Darren Fenster Resources

 Get to Know What You Don't Know
(2/15/2019)
 
 
   

Get to Know What You Don't Know


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every off-season, I am afforded the opportunity to travel all over the world to share my love for and knowledge of the game in various capacities.  Whether it be working with a local organization near my New Jersey home, running a camp in Taiwan for some of the country’s best players, organizing a coaching clinic in Kuwait for the nation’s only Little League, or presenting at the American Baseball Coaches Association’s (ABCA) national baseball coaches convention, chances are, I am detailing something that has to do with infield play. That is where my greatest passion in the game lies.  This incredible journey I’ve lived on the diamond, everything that I have ever been able to accomplish in our game either as a player or coach, has a foundation that was built on infield dirt.

Most of my infield talks actually begin with my history as a hitter, where I tell the story about a scrawny player who hit .272 as a junior at Middletown South on the Jersey Shore.  Not many careers go beyond high school with an average like that, especially not in a cold weather state that isn’t exactly considered a baseball hot-bed. But I was lucky enough to be a good-glove, bad-hit shortstop in a state where the head coach of our state university valued defense above all else up the middle.

Fred Hill is an ABCA Hall of Famer who helped turn Rutgers University into one of the best programs in the northeast, able to compete on a national level during his 30-year tenure on the banks of the ‘ole Raritan.  He welcomed me to come on board as a Scarlet Knight almost entirely because of my ability to field the baseball.  While I graduated in 2000 with a handful of offensive records, rest assure, it was my defense that enabled my hitting to come along later on in my career.

My glove gave me the chance to play at a pretty good NCAA Division I program.

My glove got me in the lineup from day one as a freshman.

My glove afforded my bat the opportunity to develop.

Knowing how much of my career I owe to the defensive, I have always been enamored with the tiny details of a side of the game that is secondary to most and absolutely love breaking down those parts and teaching them to players, especially those whose bats aren’t necessarily where they want them to be.  Every player has their own individual development, and sometimes it can be discouraging when our game largely revolves around hitting if that happens to be a weak point of someone’s skillset.  My path, I hope, should serve as a source of inspiration for those to understand that there are other roads to success on the diamond outside of the batter’s box.

I give this background on my love for the glove so you may be able to appreciate what is in store for me in the very near future.  This coming season, my responsibilities with the Red Sox will take me to a new place where I am not quite as familiar: the outfield.

This past December, I was promoted to Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator with the Red Sox. Put simply, the position places a responsibility on organizing and implementing an approach and process for developing our outfielders and baserunners throughout the entire Minor League system, from AAA all the way down to our academy in the Dominican. From this position, we will set a foundation over the course of Spring Training with our staff and players while all together in Fort Myers, and then to have our boots on the ground at each affiliate build from there to help prepare our players to become Major League outfielders and baserunners.

We are drawn to what we know, and what we love.  That’s a completely natural part of human behavior, but in the process of constantly planting our feet in our usual box of expertise, we often unknowingly create blinders to other aspects of the game where our understanding falls short. 

This promotion helped open my eyes to my own personal blinders, forcing me to get out of my normal comfort zone to best prepare for this new job at hand.

So, when attending these coaching conventions over the winter months, I took a bit of a different approach to becoming a better baseball coach than years prior: I chose to seek out what I didn’t know.  Rather than trying to further my own knowledge on infield play as was usually the case, I looked to find that same type of detail from others on outfield and baserunning.

In doing so, I learned about the minute details of one part of the game that weren’t even on my radar, like where the ideal spot is to exchange the ball into the barehand.  I learned specific drills that break down and isolate those parts to help build a solid outfielder.  And I learned more about what things are truly important to focus on in that outfield grass, like getting on the ball quickly and developing a quick release, and what things don’t need any of our time, such as the old-school crow-hop when throwing.  

When first being offered this opportunity, I think my exact sarcastic response to my boss was something along the lines of, “you do know I’m an infield guy, right?”  But as we dove deeper into conversation, he made me realize that this promotion was an opportunity to grow as both a coach and leader, the combined result of eventually turning me into a more well-rounded BASEBALL guy.  For all coaches, that should be our ultimate goal.  

By becoming as knowledgeable as we can be, in as many areas of the game as we can think, our impact on players and coaches will be far more reaching than if we were all just infield guys.  And it’s the game that will grow in the end, thanks to how we made the conscious decision to grow ourselves, by getting to know what we don’t know.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and currently serves as the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In 2012 he launched Coaching Your Kids LLC, an organization dedicated to assisting coaches, parents and leagues in developing young players and improving their experience within the game. Previously, Fenster served as the Manager for the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Fenster is a two-time All-America from Rutgers University where he established school records in hits, doubles and at-bats. He was selected in the 12th round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals and played in the minor leagues for seven years. 


 The Ball Has A Voice
(1/18/2019)
 
   

The Ball Has a Voice. Listen to it.


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every Spring Training as Red Sox players and staff descend upon Fort Myers like we will here again in a few weeks, there is usually one of two specific points of emphasis that will largely become the theme of camp that year.  Generally speaking, that focal point is determined based on something that our system as a whole might not have done well in the previous season or something that the Major League staff wants us to get better at as players get called up.  One year it was getting our infielders locked in on the tiny details of their position with things like where to setup on the base for tag plays or making sure they were lined up and out far enough for cutoffs and relays from the outfield.  Another spring stressed to our baserunners anticipation on balls in the dirt when on base to be in a better position to advance, while to start a different camp, our attention was placed on backing up bases and plays.

A few years ago, our emphasis was placed on aggressiveness to get the lead out on our bunt defense.  We wanted our pitchers to dart off the mound to be ready to make a play at 3rd.  We wanted our infielders to cheat, creep, and crash on top of the hitter in order to get what could be a key out in a key spot in the game.  And we instructed our catchers to take charge and direct traffic loud and clear.  Emphatically, that year we simply hammered the point to our players to give themselves a chance to get the lead out when a bunt is put down, and if that lead out wasn’t there, then we’ll just handle the ball cleanly to take the out the opposing team is giving us at 1st base.

When we first practice our bunt defense- or any other team fundamental for that matter- on the back fields at Fenway South, we do so with no baserunners in a very controlled environment, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be on the diamond.  In many ways, it’s very much like an NFL team doing its walk-thru on a Saturday without any defense in preparation for their game on Sunday.  We then roll bunts at varying speeds at varying spots to give everyone on the field different looks as they will likely see over the course of the long season.  With the emphasis on being aggressive towards the lead out, the first few rolled bunts were sure-fire plays to 3rd; hard pace, right at one of our fielders in a position to make the play we were looking for, all with the catcher yelling, “THREE! THREE! THREE!”  The next few reps were what we would consider tweener sacs, bunts that our defense would have to execute to perfection in order to even have a chance at the lead runner.  Again, with our attention on aggressiveness, every single tweener bunt went to 3rd base.

We then move on to the well-placed sac; that bunt when laid down in the perfect spot at a perfect speed, where it is near impossible to get the lead out, and just as challenging to get the batter at 1st.  Well, that first rep went to 3rd base.  Our staff spread around the field then instructed that the play should have gone for the sure out at 1st.  The next rep went to 3rd.  As did the one after that.  And the one after that.  At this point I realize what we had done:  with our constant stressing of aggressively going after the lead out, we had taken a group of what was, at the time, relatively inexperienced A-ball professional baseball players, and created bunt defense robots.

Stopping the drill right then and there, we gathered as a group on the mound to address this issue.

“Guys… we have to listen to the ball,” I started.  “The ball has a voice and it will tell you what to do with it.  We want that out at third, but sometimes it just might not be there.  So, stop memorizing the game, let the play develop, and make our decisions accordingly.”

The more they learned how to “listen to the ball,” the more they were able to slow things down and trust their eyes, as their decisions got better and better.  This mode of thinking the game doesn’t just apply to bunt defense; it can and should additionally be implemented with baserunning (the ball will tell you when to go 1st to 3rd, when to go back to tag, etc.) and defense (where to throw the ball from the outfield with a runner advancing, when to create a short hop by coming in or a long hop by going back in the infield).  When players can constantly look at the ball and ask themselves what is it saying to them, they will begin to see the game in a different, clearer light.

The idea of listening to the ball also can aid in individual player development.  Some of the best players in the world are likewise some of the most self-aware players in the world with an astute knowledge of who they are, what they do, and how they do it.  When a player can effectively become his own coach without the constant need for feedback from someone else, they put themselves in a great position to get better all the time, not just when a coach or teammate is watching.

Hitting and pitching are two facets of the game right now that have historically been incredibly mechanically driven.  Many players think internally, based on the feel of their swing or delivery.  Putting a focus externally on what the ball is doing can offer a different way for them to perfect those mechanics without necessarily thinking about them.  

For instance, when a hitter is working to improve his ability against velocity, they may initially think about shortening their swing to get the barrel to the ball. But if they instead listen to the ball, and see how everything is going to the opposite field or foul, they may very well then make an adjustment in their timing to make contact to the middle of the field, fixing an internal flaw by listening to what the ball is saying off of the bat.  A pitcher can use the same train of thought with regard to things like arm angle, release point, break, or command.  When they try to make the ball do something else, the mechanics have a chance to fall into place.

Baseball is very much a thinking man’s game , where two identical balls in play may require two completely different decisions based on the variables that come up over the course of nine innings per day, five-plus months of the year. While some decisions are no brainers, others require instincts and intellect just to have a chance at collecting an out, taking the extra base, or having a productive at bat.  Those decisions don’t have to be made alone; let the ball help you. That ball indeed has a voice.  Learn how to listen to it.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Game Three: A Classic That Taught Us So Much
(12/14/2018)
 
   

Game Three: A Classic That Taught Us So Much


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The game’s first pitch was thrown at 5:10 PM local time in Los Angeles.

Its final pitch was delivered at 3:30 in the morning back on the East Coast in Boston.

What happened during the seven hours and twenty minutes in between that was Game Three of the 2018 World Series was nothing short of baseball history. It had everything. And if you somehow had the motivation (or caffeine in your system) to stay awake for the whole thing that culminated with Max Muncy’s walk-off home run, you couldn’t help but go to sleep with just a little more baseball acumen than when you woke up.

Eighteen innings. One game needed two to finally be decided. It was the longest game in World Series history by four innings in length and by one hour and 19 minutes in time. Both teams combined to use 46 players, meaning only four guys between the Red Sox and Dodgers did not appear in the game. There were 561 total pitches thrown over the course of 118 at-bats, both new records for baseball’s Fall Classic.

But it wasn’t all of the shattered records that made this game so incredibly great; it was everything that happened between the lines, that enabled those records to be shattered. The game, put simply, was a coach’s dream, with countless teachable moments that every single one of their players could benefit from, truly exemplifying the value of learning from watching.

In the top of the 13th inning, Brock Holt showed outstanding anticipation on a pitch in the dirt and was able to advance to second on an impressive dirt ball read. He would later score the go-ahead run on an error by the pitcher who threw the ball away on a soft ground ball up the first base side. In the bottom half of the inning, Max Muncy alertly tagged up from first to second on a foul pop out along the third base side. He would then score the tying run from second with two outs on a throwing error by the second baseman that the first baseman couldn’t keep in front of him.

The Red Sox put runners on first and second with nobody out in the 15th when Christian Vasquez laid down what appeared to be a good bunt on the third base side of the mound. But it didn’t get the job done after Kenta Maeda made a great play to nab the runner at third. The game also had instances of players not hustling out of the box and not getting an extra 90 feet on the bases because outfielders backed up misplays and got the ball back in quickly and accurately. How could this game have possibly changed had those guys gotten to second base? An answer we will never know…

So, the next time your coach gets on you for not hustling or backing up plays; obsesses about tiny details like perfecting cutoffs and relays; spends time focusing solely on baserunning; teaches you how to bunt; and consistently works to get pitchers better at fielding their position, thank him. That is a coach teaching you how to be a baseball player. And baseball players win.

But it wasn’t just the fundamentals of our game on display that this game taught us. In Nathan Eovaldi, we learned all about selflessness and competitive drive. In Alex Cora, we got to see true leadership. And in the Boston Red Sox, we saw first-hand the true meaning of team. I honestly believe that the Red Sox won the World Series when they lost Game Three.

The game itself was an instant classic that neither team deserved to lose. And it was the individual effort by Eovaldi that most assuredly had no business tagging an “L” next to his name. Pitching on one day’s rest after appearing in the first two games of the series in Boston, Eovaldi toed the rubber for seven innings out of the bullpen, more than any pitcher in the game besides Dodgers’ starter Walker Beuhler. With essentially no one else left to come into the game for the Red Sox, he emptied his tank, inning after inning, for his team, extending the game into the wee hours of the morning with every zero he put up. It was a performance that had some of his teammates inspired to the point of tears. It was a performance that all of his teammates knew deserved a better fate. And it was a performance that Alex Cora couldn’t help but recognize following the game’s heartbreaking end for his club.

Minutes after the game ended, Cora witnessed each of his starting pitchers from the first three games of the World Series offer to start Game Four. Chris Sale insisted he was available. David Price, on two days’ rest, volunteered to take the ball. Even Rick Porcello, who started the very game they had just lost, told his manager that he, too, would be good to go. And yes, even Boston’s folk hero Nathan Eovaldi and his seemingly bionic arm wanted his name up for game four.

Not one for post-game speeches, Cora gathered his band of brothers in the clubhouse after what had the potential of being a debilitating, Series-swinging loss, wanting to make sure his team knew two things: first, how proud he was of the effort displayed on that field, and specifically how incredible Eovaldi’s performance was; and more importantly, that his club still had a two-games-to-one lead in the Series. Cora managed to get his team to leave a clubhouse that they had entered demoralized, completely inspired as they looked forward and turned the page.

“By the end of (the meeting), we felt like we won the game,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

And it was that feeling of confidence, fueled by Cora’s speech and motivated by Eovaldi’s outing, that the Red Sox collectively took into games four and five of the World Series. The rest, as they say, is history.

The 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox may very well go down as one of the best teams of all time. But their success was far from a sure thing, having entered the postseason with countless questions about how they would be able to neutralize the power of the Yankees formidable lineup; how they were going to deal with the Astros’ big three arms of their rotation. Their success was a product of everything we as coaches strive for not just on the field, but off the field as well. And all we needed was Game Three to show us all of those things in one place and one time, for 18 long and glorious innings.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 So...You Wanna Work in Pro Ball, Huh?
(8/14/2018)
 
   

So...You Want to Work in Pro Ball, Huh?


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Everyone has their own unique journey in the game. Some set out on a life path as a kid, and are able to follow it every step of the way. Others, like myself, set out on one road, only to get sidetracked and re-routed a handful of times on an incredible ride I never envisioned taking. For me, that road of happenstance brought me into the coaching ranks of professional baseball. My experiences in the game have been incredible, from the rewarding to the surreal.

A few years ago, when I was at a crossroads in my professional life, debating between continuing in the game and starting a new career path in the medical device sales field, countless people volunteered their time, offering their insight as to what working in professional baseball is really like. It was their collective experiences in the game that made me believe that there was still a place for me on a baseball field. And I’ve never been happier professionally since choosing that path.

Over the past seven-plus years, many have reached out to me both asking for insight as to what it is like to work in professional baseball, along with help getting into that side of the game, just as I did to others a short time ago. Here is my insight for all those inspired to find a position with a Major League club.

First, allow me to begin by offering some background as to how my career path took shape in the first place.

My playing career as a Minor Leaguer in the Royals system ended abruptly due to a knee injury, and I wasn’t prepared by any means to start a life after baseball, and had no plan B. So when I was released in the spring of 2006, I reached out to Fred Hill, the coach I played for at Rutgers, an ABCA hall of famer who has been like a second father to me, basically asking, “what do I do now?” He asked if I had any interest in coaching (I didn’t), because he thought I would make a good one if I got into it, and would create the Director of Operations position on his staff, specifically for me if I said the word. Well, without any other plans, I agreed, and by sheer good fortune, right place, right time, a position on a Big East Baseball program’s staff was created for me. Coach Hill saw something in me before I was ready to see it in myself. A huge break for me, which I didn’t realize at the time as I’ve since seen how incredibly hard it is to get a coaching position at any school, let alone one with a “big time” athletics department.

At the time, Division I programs could only have four “coaches” on the field, working with players, so, in the Director of Operations position, I was not allowed in uniform or on the field. That was actually a good thing because it enabled me to learn the complete inner workings of a college baseball program, and prepared me to step into an assistant coach/recruiting role when the opportunity presented itself a couple years later. In the meantime, I was able to get on the field, coaching experience, hooking on for one summer as an assistant in St. Cloud in the Northwoods League in 2007 when we won it all, and then the following summer in Orleans in the Cape Cod League.

After a few years on the coaching staff at Rutgers, and after testing the waters looking into a career in medical device sales, I began getting the itch to get back into professional baseball in a more baseball-centric position without having to recruit or worry about the countless off-the-field responsibilities of the college game. Having played for six years professionally myself, combined with the time I spent at RU, I felt like I had an incredibly strong resume that would make me a slam dunk hire for any professional team, well-equipped for a number of different areas in the game, that I would essentially be able to pick. My expectations were far off.

I spent the entire summer of 2011 discussing my desire to return to professional baseball with those who had positions with clubs that I already had relationships with. I went through the Baseball America team directory and highlighted every single name that I knew (or played with or against) and reached out with a call, text, or email. After three full months of conversations, when September rolled around, I got one, yes, just one, phone interview with the Rockies for an open hitting coach job. I didn’t get a second interview. Then I started considering internships in baseball operations, and was up for two: one with the Indians that had an amazing track record with some very big wigs in the game, and the other with the Mets working in baseball operations with a variety of departments. I was ready and willing to leave a full-time position, with benefits, and a mortgage to pay, just to get back into the pro game.

So as the fall of 2011 was progressing, and while going thru the long interview process for those internships, I was preparing for another year at Rutgers. During instructional league in mid-October, I followed up with the Red Sox assistant General Manager at the time, Mike Hazen (now running the Diamondbacks), who I played against when he was at Princeton, and he said there was a possibility of something opening up in a few weeks, but nothing for sure. For the next month and a half, crickets. Figured nothing was open after all, or they filled it with someone else. Then, during Winter Meetings in December, he called me out of the blue to ask if I was still interested in the hitting coach job, as the A-ball job had opened, and later that day I did a phone interview with the Farm Director. A week later I was up at Fenway for a face to face, and the following week they offered me the job. Literally six months-worth of banging doors down with next to no opportunities, and then just like that, within a quick two weeks, I had the job. That transition has been thenbest move of my professional life. Simply getting my foot in the door was also the hardest transition of my professional life.

Having just completed my seventh season with the Red Sox, I can unequivocally say that working in professional baseball is awesome. I absolutely love it, and honestly can’t really see myself doing anything else outside of the game. But rest assure, it is not an easy lifestyle on a number of different fronts. My days are spent teaching the game I love. I have a passion for what I do, and a purpose to my days that go far beyond the field. While much of the world is inside, making a living doing something they may not enjoy, I’m outside throwing BP and hitting ground balls. I’ve been a part of, and have had an impact on, one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. I’ve worked in the cage with a future hall-of-famer. I have a World Series ring…with my name on it.

I. HAVE. A. WORLD. SERIES. RING.

But for as rewarding as a career can be to work in professional baseball at the highest levels of the game, there are many challenges that come with doing something that we love.

In Player Development, you will work from one extreme to the other. Yes, our days are spent on the field, making our players better; nights spent competing under the lights. But being a coach in professional baseball means sacrificing any sense of a work-life balance. Days are long, often times arriving at the ballpark before noon for a 7:00 p.m. game and staying as late as midnight or later. Our schedule is one of the extremes, pretty much working just about every day from mid-February thru Labor Day before enjoying an off-season with little to no responsibility. The fall and winter provide me with a ton of flexibility to branch out and do a handful of other things in the game that has literally taken me all over the world and have given me life experiences that most could only dream.

There is a culture and camaraderie in our organization that is very much a family atmosphere full of like-minded people who truly have a passion for the game and helping those in it. I have built relationships with both colleagues and players that I hold as dear as I do my own relatives and people I grew up with. Sustaining a “normal” family life, however, is a huge challenge. I am not married, and don’t have any kids, so it’s very easy for me to up and go where I want when I want, or to go wherever the Red Sox tell me to go. Some guys will go weeks and months without seeing their wives or kids and are able to make it work.

And lastly, there is a big misconception when it comes to compensation in professional baseball. Put simply, you’re either in the Big Leagues, or you’re not. Unless you are a Major League manager or a long-tenured guy on a Major League staff, you will not get rich working in professional baseball. It is in many senses a labor of love. The majority of those working in the game are doing it for the love first, the money, second. But, if you’re financially responsible, you’ll be able to pay your bills, and will have opportunities to make money in the off-season if you find your way in as a coach.

Scouting, both amateur and professional, and baseball operations are other departments that every Major League club employs, and while I don’t have personal experience in either, much of the same premise applies as does in Player Development. No job in baseball is a traditional 9-5, and few will be able to sustain a career in the game without a genuine love for the game.

A life in the game requires many sacrifices. Sacrifices that many don’t want to give up or can’t give up. But those sacrifices come from a place of passion. And that passion is a bond we all share, and one that keeps us enthusiastically coming to work day after day, year after year. We all take a great sense of pride in being a part of something that is so much bigger than any single one of us.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 What It Means to be a Professional Baseball Player
(8/14/2018)
 
   

What it Means to be a Professional Baseball Player


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


So…you think you want to play professional baseball? 

As a Minor League manager, the question “what does it take to play professional baseball” comes up often. While there is a pretty good general understanding amongst the baseball community of the tools and athletic ability that Major League scouts are looking for when it comes to this June’s amateur draft, we wanted to offer a different kind of insight for aspiring big leaguers to take in: 

What does it mean to be a professional baseball player? 

Being a professional baseball player means you are getting out of the kiddie pool and jumping into the ocean. 

Just about every single player that signs a professional contract is a stud, the best of the best. They have grown accustomed to being the man, and constantly being the center of attention. Often times, coaches allow their superior talent to portray an aura of being bigger than the team, or even worse, bigger than the game itself. By far, the biggest adjustment a player must make upon joining the minor league ranks is to understand the fact that they are no longer the man, and will no longer be the guy who everyone’s eyes are on. The sooner this sets in, the sooner our next meaning can take over, and enable a career to be in the best position to take off. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are going to learn what hard work truly is. 

Any player who gets drafted will tell you they work hard. Shoot, any athlete, in general, will probably say the same. Truth be told, they don’t know what that term really means, and will soon be exposed to real, live, hard work. For a 7:05 game, professional players start their workday by 2:00, or even earlier. That’s right, FIVE-plus hours before 1st pitch… and that’s if it’s not a strength and conditioning day, which you can backtrack to 11:00 in the morning. At the lower professional levels, the biggest challenge is getting extremely talented kids to work right, meaning they have a purpose with every single thing they do, every single day. Think for a second what that means. It’s not about taking 1,000 swings or throwing 200 pitches in the bullpen, but rather it’s about the old saying; quality over quantity. No wasted swings in the cage, every ground ball taken with perfect mechanics, and each ball thrown with a repeatable delivery, arm action, and release point. This adjustment is as much mental as it is physical, and when accomplished, the player cannot help but improve, and eventually, move up. But as players work to move up, they are bound to hit a bump or two… or ten in the road. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are going to fail…probably a lot. 

Just about every player who is fortunate enough to sign a professional contract has a resume of performance. Success as an amateur often sets the stage for a career to take off. Rarely does a player without tangible success between the lines get the opportunity to play at the next level unless there is an off-the-charts tool that scouts just don’t see, like a mid-90s fastball (even though they may have no idea where it’s going), or absurdly fast running speed (where the hope is that coaches in a club’s player development can teach them the basic skills of the game). Part of that accomplished history on the field includes consistent and sustained success. High school draftees often hit well over .500, or pitch with video-game-like numbers, averaging sometimes more than two strikeouts per inning. Bottom line, they are used to being very good most, if not all of the time. As mentioned above, everyone playing pro ball is good, and the vast talent in the game brings upon something that many have never dealt with: failure.  

As an amateur, a slump may be going hitless for a single game. As a pro, a slump will mean going a week without making hard contact, or a handful of outings on the mound where outs are hard to come by. For most, professional baseball players are experiencing true failure for the first time in their lives, and it’s how quickly they are able to handle the failure that will separate one from the other. The ones who look at failure as an opportunity to get better are the ones who progress throughout the game. Those who use failure as a means to hold a pity party or temper tantrum are the ones who will be out of the game before you know it. 

Being a professional baseball player means you must get consumed by the process, and NOT by the box score. 

We are a results-oriented society, on top of living in a time of instant gratification. Baseball as an entity is the complete antithesis to this. Baseball is the only sport of the major four where the very best amateur player usually needs a handful of years in the minor leagues before making it big. The argument can be made for that reason alone that our sport is, in fact, the toughest out there, but that’s another conversation for another day. Chances are as amateurs, players are used to video-game type statistical success, simply because they are athletically far better than their competition. High school pitchers routinely will strike out double-digit batters in seven-inning games, while a relatively big number college hitters finish the season hitting well over .400- a sacred, near-impossible number in the pro ranks. As the talent improves, the numbers will drop, sometimes drastically. A slump was a foreign word prior to getting drafted, but now, it is a reality. 

Like we said, the first slump of a player’s career comes in professional baseball and having never truly failed before, most don’t know how to deal with it. They become fixated on the what, without realizing the why. Well hit balls and quality at-bats are a staple of minor league daily reports that go to Major League front offices about hitters, as is command of the strike zone, game plan against the opposing hitters, and consistent delivery for pitchers. Base hits and strikeouts are a byproduct of the former, which is always a focus with players. The sooner a hitter can understand why he continuously is rolling over the ball, the sooner he can become consumed with working to not, and progress may be seen in baby steps, like a jam shot ground out to second, or even foul balls into the opposite field stands. It is about controlling what you can control, which will allow the results- that everyone wants- to take care of themselves. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are an employee. 

We grow up playing the game. Our love for it is born on youth league fields and only builds as we get older. While there is obviously a kid-like enthusiasm held by many of today’s biggest stars (see Mike Trout) that brings us back to our younger years, rest assured, being a professional baseball player is every bit of a legitimate job and must be approached as such with the same type of responsibility that a real-world nine-to-five employee carries to their work. Players are expected to be at the ballpark earlier than they have ever been before. No longer are players just representing themselves, they are representing a Major League Baseball team, and will have their standard to live up to, on and off the field, each and every day. They are expected to embrace non-baseball parts of the job, like strength and conditioning or mental preparation in a similar manner they would towards perfecting the swing or delivery. There is an accountability that comes with being a professional, just as there is in business. Perform well and exceed expectations, then a promotion is likely to come in the future. Fail to meet the responsibilities set forth, and there’s someone else waiting eagerly in the wings to take a job. Everyone does not get a trophy in the real world, and the same holds true in professional baseball. The very best are the ones who still play it like a game, but approach it like a job. 

Playing professional baseball is without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things anyone can accomplish in life. It is a privilege to wear the uniform and to get paid to play our great game. By no means is it anyone’s right.  

Professional baseball is not for everyone, but we ask you this, after now knowing what it means, do you still think it’s for you?


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.