In 2003, over dinner with Howard Norsetter, the scout who signed me, I found out how close I was to being released nine years earlier. I would be farming in Manitoba, if it weren’t for a shoulder injury.
My first year of pro ball I hit .234. The transition from college baseball to pro ball was a big one. In college, we might face a pitcher throwing 90 mph once a month. But, up against a professional pitcher, we would face that speed every day. On top of that, I had to use a BAUM bat, which is a wood composite bat. Going from an aluminum bat, which I used in college, to a wood composite was another obstacle.
In those days, Major League Baseball teams were only allowed so many work visa permits, and as a Canadian, I was required to have a work visa to play. So, not only was I competing for a spot on a team, I was fighting against the 28 other players in the organization who had work visas.
Minor League spring training is really tough on northern boys. You go from the dead of winter, to the hot Florida sun. We looked sickly during our first couple of weeks. Our pale white skin didn’t take too kindly to the hot Florida sun. On top of that, we had practice EVERY DAY from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
About two weeks into training, my shoulder flared up. Throwing every day led to a quick bout of tendonitis. This meant I had to catch the early treatment bus from the hotel at 7 a.m. and get my shoulder tended to before training for the day. This bus was empty, as only a handful of players were on it. I was super bummed that I got hurt, because I was limited in what I could do. I was trying to make the team and make a good impression on my new manager, Dan Rohn. It didn’t help with him saying “You can’t make a club in the tub,” referring to the “walking wounded.”
If I got to the table first, treatment would go pretty quick. Heat pack, then ultrasound for three to four minutes and then shoulder exercises. All in was about 40 minutes.
I was typically done by 8:10 a.m. The next bus would come in around 8:30 a.m., and the final bus arrived around 9 a.m.
After I got my treatment done, I would go to the cage and hit. There was NOBODY in there but a coach sitting on a bucket, who would usually watch me hit a couple of cages over. I was there long enough to hit off the tee and machine.
This was a good time to be in the cages, because when the other buses came, the cages got jammed packed. The cages were filled with the older players, top draft picks and top prospects. Coaches would throw to these guys before the others, including me. A young dude like myself had no chance to get in a cage, unless you got there early. One up side to shoulder treatments.
I took advantage of this opportunity. I went in early every day and hit. Every day was the same routine: Say hi to the coach sitting on the bucket, hit off the tee and then the pitching machine. After about a week, the “bucket” coach came over and said, “Do you want me to throw you some balls?”
“That would be awesome. Thanks,” I replied.
This was a moment of impact in my career. You see, at that time, I guess there was some talk about whether I was going to make it. Spring training games had started, and I continued to struggle offensively and defensively. I just couldn’t catch up to the 90 mph plus fastballs.
The coach on the bucket was the Twins Minor League hitting coach, Jim Dwyer, a.k.a. Slice. He would slice up your swing, and his slicing got me locked in to the team. He is another coach who helped me immensely.
Slice introduced me to the timing of a swing. This is the first I had ever heard of this. When the pitcher was loading to throw, I would load to hit. When the ball left the pitcher’s hand, I would be ready to hit. Then I could make my decision to swing. “Tiiic, Toc,” Slice would say. “Three I’s on the load, Toc to explode.”
Finally, I was able to hit the pitches. The fastballs became less daunting, and it all was really fun for me. With that little tweak, I was able to hit .300 the next year in the Midwest League. As some guys would say, I went from a “suspect” to a “prospect.”
What I learned as an athlete
Injuries are going to happen, and it is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes, it is a blessing in disguise because there could be an opportunity to learn something you would have never learned while playing. If I never got hurt, I would have never seen the opportunity to hit early.
How I try to apply to life, business and coaching
Situations are going to arise that make it very easy to self-loathe. The easy road is “poor me” or “why me?” There will always be opportunities in the midst of adversity/problems. In my Planet Fitness world, I had a saying with my managers, “Don’t call with problems. Call with solutions.”
In my coaching world, I say, “Look for opportunities to be involved in a play.” Be the better person, look for the opportunities that lie in front of you and make each situation a learning experience, rather than a chance to sit back and do nothing.