If You Care About Baseball You Better Care About School

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

It’s about that time when high schoolers across the country are about to hit the halfway point of their academic year, chock full of midterm exams and thesis papers. Many upperclassmen may see the light at the end of the tunnel to their graduation, as freshmen and sophomores are building the foundations for their futures. What January often represents in school is a crossroads - a crossroads that can springboard many towards greater success, while hindering others into the pit of complacency.

What January truly represents for those who will be successful is the same thing that September represents, which just happens to be the same thing that June represents: consistency.

As a former collegiate coach and recruiting coordinator at Rutgers University, my alma mater, I saw a wide variety of “student-athletes” during my six-years on the staff. Those quotes around student-athlete are by design, because there were many players that I encountered while on the road looking for guys that could take our program to the next level who may very well have been athletes but were the furthest thing from students. The result of that fact? They had absolutely no chance whatsoever of having the privilege to become a part of our program. Because of their lack of performance in the classroom, they eliminated themselves from ever having the opportunity to perform for us on the field.

We live in a very interesting time for amateur baseball. There are more opportunities for kids to play the game than ever before, yet the expectations that have come with many of those opportunities by parents and kids alike have often been misguided and, in many cases, delusional. Families now are investing tens of thousands of dollars in their children’s athletic careers, and with that investment comes a foolish sense of entitlement. Many think because they are spending such a significant amount of money on this one thing, then they simply deserve something that in reality has to be earned. Baseball doesn’t work that way…no more than life does.

Opportunities on the diamond are earned, plain and simple. No college coach in their right mind is going to play anyone but the nine best guys who he believes will help his club win…guys who have earned their spot in the lineup. And no college recruiter is going to turn a blind eye on a prospective kid’s grades just because he can play the game. There is a misnomer out there that the only thing that matters is what players do on the field. There is rhetoric amongst much of the amateur baseball community that if you are a star on the diamond, then it doesn’t matter what you do in the classroom.

In the same way that the numbers on the back of your baseball card tell a story, the numbers on the front of your transcript tell coaches a similar tale. Oftentimes, the report card gives recruiters and scouts alike a glimpse into what they CANNOT see when evaluating players on the field. That story written by those numbers tells quite a bit about a kid’s character. About his work ethic. His attention to detail. His intelligence. Those numbers tell the story about the traits of what’s inside of the player. Traits that without question will translate on the baseball field.

If a kid works hard in the classroom, chances are he will have the same effort when it comes to becoming a better baseball player. When a kid has a proven history of studying his books to become a smarter student, there exists the distinct likelihood that he’ll exhibit the same examining of the game to develop into a savvy player. When a kid spends his free time in extra-curricular activities and clubs that display a high character and a desire to help others, it’s a safe bet that he’ll probably be a good teammate and a positive influence in the clubhouse.

A student-athlete’s past accounts are an indicator for how his future has a chance to play out.

But the reality of a high school student’s academic career is that it may not be all roses. There may be a significant struggle in the classroom. There are peaks and valleys in academia much in the same way there are ups and downs on a baseball field. College baseball coaches are not naïve to that fact, but they will take a good hard look at what a potential player’s history tells them in their efforts to figure out whether or not the kid is truly a good fit for the program.

One of the details beyond the overall GPA of a prospective student-athlete that told us quite a bit about the person we were recruiting was the trend of how they arrived at that overall GPA. Were they consistent performers year in and year out to get to that 3.3? Consistent work in the classroom often meant that we were getting a guy who would put forth the same effort, day in and day out, regardless of what his results were. Were the first couple years of high school an absolute grind, and they’ve dug their way out of a deep hole just to get to that 3.0? That upward trend going in the right direction showed us a guy who slumped early but worked to right the ship. Sound like something familiar that they might go through on the diamond?

Then there is the player who carried what, on the surface, was a solid 3.4 GPA. But upon looking deeper into it, after compiling a 3.9 with two years under his belt, they’ve coasted every day since to the tune of 2.7 over the past 12 months. Well that guy, although with the highest GPA of them all, was a big red flag to our staff, going downhill and quick. Satisfaction ends careers on the baseball field, and when there are indicators of that in the classroom, chances are that was not the type of person who was going to elevate out program to the next level as much as the other two might.

How do you get to your number? Are you on the uptick or are you in a free fall? It’s not all about grades and being a perfect, 4.0 student, but far more about the effort put forth that built the GPA, whatever it may be.

We speak often about baseball being a metaphor for life, teaching lessons that go well beyond the diamond, and last far longer than the playing career. Well, school acts as a metaphor for baseball. The way you have cared about school is telling those looking at you how you are going to truly care about baseball.

So, what is the back of your classroom baseball card truly saying about you? Write a story that coaches and scouts will not only want to read, but one they will want to help you compose.

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.