Helping Your Team Beyond the Box Score

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

Baltimore, Maryland.

Red Sox. Orioles.

These two American League East foes found themselves in a tie ballgame when Trey Mancini stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom 11th, ready to send the Camden Yards faithful home happy. With one swing, it appeared as if he had done just that, driving a Ryan Brasier fastball deep to center. The crack of the bat was that sound hitters love to hear. On the mound, Boston’s pitcher’s head immediately went down when he heard it. And Xander Bogaerts barely moved at shortstop when he saw it.  Both thought the game was over. 
And it would have been, had it not been for Jackie Bradley, Jr. 

On that crack of the bat that deflated Brasier and paralyzed Bogaerts, Bradley turned, put his head down, and started running back into deep centerfield. Lining the ball up almost perfectly in stride and scaling the wall as if it was a part of the outfield grass, the Red Sox Gold Glove winning centerfielder reached with his glove from his perch atop the wall into the Orioles bullpen and caught the ball, robbing what would have been a walk-off home run for Mancini.

The play went down in the scorecard as a simple F8.  It was played on highlight shows for the days that followed but has since been largely forgotten. What should never be forgotten, however, are the many ways a player can help his team win that aren’t seen in the numbers. 

At the time of his game-saving catch, Bradley was hitting .142 for the season and, for the game, hitless in three at bats, including two strikeouts. Last October, he was a vital cog in the Red Sox World Series title run and was named ALCS Most Valuable Player along the way. While his offensive production hasn’t yet gotten back to his Fall Classic form this season, Jackie Bradley, Jr. reminded us with his glove that the game is not only about what you do with the bat and exemplifies that player who is contributing to his team’s success without necessarily producing runs. His ability to continue being an elite defender despite his offensive struggles also highlights the importance of being able to separate the game, mentally.

That combination is what championship players are made of.

No sport is more discouraging than baseball, where, as we’ve all heard ad nauseum, failing seven out of ten times makes you the best of the best. That frequency of failure is extremely challenging to deal with and often results in hitter’s bringing at bats out into the field- which sets them up for defensive miscues- or pitchers still worrying about a previous inning or hitter instead of focusing on the next inning or better. But when coaches consistently make their players aware of the many facets of the game that in the end play into a win or a loss, they will far more likely be able to move on from a bad AB, a bad inning, or a bad play. 

We all know how much players live and die by the numbers on the back of their baseball card. But championship teams win championships in large part for what their players do in the parts of the game that are NOT seen on the back of that card. Sometimes, a productive out can be more valuable than a base hit. Sometimes, something as simple as throwing the ball to the correct base may be the one play that puts a team in a position to win a game. And sometimes, something like a pitcher minimizing damage in the 2nd inning may be the reason why a team is still within striking distance in the 9th. 

While a player’s stat line may not look pretty, that doesn’t mean that player can’t actually have the type of game that helps his team win. The best players in our game are the ones who can take their game far beyond the box score. 

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.