MLB Initiation: The Rite of Passage
Established and managed by Major League players Ryan Rowland-Smith and Trent Oeltjen, NxtGen Baseball has taken the Australian baseball community by storm, conducting popular and extremely beneficial training camps and coaching clinics for emerging young Australian players.
Dedicated to “train, inspire and educate” the next generation of Aussie ball players, Ryan and Trent are committed Alumni members who continue to support the project by donating a share of proceeds from merchandise sales to our activities.
Both men have a wealth of baseball engagement at the highest levels and both are generous in the sharing of their insights and their experiences, including this fascinating article – The Rite of Passage - that Ryan Rowland-Smith wrote just recently.
The article was written in response to a breaking news story that Major League Baseball and the Players Union have placed limitations on the annual Rookies Dress-Up Day – an initiation practice known as “hazing” that will now prohibit players dressing up as women or in any garb that might be deemed "offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identify or other characteristic".
The Rite of Passage
14 December 2016
So I heard today that MLB and the Players Union have agreed to place 'restrictions' on the dress up day tradition for Major League Rookies.
Now I totally get it, and I understand it's a way to legally protect themselves against the ultra- sensitive society mixed in with the obsession of self-documentation and strong opinions all over social media. I try to avoid these types of politics and understand both sides of the argument, but whether you are offended, think it’s funny or could not care less it doesn’t matter.
Rookie Dress-Up Day belongs to the teams that partake, it belongs to the players. It was never a show put on for fans or to express themselves as a team or create an identity. Yes, the photos are put on social media – but, to me, the whole ritual has a stronger meaning than an afternoon of hazing.
It’s an exercise that builds character, it’s an exercise to teach young players one of the strongest qualities they can gain and that’s not to take yourself so seriously. It’s an exercise to build relationships between a rookie and his team mates, and in a twisted way it is amazing for team chemistry.
I was a rookie once and I loved every minute of it. Especially the dress up day!
I came to the big leagues at the tail end of serious initiation and the seniority days, where veterans gave you that 'don't speak unless spoken to' vibe. I wouldn't dare eat the spread until anyone with a few years in the show had eaten. I wouldn't sit on the couch in the locker room or mess with the TV or stereo.
I would barely leave my locker.
I would get to the back of the line to get onto a bus or a plane.
It wasn't because I was scared - intimidated maybe, but that came out of respect of guys who had lived in that locker room and had done amazing things in baseball, the guys who were established ‘Major Leaguers’ and had earned their stripes.
So there we were in late September 2007 in Toronto, on getaway day about to take that long flight to San Francisco. I had pitched early in the game, doing my usual rookie duties of mopping up a struggling starter who had been given the hook in the fourth.
I walked into a locker room and caught two of our saltiest vets walking around with a clothes rack of colorful costumes. Mine wasn't up yet and they told me, “Hey get the f#%k out of here rook!"
I went straight to the training room with way more nerves than I had warming up for the game that day.
"I'm gonna get crushed on the costume for sure,” I thought to myself.
I wasn't allowed into the locker room until the end of the game.
As I walked across the locker room and watched my fellow rookies with their deer in headlights gaze into their empty locker - with nothing but a ridiculous little outfit they had to try and squish into - I got to my locker and tried to make out the outfit.
As I pulled it apart, it was a tight little white suit with a cowboy hat and a horse connected to it. Picture white bike pants and a tight spandex shirt to match. I am not a small dude and the tag had a big S! Not sure I have ever attempted any article of clothing that had the letter S on the tag since I was in grade school.
I walked around and took a barrage of offensive comments that would get you arrested today and all of the typical locker room banter.
I have to say, costume wise, I got off pretty lightly. We had the little mermaid, hooters waitresses, daisy dukes, hula dancers - you name it, we had it.
Very creative and an A plus effort from guys who have zero time to hit up a Party City store.
It’s not just the dressing up and copping laughs, we got the rookie treatment on steroids on the bus to the plane, and the entire four-hour flight.
The flight attendants got to sit in our seat and we were up and down serving drinks, food, and ordered around. I have never worked so hard in my life, I had a new found respect for the work load of flight attendants!
There were veterans that barely said two words to me all season all of a sudden bossing me around all night.
We landed in freezing cold San Francisco, where we were forced to walk two miles like a pack of Halloween morons to a team function.
The night continued and the hazing was slowly winding down. By the end of the night I was having conversations and exchanging stories to players I wouldn’t dare bother, or guys I thought were massive A-Holes to me prior to that night.
The one conversation I had with a certain player that I thought was the biggest A-Hole of them all - and I won’t mention any names - said to me,
“Hey man, the reason we wear you out so much is because we all like you and know you can take all the crap. If I didn’t like you or thought you were soft I wouldn’t even acknowledge you. So welcome buddy. Anything you need just ask, OK?”
Those comments really stuck with me. In fact, they stuck with a lot of my rookie peers. I think of that conversation any time someone wants to pay special attention to me and give me crap about whatever it may be.
I will never forget the next couple of days. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I was one of the guys, I felt like I was finally a part of something. Even on the field I had this new level of confidence.
I could see the shoulders-back strut amongst my fellow rookies who less than twenty-four hours ago were wearing skin tight lycra in the middle of a major city.
That was the first time I had ever been broken down to total humiliation and it had the absolute opposite effect to what I thought it would have. It gave me a huge level of comfort in the locker room and as immature as the whole thing is, I think it is so important for rookies to go through that.
It is the Rite of Passage that belongs to the team and its players.
I just hope for the sake of all those spring chicken big league rookies - who have the best gig on the planet - don’t miss the most amazing twisted immature experience of initiation into the best brotherhood in the world!
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its thanks to Ryan Rowland-Smith for allowing us to publish this intriguing insight into the initiation culture of Major League Baseball. We wish Ryan and Trent Oeltjen all the very best for the burgeoning success of NxtGen Baseball, and we of course wish both men well for their baseball future success – including at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.