“You need to field better to DH here”
That was an explanation I had been handed after a full winter of promises, dedication, development. A winter I had spent crushing JV pitching, with four home runs in three games.
Hitting has always been something I was good at. It was my first focus, my best quality growing up, and ultimately what helped me break through to professional baseball after a long road of injuries, surgeries, and simple bad luck. In baseball, time gaps in your resume are even worse for you than in the real world. Stop playing for any reason, in any season, and it is a black mark on your name.
I consider myself a flawed player. I admit that I shouldn’t have been drafted out of high school. I shouldn’t have stopped playing college ball because of the competition and talent on a stacked Division I junior college team. I should have transferred to the other school, which was willing to take me as a freshman red shirt, but I was homesick; a long way from Illinois as a student in Arizona.
A Restart From the Bottom
I credit my dad for helping me realize, as a 20-year-old, part-time student, that time and baseball was slipping away. My first attempts to come back were very, very hard. I was raw. While I kept a regular workout regimen during my two years off, the result was that I had outgrown my body. I was still using mechanics at the plate I learned in high school—at about thirty pounds lighter. Yet, I got the golden opportunity to play collegiate ball again, at a small school I had once balked at, as an overconfident and under-informed high school senior.
So began my two-year journey to find the field at the lowest level of college ball. I was naïve. But this time around, I was also relentless. I worked very hard to play. I got much better. Because of my experience in giving up before, my mindset this time around was to stick with it, no matter what.
But that mindset became a liability, when it blinded me to the reality that I was being taken advantage of. I was clearly ready to take the field and be a presence on our team. I finally realized it after a summer playing in a league full of higher-level collegiate players, and returning in the fall to find I had advanced past the pitching I was seeing.
My black mark was still haunting me.
“You need to field better to DH here,” my collegiate coach had told me. It was the final excuse he had to keep me off the field, after promising in the fall a full season of at-bats, and after me proving I was ready. It was his ego, his vendetta against me, and possibly the fact that he didn’t want me to surpass his own playing numbers at college baseball’s lowest level.
I had come to the realization that one man’s ego can become bigger than the success of a program. Sticking with it, no matter what, was hurting me this time around. And the clock of my career continued to run. Fool me once, shame on you. I transferred.
Proving Them All Wrong
Bad luck would wipe out my final season of eligibility in the NCAA. I underwent two surgeries from overuse injuries, a fracture of the hook of the hamate; an injury players get from hitting too much. I was 23, and still hungry. Tried out for team after team in independent minor league professional baseball. Time after time, rejected. I saw the same players over and over, in every state and all of the leagues. My resume just wasn’t something that a manager could stick his neck out for.
But my talent continued to grow. Home runs, power, and now speed. I was always working, and always getting better. When my talent became undeniable, I got a shot playing in Canada. I turned that into two shots at the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball; a place where affiliated talent goes to a farm system. and a place where players like me never get a chance. It pissed a lot of coaches off that I broke through, collegiate and professional alike. It was a hit to their ego to see that they were wrong.
I put up a very respectable spring in 2015 in Grand Prairie, Texas. A former MLB outfielder nicknamed me “The Machine,” because of my hitting. Our shortstop (a former AA player) noticed how quickly I got to second after a line drive to left field, and greeted me “power hitter, and you can run too.” I was 27 years old and I had peaked.
From Player to Coach
That summer, I fell ill. I contracted a rare disease called valley fever, and had to have lung surgery. Just like that, my playing career was toast.
But the following summer, I started messing around again. I had lost a lot of weight, and began to learn more about utilizing my mechanics. I had found more power and more bat speed than ever before. I was a better hitter.
How was this happening? How was I better? I hit everything, even off some professional, experienced pitchers, players like me. It didn’t even feel like I was trying. Last fall, I realized I had to get the word out on these hitting mechanics. If I could do it, I could teach it. I knew how to train for it as a strength coach. I would write a book. It would be affordable. It would help younger players.
I gained experience as a coach while I was still a professional player, having spent two years as an IHSA varsity assistant and full time private hitting instructor in the offseason. I had flaws as a player, but my hitting and speed were better than a lot of people with pro contracts. By experience and experimentation, I had learned to teach these things. I knew the world of coaching was competitive, but I had faith that there were institutions out there more concerned with their program’s success than their coach’s ego.
When a coach lands a job in high school, college, or pro baseball, they are given the opportunity to either cultivate talent or appease their ego. They are given the choice of humility or braggadocio. They can keep an open mind to better serve their players as a teacher, or be stuck in their ways forever. My open-mindedness allowed me to completely overhaul my hitting mechanics, and to stand up for the right things for the players I coach.
The dark and deceiving favoritism, homerism, and falsities within baseball affect both players and coaches. I once assisted a former professional player and varsity head coach who was relieved of his duties after taking my alma mater to sectionals. The black marks on my resume prevented me from some opportunities as a player and possibly as a coach, but this man had zero of those. He was a record-holding collegiate hitter, professional player, and son of a renowned state high school coach.
But at this school, he was an outsider. He was ousted for an inside man; a gym teacher who had graduated from my alma mater. The gym teacher had colluded with the athletic director and administration to learn everything he could off of this coach, then take over. I spoke against this to anyone who would listen, explaining how it was a terrible thing to do not only to such a coach, but also to the kids. The kids were getting a bad deal. They were losing an amazing opportunity to learn directly from a professional. They won games under this professional. He was relieved of his duties anyway.
I had only myself to blame for the black marks on my resume, but the firing of this coach struck a nerve because he did it all so perfect as a player and a coach. He was a success. He was removed because he was an outsider, and so was a threat to the institution. It takes a big ego as an athletic administrator to remove such an accomplished and respected coach for no reason. Inside ball, at my own high school. Those kids deserve better, and now they are stuck with a politically installed and less capable coach.
The Price of Threatening the Machine
When I first starting writing about my new hitting mechanics, it gained a lot of interest. I published it for free on my blog. I had so many parents interested that I had to write a book. It was a way to get the message out, and that message was well-received in the communities I was involved in. My goal was to reach people with my story, and help parents and players at a very low cost. I wanted to use my experiences to cut straight to the points. I wanted to speak out on how terribly corrupt baseball coaching and administration can be in the real world. I wanted to be honest.
But when it came to social media, I found that groups have administrators with private motives, and competing businesses. My message was too popular, too contrary to their own, and had too much legitimacy. Worst of all, it came from me, instead of them. So I was banned, my posts were flagged, and my concepts were blasted in my absence, or stolen outright. A few went so far as to file reports against my paid advertising, which got my advertising privileges removed.
If you’ve ever dealt with something like this on Facebook, you know that it is a platform with a lot of automated decisions. There are no ways to contact an actual person, and decisions given on violations are not very specific. A person can pretty much flag whatever they want, and if it happens enough, Facebook automatically removes your privileges and leaves you empty-handed to appeal.
Honest coaches would not even think of doing something like this, but baseball is not a sport filled with honest coaches. As it is, there are many deceptive coaches that routinely do things like this to try and put the competition out of business. There are people out there ripping off parents for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, with the wrong coaching, the wrong product, and they have zero qualifications. It just so happens that they administrate a popular social group.
Baseball’s Dirty Secret
The biggest con in baseball coaching is to keep the ruse going. Sell a false product, or preach an uninformed and ineffective method. And if someone better comes along, they are silenced. At the institutional level, a qualified outsider is removed to keep the established power in control of the program. In college, I found out how far a coach would go to deceive me, because I had taken a better opportunity out of high school.
The common thread in all of these situations is the lack of qualification on the part of those in power. They have very little actual baseball expertise or playing experience. For every good message I try to spread, I am countering one spread by another person. For every qualification I have to teach hitting and fitness, I am exposing someone in a position of power who has none. They kissed the ring of their institution, or simply got lucky enough on social media to be in their positions. They are also very good at silencing the truth. It’s a rough business.
I was an insurgent in pro baseball. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I broke the barriers of egotism and politics in coaching and athletic administration when I legitimized myself as a professional player. People saw the home runs, the extra bases I took, and suddenly people wondered where I was from. That did not reflect well on the places where I had been rejected. Me playing well was an insult to their decision making.
So when my blog exploded, I should have expected the backlash. I should’ve known if I was too successful, and my product was too contrarian and too cheap, it would get some nasty pushback from the political machine that runs the game.
Bring Honesty Back to Baseball
That is why I came to Breaking Muscle. It is a place where the wisdom of qualified coaches is what drives the success of the website and the readers. Here, you can share an honest message. If baseball decisions were made with integrity as they are here, I wouldn’t have this experience to write about. There would be no one to warn if talent and qualifications were the most important factor in making baseball decisions. The message I want to bring to parents, and to their wide-eyed, hopeful, baseball playing sons, is the one you were never supposed to hear.
I can’t go back in time and warn myself, or protect supremely qualified coaches from political horseplay. I can only make people aware of the issues that plague the institution of baseball, in an effort to help you find the honest teams and coaches. They are out there, but they are exclusive because they possess abilities and experiences that are very hard to attain.
Always do your homework on the people you encounter in baseball. When was the last time you met a professional baseball player? Do you know what your college coach did before coaching? Is their motive to be a prophet, or to make a profit? Does your coach have the humility to adjust his ideology for the benefit of his players?
I want to bring integrity back to baseball, for the future, the youth, and the love of the game, at every level. I am truly proud of what I accomplished, but I know it can be done better. I will continue to risk my reputation to spread that message.
Is there life after going pro?