Today’s Game is Tomorrow’s Teacher

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

As coaches, we absolutely love getting on the field, around the cage, or in the bullpen to work with our players. It’s the best part of the job. Whether it be for an individual drill or a team fundamental, practice is our opportunity to leave a mark on our players in an effort to help develop and prepare them for the game.

But we are not our players’ only coach; the game itself can often serve as its very best teacher.

The South Atlantic League of professional baseball is considered Low-A baseball, the lowest full-season league among Major League affiliates. As we detailed a few weeks ago, one of the priorities for our Greenville Drive players in the month of April is getting them acclimated with the daily routine of work, because for many players, this level is their first full, 140-game season, which is a big adjustment relative to what they are used to. In many ways, that first full season for professionals lays the groundwork for the rest of their entire careers, and it’s their routine that is the poured concrete of that foundation.

For a few minutes every day prior to the start of team stretch, we’ll talk about the previous night’s contest, incorporating game review as a part of our daily routine. Everyone always knows the big plays that were reason for a win or a loss. A walk-off home run is as easy to point out as the web-gem 6-4-3 double play that ended the game. But rather than point out the obvious that they are already aware of, I prefer to use those five or ten minutes every day to consistently point out the little things that led up to those big moments. In doing so, players gain not just a better understanding of the game as a whole, but also take more pride in doing those little things knowing their importance and potential impact on the end result.

Year in and year out, our clubs in Greenville, each with a different roster, take on a similar identity competitively, in large part because of our constant message of playing all nine innings, regardless of the score. Last year, we had a game that gave us the ultimate example of playing a sport that has no clock. Our starting pitcher had a rough go of it out of the gate, surrendering seven runs in his first two innings of work. Down 7-0 heading into the third inning, we wound up winning the game 10-8. What happened in between the third and ninth innings exemplified our collective team identity to play the entire game.

That starting pitcher settled down, worked five innings, and was able to hold the opponent to *just* seven runs. By him doing so – by being in the moment, throwing the score out of his mind, and competing for the entire time he toed the rubber – he kept us in a position for what turned into an impressive comeback win. Our lineup didn’t have a big inning, but rather started chipping away, one and two runs at a time. The other team? They played as if the game was over after two innings, figuring they would coast to an easy blowout ‘W’. Before we knew it, we had completed the comeback by the final couple frames, with the club in the opposing dugout in shock. This game was the epitome of why we play all nine innings. This game validated that consistent message that many players may have never heard before.

There are countless other moments that come up over the course of the season that enable us to just sit back, and let the game be our players’ teacher. Yes, we all know the walk-off home run, but let’s point out how the ten-pitch walk made that game-winning hit possible. And that incredible double-play to end the game wouldn’t have been a double play had the outfielder not gotten on a base hit quickly to hold the batter to a single, keeping the double play in order. When we look hard enough, we can always find examples from the game to reinforce the importance of the work and details we stress in practice. We can always use the game to point out the little things that led to the big win.

The best part about yesterday’s game? It’s over. Good, bad, or indifferent, what happened last night should have no bearing on how we will prepare for today’s game. But, yesterday’s game can and should have an effect on the way we play come first pitch, because we want to not just be aware of the good and the bad, but also learn from it and apply those lessons moving forward.

We spend hours upon hours preaching the fundamentals during all of the pre-game work that leads up to the start of a game. There is no better way to offer evidence to our players of the importance of those fundamentals when we can show them how the results depend on them when we win and lack them in a loss. Today’s game can always be tomorrow’s teacher.

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.