The Grind?

the grind

I read a review in the Wall Street Journal for a baseball book titled, The Grind, written by Barry Svrluga.  The review by Will Leitch describes The Grind this way…”Mr. Svrluga, who covers the Nationals for the Washington Post, looks at the toll that the every-day-for-six months-with-no-days-off pace takes on all sorts of people associated with the game and the oft-unseen sacrifices the sport requires.”  Reading this review caused me to think about all the sacrifices players, coaches and parents make year-round. For some, it truly is a grind and not very much fun.  For others, all the hard work and long hours never dampens their enthusiasm for the game.

Like many sports, the “off-season” is becoming a thing of the past in baseball and softball. High school, college, and professional players are now required to stay in shape and work on their skills with little or no break. The same is true for coaches who never stop planning, recruiting, and preparing. I am a big advocate of getting away from the game for a period of mental and physical relaxation and recuperation, but that becomes more difficult as players climb the ladder.

I absolutely recommend a long break each year for pre-high school players. Youth is a time to experience multiple sports or activities.  I strongly believe well-rounded young people will achieve greater success when they ultimately choose to specialize.  The biggest problem with specializing too early is burnout. I have seen many promising young players get caught up in the grind of too many practices and too many games, especially with the growing popularity of travel and club teams. These players eventually lose their love for the game and quit prematurely.

I put a question mark in the title of this post because for those who truly love the game, it is never a grind.  Rather, it is a labor of love.  The book supports my assertion because all the people highlighted for their sacrifices and hardships by the author, from players to scouts to the families of players, none would choose to live any other way.

I often tell my high school and college hitters that when the game becomes a grind for them, they should find something else to do with their time. If hitters are not motivated to work hard in the off-season to condition their bodies for success the following season, they should consider not playing because they are letting down their coaches and teammates. When they don’t find time hit frequently in the off-season to improve their hitting mechanics, they should consider not playing because improved bat speed and consistency do not come from increased strength alone.  Here is a previous post that weighs the balance of conditioning and practice in the off-season.  Finally, when hitters lose their passion for playing the game, they should consider not playing because life is too short. “Passion” is identifying what motivates us and enriches our lives.  When the game is merely an activity, it is time to move on.

This all may sound very binary, meaning hitters should be “all in” or they should consider doing something else. At the college and professional levels, I do believe it should be all or nothing. Young adults have so many options in life.  It would be a waste to dedicate so much time to demanding sports like baseball and softball, without an unquenchable desire to participate and succeed.

For those who do have a passion for the game, it is never a grind. After all my years playing, coaching, instructing, and studying the history of the game, I still never get enough. I enjoy my work career, I love my family and friends, I have a keen interest in other activities, but when it comes to my passion for the game, the word “unquenchable” is appropriate.  It is never a grind for me to spend some of my free time working with hitters or writing about hitting on this site. Sure, it can be hard work and not all that fun at times, but that is just a reflection of everything else in life. I know the personal sacrifice will eventually be rewarding for me and my hitters.

As a hitting coach, whenever I encounter young people who love the game like I do, the fun really begins. When it is apparent to me their passion for the game is also unquenchable, my motivation to help them reach their potential on and off the field is limitless. With these hitters, I quickly transition from their coach to their partner. When coaches can achieve this type of partnership with an entire team of highly motivated and passionate players, the results are always dramatic. It is rare for a team to succeed without these passionate partnerships.

A grind? Never for those of us who know how impactful this simple game can be to our physical and mental well-being throughout the year.  Svrluga writes, “There is no other sport with an everydayness, a drum-drum-drum beat like baseball.”  Like life, baseball and softball are also games of second chances.  At the top of the book review, Leitch adds a quote from former Chicago Cub, Manny Trillo—“The best thing about baseball is that you can do something about yesterday tomorrow.”

The game is not a grind for me.  It is a pulse that is there whenever I need it.

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