The Many Opening Days of the Season

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

February is finally upon us which means only one thing: BASEBALL IS BACK! The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, and the thud of the glove fill our senses with excitement as our favorite Major League clubs open Spring Training , while the college programs that we follow begin their competitive seasons. Every player, coach, and fan on the diamond lives by the optimistic mantra that hope truly does spring eternal. With everything in front of us, there is no better time of year on the baseball calendar.

For the many different levels of the game, seasons vary both in length and focus. Tee-ballers and Little Leaguers are just learning the basics of the game and are hopefully having a blast in the process. For high school players, most have taken their game up the ranks and play on a more serious note with aspirations of playing in college or professionally , while competing with friends for local supremacy. In college, student-athletes are balancing academics and baseball in an environment where players are expected to work to get better in order to help their school win.

On the professional level, over the course of the long, seven-month season, we have found value in breaking the year up into different segments that allow our individual players and collective teams to take stake in where they are, how they’ve gotten there, and what the plan will be moving forward.

At the start of Spring Training, all of our players and staff meet together prior to getting going on the field to go over a lot of the basics that will rule the next month and a half of our days in camp. Things like getting treatment in the training room, working out in the weight room, keeping the clubhouse clean, and a multitude of other quick topics are discussed to get everyone on the same page. But the underlying theme when we begin to talk about the upcoming season is opportunity. Every single day is a chance to get better; a chance to make a club; a chance to be that much more prepared for the beginning of the season come April. With that constant message to our players, year in and year out, our Spring Trainings are incredibly productive and we feel like we are in a great position to start the year off on a very positive note because of how well they took advantage of their own individual opportunities.

Come the start of the regular season, everyone is chomping at the bit to be off and running. But before that official Opening Day hits, each team will gather as a group to refocus on the new job at hand. The theme now turns to the standard that we will challenge our players to live up to each and every day of the season. Players will be expected to go about their business in a professional manner regardless of the results from the night before. They will learn how to control what they can control and work like the professionals they are with the goal of getting something out of every practice repetition. When they do those things on a daily basis, the reward of the game each night will become that much more satisfying knowing that they are getting better each day, while developing into productive team players along the way.

The Major League season is 162 games. For our Minor Leaguers, a full schedule includes 140 contests. Both seasons offer a halfway point that gives us another break to introduce a new point of emphasis: to press the reset button. Time and time again, we see players sprint out of the gate like gangbusters and perform at an impressive level for the first couple months of the season. But by the end of the year, the total body of work has fallen back to an average year at best. They tried to ride the wave all the way to the finish, and unfortunately failed to do so. On the flipside, we also often see players who struggle early on, but find a way to finish the year on an upswing because they were able to move on from a tough start to the year. Mentally resetting the year gives players a clean slate, and teams a re-centered focus on what they need to do to be successful. Good or bad, the reset opens up the window for them to keep things going in the right direction, or to start anew and get that bad taste out of their mouths.

There are few things more exciting than playing meaningful games down the stretch with a chance to win a ring in the postseason. And with the start of the playoffs comes another new Opening Day of sorts where only one thing matters: winning. Still to this day, the majority of my favorite memories over the course of my 35-plus years in the game revolve around winning championships. There is something to be said about investing so much time with a group of people to go after something bigger than ourselves. And when everything comes together from everyone pulling the rope in the same direction, there is such a lasting impression that very few things in life can compare.

In the marathon that is the baseball season, it is very easy to hit a wall at various mile-markers along the way. But when players and teams create their own Opening Days throughout the year, a newfound energy and focus can take over when otherwise there might be a lull going through the grind. Regardless of how you divide up your months on the diamond, challenge yourself to approach every day like Opening Day.

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.