If only if onlys from a high school ballplayer
“If only, if only,” the woodpecker sighs, “the bark on the tree was a soft as the skies.” While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely, crying to the moo-oo-oon, “If only, if only.” (Holes, 1998 – Louis Sachar)
It can be hard to live life without regrets. If only my 17-year-old self in high school knew what I knew now, oh what the possibilities could have been! Though I try my best to live in the moment (while paradoxically learning from the past) there are certain situations where I’m prompted to reflect on my experiences and share them with others. Tomorrow I’ll speak to some current baseball players at my high school about my experiences in baseball. I’m writing about it in the hope that it will help me organize my ideas in order for those guys to get more from our conversation.
This gig was set up by our weight training physical education teacher, McMahon. I’ve had the privilege of working out in my high school’s weight room over the past month while I’ve been back home. McMahon has truly made it a legitimate weight room. There are 3 Olympic platforms now, 4 full power racks, 2 more squat racks, and an efficient use of space that makes feel like you’ve been productive right when you walk through the door. When I was in high school I was scared of the weight room. I just felt like a pussy whenever I was in it, super uncomfortable, like I had no idea what I was doing, and didn’t belong. All of that was true. I didn’t belong. At that point in time, I had not committed to becoming the best pitcher (athlete) I could be. (Maybe that’s why most people don’t like going to the gym. They know they have committed themselves to being healthy, so they feel like they’re pretending when they go through the motions at the gym). Now, it’s a different story. I’m an alum, using the weight room solely because of McMahon’s generosity, yet I feel like I own the place. Makes me smile to think about what a few years can do for your perspective and confidence.
Now, back to that conversation with the current ballplayers. Here’s how I envision it going. First, I tell them about my playing history, demonstrate my credibility through it. I started for 3 years at the Varsity level. Played centerfield and pitched. Broke 30-year-old records my junior year that are still standing (to the best of my knowledge), a .516 batting average and 32 hits. Went on to captain the team my senior year, we went 13-7. After that, I played at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN (A D3 school). Became a pitcher-only during my sophomore season. Started looking to play ball after college during my senior year. After a long journey, I’m all set to play in Melbourne, Australia, in a semi-pro league. I feel like that is pretty condensed, but I’ll probably give them an even more condensed version of that.
Following the overview of my playing history, I’ll go into some detail about the injuries I’ve had and why I think they occurred. Missed a month going into my senior high school season with a shoulder issue, missed two months of my freshman college season with the same shoulder issue, partially tore my UCL during my senior college season, and another shoulder injury this summer that scared the bejeezus out of me. These guys will hopefully be able to relate to my first injury, the one that impacted my senior season as a Blazer. The summer before my senior year I started lifting weight because I thought it would impress girls. I had almost no romantic adventures with girls at that point in time and thought that getting stronger would turn some heads (it didn’t, but the confidence it gave me did 🙂 ) . I lifted weights like any inexperienced, ignorant, gym noob would do. All upper body and all machines. Okay, I must admit, I did throw a little bit of leg press into the mix. Regardless, it was the farthest thing from a baseball specific workout regimen. Looking back, I can’t believe I was even surprised that I hurt my shoulder right before the season. I didn’t do any arm care, barely stretched ever, and did enough chest press to make Cy Young roll around in his grave. I lost flexibility while gaining strength. Not a good idea for a high-performance athlete.
So I got injured. Only missed a couple games at the plate, though I wonder if two weeks without swinging a bat impacted my swing and hurt my chances of repeating my spectacular junior year. My performance on the mound took the bigger hit since I didn’t pitch for the first time until halfway through the season. If only, if only. I ended up having a pretty good year. The team had a very good year. I still wonder how much better we could’ve been if I had been healthy the entire time. Maybe a lot, maybe not at all. Anyway, I would have told my 17-year-old self about how important mobility is for a baseball player. We take such awkward movements during a game. We have to treat our bodies like high-performance cars. They are going at top speeds, ready to barrel off the road if the parts don’t work together in sync. Adding strength on top of a dysfunction due to inflexibility is like playing with dynamite. That single factor has significantly contributed to every single arm injury I’ve gotten. Care about your form. Not the weight you are putting up. The weight will go up naturally. Your form will only get worse if you neglect it, leading to mechanical changes in your swing or pitching motion. Then, partially torn UCLs happen. No bueno. It doesn’t have to be like that. Start at the base. Value your mobility. Add explosiveness (FAST TWITCH MUSCLES) onto an efficient movement and you have great athleticism.
At the end of the day, I’m in no position to tell a high schooler what they should or shouldn’t do. I’d be a complete hypocrite if I told them they have to make baseball their top priority. I wanted to be cool in high school. I wanted to be invited to parties. I wanted girls to like me. Succeeding on the baseball field was one of my top priorities, but it wasn’t the end all be all. I made it more and more of a priority the more I invested into it and that process took years. All I can do is tell them what I have experienced and what I believe will give them the best shot at being the best baseball players they can be. They will do with it, what they will, and hopefully, complete their final high school seasons without regrets.
More to come about the transformational pitching pilgrimage I completed…