The off-season is the time to try experimenting with a new hitting style or pitching motion. You don’t want to get under the hood and start switching out plugs and wires right before the home-opener; and even spring training is better used for refining new approaches than discovering them. So… hope you had a rewarding Thanksgiving, as we did, and that a merry and meaningful Christmas will follow… but you should be doing something for your baseball preparation right now besides hitting the weight room.
What I really wish to discuss in this short space, however, goes even beyond rethinking your batting stroke. If you’re a high-school senior, the Christmas before your final semester can be a time of tension. In a very few months, you’ll decide whether or not to attend college and—if the answer is “yes”—exactly where to attend. That calculation, for a ballplayer, can of course involve factors like how big a scholarship you’re being offered, whether the coaching staff seems genuinely interested in your talents, and how close to home the school is. Be warned, by the way, that certain NAIA schools toss around scholarship money very freely. The directive handed down to the athletic department is apparently to fatten enrollment and not to worry about whether every “scholar-athlete” can actually swing or throw. You don’t want to find yourself riding the bench in March after the Assistant Coach sweet-talked you with extra sugar and honey back in the previous June.
Those grants are terrific: don’t get me wrong. By all means, avoid taking any loan if you can. Especially avoid the FAFSA loans that our government suckers millions of young people and their families into accepting every year. They’re toxic. No other kind of debt is unaffected by personal bankruptcy: you’ll have to pay that money back with interest, though you write the last check on your deathbed (unless, that is, you get conned into taking one of the “cancellation” deals that the Feds sometimes offer if you go to work in the public sector). My son paid for a good portion of his college by being a ballplayer and achieved his B.A. without incurring a dime of debt. We’re very proud of that.
The one factor in this equation that’s never mentioned, however, seems to be the student’s choice of major. Give that some serious thought: in other words, ponder your preferred course of study as well as what you hope to do on the diamond, and select a school that’s strong in your prospective field. Why go to college at all if the only thing you propose to do for the next ten years is play ball? Why not play in an Independent League if you can’t walk on and win a spot on some organization’s low-A team? You can always go to a local college in the off-season and/or take online courses. Save your money if you think the degree worth having but don’t feel drawn to any heavy-duty area of specialization.
Most of you have to know, after all, that you won’t ever play big-league ball. By all means, if you think you have a crack at it and are willing to put in the work, chase that dream and see if you can close ground on it. Please don’t dress up the dream too prettily, though: don’t allow a complete fantasy to destroy your chance at being a really good architect or webmaster. Most Major Leaguers don’t enjoy ten-year careers, or even five-year careers. A “cup of coffee” is the typical serving-size. Even those who stick have to contend with changing time zones every other week, which cruelly disrupts eating habits and circadian rhythms. You may laugh at all that when you’re twenty-two—but, trust me, you won’t be laughing when you’re thirty-two. If you happen to acquire a family along the way, you’ll be separated from your wife and kids for several months a year, all totaled; and you may find yourself legally separated if you succumb to the numerous distractions that surround you on the road. Other ways of fighting the pressure, the psychic disruption, and the loneliness include “recreational” drugs and alcohol. Nobody has ever accused those substances of being performance-enhancing (unless, perhaps, in the case of Babe Ruth). Tyler Skaggs was not quite twenty-eight years old when his time on this earth was cut short by an effort, apparently, to level out his mood by artificial means.
I’ve painted an overly grim picture, no doubt. I just don’t want your image of “life after baseball” to be overly grim, as well. It’s better to let the game teach you what it can about life rather than become your whole life. My son’s final game was played in a titularly “Christian” tournament against a team whose players were so heavily caffeinated that they could hardly be kept in the dugout, whose coach ordered his pitcher to throw at our best hitter, and whose assistant coach muttered right in front of me as we all filed out to the parking lot, “Well, we won—that’s all that matters.” Tell it to Jesus when you stand before him, Coach: see what kind of response you get. You not only failed to learn the game’s proper lessons—you muddled the issues for the young people in your charge, and you lost the only game that counts.
Avoid that kind of program, if you spot warning signs. We obtained invaluable help from the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA) at www.ncsasports.org. You can share all of your concerns with the staff and rest assured that you won’t be brushed aside or fed a bunch of canned responses. I would strongly recommend that you give these professionals a try.