It was 1999. After two years in a row of getting sent to the minors, I made the big league team out of spring training.
We get up to Minnesota, and our home opener is against my childhood team: The Toronto Blue Jays. I was so excited!
Because a lot of Canadians come down for the Blue Jay series, there was a running joke: “Corey, who is watching the town when the Blue Jays are in town?”
Game 1. I pinch hit. Nothing. 0-1
Game 2. I get the start at third base and bat ninth. I was LOCKED IN as I went three for four with five RBI’s, but had two errors. After the game, I remember joking with the reporters that my errors only cost us three runs, so I am still a plus two which is useful in hockey. Thinking back, I am not sure that our pitchers were too excited about my errors.
I played sporadically during the first 12 weeks of the season. I pinched hit, and when Cordova needed a day off, I would DH.
TOM KELLY (TK) HATED MY DEFENSE.
“But I was hitting when nobody else on the team was hitting,” a thought that crept into my mind.
I also had A LOT of people, fans, players and opposing players saying, “Why aren’t you playing? You should be playing. How do they expect you to play better defense if they never play you? You’re leading the team in almost every offensive category playing a third of the games, and you only get the start at DH?”
The most significant blow came when I was coming off my first multi-homer game in Detroit. I posted that stat in our last game against Detroit, and now we were off to Cleveland. During the first game of our next series. I was sitting in the dugout. There was a rain delay, and Sandy Alomar came over to talk to a couple older players. He then came over to me, and I introduced myself.
“I know who you are; you’ve been banging. You playing today?” he asked me.
“Nope,” I said.
“Man, what’s a man gotta do to crack that line-up?” he responded.
“I don’t know!” he answered.
Deep down, I knew. TK thought I was terrible at defense. He really thought I was terrible.
Case in point, during the season on Sunday mornings, TK would do his morning call-in show with Sid Hartman. Driving to the ballpark, I would listen to the banter between Sid and TK on WCCO. One particular Sunday, Sid was on him about my playing time. Fans started calling in and asking, “Why aren’t you playing Koskie?”
TK was awesome on his morning show. He called it like it was, and if a fan said something that was stupid, he would call them on it. I don’t know anybody in the world that knows more about baseball than Tom Kelly. I pitied the fan that tried to match wits with him.
“Sir, where should I play him?” TK asked the caller.
“Play him at third,” the man replied.
TK shot back, “How many games have you seen him play at third, and how many plays have you seen him make cleanly?”
“Not many,” the poor caller replied. I knew exactly where this was going when I heard his response.
“Exactly, NOT MANY and that is why he is not playing over there,” TK stated.
The caller fell right into his trap. TK was a master of asking questions. No matter how you answered it, you responded precisely how he wanted you to respond, just to prove his point.
For whatever reason, I didn’t fall into the trap of playing the victim. No, “poor me.” Or, “I should be playing over Coomer.”
I went to Gardy and asked, “Gardy, can we do early work?”
Gardy was always quick to help. “No prob, brotha,” he said.
So, it started.
Ground balls in the outfield every day. This went on for a couple of weeks. And, then it happened. Gardy got ticked. All of our work stopped after I bobbled multiple balls in a row.
“DUDE, WEREN’T YOU SOME ALL-CANADIAN VOLLEYBALL PLAYER THAT COULD JUMP HIGHER THAN CANADA?” he said to me.
“Um, yeah, I played volleyball,” I said.
“WEREN’T YOU A HOCKEY GOALIE?” he asked.
“Ah, yeah, I was,” I replied.
“DUDE, YOU’RE AN ATHLETE. STOP BEING A ROBOT. AS LONG AS YOU CATCH THIS LITTLE WHITE THING
AND THROW IT OVER THERE,
BEFORE THE GUY THAT HIT IT
(sorry Pau,l but I loved throwing out White Sox Players)
GETS THERE, WE ARE HAPPY.” he shouted.
“H, that is all you want me to do? What about right-left split, glove angle and positioning?” I asked.
“SCREW THAT. JUST THROW THE BALL THERE BEFORE THAT GUY GETS THERE!” Gardy repeated.
“I can do that. Gardy, can I see your hat?” I asked.
I took Gardy’s hat and threw it on the ground. I took my hat and threw it 10 feet away from Gardy’s.
“Ok Gardy, try to score on me,” I challenged him. This is what we did for the rest of the year. It was so freeing just to catch and throw the ball. I was able to watch Guzy, Rivas and Dougie, and take what I liked from them and morph it into a style that worked for me.
What I learned as an athlete
I will find what I am looking for. If I am looking for a reason to play the victim of a circumstance, I will find that. If I am looking for ways to find victory in the circumstance, I will find that. The natural choice is playing the role of the victim, but more times than not, this leads to destruction. The hard road is the high road, which is the only path to victory. I needed to honestly reflect on my ability and ask for help. I was lucky to have the support around me. I just needed to ask. Work hard and good things will happen, because the worst thing that happens when you work hard is that you get better.
How I try to apply what I learned to business and coaching
Keep it simple. It is easy to make ideas, strategies, game plans, etc. complicated. The magic is in the people that can take very complex processes and break it down into something simple.
Baseball: Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball. If you can’t execute these skills, everything else is a moot point.
Hockey: Skate, pass, shoot. .
Leadership: Listen to understand (vs. listen to respond).
I am always on guard against my prideful thoughts. Thinking that I can do everything on my own without the support of anyone else is prideful. Nobody can do it 100 percent on their own. The wiser the people are that I can surround myself with, the easier my decisions become.