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My Next Level Baseball Player: 2016 Edition

 

Next Level Baseball Player

My Next Level Baseball Player: 2016 Edition

About a year ago, I revealed what I believe to be the greatest asset a player at any level can possess in order to become a next level baseball player: projectability. (If projectability is not a real word in everyday life, it certainly is in the world of sports. It means the ability of a player’s skills to project to the next level of the sport–e.g., recreational level to competitive level, youth baseball to high school baseball, high school to college, college to professional).

I wrote about an odd ingredient to my own son’s transition from recreational to competitive ball. I wrote about how I felt like failure–and lots of it–was something he needed to accompany his talent in order to project into a high school baseball player. A year into my theory, I’m back with some results.

Next Level Baseball PlayerRead the original posts about developing a next level baseball player by clicking on the links below:

“Developing a Next Level Baseball Player”

“Baseball Essentials: Overcoming Failure”

Deposits in the Experience Bank

The Little Fella’s twelve-year-old season was a memorable one. He was assigned to a recreational league team that hadn’t won a game the season before but turned last season into an undefeated one. However, we both acknowledged that he needed to take a step up in competition if he was going to be prepared for high school baseball. A win-filled summer was followed by a winless fall on a new team. Discouragement set in.

When your kid plays for a team that has zero chance to win a game in a league in which it is overmatched, parenting becomes exponentially more difficult. One carrot I could dangle in front of the Little Fella, however, was to play his best and hope another team took notice. They did and he joined the roster of a competitive-level team.

The season began with what I had said nearly a year earlier that my young player needed most: failure. He went zero for the first tournament at the plate. After a few hits in the succeeding tournament, more difficulties set in. I wasn’t as concerned with his performance as I was with his ability to learn from his struggles and improve as a player and as a teammate as a result of them. Several weeks ago, something clicked.

I think it was about the point in the season when he earned his second start on the bench. Most parents do not take kindly to their child’s not playing. After all, they spend their money for their kid to play, not sit. To be clear, I like for my kid to play, too. However, I am spending money for the Little Fella to play competitive baseball to improve as a baseball player (and, subsequently, to mature as a young man). I was sure to applaud the coach’s decision to bench my son (No, not publicly). Privately, though, I thanked him for backing up what we were already trying to teach him at home.

A Next Level Player and His Contributions to the Team

Another factor that came into play was that the Little’s Fella’s team had played enough games by that point in the season that he noticed two important things:

  1. Every player on the team had done something to contribute to our team’s losing a game.
  2. Every player on the team had done something to contribute to our team’s winning a game.

That’s baseball. Enough of those deposits in the experience bank causes a player to relax. To understand. To belong. The learning curve was steep at first. The bad games that I had promised he would have happened more frequently than he would have liked. There was the game in which he struck out twice with runners in scoring position and made two errors in the field. Baseball can be a cruel game.

Finally, though, the games I had also promised where he had big hits or pitched well or made some nice plays in the field came along. Like the games when he has practically littered the stat sheet with hits, walks, stolen bases, RBI’s, and runs scored. Baseball can be a beautiful game.

More importantly that the really bad games or the really good games had been the grind-it-out and never-say-die games. Those are the ones that are more frequent at the higher levels and the ones that both reveal and give opportunities to build character. Like the game when number twenty-three’s base running gaffe snuffed out our team’s best chance to cut into our opponent’s sizable lead. This was a tournament we felt like we had a chance to win and we were facing going 0-for-2 in pool play. The Little Fella came to the plate in the top of the seventh with two outs and runners on the corners…

Game-Tying Hit from Al Ainsworth on Vimeo.

Yep, a game-tying hit. More importantly, a lesson in perseverance, a lesson that was amplified when the team went on to score the go-ahead run, hold on for the win, and ultimately win their first tournament championship. Baseball doesn’t always work out so neatly. It is still, at its core, a cruel game. However, it also holds many opportunities for redemption–if its players don’t give up.

The Little Fella has learned that the highs, lows, wins, and losses all add up to one very important sum: experience. Experience in the game and experience in life. Experience that teaches that the game offers opportunities to build character and build relationships. Experience that is projectable into the future. Twenty years from now–and likely much sooner that that–that’s all that will matter. Then, he will be a real next level baseball player.


About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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