Thursday, July 14, 2011

some questions I was asked about baseball:

a blog reader asked me a bunch of questions about baseball at the youth level and playing in college. Since the poker stuff is not totally interesting right now I figured I'd post this up for a change of pace. I haven't edited what I wrote so some of it may contain poor grammar or be redundant.

it's a lot of stuff but I tried to answer everything to the best of my ability and memory. I haven't proofread it so if anything doesn't make sense let me know. I might turn this into a blog post if you don't mind (obviously keeping all of the information about your son out of it as well as your email).

1. I assume you pitched for Duke, did you receive a scholarship(full,partial)(Baseball or academic)to play and go to school there? I did pitch for duke (removed link to my stats if anyone is interested you can PM on 2p2 and I can provide link). I went to Duke for academics and was an invited walk on for the baseball team. I was cut the first year for some frustrating reasons, but made the team as a sophomore and played 4 years, including 2006 when I was getting a Masters from Duke's Engineering Management Program. I received some scholarship help for academics (including a significant amount of aid for my Masters Program) and my coach for my first 3 years had planned on giving me some partial scholarship for my grad school work in 2006. However he was fired in the summer of 2005 and our new head coach chose not to provide me with any financial aid.

2. Did you choose duke because they offered you a scholarship or did you have offers from other schools? I received an offer to play at Youngstown State on a full academic scholarship, I had a full academic scholarship to Marshall and the coach told me I could walk on, and I a few other coaches in WV were interested in me as a walk on. However most coaches knew academics were my #1 priority and so they didn't recruit me heavily when they found out where I was applying and what my interests were. Also at most of the smaller schools, where my talent was potentially worth an athletic scholarship, I would have qualified for academic scholarships so the coaches knew they were better off saving their scholarships for other student-athletes.

3.If you had multiple offers did you choose Duke for baseball or academics? Duke was my #1 choice for academics. I would have gone there even if I had no chance to play baseball. I applied early decision in the fall of 2000 before I had ever spoken to the baseball coach about the chance to play for the team. I always wanted to play college baseball, and planned on trying where ever I went, but once I was accepted to Duke I knew that was where I was going to school. Academics always came first to me.

4. Were you a dominant pitcher in high school?
I was a dominant pitcher from age 12 until age 18 for all but one year. I started pitching at 10, was a starter at 11, and was one of the best pitchers in the area during my years in Babe Ruth ball (13-15) and American Legion Baseball (17 and 18 y.o.). My 16 year old year I struggled to adapt to a growth spurt and lost my control of my pitches. I spent that year playing second base and shortstop and was the starting second baseman on my district all star team in Senior Little League. In high school I was actually cut from the team as a freshman (honestly it was bull shit politics) and my sophomore year I played JV and hardly got any playing time (our JV schedule was 10 games and our coach was a joke). My Junior year in high school I became our #3 starter about half way through the season. My senior year I was our #1 starter and went 9-3 with a sub 3 ERA and was responsible for almost half of our wins that year. I beat 5 top 10 teams in our state and was Honorable Mention All State. In my opinion I was the best pitcher in the district that year. But obviously I'm biased ;-)

5. Did you play travel ball? My American Legion team traveled to lots of tournaments when I was 17 and 18, but in general no. I had offers and occasionally did a little mercenary type weekend stints with AAU teams. But I played locally until age 16, and in general found my way on to all-star teams or the best local team that was recruiting. We played mostly other teams within 2 hours or so of my hometown. When I was 17 and 18 we typically played double headers every week night, usually playing 10 games a week when we didn't have a tournament. In general we'd play anyone that wanted to.

6. Did you play and practice year round?
I played usually from March to August. Then I would take the rest of the year off until late November or early December when I would start practicing for the upcoming spring. Usually throwing a couple times a week with longer sessions the later it got in the winter. I didn't do much weightlifting until I was done growing at age 17, and I didn't take up running until I was 16. I built arm strength and velocity by throwing a lot. A lot of long toss, a lot of bullpens, and lot of games of catch.

7. Did you play other sports in High School?
I played soccer all throughout high school (I had played since I was 5). I wasn't very good but I loved the sport and it was my first serious experience with conditioning (mostly a lot of sprinting and distance running which I was surprisingly good at). I played golf competitively when I was 12 and 13 but couldn't find the time for it because of baseball after that. I played basketball until I was 13, and afterwards coached a team of 8-10 year old with my father until I graduated from high school. Volunteering my time coaching was really rewarding and I think helped me learn a lot about being a leader and a teammate. Soccer was also humbling because I was always fighting for playing time amongst other players that frankly were assholes. It taught me how to treat fellow teammates when you're a better player on the team, and how to perservere when things weren't going your way. It helped a lot considering how hard I had to work to get the attention of my high school baseball coaches. There was a lot of politics on those teams, and in general they were not good coaches.

8. Did you ever get tired of baseball in college, was it ever too much?
This is a tough question. I definitely had times where I hated having to go to practice, and especially hated weight lifting. But my college experience was different than most athletes. Academics was my top priority. I double majored in Civil Engineering and Political Science, I made the Engineering Honor Society, and made All ACC academic Honor Roll for 4 years. So I basically studied my ass off for 5 years (including getting my Masters). Some of my teammates worked hard in the classroom, but others came to school as much or more for baseball as academics. So often they majored in easier studies (History or Sociology) and they just wanted to graduate. My parents expected me to get good grades. They were not happy when I got a C in physics. I also needed to make money in college if I wanted to have any spending cash so I took a job delivering laundry for a student owned and operated company my freshman year (when I was not playing baseball). By my sophomore year I had been promoted to Daily Operations Manager of the company and was doing scheduling, payroll, customer service, and everything else that went into the day to day work of the company. I might have been the only student on campus getting paid $20/hour, but it cost me a lot of sleep. I'd say my sophomore and junior years on campus I averaged less than 4 hours of sleep a night. My senior year I decided the laundry company was too much work so I waited tables over the summer and for a few weeks in the fall, and stocked shelves in the bookstore on campus. As far as I know I was the only guy on the team that had a job as well as going to school. I also went to summer school twice so that I could graduate on time. My last year while getting my masters I was working an internship at GlaxoSmithKline as well as playing ball. Looking back on it I think I would have done better at athletics if I had put less effort into other things. But would I be better off for that as a person? probably not. My academic success is worth considerably more in the long run, and my time working jobs helped mold me into a better person. I think everyone should have to work different jobs at that age that they apply for and get on their own. Even if it is only over the summer. However considering that most college baseball programs require 30 hours a week or more of commitment from the players (including multiple days of 6 AM weightlifting and conditioning) I'm not sure that having jobs during the year was the best thing for my game. But I wanted the money, and I wouldn't ask my parents for it. So that is what I did. But I never regretted playing baseball in college even though I don't have the same carefree memories of college that a lot of folks do. College was serious work for me. I rarely got to relax or take time off. I busted my ass for 5 years. But I made my best friends (many of them through baseball) I had unbelievable experiences, and I learned so much about myself and the world. It wouldn't have been the same without baseball.

9. Are you a natural athlete or did you just put in the work? A little of both. My dad was an all state football and basketball player, and after his knees gave out on him when he was 18 he still had offers to play college golf from small schools in WV. He's 6'5" and just in general a big strong guy. I never saw him at his athletic best because he had arthritis in his knees and back 15 years before I was born. But by all accounts he was a great athlete. I was a decent athlete growing up, but probably benefitted as much from pratice and just hard effort as any natural skill. Throwing a baseball hard was really one of the few things that I did naturally well. But I kept growing all through high school and was 6'4" by the time I graduated. I was skinny and frankly didn't start putting on much muscle (despite a lot of weight lifting and eating like crazy) until I was 22. I started running seriously at age 16 by working out with some friends that ran cross country in the summer. I started lifting on my own (light weights high reps) at 17. I think a lot of my velocity came from having very long arms and being flexible (not having tight over developed muscles) along with a LOT of throwing. I full believe that long toss and practice develops arm strength and velocity. Weight lifting is a great cherry on the sundae when you get older and your body grows up. But as a kid you'll get more out of just throwing a baseball a long distance than you will out of any advanced training techniques. If I had to recommend something to a teen age pitcher I'd likely suggest running, squats, pushups, and yoga. Those are things that will develop a strong, lean, flexible frame with improved endurance.

10. How tall were you when schools started to look at you for college? How fast did you throw? I was 6'2" my junior year when a few coaches started to notice. As a righty you've got to put up terrific numbers or be over 6'4" to get noticed in high school. I topped out at 89 my senior year, I consistently threw 86 plus. The scale is much more flexible for lefties. Any lefty throwing over 82 with success in high school will get a look from at least some small schools. I'd also say any lefty over 6' is going to get some interest.

11. Did you have any pro teams looking at you? My 3rd year at Duke I had some scouts from the Braves, the Devil Rays, and one other team (can't remember) ask about me. In general the consensus was that if I had a strong 4th year I might be a late round pickup in 2006 or get a free agent signing. I shit the bed my 4th year (2006) when my new pitching coach decided to change most of my mechanics in the fall. In my opinion that is the worst thing that ever happened to me as a pitcher (even worse than the tears in my rotator cuff that happened in 2002 and 2009). By the time you get to that age if you're having success coaches shouldn't be breaking you down unless they've committed to you for 4 years and have a chance to work through the inevitable problems with you. I only had one year to go at Duke at that point, and I was mentally and physically lost for most of my last year on the mound. I figured things out myself in 2007 and in 2008 was invited to spring training by a couple teams in the CanAm league here in New England. I was cut by the Worcester Tornadoes on the last day of spring training (last pitcher cut out of 19 vying for 3 roster spots) and basically gave up on pro ball after that. I decided that trying to play in the MidWest or the West and spending all of that time away from my GF (now wife) just wasn't for me. I was making good money playing poker and just decided that at 25 I was too old to keep trying to play pro ball considering my ceiling.

12. What state did you go to H.S. in? West Virginia

13. Is the play better in some parts of the U.S. then others? I have been told that the best ball was played in California, Texas, and Florida do you find this to be true or is baseball-baseball no matter where you live? baseball is baseball no matter where you live, but the competition is definitely better in the south and california. you have better weather so the season starts earlier and lasts longer, and there are more teams, better training facilities, and more interest. But the fact of the matter is great players come from all over. I never went to any big recruiting camps, never played big time travel ball, and was never seriously scouted during high school. But I outplayed a some of the heavily recruited players in the ACC. I had as much talent as some of them, but outworked a lot of others. I was told I wasn't good enough to play at just about every level at some point, and I took a lot of pleasure in proving people wrong. I think a lot of big time players from those states get a little full of themselves when people talk about how great the competition is and they start ranking AAU teams and recruits and all that bull shit. At the end of the day you've got to get it done on the field under the lights. Doesn't matter how enamored some scout is of your heater in a bullpen at some camp.

14. Any general advice for my boy?
- Make the work fun. Learn to love the game and playing the game. If the way you practice and approach isn't making you smile figure a way that would be fun. if you don't like normal long toss setup a trash can and try to throw the balls into the trash can. If bullpens aren't fun try making some kind of a game out of it that keeps you interested. keep score so you have something to shoot for.
- Always keep your ears and eyes open. Try to learn and listen from everyone, but have confidence in what you do. Listen to people's advice, but if it doesn't work for you stick to what does. Watch pro ball and watch what those guys do well. Even if you aren't capable of throwing like that, learn how they think about approaching hitters and situations.
- Learn how to keep your composure and focus on the next pitch. always the next pitch. just execute the next pitch. you can never change the past, you can't prepare for every possible future, but you can focus on the present. have a short emotional memory but learn from experiences.
- Try to get a feel for your own body and how you throw. This is really really really hard for kids and teenagers. It's the reason that so many pitching coaches spend so much time teaching kids only to see them make the same mistake over and over again. In general most kids struggle to make adjustments and feel what they are doing right and wrong. That part of pitching doesnt come easy to people usually until they are 23 or older. But if you try it can't hurt. Being able to feel your own mistakes and recognize how changing parts of your delivery affects your results will help you understand how to pitch. especially when tired.
- Also school always has to come first. Academics have to come first. You can't even think about playing baseball in college if you can't get in to college, and playing ball is a lot easier if you can get it in on academic merit alone. All coaches want hard working good students on their teams. It makes their lives easier and sets a good example for the freshmen.

stats to date in the BPL:

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