A survival guide for first-round picks
How to handle everything from coaches to roommates to money and more
Congratulations! You have been selected in the first round of the amateur baseball draft. I know the last few months have been exciting and stressful. You probably have been dealing with prospective agents, the media, the constant questioning from various organizations, but now you can breathe a sigh of relief. Your baseball life has just begun.
If you will indulge me, I would like to offer my services to lay out a guide for your survival in your first year of professional baseball.
Take it all in! But after the initial fanfare is over and they tell the world how smart they are for drafting you, a lot of things change. For starters, they have to negotiate with you, and that means you are not on the same side of the table. So you will begin to hear all the things you can't do. It is just a warning to not expect as much as you think.
Don't worry about the criticism! They have to be tough negotiators because you are now a huge investment, and that usually means they will give you every chance to succeed, but it will also mean you will be under a microscope.
So what do you have to look forward to? Everything!
There are some legends that will teach you this great game. Enjoy players you used to watch on TV now helping you make it. Ask them about that World Series; ask them if they remember the day you waved from the upper deck and they waved back (trust me, they didn't really see you).
My outfield coach was Jimmy Piersall, the legendary center fielder. I learned not to cross him my first workout with him. I showed up exactly at the time he told us and he yelled, "If you are not five minutes early, you are late!" I kept thinking, "Is something wrong with his watch?"
Teaching point: Be early to every workout and please make sure your watch is five minutes fast.
You will meet players from all over creation. Enjoy learning new ideas, new ways of thinking. It is already shocking that you have to see these guys every single day of the season, but they can really help you, especially the guys that have been around for a while. Ozzie Timmons signed a month before I did and he was upset at my pathetic fashion sense. He took me under his fashion wing and saved me from anymore embarrassment. Thanks Ozzie!
Keep in mind, everyone is obsessed with moving up to the next level. For a while, they are looking at you sideways. The 31st-round pick is saying under his breath, "You are the first-round pick? I can do what he does." He may be right, but be sure to prove him wrong on the field. Team respect is important. You might have to charge the mound, run over a catcher or two. Know what you need to do to get street cred and remember to respect everyone and where they are coming from.
Teaching point: Get to know your teammates. You may find some great friends, people you play with for years to come. You also may find someone who may not like you, and it may just because you are supposed to be good. Hang in there.
Sure, it is going to be different. You are facing the best of the best and, according to your draft slot, you are best of that best. Don't forget to file away who you are playing against. You may see him the next five years, all the way up the ladder. Heck, you may see him inside Yankee Stadium. I faced Sean Bergman that first year, then I faced him in the "Show." You never know.
If you are a pitcher, do not worry about the guy in the lineup who hit that ball 10 miles off you. It is going to happen. There was this guy named Mike Daniel and, to this day, he hit the highest ball I have ever seen in my life. It was so far over the lights that it disappeared. Your jaw will drop with some of the talent you are about to see, but be sure you drop jaws of your own.
Teaching point: Remember who you are playing against. You may just seem him another time, another place. And if you played against someone from before, acknowledge that you know what he is going through. You are now opponents, but in the same family.
Sure, the minor league stadiums may not be what you thought they would be, but I am sure they are a lot better now than when I was drafted. If you don't see glass on the field, if you are not showering on cement under the stands, if you are not waiting for the sun to set during your at-bat so you can see the pitch leave the pitcher's hand, you are a big step ahead of me.
Minor league parks have a lot of advertising, so if the sign behind the pitcher is white and you can't pick up the ball, just say, "Hey coach, I am having a little trouble picking up the ball. I am going to try something new next at-bat." Don't ever say, "I will buy a new stadium, this one stinks."
Teaching point: It isn't PNC Park, and it is not supposed to be. You are supposed to be motivated to get out of town and move to the next level as quickly as possible. The showers get better, and so does the travel.
Yes, that thing in your hand (or in the hands of the guy you are trying to get out) is a wood bat. It does not ting, it does not ping. I hope you had a taste of wood bats before the draft. However, choosing a bat is another ordeal. These days, I am sure some bat company will give you your own bats, but most players use the stock bats. Learn those models: M-110, R-161, P-89, C-271. Know what they are good for and what they are not good for, and I hope you know the label should either be facing up or down. I certainly didn't know.
Give yourself time to get used to wood bats. During my career, I broke enough bats to build my retirement home out of the scraps. Don't worry about it.
Teaching point: Part of being a pro is knowing how to use the equipment. If you don't know, ask someone, but do it in a way that makes it seem as if you were just confirming what you already knew.
OK, you survived your first short season and now you are reporting to spring training. You are heading to sunny Florida or sunny Arizona. Get ready.
Do not get it twisted, hot is not necessarily a good thing when you are playing in baseball complexes that don't believe in trees or shade. You are the egg, the sun is the gas burner and the diamond is the skillet. If you get an Arizona assignment, know how to deal with that deceptive heat. Whoever tells you it is a dry heat is a fool. An oven is a dry heat, but it does not mean you want to take a nap with your head inside one.
I was arrogant enough to think the extra melanin in my skin would give me a hall pass in Arizona. Why would I need sunscreen? Why would I need lip balm? You didn't even sweat here. Bah! Well, after I saw Rickey Henderson with heat bumps all over his face and my lips cracked apart like the back of a Gila Monster, I learned very quickly that Arizona heat is no joke. Make sure you get some zinc oxide and sunscreen or you will be sorry.
If you are in Florida, it will rain every day, so just expect a break in the action. You will take a shower and five minutes later you will have to take another one; in fact, just save water because a shower is a total waste of your time. Also, your batting gloves will stick to your hands; get used to it.
Of course the sun spares you in neither state. The people who designed the seats for the games had a twisted sense of humor, since shiny metal seats are not the best for reducing glare, so forget about seeing a line drive in the infield or a pick-off throw from the pitcher. Just get out of the way and hope for the best. Pitchers? Don't wear shades on the mound. If you pitch with them on, everyone will be talking about how he wants to knock them off your face.
Teaching point: Know the sun. Get shades and be ready to be hot.
Get used to your unavailability. Set up a witty voicemail saying, "Sorry I couldn't take your call; I am chasing the dream." Trust me, most people other than your family will think you fell off the face of the earth as a minor leaguer. The people who count will find you in the middle of nowhere to see you play. Remember them when you strike out Chase Utley in Citizens Bank Park.
Teaching point: Keep in touch with those you trust. You will need the support, but re-route most calls to your now ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend.
OK, you have cashed that big check now. You are feeling amazingly good about yourself. You can buy your own minor league team and fire all the people that annoyed you the first year. But be smart. Everyone and his dog has a business proposition, and worse yet, you sense that everyone thinks you are a bank.
When someone wants to borrow money off you, you will hear stories that you wouldn't believe -- so be ready! My glove caught a cold and needs to see a doctor. I am not sure that baby is mine so can you pay for the paternity test? I need a little extra to post bail because I brandished a gun at the Jack in the Box. Oh wait a minute, those stories were true. OK, not the glove with the cold.
Anyway, be ready to say no. Make that your default answer or tell them to call your mom or your agent. One of my former teammates sent me an invite to join him on LinkedIn, the social media site, last year. I declined. Why? Because that fool owes me $35 from spring training in 1992. And back then, he was obnoxious about paying that back.
Teaching point: Have a long memory about money because you will go broke taking care of everyone. In fact, have the bonus check written out to cash, take it in cool $100 bills and bury it in the backyard with your dog's bone. Forget you ever got it. You will sleep easier.
You can accept the default arrangement that the team sets up for you and room with whoever they assign to you. As the "money bags guy," you probably could just get a single room, but resist the temptation; learn how to live with someone and be a good teammate.
Of course, if you get the roommate I got my first spring training, ignore what I just suggested. My roommate was a sleepwalker, so one night I awoke to him screaming at his wife, "Put that thing down!" So I got up. He then lay on the floor between our beds for a few minutes before running to the bathroom. I thought he was awake so I kept talking to him. After he came out of the bathroom in his tighty whiteys, he crawled back into my bed. That was it for me. I kept a bat close by and one eye open for the rest of that camp.
Teaching point: Be a team player. Don't buy your way out of team experiences, unless your roommate mistakes you for his wife.
I get it, I really do. You are a great athlete, you are going places, you have a wad of $100s hanging out of your pocket. All of sudden, the girls that used to scare you half to death aren't so scary. You want to avenge that prom date rejection and you want your teammates to gawk at your date. Your new ego demands it.
You also are going to be insecure enough to have to overcompensate for the fact that 200 days a year you shower with 30 dudes. So you have your agent call the agent of that cute girl from the AT&T commercial. You hang out with your agent's other client, Alex Rodriguez, and get fed popcorn from Cameron Diaz's cousin. Don't get caught up in the hype.
You have plenty of time for the social life. You are probably not going to be in any one city for more than a year for the next decade.
Yet love can happen. But while you wait, have fun and make sure you run it all by your trusted circle, then get some rest.
Teaching point: Yes, the ladies are cute, but they have been cute since the dawn of time. Get to where you want to go first. Get your rest.
Cars depreciate in value, so don't feel the need to buy one of every color. In fact, forget purchasing and go for the lease, because no matter what you tell me, as you move up levels you will want another car to keep up with the Joneses -- and there aren't many players named Jones anymore in the big leagues. Chipper and Andruw barely. OK, Adam.
I leased my Toyota Camry right away. I know, not sexy but it got the job done. You can upgrade later on. You never want to be the guy in 10 years driving around a 1991 luxury car that he now lives in because he lived the life before he had the life.
Teaching point: Save your money now; get a car you like, but wait until you are comfortable to buy that dream car. Ignore the peanut gallery.
Ten Random Rules to Live by in the Minor Leagues
1. If your bus driver falls asleep while driving in Georgia, set up a rotation of teammates to talk to him, or just take the wheel yourself.
2. Eating at a truck stop is not a bad thing at all. They usually have the best waffles.
3. If she is cute, everyone on your team and the other team probably thinks she is cute. Just make sure you only have eyes for her and vice versa.
4. Bring some snacks to the locker room in case your manager gets mad at you and takes away the clubhouse food because he thinks it is better that you "play hungry."
5. If your manager is chewing you out on the right-field line while you are supposed to be stretching while the national anthem starts playing and you are the visiting team's leadoff hitter, expect to go 0-for-4.
6. Every single thing about Bull Durham is accurate. Know that movie like you know your own face.
7. Accept the schedule. Days off are just travel days, and you may end up sleeping in the luggage rack. (Understand that "bus back" is a legitimate injury and is nothing to be ashamed of.)
8. If your manager doesn't like you at all, don't wait a year and a half to get into a yelling match with him in the dugout. Get it out of the way first and foremost, and the rest will be better.
9. If Michael Jordan decides to play minor league ball while you are rising in the ranks, be sure to play pickup basketball with him. He is pretty good.
10. Practice crossing major highways on foot; it will help you find food on the road.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLBPAA (MLB Players Alumni Association). His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville
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