If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you know one of our themes revolves around mining for the answer to the question “why?” I believe strongly in this concept. The modern day baseball player does too, and we are lucky to be in a generation where players don’t blindly follow direction. They require explanations and data. This makes working with them more gratifying. It requires effort and with effort comes fulfillment. Drew Saylor does a tremendous job combining this concept with his own in today’s guest post. Enjoy his take.
I thought I knew who I was. I defined myself by the uniform – I was a baseball player, a dirtball, a grinder. For 26 years, that was my entire identity, and baseball was all I knew. But after the 2010 season, I decided to hang up my cleats. For the first time in my life, I was just a person, one working a “real job.”
It was great not worrying if I was going to be fired from my job every day, collecting a paycheck, and having a good set of benefits that allowed my new wife and I to discuss having a family. But something was missing. I was still asking…Why am I here? What plan does God have for me? Where does He want me to be? And ultimately, the biggest question: Who am I?
Throughout my life, baseball had been near the center of it. It had provided such momentous highs and some crippling lows. It’s the only sport that resembled real life. I spent five years in the minor leagues chasing my dream, but after five seasons, I was burnt out. Constant travel and long distances from loved ones, living in a two bedroom apartment with four people, fast food, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and working all off season in a silk screen shop making shirts just to break even to play another season—it became too much. Every day, you are clinging to a dream that is slowly fading into the night.
As soon as you sign your first minor league contract, it’s a race against time. Every year, you are older. Macular degeneration is making it a bit tougher to recognize pitches. Every injury and every scar creates a question mark next to your name on the roster. This game is almost a futile endeavor. People call us crazy, but I don’t agree totally with that statement. We are irrational. All professional baseball players are irrational, running after a dream that only a few achieve. You need to be a little off-center to persevere through the grind of the minor leagues. After 2010, the grind really got to me. As my father always says, the moment you stop having fun, it’s time to move on. I knew it was time to leave.
Our first summer without baseball was great. My wife, Amanda, and I rode bikes, hiked, explored and even vacationed! Any baseball player knows that the “vacation” is a foreign concept. From an early age, you are conditioned to spend your summers on a baseball field. My family took one vacation in 22 years of my life—Ocean City, Maryland, when I was 8 years old. Who on earth would want to go some exotic place when the weather is hot and you can’t be on a baseball field?
We loved that first baseball-free summer as a family, but as the air cooled and fall set in, I wasn’t myself. One day, my wife looked at me and said, “You are not the man I married.” I was stunned, but I knew she was right. Something was missing. I felt purposeless. “Your passion is teaching, communicating and empowering people through the game that built you,” she said. “That’s the man I fell in love with, and that’s the man I want back.” It was God’s plan was coming to fruition. It was a powerful voice saying, “Know Thyself.”
This empowered me to write, to design, and to create my mantra: Know Thyself. It was a purpose statement for life, a call to constantly improve who I was every day. I was a teacher, a communicator. With this new sense of direction, Amanda and I, as a team, pushed ahead with my journey back to baseball.
As I transitioned from playing into teaching (I’m not a big fan of calling what I do coaching), “Know Thyself” became my teaching philosophy. Players needed to know themselves so well that they could accept coaching and apply to their specific situation. One main way I did that was to teach the answer to the question “why?”
Today’s players walk into the game steeped in technology. Information is always at our fingertips now, and they are wired to want to know how and why things work. This is a good thing – players taught this way are able to adjust and think independently. They don’t fear knowledge or discussions from other outside sources because they have a secure foundation for their beliefs. They know themselves. An unwillingness to hear and learn from differing opinions is an unwillingness to grow. Knowing one’s self and being able to discuss other people’s viewpoints allows for knowledge to be passed on.
It empowers the students to learn and make adjustments on the fly. Players have gravitated to this idea and are starting to put it into action. Our conversations are steering away from, “What’s wrong with my swing?” to “I’m seeing this out of the ball flight and I feel it’s a result of this. Here is how I’m going to adjust to get better ball flight.” These conversations are a joy to experience. Just like a parent watching their adolescent teen develop into a mature adult, as I watch my players evaluate, engage and trust themselves, it brings such joy into my life. They feel confident in what they know and are able to ask and seek knowledge from people to continue to add information into their file cabinet.
In my first season as a hitting coach, I hammered home this idea: Know Thyself. At the end of my first season, I was promoted to manager of our Short Season A team. Talk about a drastic change—I went from being responsible for fifteen hitters to now overseeing 35 players and five staff members. I was ecstatic. It was an opportunity to see if Know Thyself worked with an entire team. In the coming months, I dove into leadership books, reflected on my experiences and asked colleagues what they wanted from their superiors; it brought me to a new level of Know Thyself.
I needed to understand the strengths of my staff and give them the resources and latitude to be great at their strengths. I needed to become a servant to their needs. How could I help them know themselves better? Initially, I wanted to tell my coaches how they should coach the players, but I learned quickly to let my coaches teach and then have discussions behind the scenes to help them grow. As a manager, you are the guy who delegates at bats and innings, and it becomes difficult to make a huge impact. Your coaches get to be the counselor, mentor and confidante. I had to trust the staff that they would do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
I learned that in order to lead and help others become they best they could be, I had to serve. As a leader, I needed to be the last man in line. In the U.S. Marines, the officers eat last so their men get what they need to be able to perform their duties. In the same way, I had to put myself last. I had to get to know my staff and figure out what strengths they brought to the table. Designing a staff is a cornerstone to successful teams. If you build it properly, it will pay off 10 times its value down the road. It sets them free to know their own strengths and use them well.
This ride has led my family and myself through such incredible experiences, displaying God’s path for me when he created me. It has energized me to continue to do His work in this game. And it’s all because my wife challenged me five years ago with one thing: Know Thyself.