Over the past few weeks I have started to see what former Harvard baseball captain Trey Hendricks ’04 meant when he told me, “pro ball just ain’t the same”.
Last summer, when I was trying to decide whether or not to forego my senior year of eligibility and sign a professional contract, I reached out to a lot of people in the “baseball know” whose opinions I respected. Most advised me that signing then would be a great opportunity and something I should really consider. And when I called Trey I expected to hear much of the same.
Having already experienced two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, Trey was able to give me an earnest and startling perspective.
He warned that playing baseball in the minor leagues was really more about developing the individual than about the team-first, “win-at-all-costs” mentality that prevails at Harvard. This is not to say that my current teammates are in any way selfish or that winning is not their ultimate goal but the dugout just seems to lack that same buzz and excitement that is present when playing a Sunday doubleheader against Dartmouth with the Ivy League title on the line.
In minor league baseball staying healthy and improving so that you can make it to the major leagues is the ultimate goal. Of course every kid that picks up a bat and ball wants to play in the Majors, but at this point the picture becomes much clearer. Sacrifices need to be made to see these goals through.
In my own case, I am currently limited to sixty pitches per outing. Now if I had stayed at Harvard I would likely be throwing a hundred or more pitches every time I took the mound. As a pitcher you pride yourself on how long you can lead your team and how many wins you can earn.
Throwing only sixty pitches limits me to four innings and thus does not allow me to qualify for a win (the winning starting pitcher needs a minimum of five innings) and leaves others having to pick up the slack.
I understand that the decision-makers within the organization are trying to keep my arm healthy since the professional season is nearly three times longer than what I was accustomed to in college. But it can be frustrating, because I am used to competing for seven or eight innings as opposed to three or four.
There is also a lot of turnover in the Minor Leagues, with guys being “called up” and “sent down.” Continually having to meet new guys and adapt to their style of play makes it more difficult to find a comfort level and come together as a team.
Similarly, all of the roster shuffling tends to leave some uneasiness, since you are in a sense competing against your own teammates just as much as you are against the other team. If the guy three lockers over is throwing better than you, he—and not you—will likely be first in line to get sent up.
On the other hand, in a college setting, when you step into that locker room on the first day of practice and look around, you know that those are “your guys” for the entire season, and thus forging a team bond is not only easy but necessary.
Whether intentional or not, by the end of the season you truly come to care for those other guys and play for them as much as you play for yourself. This is especially true at Harvard as opposed to a program like Cal State Fullerton, which has the ability to retool its squad each season by bringing in seven or eight junior college players.
Professional baseball has proven to be like most everything else in life in that it has its tradeoffs. Playing in front of 7,300 fans on Opening Night, meeting Roger Clemens, and enjoying countless other new opportunities more than balances out the equation. But it will still be interesting to see how the team aspect plays out for us over the long summer months ahead.
—In 10 1/3 minor league innings, Frank has allowed only two earned runs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His diary appears every Wednesday.