Darren Fenster Resources

 While Few Will Be Basestealers, All Will Be Baserunners
(5/14/2020)
 
   

While Few Will Be Basestealers, All Will Be Baserunners


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


In February of 2019, I reported to Fort Myers for my first Spring Training in a new role as our Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator. In that role, I am essentially the lead voice- with a lot of input from a lot of people- for our organization with regard to how we will approach developing outfielders and baserunners. As players began trickling into JetBlue Park, many came up to me, excited about getting better on the bases… just not in the sense they truly needed to improve.

“Fens, I really want to get more bags this year,” a number of them proclaimed.

What I quickly realized was that most players associate baserunning only as basestealing, which is just one of the many elements of the overall skill. Furthermore, the stolen base is a dying play at the Major League level, with only six players in the entire game finishing 2019 with more that 30 bags for the year, which works out to a little more than one per week. Gone are the days of guys like Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman stealing over 100 bases in a single season.

So, with our focus on developing the skills needed to help our club win in Boston, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of our time working on something in the Minor Leagues when it will only be a tiny part of our success in the Big Leagues. That goes for any part of the game, and in this case, basestealing. But for as few who will become true basestealers in the Major Leagues, every single position player we have WILL be a baserunner, and if they take the same pride in the developing the skill required to running the bases as they do their skills of hitting or fielding, they will have a chance to impact games with their legs, and they don’t even have to be fast in order to do so.

Our development on the bases is geared towards players understanding the importance of 90’. Every 90’ is that much closer to scoring a run; a run that may be the difference in a win or a loss; a win or loss that may have us celebrating a championship or languishing in bitter defeat. Baserunning is far more about details and decisions than it is about being fast or slow or even being out or safe.

Above all, baserunning begins with effort, and effort is a decision that is completely independent of talent. It takes no athletic ability whatsoever to give effort. The fastest guy in the world and the fattest guy in the world can both run equally as HARD. “Running for the possible” is the mindset and approach that all baserunners should have. Sure single? Round first base for a possible double. Sure double? Give yourself a chance for the possible triple. Ground into a sure out? There’s no such thing; run for the possible infield hit. Effort forces errors and changes the entire complexion of playing defense.

Baserunning is a skill, in the same exact respect that hitting, fielding, and pitching are all skills. And there is a very specific, detailed technique that comes with running the bases well. Those details include the route from home to first, the correct part of the base to touch, taking a primary lead, timing out the secondary lead, and what to look for while running. When thinking in such a focused manner on those little things, big things on the bases are sure to follow.

Baserunning is a separator skill that is a true indicator of players who are able to successfully separate the game. The second the ball is put in play, the mind has to transform from hitter to baserunner immediately with a 100% commitment and focus on running the bases. That commitment starts with effort, especially in those instances when we didn’t have a good at bat but still found a way on base. Mentally engaged baserunners are dangerous baserunners who know the situation of the game and anticipate all that may happen that will impact their decisions on the bases.

Impact baserunners are both smart and aggressive. Great baserunning teams make intelligent decisions, taking chances based on the game’s variables combined with their reads off the bat and of the defense to challenge the other team to make a play to prevent the extra base. They are aggressive, with effort as their foundation, to work to get to 2nd where they can score on a single or to reach third where they are in position to score on an out, error, wild pitch, or infield hit among others. With that aggressiveness, players must understand that it’s OK to make outs on the bases. There is a risk versus reward aspect to running the bases. Safe teams who don’t make outs on the bases aren’t giving themselves to get extra bases and, in turn, prevent themselves a chance to score more runs. With risks come outs, but with risks also come runs.

There are free bases all over the field, and it’s just a matter of players being made aware of where exactly to look for them. Whether it be anticipating a dirt ball, advancing as a backside runner on a high throw from an outfielder, or reading an outfielder who isn’t in a great position to make a play, there is a competitive edge on the bases that comes from simply watching the game with the eyes. When players realize that being a great baserunner goes beyond their speed and their coaches consciously spend time practicing all of the skill’s minute details, combined they will create a weapon in their club’s arsenal that other teams will soon fear.


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.


 Getting Up After Getting Sent Down
(4/17/2020)
 
   

Getting Up After Getting Sent Down


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every year at the very end of Spring Training is what is arguably the worst day of the baseball calendar: cut day. A Major League roster carries 26 players. This year, we brought in 66 guys to camp. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that there are far more players than there are spots. The same rule holds true on the Minor League side.

As camp begins to wind down and the Major League roster is set, there is a trickle down all the way through our Minor League system that often causes players to put on their imaginary GM hats. They, too, know that there are more players than spots and try to figure out for themselves where they will fit come April 1st when we leave Fort Myers and head to our affiliates up and down the east coast.

Players spend their entire off-season working towards the next year. They report to camp in better shape, with better swings, better pitches, looking to become better players. Whether they are coming off of a great season or one that didn’t necessarily go as planned, most players come to Spring Training with high aspirations to make the club at a higher level from the prior year. While sometimes that works out, often times, it doesn’t. That reality tends to set in on cut day.

On cut day, there are a lot of sad faces with bad body language across minor league fields all over baseball. But most aren’t upset because their buddies just got sent home. Rather their hurt stems from a demotion that they hoped wouldn’t happen. Whether it’s from the Major Leagues down to AAA, or back to the rookie leagues from A-ball, getting sent down sucks, and is an added challenge to overcome in a game full of incredibly hard challenges.

But getting sent down is better than the alternative of getting sent home. And that is the message we seemingly always relay to our players still in the organization on cut day every year.

The players that had to walk out of the complex with bags in hand may have played their last game. In that moment, they would kill to have been sent down to a lower level, because that means they would still have a job. As long as a player has a uniform, they have an opportunity to become a Major Leaguer. Throwing a pity-party for will only take them away from that goal.

Our game is filled with adversity on so many levels. Whether it be a professional getting demoted to a lower level, a college guy being benched, or a high schooler getting cut, they all have the same exact choice, which should be a simple one. They can wallow in self-pity, or they can use their hardship as motivation to overcome and grow from it. Hopefully the send down has left the player better prepared to get back up.


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.


 The Devil is in the Details
(3/20/2020)
 
   

The Devil is in the Details


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


In June 2013, I made my managerial debut, skippering our rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Prior to that point in my coaching career, managing wasn’t something that was truly on my radar; I had just completed my first year with the organization as an A-ball hitting coach, a job that I really enjoyed in an area of the game that I fully expected to progress in. When the opportunity to manage was presented to me, it was a chance to have more of a leadership role and one that offered me a great way to grow both personally and professionally with the responsibility of coaching more players, and in a bigger picture.

Hindsight 20/20, when it came to actually being prepared to do the job I had just been promoted to do, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. While I am sure there is a handbook on how to manage a baseball team, much of learning how to best navigate through a season comes from trial and error more than anything else. Like most, I did the job the only way I knew how at the time and did it to the best of my ability. At various points of the season, I mishandled everything from game strategy, to discipline, to communication, to schedule logistics, and probably a lot in between.

But there was one thing I didn’t mess up: a very detailed approach to teach the game where EVERYTHING mattered. At one point during that summer, a player lamented to a coach on our staff his frustration. “Fenster is on us about every little thing,” he said. “Why can’t he just let us play?” Looking back, that may be one of the best compliments I have ever received as a coach.

For the last two and a half years, the following tweet has been pinned to my profile on Twitter: “Hate that coach who works you too hard, always on your case? Wait until you play for a coach who doesn’t care. You’ll realize how lucky you were.”

Those 140 characters are at the core of who I am as a coach, thanks entirely to the influence that Fred Hill, the coach I played for and coached with at Rutgers, had on me; it was the foundation of who he was as a coach. I have always held my players to a higher standard than they hold themselves to because that’s exactly what Coach Hill did for me .

As a player, I learned the hard way how valuable this approach was for my own personal development. About ten games into my freshman season, we were getting crushed by UCF, in large part because of what seemed like 15 pull-side hits down the left-field line. While playing shortstop, Coach Hill put the responsibility on me to tell our third baseman when off-speed pitches were coming. I didn’t relay one all game. And got completely ripped for it after the game in front of half the team. I was literally in tears, ready to transfer.

When we got back to the hotel, he called me into his room. It was there where he said this: “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the reason I am riding you so hard is because I think you have a chance to be a great player for us. You shouldn’t be upset when I get on you; you should get worried, when I’m not.” From that day forward, I was completely transformed in my ability to handle criticism, no matter how loud that message was communicated.

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with my own players similar to that one Coach Hill had with me back in the spring of 1997.

Thanks to the many coaches that I’ve have the privilege of playing for or coaching with, I’ve come to realize that a team will always, in some way, shape, or form, take on the personality of its coaching staff. That goes not only for the positive elements but also just as much for the negative aspects as well. Our teams have always had a good sense of being aware of the countless little things that take place over the course of a game because we make them a consistent part of what we teach. There is no doubt that many players don’t necessarily like a coaching staff that consistently gets on them about not doing some of these little things right. The devil may very well be in the details, but that devil wins a ton of games.


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.


 The Many Opening Days of the Season
(2/21/2020)
 
   

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.


 The Best Coaches in the Country
(1/17/2020)
 
   

The Best Coaches in the Country


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Soon after the ball drops on Time’s Square and the New Year is rung in, an event for baseball coaches takes place. During first week of every January, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) holds their national convention where baseball personnel descend upon rotating cities to learn more about the game so they can help make the game we all know and love even better. 

While all under the same one roof, you’ll find coaches from every single level of the game who combine to create a brotherhood of likeminded people who can’t get enough time talking baseball. It is an environment unlike any other that not only creates a feeling of excitement for the upcoming season but also a great sense of appreciation to be a part of such an incredibly special group.

For most in attendance, myself included, the highlight of every ABCA Convention is the clinic speakers. In a massive room seats are perfectly lined up and big screens hang from the ceiling, all eyes lock in on coach after coach who take the main stage to discuss various aspects of the game. From something as specific to how to turn a double play or script the perfect bullpen routine to topics as broad as developing culture within a program or learning how to coach different individual personalities on a team, there is literally something for everyone in attendance. 

The ABCA prides itself by having “some of the best coaches in our game” present to its members. I’ve been fortunate to have been a speaker twice and can honestly say that presenting in this environment to my peers in the game is one of the coolest things I’ve done over the course of my career.

But something dawned on me a few weeks ago as I sat in the crowd taking notes, blown away by this year’s lineup of speakers.  With every introduction for each coach, no matter the role and no matter the level, it seemed like each guy was “one of the best teachers of the game” or “one of the best pitching coaches in the country” or “one of the best experts on hitting.” And in the industry, on the surface, those descriptions were most deservedly stated.  

With all due respect to Vanderbilt’s Head Coach Tim Corbin, who I admire as much as any coach in the game and would have loved to have played for or coached alongside; with all due respect to JT McGuire, a Minor League coach with the Cleveland Indians, who shared more drills in 35 minutes than I ever thought even existed for outfield play; with all due respect to Kerrick Jackson who worked a miracle at Southern University; Buck Showalter who has probably forgotten more about the game than most will ever know; Rick Heller and Matt Hobbs who can use today’s technologies and analytics with hitters and pitchers as well as anybody; and with all due respect to the ABCA who spends months lining up each presenter to make every convention an impactful one; these were NOT the best coaches in our game. 

The best coaches in our game were the ones sitting in the crowd. They, collectively, represent the future of our game far better than any one of us who has the privilege of taking the main stage. Without these grass-roots coaches, there are no college All-Americans or MLB All-Stars.

The majority of the coaches in the audience at every ABCA convention don’t have anywhere close to the same resources of those presenting. They have less man-power on their coaching staffs; a smaller budget for developmental tools; fields that are literally just fields, not facilities. All of those limitations force those coaches to be more creative in order to make their players and teams better.

Most of the coaches sitting in those seats also don’t have nearly the same talent as those speaking on stage. It’s easy to coach when you have great players. It’s easy to coach when you get to pick your own roster. But most don’t have either luxury, let alone both. Their roster is what it is, and they have to figure out how to develop every single player. And year after year, that’s exactly what they do.

Contrary to popular belief, the mark of a successful coach is not found in a won-loss record. In fact, some of the very best coaches may very well be found on some of the worst teams. Years ago, a wise man once told me that the way a coach should be judged has nothing to do with a season’s outcome, but rather everything to do with the players’ excitement to simply come back to play again the following year. Let that sink in.

Today’s player is tomorrow’s coach. As coaches today, we have the incredible opportunity to give our players such an experience on the diamond so rewarding that they not only want to play year after year, but later, make the decision to join us in the coaching ranks to share their knowledge of and passion for the game with the next generation of players, as we did with them. If we do it right, those players that make up our teams will at some point down the road be sitting alongside of us at future ABCA conventions, not realizing that they are sitting amongst the those who are truly the very best coaches in our game.


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.