This summer Terry is chronicling his time playing in the Metro League South Baseball Association, read his first post here.
This week’s post recaps the first two weeks of regular season baseball in the Metro League South Baseball Association. Now that the season is in full swing and games actually count, the Windy City O’s find ourselves off to a shaky start (0-2), with Sunday game days seemingly taking on a much different tenor.
Gone are the friendly hand-shakes and playful ribbing between players from rival teams –- participating in quasi-intense scrimmage games, which MLSBA featured this year during the May pre-season schedule. Now, the scene has shifted and definitely turned up a notch with games featuring teams in full uniform, and two game day umpires overseeing the competition – all leading to an increase in intensity as competitive juices are ramped up.
Don’t get me wrong, most guys appreciate any opportunity to play the game and choose to respect it accordingly; however, things can (and often will) quickly turn from fun in the sun to more of a frenetic powder keg in a split second. All it takes is a blown call by an umpire, or a bang-bang play at the bag to get things turned inside-out.
June Weather – Really?
Despite it being mid-June already, not many game days during the scrimmage season or regular season have gone by without the weather playing a factor in the outcome. The area at 63rd and Stony Island definitely helps provide interesting playing conditions seemingly every Sunday between its close proximity to Lake Michigan, the west facing sun and swirling wind effects caused by lake effect conditions and zooming traffic. One has to literally be prepared for anything.
As a baseball player, my logic is to be better prepared than not, so I typically carry more items than I really need — extra layers of Under Armor (heat & cold gear), eye black for normal sun conditions, Oakleys for the high sun conditions, two pair of cleats — all are staple items in my personal inventory. Need a whiff of ammonia for a quick pre-at-bat rush (ala’ Joakim Noah), the O’s got that, too.
I quickly transition here from me to we, because I believe in being a team player. Part of the O’s culture is approaching and playing the game of baseball the right away, with respect and humbleness. Baseball is a sport of individual battles, but everyone needs to be on the same page and pulling in the same direction for a team to be successful, that easily translates to players’ comfort levels on the diamond – if a teammate is under-dressed and cold, can you really expect him to be able to turn and burn on the inside cheese?
This approach to sudden changes in the weather and elsewhere does not necessarily equate to wins, but it certainly goes a long way toward evening the playing field and allowing the O’s (or any team for that matter) to be ready and able to compete.
Vital in any sport, but especially baseball. As referenced earlier, the sheer nature of baseball leaves guys feeling like they’re alone on an island at times. The mentality for ball players should be “I want the ball hit to me so I can make a play to help my team,” but sometimes that isn’t the case.
Between the variant playing abilities of each player, distractions (did you just see shorty walking by in them tights?), personal frustrations, and the natural percentages of the game mistakes are bound to happen. The thing that often separates the good teams from the average teams often is communication.
In baseball we call it “talking it up” and talking it up often starts with the catcher. The catcher is the first line of defense, and the primary voice between the team and the umpires. Pitchers often get frustrated on the mound, especially when he feel he’s “getting squeezed” by the ump, but having a calming influence behind the dish who knows how to talk to the ump, while also making the cues to position his defense makes a huge difference.
Keeping with the theme of communication, the guys up the middle (shortstop, second baseman, centerfield) are also key in talking it up. Beyond needed good range to make plays in the area with most space on the field, these guys also have to be vocal leaders on defense – when in doubt defer to their call.
And then there’s the position I typically play, first base – the ball’s got to come my way at some point, so it’s imperative I stay locked in through the end of each play. The best way for me to do that is to talk it up by encouraging guys to stay with the play and get it to me nice and easy, I’ll take care of the rest.
Finally, on-base coaching is huge, if you can’t be loud and talkative you have no business coaching the bases. It takes a different type of concentration to see the field; see cues from the pitcher and movement of position players sneaking over for a pick-off, while also communicating with the base-runner. My philosophy as a base coach is: see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
Being a good sport is something that little kids are taught early in sports. That said, MLSBA is a league that features a majority of grown men who want to win in a major way. No one is getting paid to play baseball at this level, but competition still is a factor. You can stress playing the right way, but when it’s all said and done, winning makes the game fun, losing makes it a long and painful day at the park.
Time definitely influences the spirit of the “bounce” in a player’s step, a good, clean and crisp game helps the time pass quickly. When close calls turn into knock-down, drag-out arguments with the ump, the game becomes stale quickly. Too many of those stale moments in a game and guys will start looking at their phones and mumbling about going to work the next day. There’s definitely a fine line between a smooth game and one that has drama and MLSBA totes a tight rope.
Most of the time the drama is directed at the umps but sometimes it gets directed to individual players. Baseball is a game of failure (being successful three out of 10 times makes you a good hitter). Guys inevitably joke and rib one another in good spirit, but when that ribbing becomes more targeted and inflammatory is when the line is crossed.
MLSBA isn’t for everyone but by and large players respect one another and ultimately know that what we’re doing in the park is a good way to positively impact the community and help bring a culture of calm to the South Side for several hours on a Sunday.
To whom much is given, much is required and with that, we as players and older men have the responsibility to not only ensure Sundays remain peaceful but also set a positive example for the younger players in the league. Sometimes the spirit of competition makes guys forget about that responsibility and influence. When those times happen we have to refocus our perspective and remember why we play this game: to have fun and be kids again even if its just for just a few hours.
Much respect to anyone who’s won the bling at any level. It’s something I haven’t been able to do yet at any level in the game. The closest I’ve ever come to being a part of a championship team came in 2007 with the Gulf Coast League Dodgers team (Rookie A-ball affiliate) whose business and baseball operations I managed. That season, we had the best record in the Gulf Coast League and handily won our division – even going so far as popping the cork in celebration. That accomplishment only stung that much more as we came within one game of winning the Gulf Coast League championship, losing to the Yankees’ affiliate in a very close game.
Being that close to winning it all and having it slip through your fingers really helps you notice and understand the little details that make up a champions mentality. It’s about the preparation before the game even starts that readies a team to be good and creates the fortitude needed to rise up when the game is on the line.
Is your team on time? Did guys get their rest and hydrate the night before, or did they turn up!? Have guys gotten comfortable with their position on the field and in the lineup, or are have we been playing musical chairs all season long?
Several of the detrimental factors listed above can arise before and during a game of baseball – it’s not a sport for the feeble-minded and faint of heart. Limiting those factors and keeping negative influences at bay is the biggest thing that goes into developing a championship mentality. Once a team’s mentality and culture is formulated, the rest is all about leaving it on the field.
Commitment & Work – Life Balance
I’ve said it before, but let me say it again – no one gets paid to play this game at this level. Most guys have family obligations, work schedules, and other personal commitments that supersede a mere baseball game. Commitment is a multi-lane street, one that starts with a personal commitment to my craft and the commitment to my teammates. In my earlier post I mentioned how important it is to stay active and the need to physically prepare for the game throughout the week, leading up to Sunday game day.
I’m not a young pup anymore and I have my bad habits: I like Harold’s chicken wings, craft beer and occasionally I like a nice cigar. That said, I owe it to myself and my teammates to be ready to play come Sunday. That means being on time and not being half-full or hung-over when I’m there. Having fun and most importantly not getting hurt while playing a game I don’t get paid to play is motivation enough for me to prioritize that needed preparation.
Moreover, commitment to the game is about understanding the sacrifices everyone makes to play the game. To field a team, you need nine guys on the diamond and a minimum roster of 12. For every guy who misses a game or arrives at a game late, that’s more pressure placed on those present and on time
Understanding the length of the game (we don’t run a clock like pick-up basketball or flag football) means being willing to sacrifice those couple hours each Sunday to do something you, your teammates and your opponents respect and love mutually.
I try to be understanding of individual obligations but I have very little patience for guys who aren’t as committed to making the same sacrifices I make each and every week, and that goes for both teammates and opponents. I play this game because it helps center me and correlates well to the types of adversities I deal with at work and in life in general. Being disappointed because my team or my opponent is short of players or because the umpire is a no-show is definitely not a good look and one of things that makes my stomach sour about this game at this level.
Commitment to MLSBA is commitment to community. Believe it or not, we are leaders on and off the field, and while it’s easy to bag it in and stick to the individual script, once you join in with MLSBA you learn that what carries the whole weight int team sports is commitment to your teammates and contribution to your community.
There’s still time before we see if the O’s can embrace all the above and rebound from our two-game losing streak.
Check in next week for more on the O’s Chronicles, same bat time – same bat channel (pun intended).
Sean Terry is a co-founder of Regal Radio and co-hosts “The Varsity Show,” which you can follow on Twitter @varsityshow1 or follow Sean himself @craftbeersochi.