Lessons From My College Freshman Pitching Journal

Lessons From My College Freshman Pitching Journal

What would you give to be able to go back in time and remember what you were thinking at certain points in your life?

The greatest lesson I ever learned from my High School baseball coach was to keep a training journal.

I'm so grateful I listened, because I have all my training journals from the time I was fifteen. The ability to go back in time and read the workouts I did, little thoughts about life, and quotes that resonated with me is one of my favourite activities.

Being able to see the progress (and regress) of your training, philosophy, and maturity is extremely valuable.

I've misplaced just a couple here and there, and those gaps in time that I can't go back and read, prove to me all the more the value of doing the activity.

So it was a tremendous surprise when a couple of weeks ago I was rummaging around my parent's basement for something (else) and I stumbled on the training journal I thought was long gone: Jan 1 - May 25, 2009.

My freshman college baseball season, in southern California, at Saddleback College.

I thought I lost this basically right after I wrote it. I don't think I've ever re-read it even once since I initially wrote in it, as it must have gotten tucked away and lost forever; almost.

That first year away from home was the toughest, and consequently most formative and important of my life. It shaped who I am to this day, and whenever times are tough I lean on the adversity faced and the experiences of that year.

If eighteen year old me could get through that, I can certainly get through this.

You can imagine my joy when I unexpectedly stumbled upon it all these fourteen years later.

You see, my recollection of that year, and perspective on it as time marches on has really formed a big piece of my personal and coaching philosophy, and it shaped how I communicate to my athletes on just how trying and tumultuous that first year can be.

So much of my livelihood has been tied to helping these kids be prepared for the harsh realities of college baseball. Therefore it was truly fascinating to be able to be transported back into my nineteen year old brain.

It was compelling to read the real words I wrote on paper as I was in the midst of navigating the ups and downs of my season, and still learning to be on my own.

As a quick precursor, and to give some context, I showed up on campus in August and found out Saddleback had 30!! pitchers on the fall roster. This was unbeknownst to me upon committing there, of course.

I got hit all over the park early in the fall, to say the least. I figured it out though, and pitched really well to make the team.

I didn't find out I made the roster until December 17th, the day before I flew home for Christmas. Coupled with the looming excitement of going home to see friends and family for Christmas, that was one of a handful of moments of PURE joy I've had in my life, let me tell you.

As an aside, my roommate, and fellow Edmontonian was not so lucky.

We essentially had the same level of success our final summer in Alberta, but to say it was a massive step up in competition down in Orange County, is a gross understatement.

Fast forward to the season, and it went like this: 3 consecutive scoreless 1 inning outings in important situations out of the bullpen. Awesome! (Also, so cool to read  what I wrote after my FIRST college appearance)

Then 2 bad outings.

Don't pitch for 2 months.

Finally get an opportunity. Capitalize. Earn a role again, throw out of the bullpen down the stretch. Then finally finish the season extremely strong in the playoffs.

It paved the way to have a great summer season in the WMBL and then consistently pitch 50+ innings every year after in college. That season gave me the bedrock of confidence that I could not just succeed, but more that I could bounce back from failure.

More importantly, that year gave me a foundational belief that I was resilient; that I had the ability within to adapt and overcome - and that I could rely on myself, no matter how bleak the outlook.

Ok. Finally to the journal itself. Here are some lessons and tidbits young pitchers could benefit from hearing:

  1. Keep it simple mechanically!

"Fire hips late. Control head."

"Mechanically, I felt awkward. I need to land in a much stronger position, emphasizing staying back as long as possible, but then still using my legs explosively, but at the last possible second."

"Today in my pen, I remembered I need to separate thumbs down. Separating that way (at the belly button!!) is key."

These thoughts are fascinating because I never really had a pitching coach in High School, and my pitching coach that year never talked to us, let alone taught as anything. There's some real wisdom in here that I somehow figured out, basically left to my own devices.

I spent so much time in the front lawn of my apartment shadow pitching because I could see my reflection in our window... (remember smart phones didn't exist then to take video and look at it).

2. Commit Fully to This Pitch!!

"I need to throw THROUGH the catcher. Can't guide it. Sometimes I do this when I'm behind in the count. It doesn't work. I need to trust myself."

"I threw one scoreless with 1 K. I stuck to my plan. Biggest adjustment was simply committing to each pitch and throwing it rather than being tentative."

Conviction. Commitment. Trust. Belief.

Whatever adjective you want to use. It's the most important variable in the game of baseball.

3. Play Great Catch!!

"I did a better job in catch play today. I need to make sure I aim for a spot absolutely every single throw, no matter what. No excuse not to."

4. The answer is to WORK.

"The day started off in the worst mood. I've never been more dejected about baseball in my life. I forced myself to go on a long run, and then I went to the field and threw by myself and lifted. I feel way more inspired now. I'm going to turn this around."

5. Keep it Simple on Game Day!!

"Game Goals: 1) Love to Pitch 2) Stay Back 3) Confidence"

I'm including this because it was in late April (after I'd turned my season around). But it's worth noting because this became my game goals every single outing for the rest of my life.

I didn't see them anywhere before in the journal. However I stumbled upon picking these to be the three and actually writing them down is very interesting to me.

6. Work While You Wait!!

The most important lesson of the year.

"I'm just going to work my ass off, and stop worrying about how many innings I get or what I'm going to do next year. I'm just going to focus on working as hard as I can."

This was in the midst of the two months I didn't pitch. I have told this story often that I made the CHOICE to just focus on getting back to working hard, and thinking more long-term to develop into the pitcher I wanted to be, and to stop worrying about getting into the game. I made a commitment to simply being ready when the opportunity struck.

So to read the words was just, there's no other way to put it - really cool.

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out it was the other way around the whole time." - Jim Bouton