Back to School, Part 2
With kids going back to school, someone suggested Belt, Blanco and I answer the same three questions in our blogs this week.
- What’s the best advice you ever got?
- What do you wish you knew back in high school that you know now?
- If you had never become a pro baseball player, how do you think playing sports as a kid would have helped you in life anyway?
The best advice:
I could say “work hard’’ and “stay in school,’’ but I’m going to be more specific to sports. A coach – I’m sorry I don’t remember which one – told me this when I started high school: “While you’re sitting at home and not working out, there are 10 other guys at your position outworking you.’’ I still think about that, especially in the off-season when maybe I wake up one morning and really don’t feel like working out. I say to myself, “There are 29 other shortstops working out and probably trying to take your job.’’
Talent alone doesn’t get you far in sports. At each level, you realize there are players who are just as good as you or better. Every player in college was the best player on his high school team. Every player in the minor leagues was the best player on his college team. Every player in the Majors was the best player on his minor league team. So how do you not only keep up but get an edge? By outworking everyone else. Taking more grounders, taking more swings, hitting the weights in the gym.
This relates to Question Number 3 about how playing sports as a kid teaches you important lessons that help in all parts of your life. I think working harder than everyone else gives you an edge in whatever you do. Everybody’s competing to move up the ladder. The world is a competitive place. Sports helped me learn HOW to go about being competitive and not just rely on my natural competitiveness. (I had three younger sisters, so I was always competing – for the bathroom more than anything.)
From playing sports I also learned how to stay on an even keel, which is important in everything from raising kids to driving in traffic. That’s a strong part of my game – the ability to wipe off whatever bad thing has happened and go out there the next day. Patience is a part of that, too (which I also learned from having three younger sisters.) Let’s say I go 0-for-20. You have to keep working hard and be patient because you know you’re eventually going to get a hit. You can’t panic. Patience also is important in waiting for your career to move forward. Things are going to happen on your time line.
For example, in 2011, I broke my finger in spring training. I was supposed to go to Triple A but ended up having to stay in Arizona 6 weeks to heal then went to Single A San Jose to rehab. I thought I’d go quickly up to Triple A. But for two and a half weeks, I played in Single A with no word about Triple A. I stayed patient, and one day I got a call from Bobby Evans asking how quickly I could get to Fresno (Triple A). Finally! We were playing in Bakersfield, so it would not be an easy thing to get to Fresno. “Never mind,’’ Bobby said. “We’re flying you out of Bakersfield tomorrow. You’re coming to San Francisco.’’
It was my Major League call-up. You never know what’s in store. One of the best stories along these lines is about Daniel Nava, who started in left field against us Monday night for the Red Sox.
Nava played in high school but didn’t make the baseball team at Santa Clara as a walk-on. So he was the team’s equipment manager for two years. Then he had to leave Santa Clara because he couldn’t afford the tuition and went to San Mateo Junior College. He made the team there and became a JC All-American. Then he was invited back to Santa Clara on a full baseball scholarship for his senior year. He didn’t get drafted so he played for the Chico Outlaws, an independent league team, where he was discovered by a Red Sox scout. The Sox bought Nava’s rights from the Outlaws for exactly $1 (with $1499 extra if Nava was still with the Sox after spring training). He made his Major League debut in 2010, hitting a grand slam on the very first pitch he saw. (He and I are among the six Major League players to hit a grand slam our first time at bat.)
I love his story because it shows that just because success doesn’t come immediately, it can still come – and sometimes in a really big way.
So what do I wish I knew then that I know now?
In baseball, it would be my hitting approach. I’d go up to the plate and just see the ball and hit it. Obviously, I’m smarter now in thinking about what a pitcher is trying to do.
But outside of baseball, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about what people thought of me, especially in seventh grade. I was such an awkward kid – not like Belt awkward, not that bad – but pretty bad. I had acne and took this medication that I guess dried out my skin so bad that my eyebrow hair started to fall out. So not only did I have acne but now my eyebrows were all weird. I look at pictures and can laugh now. But back then I didn’t want to look people in the face or even talk to anyone. I wish I knew then that the acne was going to go away and that my eyebrows were going to grow back. I wish I knew that it doesn’t really matter what other people think. You are who you are. If other people don’t like you because of it, they were never going to be real friends.
I’m kind of re-learning that lesson now. Since I was called up to the Majors, I’m hearing from all kinds of people who want to be my friend. The other day I got a call from this person I haven’t talked to since high school, now all of sudden he wants to hang out. I don’t think so.
Hope at least some of this might be useful to someone out there!
See you at the park.