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Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Website Coming Soon...

I am currently working on getting a new and more intricate website up and running and also working on an email list so you can be notified when new blogs are posted. Check back during the middle of October for the new website. Thank you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blog #11: Summer in Minnesota

For about the first two weeks after my meltdown, I just laid in bed all day feeling really depressed. Then I went to a family reunion in Dodge City, Kansas to see my extended family on my mom’s side that I hadn’t seen for a long time. This trip helped me get out of my head and I found peace again while I was there. It was something about being in a small town where all the people are nice and the slow pace that got me to a better place. I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to play for my summer team from last year, except I didn’t want to pitch. It was almost as if I needed to play, to catch my fix. However, I just wanted to have fun and play different positions and hit. About four weeks after playing again and well on my way to finding my love for the game once again, I received a call from a high school friend who was playing in the Northwoods league in Alexandria, Minnesota. He told me that their team was plagued with injuries and needed pitchers desperately. I took a few days to decide if this was something that I was really going to commit to. It was one thing playing in a run of the mill league and doing whatever I wanted to on the field, but to go back to competing in a the second best wood bat summer ball league was a whole different story. I knew that if I was going to make it that it would be on the bump, so I decided that this was going to be my test run to see if I still really wanted it. I was going for the experience and not having to live at home for the rest of the summer, but more importantly to have fun.

As soon as I stepped off the plane, something about Minnesota felt a lot different than California. Besides all of the mosquitoes, it was a beautiful environment to be in. I was living in a town with about 10,000 people in the city limits and about 30,000 more in the immediate surroundings. The best part about my summer was the host family I was staying with. I stayed with my buddy and the family he had been staying with, and boy did I luck out. The long dirt driveway leading to the house was like driving through a thick forest. After passing a massive shed and the guest house, you finally arrive at what looks like a giant log cabin. The rolling hills of lush green grass leads down to the lake, where rests in the water a boat and two Sea Doos. This house must have been over 7000 sq. ft and had one of the most interesting and original interiors of any house I’ve ever seen. My room had a queen size bed with my own private balcony overlooking the lake. It was like I had landed in heaven. My friend and I also got to use their 1979 Chevy truck, which was a stick. I had never learned how to drive a stick before and when I learned on this truck, I would be able to on any car. First gear didn’t even work so we had to start it out of 2nd and sometimes it would be an adventure.

I instantly bonded with the guys on the team, which made the experience that much better. I arrived right before the first half ended and we were just an average team up until that point. It was very easy to get to know everyone really quickly because we would spend at least 6 hours a day together. It would be the first time that I would play everyday and go on long road trips, the furthest being in Thunder Bay, Canada, which was a twelve-hour bus ride. My role would be out of the bullpen and since I had not really thrown in over a month, it took almost two weeks to get strong enough to be confident. Once I had the arm strength, I had found it once again. I went out with some adrenaline, pitching for the first time in front of crowds that exceeded 1000, and didn’t care about the results. I put it all out on the line and it paid off. My first 8 appearances out of the pen were pretty much lights outs. I may have given up a few runs in the beginning, but overall I was very happy with my performances. I became one of the set- up men and we started clicking as a team. We had such good team chemistry that we started rolling. We finished in 1st in our conference for the second half and earned a berth in the playoffs. Unfortunately, I had to go home to start school and missed the playoffs. I’ll get to the whole school thing in a second. There was one game at home in which I would not do so well. I gave up two homers in an inning with guys on base, but this didn’t shatter my confidence. Our field was very unorthodox because there was a lake behind center field. Because of the lake, it was only 340 to center, and at the deepest 385 in left center. Both the homers were pop flies that on any other normal field in the country would be outs. I just brushed them off and told myself that they were just lucky! The reason I bring this up is because I would later learn at Fullerton that this is the mindset that is needed even if a guy hits a 500 ft homer. I didn’t know it at the time that thinking those guys were just lucky was exactly it. As a pitcher, it is important to have the mindset that you are dominating; and if someone does get a hit or even a homer, they are simply the luckiest sob on planet earth. Gimme a new ball ump. Get the next chump in there. This guy isn’t going to be so lucky. This kind of mentality almost assures being able to stop a potential threat. Rallies are nothing more than positive energy being passed along from batter to batter who are feeding off the negative energy from the pitcher. “Mistake” pitches, pitches thrown with lack of confidence, start getting crushed and before you know it, your pitcher who was rolling for the first 3 or 4 innings is now about to blow the game by giving up a 5 spot. It all started with that key double off the wall which took a huge blow to the pitchers confidence. These big innings can and must be stopped now! That no out double should at worst end with minimal damage and getting your team back in the dugout to get back the run you just gave up. But big innings can crush your team, mentally taking you out of the rest of the ball game.

Stay tuned until Thursday to find out how I actually got to Fullerton. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and leave a comment. Your input is important to the success of this blog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blog #10: My First Week As Head Coach

Now that I have started coaching my 13u team, I will begin writing about the previous weeks’ games and practices on Mondays and continue the story of my career on Thursdays. Last Wednesday and Thursday we had one practice on the field and one in the cages and bullpens respectively. Before our first practice, I will admit that I was a little nervous earlier in the day. But once we got things going, I stopped thinking and just let my natural ability take over. Both days went very well, but on Sunday we had our first scrimmage against another team. Overall it was a very positive day. I went in very relaxed and just tried to learn my team as opposed to actual coaching. We hadn’t really gone over signs yet so I made up some basic ones on the spot. After about the third inning, I still hadn’t given a sign. I told the team that they were on their own; that I wanted to see what they were made of and test their base running ability. Indeed we had some blunders, like not freezing on a line drive, which resulted in a double play. In this case where the ball was low enough for an infielder to catch, the runner has to start going back toward the back until the ball is through, not just freeze. Defensively, I was just picking at random where players should go each inning. Since we will be playing tournament ball and sometimes up to 4 games a day, there is going to be a time where every player will play almost every position, unless they are a lefty. Of course there was some miscommunication with pop flies and not hitting the cut; but those were things that I expected to happen since we had yet to work on them. Then we get to the pitching, which ended just how I had hoped. Throughout the first 6 or 7 innings, we were cruising and everything was positive, scoring a good amount of runs and having solid pitching. Then it happened. A player blew up like Mt. St. Helens. He was closing out the game and things did not go his way. After walking the first two batters, I went out to have a little talk and told him to fix a mechanical issue that was causing him to throw everything up and away. Then I went back and watched him walk another batter. At this point it had been a long day and I learned everything from my team that I needed to for now, except for one thing. I started talking with one of my assistant coaches about the game and just forgot about what was going on, as my pitcher was about ready to explode. After walking 5 and giving up two runs and then throwing a passed ball with the bases loaded, my player burst into tears and yelled at the top of his lungs for the catcher to get the ball. I looked at the other coach and the inning was immediately terminated. It was then that we went on a little walk down the line to the left field corner. Now, I could have stopped this from happening after the second batter. After I saw how his mechanics were way off, I would normally shut the pitcher down for the day. During a game, where all you should be focused on is competing, your mechanics are from muscle memory. Mechanical issues should be taken care of during practice and in your dry work. It is imperative that a player does game like dry work in front of a mirror or by using your shadow, or even wherever you may be standing. I remember getting made fun of by all my friends for sometimes doing mechanical work at the most random times. So if your players mechanics are out of whack for whatever reason or maybe because there is a lot of work still to be done, you need to shut them down. When it comes tournament time in two weeks, rest assured that other than a minor adjustment, there will be no mechanical talk while competing. There is no possible way to compete with 100% of your entire being when you are thinking about your mechanics.

After having a chat with my player about what happened, it wasn’t the proper time to grill him. At this point all that needs to be pursued are the reasons why this happened. This is where communication is key, especially dealing with the fragile minds of young adolescences. I was just trying to simply understand what was going on in his head. Reacting in anger will only shut off the player to communicate because with emotional breakdowns comes the ability to connect with your player or shut them off. If I were to blow up on him, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the issue at hand at the deepest levels. During our talk, I simply asked what was going on. When a player is in this state they are ready to divulge the information you need to get to the deeper issues. I discovered that this kid plays the victim like most others do, including at one point myself. Whether it is natural or because of today’s society, people don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions. When things get at their worst, you want to blame everyone else for your woes, instead of taking a deeper look at what you may have done to cause the negative situation. My pitcher immediately blamed the catcher for the poor inning because he thought he was being lazy and didn’t block enough balls. As he kept going on and on about the catcher, I started to realize that there was something more to the situation. I asked if there were any issues between him and the other player and bingo, I hit the jackpot. If this kid didn’t explode then I would have never been able to find out that there was tension between two players. The issue doesn’t really matter but now that the problem was revealed, it can be solved. I ended up telling my player what the rest of my team will find out next practice; that you never show up another teammate. Even if you do not particularly like a teammate, you will respect him. There will always be players on your team that may not be your best friend, but they are your teammate. A team is a family and the head coach is the father, and the players are brothers. You may not get along with all your brothers, but there needs to be an unconditional respect amongst the players for ultimate team chemistry. I thought I had handled the situation pretty well being my first actual encounter with this matter.

At Wednesday’s practice, the pitcher was cooled off and had a lot of time to think about his actions. Before I could even say a word, I see the two of them walking in as if nothing had ever happened. I forgot how easily kids make up over stupid squabbles. The player who blew up came up to me, looked me directly in the eyes, and immediately apologized for his actions. I then went on to address any issues between the two players and he told me they are best friends. Being only my second week working with my team, I am still trying to understand the different relationships amongst various players. I did not realize that they were good friends and now the incident that occurred on Sunday is looking to be more like just an issue with that individual player. The pitcher showed up his catcher and had a meltdown, immediately blaming someone else for the poor inning. Then in the middle of his outrage, he said some things that he regrets and they were purely out of rage and anger, not to be taken personally in any way. During my ultimate meltdown, I said some things in that hotel room to my friends that I did not mean. It wasn’t my teammates fault that I blew up and completely lost it. That was all me. It was not the catcher’s fault that the pitcher walked nearly every batter faced. The pitcher just didn’t have it that day and in part it was my fault because I could have stopped it at any time before he exploded. But I let it happen and today we had a great practice, really working on the mental game. I think this incident will have ultimately benefited our team in the long run. I definitely felt that by the end of practice, we were a lot closer as a team than ever before. Part of this is also due to a set of my own rules that will be read every day by my players, along with the book “Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time”. The rules are as follows:

Team Rules

1. Always Stay Positive

2. Take responsibility for your own actions and thoughts. Don't point the finger, use the thumb.

3. Never show negative emotion.

4. Never disrespect umpires, coaches, and your fellow brothers in arms.

5. Live in the moment. Have a short memory. PLay the game one pitch at a time, flush it!!

6. Step into your circle and have 6 seconds of focus.

7. Focus on the process of playing the game, not outcomes of your performances.

8. Get better each day. Practice should be taken as seriously as a championship game.

9. Take a breath.

10. Have Fun!!!!!

We are a family... Coach Klipp is the father, the assistant coaches are your uncles, and your teammates are your brothers. You are all warriors brought together to be a force unstoppable on the ball field. This warrior mentality will be attained by simply following these rules and reading "Heads Up Baseball". You will read these rules every single day when you wake up and before you go to bed.

Interestingly enough, I found out after the scrimmage that there were a few more ingredients missing in the recipe for why the meltdown occurred. This player happened to be a stud pitcher, throwing a perfect game and a no hitter last season. I knew he was good but I didn’t realize he could be that dominating. So, with that knowledge, this guy has very high expectations when he steps on the mound. He is so worried about the ultimate results instead of pitching one pitch at a time and focusing on the process. But he will soon learn better than that!!! Also, to top it all off, his dad, an ex- minor leaguer, was standing right behind him calling balls and strikes. I had no idea that one of my assistant coaches who was umpiring was his father. Whoa!! That makes all the difference in the world. The pressure of living up to your father’s achievements is very powerful, whether his father puts pressure on him or not. A child looks up to their father and naturally wants to succeed just as his dad did. If I had known all about this ahead of time, well I still would have let it happen. If a player can pitch with the outstanding pressure his own father puts on him by judging every pitch, then they can pretty much deal with anything that comes their way. The next scrimmage, even if he is not umpiring, I might have him come in when his son is pitching just to put extra pressure on him. Actually, that is exactly what I am going to do! At Fullerton, it was soon learned by every player that if you can deal with the “Wrath of Hookie”, then you can deal with the worst of situations. Some guys could not handle it and therefore never pitched at the level expected by the coaches. I could not handle it at first. It took me almost a year to finally deal with it, and that is why I had the best season of my career. But the coaches would always say, “the day we stop yelling at you is the day you need to be worried!”

Monday, August 31, 2009

Blog #10: My First Week As Head Coach

I need to wait until Wednesday to post this week's blog on my team because I do not want any of my players who happen to read it to misconstrue anything I have said before I address an issue at our next practice.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blog #9: Following Up Part 2

I still have trouble with the day that I was two minutes late to a big start against our conference rivals in which I was benched. I am torn between the player and the coach within me. The player in me wants to believe that I was already at the ballpark for an hour getting stretched out and that I was just late getting from the training room to the field. Then there’s the other part of me that feels my head coach is 100% justified in his actions for acting upon my tardiness. In one of my earlier blogs, I specifically talk about this point of not letting your “star player” break the rules and the Fullerton coaching staff always followed through on giving consequences. The only reason I still hold on to this is because I know there were times my freshman year where this same thing happened, except my coach didn’t bench me. Whether your star player is performing at his best or at his worst, you must stay consistent with enforcing the rules. Sending mixed signals can be very detrimental to your team chemistry. Establish a set of rules and stick to them. Coach Garcia saw the earlier blog addressing this day I was late as making excuses. I take full responsibility for being late. If I knew that all it would have taken to be on time was to do one of my arm stretches on the field instead of in the training room, then that is exactly what I would have done. I guess there is still a part of me as the player that cannot let go of this day. It is just something that will take more time to completely liberate myself of any negative feelings. But as a coach, the first time that this happens I will address it accordingly at that moment, not wait until a year later when my player is in a slump and make him feel worse than he already is.

The day I left my team on a whim still has its consequences. I still do not talk with a good friend because he still has not forgiven me for leaving the team, and I do not blame him. One of the guys who was in the hotel room is still a close friend of mine. We have known each other since we were 7 and I am close with his entire family. He is now a coach at San Luis Obispo High School and is the greatest person I have ever known. It was easy to mend our relationship as he quickly forgave me after my sincere apology and seeing how distraught I was with my actions. My other roommate who was in the hotel room had taken a little more time to heal our friendship, however, it is still not nearly the same as how close we were our sophomore year. The following fall I went back up to San Luis Obispo for the first time to face a lot of my old teammates. I was able to mend most of the relationships, even breaking down in tears because of how difficult it was to face these guys and apologize. One of them really let me have it, and that was the hardest for me to hear. After I made amends with most of my teammates, I could finally sleep well at night knowing that about two- dozen guys will not despise me for the rest of their lives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blog #9: Following Up Part 1

Looking back at this appalling time in my life, my stomach still turns just thinking about the day when I became a quitter. My parents always tried to instill upon me that whenever you choose to start something, you finish it, especially when it comes to something as big as being a part of a college baseball team. I wanted to quit probably a month before, but my parents talked me into hanging in there for a few more weeks. However, something happened that day where I just snapped. I had hit my bottom. It couldn’t get much worse than the actions I displayed that day. Answering Coach Garcia’s first question… I feel badly about many things that happened that day and my entire sophomore year. It seems almost impossible to narrow it down to one thing specifically, but since the question was posed, I feel obligated to answer it. I’d have to say that bailing out on my team would trump all the other negative feelings I have toward my actions. It was almost expected that we would lose that Super Regional because how could any person perform at their best knowing that one of their team leaders abandoned them the day before. I cannot even imagine what each player felt after my sudden disappearance. As far as ripping up the jersey and writing on it, I must admit at the time I was almost in a different world. This despicable act came as a close second in what I felt bad about the most that day. It is hard enough to think about, let alone write about it to the world. I learned a lot about myself my sophomore year, needing to hit my bottom in order to rise to the top. It was inevitable since I grew up letting my emotions get the better of me. They utterly controlled me and this became the reason for my ultimate downfall. Growing up I was a very emotional kid and let things get to me very easily. This was not the first time by any means that I had a meltdown, but not to this extent. This significant time in my life eventually made me become aware of how my emotions were controlling my life. When someone is run by their emotions and goes through a lot of negative issues in life, eventually they will erupt like Mt. St. Helens. It is one thing to be in touch in with your emotions and be sensitive, but allowing them to completely take control usually lead to irrational thinking. I became very impulsive when I got to high school. I spent quite a bit of times speaking before completely thinking about it when it mattered most; not thinking of the consequences to my actions. I believe negative emotions should be dealt with on your own time; with your family and close friends or a therapist, not for the rest of the world to bare witness. People do not need to suffer from whatever is bothering you at that given moment. I have learned over the years that there is usually another underlying issue behind unnecessary squabbling between people.

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. If I see you on the street and say, ‘Hey, you are stupid,’ without knowing you; it’s about me. If you take it personally, then perhaps you believe you are stupid. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, ‘How does he know? Is he clairvoyant, or can everybody see how stupid I am?’ You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell. What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we used to make the assumption that everything is about ‘me’. During the period of our education, or our domestication, we learn to take everything personally. We think we are responsible for everything. Me, me, me, always me!”

This was a passage from the book “The Four Agreements” written by Don Miguel Ruiz. This passage described me to a “T”. This book along with “The Secret”, “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” and Ken Ravizza’s book “Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time” were a major part of what transformed my game and my life. It all came together slowly once I got to Fullerton, but it would not be until my senior year that I became the ultimate warrior. Now, how I got there… well, you’ll just have to keep on reading!

Back to the coaches questions… My head coach did play a role in this because of the lack of communication. I am not saying in any way that he was responsible for this. I take complete responsibility for my actions. But if I am speaking bluntly, (which is my goal in writing this blog) he lacked the necessary skills to be the complete coach. He is a very successful head coach but not untouchable, which is what every coach should strive to be. You will learn more later about how Coach Horton was a back- to- back National Coach of the year because he was a great communicator with his players. Every day he would have all his thoughts and plans for practice or notes he takes during the game to communicate everything he wanted to tell us. In my long career, I was yet to see such an organized and detailed way of doing things on the ball field. It was like the military. Why do you think it is that we have the best military in the entire world? How many state championships has my coach won? How often did we go to the final four? These are all valid questions in analyzing the teams I have been on. It is the only thing that I can base my knowledge of the game of baseball. I am not out to bash my coaches or “bite the hand that feeds me”. It is my confidence in my knowledge of this game that makes this a powerful blog. With that confidence, I am going to tell it as it is. If I had no confidence, then there would be no way on earth I would be able to write this blog. Over the course of the next few years, I am going to break down the game at a level that has yet to be seen by the 99% of people who play this game. So this is why I may seem to “bash” my coaches, but I hope that one day after reading the entire blog (being the case that they even read it) they will understand and perhaps learn a better mind set instead of playing the victim. After hearing this horrendous story, one would think that the odds of this kid ever becoming successful at baseball again would be impossible. There was only one way, and I happened to stumble upon it by mere chance.

What it all comes down to is that my head coach could have been a better communicator. I remember players talking about how it was hard to speak with him at times and I felt the same way, especially my sophomore year. It was fine my freshman year when everything was great and I was the guy; but when the going got rough for me and I couldn’t figure it out mentally or physically, a coach should be available on an emotional level to speak with his players about whatever problems may be occurring. My coach was simply not emotionally available. Any teacher should be able to connect with their student when the time is needed. At Fullerton, when I needed to vent with someone, it was my assistant coach and now head coach of Loyola Marymount Jason Gil. I eventually felt a connection with all of my coaches, but Gillie was the coach who recruited me and had to tell my entire story to before I would set foot on Goodwin Field. If it wasn’t for Coach Gil, I wouldn’t have even played my senior season, and we may not have made it to Omaha for the 15th time, let alone make the playoffs, which would have been the first time in 16 years. After we lost our final game of the season against Long Beach St., I thought we were not going to make the playoffs as we had finished the season dreadfully ending in 5th place in the Big West Conference. Thanks to a chat that Coach Gil had with me one day in the outfield during BP, I stayed for a second year and became the ultimate warrior, getting to play against my best friend in the College World Series, a game I will never forget.

Part 2… All will be back to normal, answering Coach Garcia’s two other questions on Thursday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Still Working On It...

Sorry everybody but it's still not ready yet. I have been traveling all day and finally just had the chance to sit down in front of my computer. It will definitely be posted by Saturday morning.