Pro-ball preparation: mentoring from one who has been there
Former Major Leaguer, long-term national representative and Australian Baseball League middle infield superstar Brad Harman has achieved at the highest levels in the sport and is recognised as one of the finest players that Australia has ever produced.
Signed by Philadelphia Phillies as a teenager, Brad Harman spent several years in the Minor League system before earning Major League selection – and a World Series ring – in 2008.
His progression through the challenging ranks of pro baseball provided Brad with experiences and insights that have prompted him to become a driving force in the Alumni’s mentoring programme.
His advice for professional signees and their families is riveting, compulsory reading.
You have just achieved something so few get the opportunity to do and you have signed a professional contract to go play Baseball in the USA.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
If you are anything like me, the feeling you have right now is something you may only experience a handful of times in your life.
The elation, joy and overwhelming sense of accomplishment you feel will carry you on clouds right up until it's time to jump on that plane destined for greatness. You will lap up the compliments and the congratulations from all who know you and are proud of your achievements thus far. It will appear that this was the natural process for your life to follow, given you have been the standout performer, or really close to it in your club, state and possibly even country for quite some time now. People have always told you how good you are on the field and with a lot of persistence and hard work, you will have the opportunity to pursue your dreams overseas. Now it seems everything will work out and you will be one of the lucky few who are good enough to make it to the big leagues.
Your journey is all mapped out for you and is now becoming reality, you have put in the hard work, you have performed on the field and have naturally been recognised and rewarded accordingly, by signing your name on that dotted line to join a Major League Baseball Organisation.
Before I move on to what you will experience in the coming months, I would like to discuss right now that you have signed a professional contract, WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The answer should be STOP. Stop and think about what you have just accomplished. Stop and think about what this means to you and what you have done to achieve this really important milestone in your journey through sport and life. Think of the stinking hot days playing two games, only to go have a throw afterwards because you simply love the game, you can't get enough of it. Think of the cold, wet nights where your uniform weighs you down from the rain yet oblivious to your own health, you continue to run around and hit, catch and throw a ball because it brings you so much joy. The feeling of gasping for air after enduring intense practise - be it conditioning sessions or fielding fifty back to back groundballs, it all led you to where you are today.
With all that knowledge and reflection of what you did to get where you are today, I want you to stop and think about this. You wouldn't have this feeling of elation, joy and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment if it weren't for a number of people in your life. Think of everyone who has helped you in your journey to this point, because you owe some of these people a world of gratitude for providing you the platform to achieve this dream. To consider yourself indebted to these people would be an absolute understatement and most importantly on the home front. Be it your parents, caretakers or relatives who provided the roof over your head, the money, the transport, the support and the opportunities for you to be where you are today. I want you to never forget what this moment means to them. They will no doubt give you the praise and recognition that everyone else does, although it holds a lot more weight coming from them doesn't it? It means more. Have a think about what they may have sacrificed for you to stand where you are today, you may not realise exactly what they have sacrificed for you to feel the joy and happiness you currently feel, it is most likely more than you could possibly understand.
Thank them, and appreciate what it means to them for you to be so happy. Everyone, including your family,will allow you to believe that you made this happen and you will most likely believe them but I must emphasise this point, you have not made it this far on your own and I can guarantee you this, if you are fortunate enough to make it all the way, it will not be on your own either. You will require a really good team around you to continue to help along the way, therefore it's important through all of your milestones - including this one - that you acknowledge and thank that team for their contribution to your success each and every time.
I am a PRO... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Depending on your age and time of year you have signed the contract, it would most likely appear that you have some time before boarding that plane for your first Spring Training appearance. In my case it was just under twelve months. Those twelve months are generally filled with some of the most ego- boosting times you will experience. As I mentioned, everyone will congratulate you and you will walk a little taller and develop, if it's not already developed, a healthy "swagger" which will accompany the piece of paper you have signed.
You are now in the top 1% of players in the Country based on one or more scout's perceptions of you and this has made what you already knew, official, for everyone else to see. You might be afforded free gear and gifts held esteemed only for those who now call themselves a professional. A few bats with some batting gloves here and there and maybe even a glove, sounds pretty cool doesn't it? You are a pro now and get paid to play ball, plus they give you stuff for free. You may even be like myself and attend the MLB Academy on the Gold Coast and get paid to do so from your MLB organisation whilst everyone else is fighting away trying to earn that piece of paper.
At the time I signed a contract, the juniors would still play with metal bats, but for me now I was a pro, it seemed only natural that I start to get comfortable with hitting with a wood bat, given this was going to be my life now once I went to the states. I think the decision for me to use a wood bat was smart and something that did help me prepare. But let me be honest, I enjoyed the fact that I was unique, I was the only one on my team doing it and it was because I was a pro now and I liked the fact that people knew it, I was almost making a point to remind people of it. You will feel these desires and emotions too no doubt as it will make you feel special and unique. Once again there may come a time for reflection as your departing flight starts creeping closer and all of a sudden it's a few weeks away and not months away anymore. It may be time to reflect on your time with some of your teammates, those guys who you wanted to remind that you were unique by your actions and behaviour at times. It may be time to thank them the same way you thanked your close family and personal team around you.
Would you be the player you are today without them? Maybe they assisted you and your workouts or engaged in little competitions here and there at training which assisted to drive you to do more and be better, maybe competition for spots on a roster or a position in the team gave you unrivalled determination to be the best you could be, maybe your team mates played a small role in your development resulting in you being in the position you find yourself in right now. Never forget where you came from and where it all started, never forget where you developed your love for the game.
Start packing... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
My recollection of this time might come as a surprise but I think it's important you know this, as you may just have the same emotions I did and I want you to know that it's normal.
For the past twelve months I had felt like "The Man". I don't think I peacocked around too much (although perhaps to others I did) but I certainly embraced the "TAG" of being a pro and all of the praise which accompanied it. I couldn't have been more excited to board that flight. Then all of a sudden about three days before my first flight to my first spring training, I was lying in bed and a giant wave of fear consumed me from head to toe, it swallowed me up and for the first time I remember thinking, I don't want to be a pro. The enormity of what was about to happen and the reality of what lay ahead of me had just set in. I lay in bed and thought, I don't want to do this, I don't want to go, I just wanted to be the PRO here in Australia without actually having to leave family and friends and travel halfway around the world to chase my dream.
Over the next 72 hours I felt like all I wanted to do was pull out of the whole thing, I wondered how and even practised how I would call my scout Kevin Hooker and break the news that I wasn't going to go but more importantly I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents. Yesterday it seemed I was a young man picking off milestones on my way to the big leagues, to the next day becoming a boy so fearful to leave home that I couldn't think straight. I started to wonder if I would even be able to compete at the next level or if I would be embarrassed and sent home with my tail between my legs. How would I get by without my support team right there with me to pick me up when I was down? The big fish in the small pond was about to become the tadpole in the ocean. I created a crazy level of stress and anxiety about it all when in actual fact what I came to realise through talking to other pro guys who went off to pro ball, was this feeling is totally natural in so many cases.
It's no easy task for a young kid to uproot your life and move to the states with so much uncertainty, lack of guidance and very little assistance or information on how you will survive or even what lies ahead. In hindsight I should have sought out my family or friends to discuss how I felt as I am sure they would have helped me appreciate the enormity of the situation for what it was. I was already homesick and hadn't even left yet. You might experience the homesickness too, maybe a little or maybe a lot, maybe once or twice a season or maybe a couple of times a week.
Homesickness is a reflection of the relationships you have with those closest to you back home. We all have them and we all miss those closest to us. It is a huge change, you might struggle, but it's OK to struggle, it's normal to fear the unknown like I did. What got me through that 72-hour period was thinking about all the other guys who had gone before me. People that I knew of without knowing personally. I kept telling myself that if they can do this then so can I. I knew these guys were just like me, they had family and friends just like I did and left it all behind to jump on that plane, just like you will. I know this because the journey you are destined to have in this sport, however great and for however long, will not be derailed by fear of the unknown.
Having signed a professional contract you have now earnt and deserve your opportunity to pursue your dream to the best of your ability, which I know you will. Remember all of these people you took a moment to thank for helping you reach your goal of signing that contract, lean on them now, ask them for help. Reach out to any current or former professional who has walked the path you are about to walk, because whilst you might be intimidated to reach out to them, they would love nothing more than to help you, they would encourage you to reach out to them if they knew you were struggling and most importantly they will understand your fears and be more than willing to help you with your concerns. This is one of the first times you will realise how important it is to have that team around you.
Brad Harman at World Baseball Classic
The mental side of your first spring training.... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Landing in the states for the first time is a surreal feeling. This is it, you have negotiated your way through one or more American airports asking random strangers for some assistance and direction, you hopefully have all your bags with you and it's time to check in to the team hotel after a long day of travel. You might feel a mix of emotions including excitement, fear, joy, anxiety, determination and more. If you are one of the lucky ones like I was, you will have a fellow Australian as your roommate. This made the transition for me so much easier I felt at the time, but what you soon realise is that you are about to meet so many awesome guys who you have so much in common with and who you now share a special bond with.
If you happen to have a roommate you are meeting for the first time, embrace it. You will learn a lot about this guy as well as share a lot about yourself and who knows, you may just be making a great friend who might join your support team that you turn to in times of need, you might even develop such a bond that you keep in contact with this person long after you finish playing ball together. On the flip side you might find yourself in a situation where you don't hit it off and it turns into a situation you would prefer not to be in. This may be one of your first challenges as a professional ballplayer.
You will face many obstacles if you are to succeed in this game, none more important than what you do on the field and your ability to compete each and every day even when you may not feel like it, so in your own way, you will need to learn how to handle a small obstacle like this, because that's all it is, a small obstacle to overcome.
Having to make the long travel from Australia you will most likely arrive a few days earlier than the rest of the minor league players apart from those who might be injured and completing their rehab. You will be one of the first ones there because the others don't need the extra time to adjust and deal with the jet lag like you do (oh yeah, that jet lag will see you watching SportsCenter all night for the next three nights whilst you adjust).
Walking into your minor league complex for the first time will feel like you are walking into the Field Of Dreams. A simple setup which you will later appreciate for being just that, simple, will appear like a Disneyland for ballplayers. I was in Clearwater Florida and the entrance driveway lined with tall palm trees made this place look like paradise. I remember the feeling of extreme excitement walking down that driveway for the first time, I couldn't wait to get inside and see my very own locker with my name on it and witness what sort of facilities these pro guys are afforded. As you walk into the large minor league clubhouse for the first time, you will quickly gain the understanding of just how many guys you are competing with to make it to the big leagues. You will see how tight those lockers are jammed in to be able to fit 150 guys into that locker room. Over the coming days you will see more and more guys start arriving for spring training and that big clubhouse will start to feel smaller and smaller. These 150 guys will come from all over the world including America, Australia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Japan and more.
It may help you to start learning just a little bit of Spanish which will be heard very loudly all day in your locker rooms. Keep in mind you might be pitching to a Spanish speaking catcher or playing middle infield with one, it is a lot easier when you can understand what each other is talking about so take the responsibility on yourself to learn some basic words and phrases to get you started in the hopes of further developing your skills once you get over there. On the flip side they will be doing the same and most likely taking English classes to be able to communicate with the English speaking guys. With much envy, you will see some guys have their lockers stacked with boxes and boxes of gear sent from their agent to ensure they were setup with everything they needed. Mostly the high round draft picks or guys who signed for a lot of money and already have an agent working for them.
If you are like I was, you won’t have this stuff waiting for you, so be nice to these guys, they might flip you a pair of their old cleats at some point and you might just love that.
It's not until your first full meeting on Day One of spring training that you will see everyone sitting on their stools, listening to the Co-ordinators and Directors both welcome you and in our case, lay down the law of expectations. It seems like a bit of a back handed welcome. You feel a part of something really special, an esteemed group of talent hand-picked by the organisations elite scouting department, yet nervous to step foot out of line for fear you will be given a plane ticket home before you've even had a chance to crush some cage bombs in front of the hitting coaches, but that's ok, again, it's normal.
What will finally sink in, is that you may have been the star back home, the man, the one everyone looked to when your team needed a lift, but right now, you are probably sitting somewhere between number 120 and 150 in that locker room. You can again take refuge knowing that we all started in that exact position, we all felt exactly what you will feel, it's daunting and it's intimidating but I encourage you to embrace it, it's also what will fuel you. You will know that in order to beat these guys to the top, you will need to work harder than you ever have before, but you will love that when you see the results. Keep in mind that when you do see all these guys and you do start your on field journey, you will feel a need to compete pound for pound with these guys, you can't.
I hope you appreciate that so many of your team mates in that clubhouse you share, will be bigger, stronger and faster than you. They will hit harder, throw harder and have refined skills in comparison to yourself. You are not supposed to make the big leagues in your first spring training. MLB Organisations realise the importance of simply having a solid base which will allow their coaching staff to work with you and develop your skills whilst your strength, power and speed develop. Don't be overawed with the fact you feel tiny in comparison both in size and power on the field. Play the way that earnt you a contract, once you attempt to play above your ability and do more than what you do naturally, you will immediately see the negative results. A similar sentiment applies to your ability to be a coachable athlete. You will learn in time that in your life and in your journey that you are your own best coach. This is important because you will need to respect each coach and give them your full attention as they pass on their knowledge they have no doubt gained from a long time in this game, however this game is so great because there are multiple ways in every area of the game that will allow you success.
You will need to try and implement what you are being taught, give it some time to sink in and make adjustments and then make a decision whether it is for you or not. At that point, or better yet through the whole journey of a mechanical change, always maintain open dialogue between yourself and the coach on how you feel and what you both are trying to achieve. Having open discussions constantly, will help cement the information into your brain and allow better processing but also allow you the platform to express your concerns and reach alternative agreements which will be of benefit to both yourself and the coach in question. Be coachable, do not be a robot.
At about the two and half week mark of spring training you will witness firsthand why they call baseball a business. You might be walking down that driveway as you do each and every day alongside a couple of the friends you have made in your brief stay thus far. Then one of the coaches might pop his head out the front door and call for one of your mates to come inside with him. You will continue around to the players’ entrance only to learn a few minutes later that your team mate, your friend or maybe even your roommate has just been released and after he cleans out his locker, it's time for you to say your first of many goodbyes and good lucks to one of your brothers whose professional journey might have potentially just come to an end. You will feel for him, feel upset for him and maybe even wonder why he has been released. He was a good player, right, but you need to understand really quickly that you will witness this many times. I wouldn’t say you become numb to this, but you will become comfortable and accepting with this side of the business. You may have started to feel comfortable yourself or gain a sense of belonging at this point but when you see the amount of guys walking into the complex only to clean out their lockers in the last ten days of spring training, you will realise that as soon as you take your opportunity for granted and become complacent, you too may be the one being called in as you walk down that driveway. For most guys they receive that news because unfortunately they are not quite good enough, it's only natural, there are so many ballplayers all over the world who are desperate to get into one of those locker rooms, this is simply a part of the process to find the best available.
You are there to develop into a solid, consistent contributor at the big league level and assist the ball club in winning World Series Championships.
Make no mistake, that is why you are there. As soon as it becomes evident that you or anyone else will not contribute to the Major League team, your options are fairly limited, trade or release. It's blunt, it’s brutal but it's the reality of this game and once again, you need to understand that, appreciate it for what it is and embrace the logic of what General Managers and Owners are looking for. The other reason you may find guys being released is for behavioural or off field issues. Perception is reality in baseball and the company you keep along with your behaviour, attitude and actions off the field will play a key role in how you are perceived by the organisation. In baseball and in life, I strongly encourage you to seek out the company which will help raise your standards and support your growth. This can be difficult at times in this game but I encourage you to try seek out these relationships. It can be difficult however for the following reasons. For me being a middle infielder I obviously spent a lot of time with the other infielders and you will spend a lot of time with those who share your position on the field. We had many sessions and long hours together taking groundballs and getting to know each other. One of these fellow infielders in my first year was also an Australian who I became really good mates with, yet something strange happens as the reality of the baseball business sets in.
You realise that all those closest to you, are competing with you for a job, your job. They might be the one who gets the starting role whilst you get benched, or even cut, maybe not now or next year but somewhere along your journey, hopefully in twenty years’ time, someone will beat you out for the job you want. This realisation will prove difficult for many to deal with - including myself. You will now find yourself in a battle with your conscience to develop or maintain your strength of character. If you find yourself welcoming the news that your competition had a bad day at the field that day, you would not be on your own. You see this game is designed to prove that when push comes to shove, you won’t all make it up to the next level, it's you versus your team mate for that next position, that starting job, that promotion to A ball or AA, you are naturally going to appreciate that in order for you to reach your life long goal and dream of playing in the major leagues, that you need to produce and succeed more consistently than your competition year after year.
The strange thing is that whilst you may have these thoughts, you will also realise the importance of being a good team mate and playing team first baseball. If it's one thing I know for sure, the selfish, me first ballplayer will always standout from the crowd and that's not the guy you want to be. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the big leagues, it will be because you are a great ballplayer and the more time you spend worrying about what others are doing and how others are going, the less time you are investing into what you are doing and how you can improve your chances of realising your dream. Don’t be that guy, help your team mates, assist them when they struggle, be a great club house guy because you will struggle in this game and remember that team you need around you, this includes your team mates and even your competition.
I want you to always remember that if two guys are fighting for one spot, then the team first, great club house guy will always win out over Mr Selfish. I have seen many guys stay in this game long after they should have, simply because of their character and ability to assist others and be a positive influence on a ball club. I always embraced one of the many "Baseballisms" which you will learn and have become a part of your regular vocabulary, "BE SEEN NOT HEARD". I took this saying quite literally and I encourage you to understand the term but realise it's completely fine to be heard, in the right way. I wanted to keep my head down and get to work without bringing unwanted attention to myself, I only wanted to be seen for my ability on the field which helped my baseball development, yet this same mindset also hindered my personal development and ability at times to build personal relationships quickly, so once again, just be you.
In your spring training booklet you will receive from your organisation, you might get to see a bio on each of the minor league coaches with a description of their history. Get to know your coaches, ask them questions and build relationships with them, you will find out at some point that it helps to have guys in your corner. You might even be able to build such relationships that you lean on them in time of need, be it on or off field issues, they have more than likely walked your path too and know what you are going through and dealing with. It comes back to those two guys fighting for one spot and if you have multiple guys in your corner, you will be far better served than being the guy no one really knows. If not for that reason then for this, you will finish in this game at some point and I bet if you ask yourself today, you would much prefer to leave with many great friendships and relationships to accompany your achievements however great they end up being, friendships which will last a lifetime and will always stand to make up part of YOUR TEAM you always have around you because once baseball is finished, whenever that may be, you will have a whole new list of challenges to face and adversities to overcome, it may be nice to have that team for support.
The overriding sentiment I will leave you with in regards to the shell shock that is your first spring training is this. You need to just be you. Yes you will need to work ridiculously hard, but hard work is what earnt you a professional contract in the first place so you are not foreign to this. Enjoy it and always remember the opportunity you have and the life you are living that so many others could only dream of.
Another stunning infield play
The physical side of spring training... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Example of a standard spring training day
6.00 am - Wake Up
6:30 am - Arrive at field and eat breakfast
7.00 am-8:45 am - Early work groups (you will have 0, 1, or 2 groups on any given day)
9.00 am-9:10 am - Club Meeting
9:15 am-10.00 am - Run / Stretch / Throw
10.00 am-11.00 am - Team fundamentals (Bunt defence / pickoffs + rundowns etc.)
11.00 am-12.00 pm - Batting Practice (Pitchers throwing bullpens off to the side)
12.00 pm-12:30 pm - Lunch
12:30 pm-1.00 pm - Run, stretch, throw and play pepper in preparation for a game
1.00 pm-4.00 pm - Game (intersquad or against another organisations club of your level)
4.00 pm-4:15 pm - Post game conditioning (generally 10 x 90ft sprints for us at the time)
4:15 pm-5.00 pm - Gym workout if playing at home
5.00 pm - Shower and leave for the hotel
5:30 pm - Eat dinner
6.00 pm - Enjoy your night and prepare to repeat this schedule the next day, every day
SIDE NOTE - You will play every other day on the road meaning you will skip fundamentals in order to get your BP started earlier so you can get back in to the clubhouse, eat lunch and jump on the bus to head over to the away venue.
This is certainly not a statement to scare you but the simple fact of spring training from a physical point, is that nothing will fully prepare you for what you are about to endure. In that information booklet you receive prior to spring training you might see the fitness testing component to be carried out. All organisations are different but for me at the time it consisted of what was called “THE PHILLY RUN". The Philly Run was basically 60 minutes of conditioning to be performed at the end of the day’s events each day for the first week. Not 60 minutes of intense condition - four stations designed to wear you down and those four stations were as follows.
Please know though that there are no games in the first week as detailed above. The first week will see you take in a lot more education on how the organisation wish for you to play the game. Along with all sorts of meetings on injury prevention and the like.
THE PHILLY RUN
1 - 20 mins - Continuous running in the shape of a huge diamond having to field one groundball hit by a coach each lap, changing direction after 10 minutes
2 - 20 mins - 25 x 90ft sprints with 50 pushups. 5 x sprints then 10 x pushups x 5 sets
3 - 10 mins - Agility drills, ladders, ropes, plyometrics etc
4 - 10 mins - Abs station (That's right, we had an Abs station for 10 minutes)
Once we completed the week of Philly runs we would face the marquee test, The 300 yard shuttle. This would have us running 25 yards up and back, six times in under one minute. The follow on to this is we then had one minute rest and had to go again and complete it in under one minute, then one more minute’s rest and complete the third and final leg, again in under one minute. I practised the 300 yard shuttle a number of times at home before I left and felt confident I would be fine. However adding the 300 yard shuttle to the back end of what is a gruelling first week is something I didn't calculate at the time. I was successful miraculously, but it was excruciating. Going over the allowed 1 minute on any of your runs would result in you joining breakfast club. You would stay in Breakfast Club and get a re test on the 300 yard shuttle every 3 days until you made the time, this could be a couple of weeks for some guys.
Breakfast Club is a place you go for a couple of reasons, disciplinary or not coming into camp in good physical condition. This is a place you do not want to be. You would be up at 5.00 am to get down to the field for conditioning sessions designed to whip you into shape, only to have some breakfast afterwards and then join your allocated group for early work at 7.00 am to start your day as it normally would have been. Breakfast club is an add on to an already hectic and intense schedule. I had one stint of Breakfast Club in my career which was a result of sleeping in. My rookie ball room mate and I raced down to the field after sleeping in, we missed batting practise in the cage and just made it to the bus on time for the two-hour bus ride down to Orlando to play the Braves. My roommate and I rode the bus, were given Bat Boy duties for the game (that’s right, I was a professional Bat Boy for the day in my full uniform) and rode the bus back which made up our day. We were also given three days of Breakfast Club for our troubles. It sucks.
Your daily schedule will most likely have you arriving at the complex around 6:30 am-7.00 am each morning. I was always early to the field at every level throughout my career, I wanted to be one of the first. I encourage you to follow this mindset to as much extent as allows you to best prepare for the day but more importantly you will need to learn when to cut back for a day here or there. However you learn your scheduling needs will be up to you, just don't be that guy who shows up 10-15 minutes before your first scheduled session that morning. You will not enjoy the rush to get ready and you certainly don't want to keep one of your coaches waiting. This is an important sign of character and viewed as a willingness to learn and better yourself or a lack of desire to do so in the contrary.
You see the reason I say you can't prepare for spring training is that one day in isolation is fine. It's nothing like you have experienced, yet not too dissimilar to other all day camps and academy days you would have attended. The difficulty is not having to back it up and get through Day Two and Three although they will still be tough and your legs will feel like they weigh 100kgs each, you will ride the adrenaline and emotion for the first week to get through that period. It starts to become a battle somewhere in that second week. Day 8 to 12 it really hits you and you will feel like there is no end in sight. Every day is the same thing, every morning you are tired, every evening you are wrecked. You will wake up, go to the field, go back to your hotel, eat dinner, hang out for a couple of hours and go to bed only to repeat it the next day. Your legs will be sore, most prominently in that first week, your arm will get stiff and potentially sore and you will feel like you can't go to the training room for fear of being taken off the field for a week, "You can't make the club if you are in the training room".
You will need to be smart, listen to your body and educate yourself on what your body needs and what you need to do in your own time to recover. This may include icing and mobility work at the hotel sometimes but you will learn what your body needs in order to recover for the next day. Whatever you do though you need to be smart, you won't be crucified if you do need the medical assistance available to you, so speak up if you are in pain and you know it's not a self-fix situation because a couple of days in the training room can be a lot better than twelve months of rehab after surgery. Be smart and learn your body. The most important part of your recovery will come away from the complex and back at the hotel. Your nutrition, hydration and quality of sleep will play the key roles in how you wake up for a day at the office. I was not great in this area, and my performance no doubt suffered at times as a result.
Getting your 8 - 8.5 quality hours of sleep each night will prove vital if you want to be able to perform each day you are on the field. This will apply as you move up the ladder and make the clubs who play night games with completely different scheduling to spring training. Understanding not only your minimum requirements but also what will be considered too much sleep resulting in feeling lethargic and lazy (I certainly fell victim to the appeal of lazing in bed all morning many times, it does not assist your goals, trust me). You will develop so many routines, rituals and daily schedules and you need to make your quality of sleep a priority. I strongly advise you get your 8-8.5 hours QUALITY sleep, then get up and put away a nutritional breakfast which will fuel your anticipated performance later that day. Breakfast at the field will most likely be the same thing every day. Some scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal and maybe some fruit. If you need to source other options from the store and take it with you each day, then do it.
Your ability to get your quality sleep also ties in with the company you keep. Gravitate towards those guys who habitually look after themselves and join them because on the flip side, you will have access to the guys who want to enjoy themselves a little too often. There is one or two on every team and I promise you that this can prove costly if you are caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. You need to have some fun along the way too by means of staying sane, you will need to get out and live a life away from baseball as an outlet and a mechanism to switch off, which might include a few refreshments here and there. Understand this though, the drinking age in America is 21...... Do not flirt with it. I have seen guys get caught at a bar drinking whilst underage and get arrested. What happens to those who get arrested for underage drinking, drink driving, assault and so on? They get released the next day and being a foreigner, this may have further implications around deportation and the fact you may not be able to return to pursue another opportunity with a different club if it would present itself. There may be a guy who is the exception to the rule here or there which generally applies to a big money high round prospect but that’s a whole different story surrounding some politics and benefits afforded to some and not others which you will find out about.
The point is have fun, live your life but always have a thought with those who you thanked that time you signed your contract. How would you make that phone call to explain your behaviour? How do your actions continue to affect their lives and everything they sacrificed for you to be where you are? The easiest way to deal with this is never put yourself in situations that could result in these outcomes.
Life in the minors: WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
This is where we can look at life in the minors holistically. You will experience so much happiness, joy and have an absolute blast. You will create some amazing life long memories and friendships, but you will also face tremendous obstacles on your journey and I believe they are there by design to break you. They will challenge you physically in the form of fatigue and battling the elements. At the start of the season for many, you will be playing in zero degree temperatures where you can’t feel the ball because your fingers are numb. You will layer so many undershirts beneath your playing top that you can't move freely to be athletic but it appears to be a choice between survive versus perform and finding that balance can be difficult. You will need to learn what you need to do, like everyone else does. As you move into summer you will then be playing in some of the most intense heat you have experienced and wonder, how on earth can I go out and give my all in this. In Florida for example it is ridiculously humid and the 4.00 pm thunderstorm most days which last 30-60 minutes will provide a sauna for you to play in later that night when the game starts. Your mindset will be key to how you handle the elements and the realisation that so many before you have endured the exact same conditions will help you. They don’t give you bonus points on your stats because you played in tougher conditions so again, embrace that it's there, accept the challenge and realise that while others will complain, this is one of so many opportunities to put your best foot forward and gain an edge, difficult as it might be, achievable it certainly is.
The overnight bus rides will test your capacity to recover and be in fit playing shape for your game the next day. Sitting up, laying over seats, laying down the walkway and many more uncomfortable sleeping positions you will try and probably struggle with. If you are lucky you might get to ride in a sleeper bus which has makeshift beds built into the storage compartments under the roof and underneath the bench seats. You will again have the opportunity to whinge and moan like a few of your team mates will, you will hear it, you will be surrounded by it but you get to choose how you handle these situations. You can join them or you can take yet another opportunity to gain an edge. Even if you sit there with your eyes closed without falling asleep, that may be better for you tomorrow than playing PlayStation staring at a screen for six hours and then complaining for another two hours about the bus ride. Again though this is up to you to work out what you need and what will assist you the most but realise that this will be a challenge you are going to have to face.
You might see a common theme here. A huge challenge you will face comes from those closest to you in your team mates. There is a couple on every team who will find the negative in any situation. These negative outbursts will be brought on by so many basic day to day normalities which make up the minor league experience including travel, hotel standards, lack of Wi-Fi, quality of food in the clubhouse, having to take infield outfield, early work, relationships with coaches, the weather and so on and so on. It is all around you and there will be moments where you get sucked in and join in the chorus. We all have and we all did. I keep coming back to the same sentiment, strength in character and mindset will determine much of your experience and journey. As soon as you become one of the complainers, it would appear you have become too comfortable and potentially complacent. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, PLAY BETTER is another baseballism you will hear plenty. Embrace your challenges because they are not going anywhere, accept that some of them are there by design to test your character, choose to face these challenges the same way you faced challenges which allowed you to sign a contract in the first place, head on with an attitude that will allow you the best opportunity to succeed.
Lastly on minor league life in general I can't go past that in order to achieve your dream, you will realise how important it is to have something else in your life you are passionate about. We are all told to finish our school in case baseball doesn't work out. What I heard when people said that was, "You are going to fail, so finish your school which will allow you to move into the real job you will inevitably get in a few years". Here's why I think you should finish school. You need to have a passion or a hobby outside of this game in order for you to switch off from the game. You might develop a love for something that you seek further education in and can enrol in online courses which looking back, is something I regret not doing whilst I had the opportunity. Read books about things you are passionate about, mindset, habits, other sports stars, science etc. You might just learn something which you could apply to your current journey that assists you. You are not simply finishing school or enrolling in online courses or reading books to prepare for life after baseball, you are doing it because it will absolutely assist you in reaching your goals, it will provide that desperately needed outlet that is so critical to your overall mindset and mental health.
Is this all I get paid... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
One of the most difficult challenges you will face with life in the minor leagues and continue to ask yourself is, WHERE IS THE CASH? This is something I was not prepared for and I embarrassingly recall in my first and even second year of pro ball having to call my Mum and ask for $100 here and there. Mind you that $100 converted to around $65 at the time with the exchange rate. There I was, a professional athlete, throwing two or three hours of my mother’s hard work down the drain in the form of an exchange rate because I wasn't responsible enough to prepare for how I would support myself financially.
There is no money in the minor leagues, get used to it. Understand that and start preparing for it. If you are fortunate enough to have earnt a lofty signing bonus then you are so far ahead of many of your peers it is ridiculous, do not waste the opportunity to be financially stable. If you did not sign for much money, like myself, you need to find a way to support yourself in this area. It's about becoming an adult and showing maturity in the way you want to live your life. I am no financial advisor but I think you could have a look at your requirements based on the lifestyle you choose to live and set yourself a monthly amount that you would require to live on. This will differ from me to you, but determine what you need and what makes you happy. Once you have a rough monthly figure you can then multiply it by six for your six- monthly stay in the states, you will have a total amount for how much you need to save or delegate before heading off to spring training.
Along with preparing physically and mentally for the year ahead, this will also become just as important as you can raise some serious stress and anxiety levels based solely around your financial situation like I did. Now how do you think that might affect your ability to face other adversities you are challenged with and how does that assist your goal of reaching the big leagues? You can become swamped in this game under challenge upon challenge but you can also avoid so many of them with the right planning and knowledge and I can't stress enough that being in a position to pay your bills is just as important as going to the gym for your workout or heading to training for some extra batting practice. If you need a part time job in the off season then go and do it, whatever you need to do, this is about what you need to do to be a professional. To give you an indication, in spring training we would receive $20 per week for "laundry money". All of your expenses are covered, meals and accommodation are taken care of by the organisation but every now and then you might get tired of the dinners provided and want to go out to a restaurant (Chillis or TGI Fridays of course, nothing too fancy). Or perhaps a few guys are heading out to see a movie and that seems like a good idea. You need to budget for the fact that you will need to have a life away from baseball, it will be a small life as you will be exhausted each night, but you will have a life.
Once you get to Extended Spring Training and this will follow on for the Rookie Ball season, things will change slightly and now you will earn a wage which for me in my first year was $850 per month. For us this included Breakfast and Lunch which was provided at the field, accommodation at the team hotel was deducted out of your pay check and you would be left with a whopping $140 every fortnight for you to splash around as you please. $140 to live for two weeks but most importantly, your dinner had to be purchased each night out of that money and given Sunday is a day off in extended spring training and the rookie ball season, you needed to cover all three meals on that day. Let’s be honest though, you have earnt that Sunday sleep in so it's probably only two meals in lunch and dinner. You might be lucky to have a fridge and microwave in your hotel room, not everyone does, but I would imagine an oven or hotplate would be a luxury you would not have. How would you possibly purchase fourteen dinners and a lunch on $140? More importantly if you can work out a solution to this, which you will, how could you possibly have $20 left over to do something with your team mates who were heading down to the beach on Sunday and having lunch at a restaurant down by the water?
My experience saw me and quite a few of my team mates make McDonalds a regular dinner hotspot. We crushed that dollar menu where you would have a variety of options for $1 each. Two double cheeseburgers, a medium fries and a refillable medium coke for a grand total of a $4 dinner. That's how we survived and I'm being dead serious, that was dinner multiple times per week for the next five- month period. I wonder how that food affected our ability to recover and replenish our energy levels ready to compete at the professional level the next day? Please learn from my mistakes. Having an extra $100 per fortnight would make a massive difference to how you live your life in your first year of pro ball, a savings account holding $1000 for you to draw out $100 per fortnight and stick to that budget may mean you can eat some quality meals and enjoy a life outside the game, it will be a modest life still at this price point, but it would make your experience so much more enjoyable and ultimately assist you in your goals of performing to the best of your ability. If you could possibly have yourself $2000 saved up and have the ability to draw $200 per fortnight I think you would be living the high life, so work out what you would require, what you can afford and what you need to do to acquire that peace of mind.
Once you move out of Rookie Ball and into A Ball things will change again. You might experience the wonderful or not so wonderful world of billet families depending on the family you are provided. I was extremely lucky in my second year to be billeted with an amazing family who took three of us players in and made me feel like I was one of their sons. I still keep in touch with the son in this family to this day over a decade later and I am so thankful for everything they did for me, packing snacks for our bus trips, rides to the field, ensuring the fridge was always jam packed with food and it cost us absolutely nothing for the privilege. Keep in mind though that every family differs and some of your team mates and maybe even you, may stay with a billet family who feels $100 per week is a reasonable fee to charge for rent of the room you will occupy. Don't be discouraged, at the end of the day they are providing you a safe environment at a fairly reasonable rate which includes all the bills for the services you will use daily. Understand the difference between the two though and how each situation would affect your finances and your lifestyle. Once you have been in pro ball for a few years, you might even get to the point of earning a 40 man roster spot or sign a free agent deal meaning now you are making some money, I know you will because you will be a wise veteran at this point but give back to those kids who are just starting their journey, take them out for dinner on you, not because you have to but because you remember what it was like to count down the days until payday so you can steer clear of the golden arches for a couple of nights.
The money struggle is real, start preparing for it now.
That’s a wrap... WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Go and enjoy what will be the craziest ride of your life. I hope it will be a long and fulfilling ride that will see you exceed all of your own expectations. So much of your experience in this sport as well as in life, will be determined by your outlook and ability to be accepting of and embrace the challenges you will face. Apart from the one in a generation player, no one will reach the big leagues and think, wow, that was easy. You will be challenged often, be it physically, mentally or financially. You will miss out on so many milestones back home with your family that you wish you could have been there for and they will miss you being there too. Your family though wouldn't have this any other way and will do whatever they can to assist, guide and support you every step of your journey. Be yourself, you will feel the need to become the robot your organisation wants you to become. There might be rules on how to wear your uniform, how to dress, how to present yourself and how to play. Adapt and embrace these rules whilst maintaining your individuality. That same individuality which drew scouts to take notice in the first place. Have fun, laugh, joke around, you will learn when it is time to pull it in and get serious and when you can relax little. Enjoy the history of the path you are walking. You will play in the same stadiums that some of the greats have played in, you will sit in some of the locker rooms that today’s superstar big leaguers sat in.
There are no short cuts in this game, it will be a hard gruelling road for you to reach the pinnacle in the sport, you know that going in, so it will be no surprise when you experience a slump with the bat, or a stretch of bad outings on the mound. We have all been there, even the best. Slow down, you have more time than you think. So often you might think you need to "fix" your game overnight for fear you are on the chopping block. Slow down, set your goals and have a plan for everything you do. Baseball is a numbers game and if your numbers are not where you would like, always refer back to your plan, if you fail to follow a simple plan for how you want to live the day ahead, how can you possibly think success was an option?
I could go on and on about story after story, but this is not about me. I hope by reading this you have a little bit of knowledge on what you might encounter and you are a little better prepared to get on that plane and head overseas for your first year of pro ball. I hope this helps eliminate some of the challenges you will face because they will come as no surprise when you experience them. I hope you can now put steps in place to plan for these challenges. I hope you now know what pro ball might mean physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.
The rest will be up to you. You will create your own memories and live out your own adventures which will translate into some amazing stories to share. You will make mistakes, just don't let them be off field mistakes that land you in trouble and cut your dreams short. Learn from your mistakes and move forward with the knowledge you have gained.
Lastly, I want you to know that wherever you end up, it's still just baseball. The game you have played for so long. Don't be overawed when you face that superstar, the ball is the same size, the basepaths are 90ft, the plate is 17 inches wide and you will still find a way to have a whole heap of fun playing the game each and every day.
All the best mate.
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its sincere thanks to Brad Harman for sharing his experiences, his insights and his suggestions on how young players might best prepare for a career in United States professional baseball. We have no doubt that his advice will be of massive assistance to our signed young men as they embark upon their journey in professional baseball and we applaud Brad's ongoing commitment to give back to his beloved sport through mentoring of emerging Australian players. Kingsley Collins (Editor)