Think You Have What it Takes
to Be a Pro Ballplayer?
By GIL KUBSKI
Baltimore Orioles Scout
Editor's note: This is a letter to a potential prospect.
You know, Mike, you've got baseball ability. I like your arm, you have above-average running speed, your bat at this stage is questionable, but you do show some power. You've shown quickness and agility. In general, I believe you can help our organization.
All of the tangible material I gather indicates you are a prospect. Not a can't-miss prospect, but a prospect. There are several points to consider before telling me you want to play pro baseball. Practically everything I know about you is tangible. I'm a pretty good judge of arms, legs, hands, agility, quickness, strength and anything else that's measurable.
What I don't know about you are the intangible qualities essential for you to succeed. Even YOU don't know whether you possess these qualities. Since you've never played baseball for a living, no one knows how you'll respond to this type of life. ....
For this reason, Mike, we don't feel you are worth more than the modest amount of money we are going to offer you. Experience tells me that our offer may upset your parents, your present coach, and that guy in your hometown who has been attached to you since the time you showed promise in our great game. There will be kids with better tools than you who fail, and some with less measurable ability will make it. When we discover the reason this happens, more of the prospects we sign will make the big leagues. Some do get more money than you've been offered, but they show more potential in the areas we discussed.
Before we give you the opportunity to make baseball a way of life, think about the following: People in your hometown know you. You are accepted and respected in your community as an excellent ballplayer. Mom, dad and their friends enjoy watching you play. Your teammates look up to you and your opponents respect your name.
In essence, you've got it made. You've probably got a car, or immediate access to one. Mom has good food awaiting you after each game. If things don't go right, you've got support. Mom, dad, sis, bro, girlfriend, coach and many others are there for you.
You are going to find a new life if you sign to play pro ball, Mike. It's a great life for a dedicated player. But for the prima donna, it's miserable. Pro ball isn't just the big leagues. In the short span of two weeks, you'll leave many things behind. You'll still have the range at shortstop. You'll have your power and your soft hands and agility on the slow roller past the pitcher will still be with you. Some things will change though.
Mike, you'll find when you report to minor league spring training that there are 30 kids who are equal to you in ability. You'll also notice six or seven kids who possess more tools than you do. This may be a shock. You may get discouraged the first week out. Those with better raw ability might get more attention from coaches than you.
What are going to do, Mike? This could be a moment of truth. You can cry that you're not getting any coaching, that you're not getting a chance. Or, you can bear down and give it all you've got and respond to the faith I showed when I signed you.
When your manager makes a suggestion about your stride, you'll think, "I have always hit this way and now this guy wants me to change. He's fouling up my swing." You might feel you are getting the shaft. You and your manager have a personality clash. It happens on a regular basis in pro ball. He doesn't say much and he swears like mad when you do something wrong. Not like your high school coach!
To complicate matters further, your arm is sore. You have never thrown so many balls to first base in your life. Through high school, you threw 20-25 balls per practice, now you're handling 100-200 per day. To compound these problems, the humidity is unbearable and you realize that in three weeks you have already spent more time on the baseball field than you did all last year . . . and the season hasn't even started!
You've found some other things have changed. Meals and eating habits become a problem. Washing clothes, ironing, taking care of your living quarters all are very real. Workouts, meetings, trips and meals seem to occupy all of your time. What you've seen of pro ball is a far cry from what you have seen on TV. Where are the fancy uniforms? You can't understand why you have been issued faded pants and a worn jersey. One of your stirrups has a hole in it. You also become disgruntled over the crowds. There were 300 people at yesterday's game and they could care less whether your team won or lost.
All of a sudden you're trying to throw out faster runners than you've ever played against. You have less time to unload the ball. There is much more activity around second base. Steals, cutoffs, relays and rundowns have become more real than ever and the organization does them differently than the way you were taught.
At the plate you see the ball do things you've never seen before. Good arms are coming at you every night. Another change is that you're surrounded by new teammates. Different races, socioeconomic classes, morals, habits and attitudes are found on your ball club. Can you mind your own business? Are you going to be a follower? A leader? A loner? Are you biased against whites, Latinos, blacks, or will any of this really matter?
You watch ballplayers come and go and start to realize this is a hard business. Teammates you liked and respected have been released or promoted. Teammates you feel should be playing are riding the bench. Others you feel shouldn't be with the ball club are playing regularly. How does your baseball future look now, Mike? Want to go home and enroll in college or get a regular job? Or do you still want to give the Big Leagues a shot?
What I'm saying, Mike, is that you've got to decide what you can handle. How will you adjust? I know your arm, legs, hands and bat will stand up. Will your courage, dedication, spirit and habits stand up? If you've got the intangibles, you'll feel this is the most important venture of you life. You'll be all eyes and ears and soak up all the baseball your senses will allow. You'll forget what previous coaches told you about how good you are, no matter how much you respect them. If you do all this, you have a chance to make the big leagues.
If the manager has to remind you to show up early to handle ground balls, this is an immediate indication you'll probably be released within two years. Your life away from the park will show up at the park, Mike. How do you handle the nightlife, the girls, the food and drink? Are these gradually becoming more important to you? Is there a correlation between your activities off the field and on-field performance?
How durable are you, Mike? Are you a training room athlete who needs attention for every blow you take? Can you take pain and still produce or do you use this as a crutch for poor performance? These things will become as important as your .300 batting average.
In closing, Mike, I'm aware that you may think our offer is not enough. Many people you trust think you're worth more than the money I'm offering. They know you better than I do, but they don't know your baseball ability better than I do.
The road ahead isn't easy, but good things don't come easy. You can be a professional baseball player by signing a contract. You will become a member of a select group. You also have the opportunity to advance in baseball with the possibility of being a big leaguer in a few years. True, you may not make it. If this side of the coin concerns you, this may be an indication you shouldn't sign. Talk it over with your parents. I'll be in touch in a couple of weeks. If you want to play, we'll give you the chance.