All-Stars are Built, Not Born
By Darren Fenster
As we move into the heat of July, we are surrounded by baseball in a variety of forms. Travel tournaments. Local leagues. Instructional camps. Exposure-filled showcases. And games upon games upon games. There have never been more opportunities for players of all ages to hone their skills over the course of the summer months than there are today. With that said, creating a well-rounded summer baseball curriculum of sorts can help turn someone from good to great.
But the summer should not be solely about one thing. One of the most common mistakes many players make, especially as they move into high school and put an unnecessary focus on exposure, is to only play games. Competing against other players and other teams is great, and a natural part of players learning how to play the game. But to spend the entire summer only playing games, and not putting the time in to practice, is wasting valuable development time that will undoubtedly be evident when games come along. Others make the decision to not play at all, and place their entire emphasis in June, July, and August on training. While practicing is a key element to getting better, what is the purpose of working on your game if you don’t ever actually play in any games?
Combining the many facets of player development can help reap the biggest rewards because we are attacking the game from a number of different angles. Here are some options that all players should consider at some point over the summer.
PLAY THE GAME
When a coach refers to someone simply as a “baseball player,” that’s often the highest of compliments because it usually refers to that player’s ability to simply play the game. No two players have identical skillsets; some are blessed with power, while others may have the gift of speed. It’s all about how each player is able to use their individual abilities in a game setting to be successful and help their teams win that will ultimately determine their potential value to baseball evaluators.
Back in the day, before there were year-round travel programs and training facilities, summer instructional camps were the norm for players looking to get better. Still very much alive today, whether it be at a local college, a major university, or with a reputable organization, these camps offer a variety of options to learn the game. A weeklong all-skills camp can be a one-stop shop for every aspect of the game, while also getting the opportunity to put everything together in a controlled game environment. Specialty camps have also grown in popularity in recent years, giving players skill-specific work to improve things like hitting, pitching, or defense.
PRACTICE THE FUNDAMENTALS
If camps have become an endangered species in player development, then practice has all but become extinct. With so many different options out there for players and teams to compete in games on a weekly basis throughout the summer months, very few teams or players spend much time at all practicing. Just one day during the week can pay huge dividends leading up to the weekend tournament to get sharp executing the game’s fundamentals or focusing on improving individual skills without the worry of a win or loss or who is watching.
SHOW-OFF AT SHOWCASES
With the direction the game has gone in recent years, the old credo, “if you are good, someone will find you,” rings truer than ever. So, in reality, players do not need showcases for college coaches or professional scouts to see them. That will happen naturally. Often times, when players get too caught up in being seen, they hit the showcase circuit without a fine-tuned skill set, and actually show all those watching that they CAN’T play at a particular level.
BE A FAN
The most underrated form of player development ironically comes from NOT playing at all, but by watching. Often times, the game itself is its best teacher. There are countless options all across the country for players to become observant fans. We discussed previously how much can be learned from watching. When players are in the game, they can be so locked in mentally to what exactly their job is on the field that they don’t get the chance to see the game in a broader scope. Sitting in the stands can help them view things in a different light and understand some of its little nuances by watching them instead of actually doing them.
For many players, the summer can be a significant turning point to their careers on the diamond. Many times, those strides are made when taking full advantage of the various options out there. From playing on the field, to practicing in the cage, to watching from the stands, the more ways players can experience the game, the sooner they may just build themselves into all-stars.
Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.