, but an obvious choice was to play the games at the Spring Training facilities.

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Baseball is More Than Stats

As a high school athlete, all I wanted to focus on was statistics. I wanted to know my earned run average, strikeout to walk ratio, pitches per start, and every other number I could get my hands on. As a pitcher, I thought those numbers measured success and would help me enjoy the game a lot more. For the most part, it did because those numbers were always positive, until I got to college.

The degree of difficulty greatly increased, as I had to compete with my teammates for spots and other teams when I got those opportunities. Those numbers that I valued weren’t looking so hot, and that started to hinder my enjoyment of playing the game. At this point, I had to answer the question: Will I let my statistics measure my happiness within a team? While performing well on the field is a lot of fun, there are other aspects of the team that I truly enjoyed.

The first aspect was just enjoying the smaller parts of practice. For me, it was the throwing program, bullpens, and intersquads. For other players, it may be ground balls, batting practice, or drill work. When I would throw my bullpens or toss with my teammates, I would just try to be loose and not put too much pressure on myself. It was the time I could try different things and work to improve myself. As long as I had the intent to get better, there was no reason to stress. Each practice was around four or five hours of just being at the field with my teammates and playing the game I loved. Once I stepped out of our locker room and walked down the steps to our field, it felt like a breath of fresh air as I blocked out the rest of my day and got to encompass myself in baseball.

That time at the field also allowed me to enjoy the company of over 40 other friends and coaches who all had the same goal. I’d take the time during stretches to ask them how their day was, talk about professional sports, maybe ask some stupid questions, and get ready for practice. Then during practice, we would hype each other up, chirp when we could talk some smack, and give advice or talk about specific aspects of the game that could benefit each other. 

With only three or four coaches at practice, having teammates who were willing to help each other made our development a lot smoother. When I was doing my throwing program, my partner and I would give each other tips and cues if something felt off. Then we would get super competitive during our conditioning and start talking trash. I loved having that balance because, in both situations, we were making ourselves better. 

Another aspect that I enjoyed was our team lifts because they just had a different vibe than practices. They were shorter, higher intensity and the focus was purely on giving 100 percent of what you had, regardless of how it compared to the rest of the team. Outside of pitching, this was my favorite part of being on the team. I enjoyed providing the energy to push somebody else to be better, and then that intensity was brought right back on me when I pushed myself. I was pushed to be comfortable with things that were uncomfortable, which made me a better ballplayer and teammate. Personally, I took advantage of how the weight room could benefit a team and took extra steps to push others there because I enjoyed it so much. Putting in the extra work in the weight room was just fun for me and I tried to make it fun for others too.

The great thing about all these aspects is they had nothing to do with my statistics or the amount of playing time I was getting. I was just enjoying being around my teammates and getting myself better at the game I loved. If there is one thing I’ve learned from talking to former teammates and coaches who reminisce about their time playing, it’s that five, ten, or twenty years down the road, the stats and accolades don’t matter at all.

When you look back on your playing career, no matter when it ends, the only thing you think about is the memories you created. Yes, the accolades are great, but your teammates will remember you by how you acted and how much you cared about baseball. For me, I think about the hotel trips, the bus rides, the 6 am lifts, hanging out with my teammates in the cafeteria after practice, and everything else. In the end, the impression you leave on your teammates through your work ethic and attitude will last longer than any statistic or accolade. While the statistics are important, it’s the memories that will last a lifetime and truly determine how much fun you had on the diamond.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the 2020 MLB Season

Baseball is back! On July 23, the whole world will get to watch Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole square off on Opening Day and I couldn’t be more excited! As fun as it was to watch KBO highlights (because I wasn’t waking up at 5 am to watch the games), it hasn’t fulfilled my needs to watch my favorite MLB players compete every day. However, there are still going to be some shortcomings this season with the impact of the pandemic.

GOOD

We get a baseball season. By Opening Day, it will be 267 days since the last out was recorded in the 2019 World Series, topping the longest stoppage in MLB history by 35 days. Now we get to follow all the storylines. We get to watch Gerrit Cole pitch in his new Yankee pinstripes, the revived Reds roster try to do some damage in the NL Central, Mookie Betts try to earn himself show he’s worth a massive contract in his one year with Dodgers, and so much more.

The most important “good” is that this will bring back some sense of normalcy with there being more live sporting events. While golf, NASCAR, and soccer have already made some return, those three sports are not as prominent in the United States. That consistency of being able to watch a baseball game in the afternoon or evening just brings a certain level of comfort that has been missing in a world filled with negativity and chaos. Hopefully, the COVID testing can continue to go well so there are no setbacks in the league.

BAD

The rule changes, in my opinion, are a little rough, especially the idea of starting with a runner on second base in extra innings. I’m honestly indifferent about this rule, but I understand arguments for both sides of it. On one hand, the league doesn’t want long, drawn-out extra-inning games so players aren’t around each other for longer periods of time. However, this rule change feels like it messes with the overall integrity of the game. It just has that 12u tournament feeling where teams have to fit in three or four games in one day. I think a better compromise would be to implement this rule after a certain amount of extra-innings. But, in the end, it gives the Giants that much more of a chance to win with Billy Hamilton on their bench.

Also, the lack of minor league baseball is just depressing. The logistics of having a season at all those levels would have been extremely difficult. The reality is that you can’t expect a taxi squad system to develop the up and coming stars the same way as minor league baseball. While it will obviously give some minor leaguers more of a chance to play in the show this year, those that need development won’t get that in-game experience. And don’t even get me started on the minor league teams being cut before this all happened.

UGLY

The ugly is by far missing over 100 games and not being able to see some of the best talents in the league play. I was in full support of the players in their negotiations with the owners. With the league continually setting records in revenue, it set up the billionaire owners very well to take a little hit this year and get baseball started earlier. A solution could have been found so much sooner if the owners would have budged a little bit. Instead, we missed out on over a half a year of baseball in Mike Trout’s prime (the GOAT). And we’ll miss out on all the players that are sitting out this season due to concerns about the coronavirus.

However, I think the biggest “ugly” of them all is that there is still a local blackout for watching games in a team’s market. I can’t stress how stupid local blackouts are in the first place, but I feel like even this year could’ve called for an exception. Since fans don’t have the option of going to their favorite team’s game, now would be a great time to cut the local blackouts. Sadly that won’t be the case for 2020. The league will still continue to block potential consumers from watching the game they so eagerly want to spread. 

In the end, the past few months of watching the players’ negotiations have been extremely frustrating, but here we are now. Each team has 60 games to prove their worthy of winning the World Series trophy. All I know is that whoever wins this year will always have that question looming of “how good would they have really been in a full season?”

Leave a comment and let me know what your thoughts are on this upcoming baseball season!

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Senior Season Meets COVID-19

On March 11, we (University of Lynchburg) beat Pfieffer in dramatic fashion, with a backward strikeout to get out of a bases-loaded jam with a one-run lead. It was our 11th win in our last 13 games and we were as confident as ever as a team, so you would think we would be extremely excited getting on the bus after our game. However, people started checking their phones after the game and the vibe took a full 180. Schools were closing, games and tournaments were getting canceled, and we knew Lynchburg baseball was up next. Within 36 hours of this dramatic win, we were told we had to be off-campus before the weekend and our season was over. 

I was in pure denial for the first week I was home. One day I was in full tilt season mode and the next day I was packing up and going home. I didn’t want to get out of that in-season mode, but that just wasn’t an option at this point. The second half of the semester started off with online classes, video meetings with our team, and at-home workouts. It was honestly a difficult transition for me and for a team that was playing championship-level baseball. This team was by far the best baseball team I have ever been a part of.

There were so many tough decisions that had to be made for seniors, like me. Whether or not to exercise the fifth-year option and go to graduate school, or take my chances in finding a job in a very tough job market. I had to think about how realistic grad school was financially, the state the world would be in come 2021, and so many other factors when making this decision. It was something that I was not prepared to make when going into the season. These thoughts were just running through my head day in and day out.

Throughout the second half of the semester, our coaches scheduled team meetings three times a week. We would talk about baseball, the culture of the program, and whatever else was going on in our lives. While it doesn’t compare to seeing my teammates’ faces every day at the baseball field, it was the best we could do. It gave me a sense of the social interaction that we were not getting any more. 

I also tried to stay as active as possible. One facet was creating at-home workouts to keep my body fit even though I didn’t have access to the weights at my gym. It sucked but, I started running and doing more cardio-based exercises.  Another distraction for me was turning to baseball. Just playing catch with my brother or hitting in the cage for an hour made such a huge difference in my mood. Baseball has always been my mental release, so I called on it now more than ever, even though my playing career was essentially over. 

Even with these releases, it still felt so different. Instead of our senior day being on beautiful Fox Field with all of our teammates and the seniors’ families, we had a live stream video on YouTube. It’s moments like this that really made me think about the memories we lost. I had been looking forward to this moment since I hugged the previous seniors goodbye in 2019. It’s a moment that I know was so special to not only them but the teammates that had been around them for one, two, or three years. The 2020 seniors didn’t get that experience.

In the end, taking into account factors beyond baseball, I decided to not take my fifth year. I knew 2020 was going to be my final year. I was proud of the impact I had on the Lynchburg baseball program and the impact it had on me. Even if I had the option to attend graduate school and play a fifth year somewhere else, I wouldn’t want to play anywhere than Lynchburg.

I lost these memories and my college playing career is over, but my love for baseball still continues to grow through the time at home. I’ve come to realize that the next stage in my baseball career is coaching. I remain passionate about baseball and I want to share and develop that passion in others. I learned so much through my four-ish years playing collegiate baseball that I would love to share with players who are willing to learn and improve their skills. As things hopefully start to go back to “normal,” I hope that all my fellow seniors and teammates find a positive out of this shortened season that can help be motivated to continue their baseball journey. Everything happens for a reason, so it’s our job to find something positive out of this situation.

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Control What You Can Control

Cameron Lane, University of Lynchburg (class of 2022)

If there was one thing that college baseball has taught me, it was how important the mental side of athletics was to success. When you get to college, there are at least twice as many teammates compared to high school fighting for the same 9 positions and no matter how hard you work or how well you perform, some things just are not going to work out. These struggles could hinder the success of an athlete at this level if they just focus on the failure and think it’s their fault when, in reality, it might not be.

The major key to not letting those setbacks negatively affect you is just focusing on “controlling what you can control.” When you face failure, it’s so easy to get caught up in the statistics, the depth chart, or whatever reason you tell yourself why the coach isn’t playing you. You will never find success by dwelling on negatives that you don’t have complete control over.

By focusing on “controlling what you can control,” you can create a more positive mindset that can help build confidence and eventually increase your success. It’s ridiculous how much of the actual sport of baseball is out of our control. In the instance of a pitcher, he only has control until he releases the ball and after that, anything could happen. By ignoring what could negatively affect you, you can change your thought process to be more intrinsic.

For example, you throw a perfect fastball on the black knee-high away, but the batter puts a good swing on it and drives it off the right-field fence for a double. It’s really easy to get frustrated by the result and let the double negatively affect your confidence going into the next batter. However, what you don’t realize is that you just executed your pitch to the best of your ability and the batter just beat it. The pitch being hit has nothing to do with your ability to execute, so at that moment it’s important to realize that you succeeded in controlling what you can control, which is the pitch being released and put in the right spot.

This “control what you can control” mindset also works at improving your performance outside of a game. Being hard-working, showing effort, and having a good attitude are all attributes that you have complete control over no matter what is going on around you. These attributes are vital in improving your own skills, being the best teammate, and helping achieve the goals of the group. No coach has ever said “this kids work ethic is too over the top” or “he’s giving too much effort.”

Overall, the “control what you can control” mindset can help you create a more positive outlook on your performance. Baseball is such a fast and reactive sport that by the time you start having negative thoughts, you’re already a second behind everybody else. By focusing on just controlling what you can control, your mind will stay put on the task at hand, which allows you to build the confidence you need to play this game to the best of your ability.

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The Effect of Competition in the Sports Market on the Popularity of Baseball

This is my senior research project submitted to fulfill my graduation requirements for the University of Lynchburg’s honors program. Below is the abstract for the paper. If you would like to read the full thesis, which is around 47 pages, reach out to me and I will gladly email a copy.

Abstract

This paper will discuss why Major League Baseball (MLB) has declined in popularity in the United States since 1998. Issues regarding the increased competition with the development of different sports leagues along with antitrust in payroll drew the most interest. Various forms of marketing, including media and competitive marketing, will be covered along with different variations of economics in the sports world. The research will follow the development of Major League Baseball through the second half of the 20th century, along with an analysis between the MLB, National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) in the 21st century in regard to payroll and media marketing. Studies done on this topic include competitive balance and attendance in the MLB discussing a variety of factors within the sport itself, such as team market size and the compression of baseball talent. The goal is to prove that there is a correlation between the increased competition in the sports market and the decrease in popularity in the MLB.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer delivers a pitch in the top of the second inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs Aug. 9, 2019. Bauer has been one of the most vocal players on how poorly Major League Baseball markets their players. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)