Thursday, February 17, 2011

COLLEGE to PRO: Team Dynamic

Minor League Baseball is not about championships. It's not about making friends, or winning baseball games- it's about player development. Every player begins his season looking to get better, achieve personal success, and finish up the year at a higher level- and if the team wins, well that's great, too- I guess.

It's a concept that has taken a while for me to fully grasp- winning is secondary? I'm not pulling for my teammates?

I spent four years in college putting the team first, and I wasn't alone- that was our mentality. Nothing was more important to me than my teammates and our collective success. The team was a unit- we were best friends on a mission to win baseball games and finish our season in Omaha. We were a family, really. All that time spent together, how could we not be? We shared a common goal and rallied around it- there was nothing any of us wouldn't do for one of our teammates.

Now I'm not saying that people don't want to win in pro ball- it's just not a main focus. And when you take winning out of the equation, you're really no longer a team- you are now 25 individuals trying to achieve individual success. And in our sport, sometimes that works- after all, baseball is an individual game with merely a team concept. Guys hit back to back home runs: it's good for both of their stats, and it's good for the team- regardless of whether or not helping the team was a part of their motive.

Because of this strange individualistic approach, managing becomes tricky. What's there to manage? The organization doesn't want to see their stud first-baseman laying down bunts or their power-hitting right fielder executing hit-and-runs; it's all about talent. The team's front office wants to see these guys swing the bat, they want to see base stealers swipe bags at will, and they want to see what kind of game their future Big League catcher can call behind the plate. MiLB managers really just manage a lineup- they throw the best nine guys out there and let the boys play.

The mood of a minor league clubhouse is not determined by wins and losses, but by that night's stat line. For a college team, every game matters and plays a significant role on ranking and tournament possibilities- but in the Minors, the season is way too long to worry about every game's effect on your record, even if you are one of the few chasing a ring.

As for friends, pro ball is not the most conducive atmosphere. I've found that in my organization, I have five or six actual friends - guys that I would call in the off-season to catch up with. I consider everyone else a term that I think people with real jobs use regularly: "work friends." I see them in the clubhouse, we get along, we give each other high-fives in the dugout- but we're not friends, we're colleagues.

I'm a pretty easy-going guy- I'm not confrontational, and I try to be friendly to all my teammates. I realize the camaraderie of the college locker room is now a thing of the past- I just want my clubhouse experience to be tolerable.

The competition aspect really puts a strain on possible friendships, and it only gets more competitive as you move up in levels and each player is that much closer to their dream.

Your success may rely on another player's failure- your playing time may affect the opportunities given to your teammates. It's a cut throat business, and everyone is battling for those very few open spots at the next level- and the fact that your competition is the guy sitting next to you in the clubhouse doesn't create a real "team-first" mentality.

As I think about the guys I look forward to seeing at Spring Training, the list is short. I'll see plenty of guys I like- and even some players I've forgotten about- but there's really only a handful of friends I'm eager to catch up with. 

(And as I give further thought to the competitive aspect of the clubhouse, I guess it's no wonder why all of my good friends are pitchers.)

It's all about you in the Minors- you can get back to team chemistry, strategy, and winning rings when you get to the Bigs.

Team-Issued Gear


  1. This is exactly why I enjoy reading this blog. I would never have considered this aspect of baseball life from a players view because well, I just would have never known. I went to games thinking of course they want to win and it's a game so who doesn't. The way you explained it made a lot of sense. It's also interesting that it all turns out to be just like a regular job where there are just "work friends" even though you see each other everyday for months. You would just think that everyone has the same goal but just like in the working world there is only x-amount of jobs and only certain people can fill that position. Good post today!

  2. I don't know if I completely agree with this one. On the teams I've worked with, there's still a very solid TEAM atmosphere, maybe with only 80% the enthusiasm of collge, but still. The only times' is definitely individual is when somebody get's promoted, demoted, or released. Then everybody likes to speculate about individual futures. It's also fairly individual when somebody's on a tear and obviously above the competition, or when it's clear somebody's over matched for the level of play.

  3. Following minor ball for several years, I haven't noticed this internal competition from the stands. It's easy to see why it's there, but seeing the players control it is truly admirable. Also, the team still needs to succeed so people keep coming to the ballpark to watch and the ownership keeps the team viable and affiliated with a MLB organization. So, I would give more credit to the coaches for still trying to win games under the circumstances mentioned. Overall, it's good read and I hope the author will continue posting his experiences.

  4. At the highest levels of competition in the minor leagues, talented players may be separated by microscopic differences. There will be several guys in the minors with next to equal skills at the same position, so how do you determine who gets the opportunity at the next level? What about the guy who's a good teammate, great in the clubhouse, and liked by most others on the team. Wouldn't that be a logical tie breaker? Sure, if you are looking for touchy/feely you'll be disappointed; but team guys are still the ones you want in your dugout.........oh yeah, and it doesn't hurt if they can hit 30 HRs a year either!