College, Pro Ball Diverge In Attitude
Garrett Broshuis played both college baseball (as a pitcher for Missouri) and pro baseball (as a Giants prospect) before retiring this season. Although he's no longer writing a prospect diary, he still shares his thoughts from time to time.
Flipping through TV channels in my civilian life, I stopped on what appeared to be baseball. Then I saw a pitcher running to the dugout.
Odd, I thought to myself.
I was further confused when I viewed players perched on the top step of a dugout, cheering on their teammates. Yelling enthusiastically, with the fervor of youth, they gave high fives and stern butt slaps to their pitcher-turned-sprinter.
I watched a bit longer. Soon I saw the left fielder loosen his arm with the center fielder. He wasn't preparing to throw a runner out. He was preparing to pitch.
It turned out I was indeed watching baseball; it just wasn't the professional variety I'd grown accustomed to over the previous six years. Instead I'd stumbled upon the College World Series. The game used the same size leather orb, and the same measurements marked the bases, but it was indeed different.
The annoying metal ping of the bats brought back painful memories. Thoughts of a certain 2003 game in Baylor came to mind. I started that Saturday, lasted one inning, and watched my team win 23-18.
The level of play differed as well, as the range in skill amongst players varied markedly. Some would be capable of holding their own on high Class A or even a Double-A roster, while others would struggle mightily in the lowest of low levels.
Aside from the metal annoyance and the variance in skill, the most glaring divergence remained in the actions of the players; specifically in their emotional displays.
Emotion is often conditioned out of players in pro ball. Early in my career, I sprinted back to the dugout after my initial spring training pitching appearance. An older teammate started laughing.
"Oh, you run back to the dugout. That's cool," he said with sarcasm, the official language of minor league baseball.
"Yeah, it's called hustling," I replied.
"Save the hustling for when it actually matters. That right there is just eye-wash."
He then told me to watch some of the big leaguers pitch.
"They're all business," he said. "The only place they run is to the bar after the game."
I observed a couple, and, sure enough, almost all of them (Cliff Lee notwithstanding) walked coolly back to the dugout after every inning. Head down, stern look on their face, no distractions.
I began to imitate them, and slowly changed my demeanors. By the end of that season, I was like an old western sheriff pursuing an outlaw across a desert. Composed and cool at all times. Determined. Not disrupted or surprised by anything. Within two years, I was the one laughing at the young bucks running around excitedly.
Watching the college game took me back to a more naïve era in my life. Yet I'm not sure this naïveté was a bad thing. The emphasis was entirely on winning. Every game mattered, and so every moment mattered.
This wasn't always the case in the minor leagues. Since development was the number one priority, winning was secondary. Every moment mattered, but more from a personal standpoint than a team standpoint. The rah-rah excitement wasn't necessary, and was deemed as uncool as short shorts.
The laid-back, laissez faire atmosphere of pro ball was nice, but I didn't mind the structure of college ball. It bound a group of us together. With a common purpose, we sacrificed individual performances for the betterment of the team. That's not something you always see in the minor leagues.
The naïveté was a beautiful thing.
But I still prefer walking back to the dugout.