(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Ian D’Andrea)
This content can also be found on WorldBaseballExperience.com, founded and operated by this column’s author, Nick Holmes.
I tell this story every chance I get to be in front of aspiring baseball players and coaches of all ages. As coaches, we say things all the time that get repeated over and over again, especially when it comes to mechanics or motivating a player. We never really know when a player is going to “get it” if ever. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world when a coach or a teacher sees that light go off in their student’s head and they have the ‘aha’ moment.
It is why we do it. Right?
I had the pleasure of coaching this kid back in 2007 when he was a sophomore in high school. I was asked to take a team in that summer’s Gabe Kapler Games organized by my good friend John Novak. At the time I was an Associate Scout with the Oakland A’s and managed their scout ball team every Fall. I looked over the roster of players that were handed to me that day and recognized a few names from the surrounding high schools.
As I scrolled down the alphabetically listed roster there, he was the last name on the list.
YELICH, Christian – OF, L/R
I covered the San Fernando Valley and Orange County areas looking for players. I didn’t get out to the Westlake area too often. I remember thinking I finally get a chance to see this kid. I had heard good things about Yelich at the time and how he was projected to go in the first three or four rounds in two years. I also had heard he might go to UCLA instead of signing a professional contract, a typical conversation among scouts when a kid like Yelich matures early on in their high school career. No one knows what will happen until it plays out.
On the first day of the showcase, I told all my players that I would be videotaping all of their swings. Yes, it was the actual video tape; MiniDV to be exact. I also told them at the end of the weekend that anyone wanting to meet me in the press box I would be happy to show them their swings and go over any red flags. Give them some positive feedback that they could work on to improve their swings. I was using Don Slaught’s Right View Pro video analysis program and loved how you could put any hitter side by side with a Major League hitter and compare mechanics.
So we play out the weekend of five games in three days.
Yelich struggled a little at the plate that weekend, and in his young mind, he was concerned that he had not performed well in front of the scouts and college coaches in attendance. When the final game was over on Sunday, I announced again to the team that I will be in the press box if anyone wants to come and see their swings. They all took off to the parking lot before I even had the camera off of the tripod. Half dressed, dragging their gear behind them with their girlfriends hanging on their arms.
They couldn’t wait to get home.
Every one of them. Except two.
Two players out of twenty thought it might be a good idea to do more than just “want” to get better.
A catcher from Notre Dame HS whose name escapes me and you guessed it, future MLB Gold Glove winner and now Milwaukee Brewer, Christian Yelich.
They both sat there like sponges as I drew lines over the screen and pointed out balance points and contact points and such. They couldn’t get enough. Christian made me rewind and fast forward and pause, and then rewind over and over. The three of us sat there talking about the swing and comparing it to A-Rod, Pujols, and Miggy for a solid 45 minutes. He listened and asked questions but mostly absorbed what he saw on the screen.
I never saw him again after that weekend, but I did follow him over the next two years before he decided to pass on UCLA and sign with the Miami Marlins as the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 Draft. As they say, the rest is history.
Scouts often say guys that are good are good from the start and not much mechanically changes over time. Sure they may make minor adjustments from time to time and maybe even flirt with some major ones, but for the most part, they are the same guys as they have been since way early on in development.
Take a look at that day back in ’07 compared to his former days with the Marlins.
If you want to be a Big League player and you think you can get by on your talent alone. You are dead wrong. Yelich decided it was essential for him as a hitter to see his swing in a way he had never seen it before. He even listened to a coach he had never met before and took something positive away from it.
I tell every player I have the privilege to coach if you continue to play this game you are going to run into a lot of different coaches with a lot of different philosophies and advice. Sometimes we say the same thing but with different terminology. It is up to you as a player to take that information decipher it and use what applies to your style of play and your philosophy. Discard what you know doesn’t fit but only after giving it a chance. That is your responsibility if you want to get better.
Above all, you have to want to get better every single day and then put in the work. Bad days, good days, rain days. You never get to say that you have this game figured out. Even if by some miracle you do figure it out; you will be too old to play anyway.
Love the Game. Live the Dream.