What do players play for? A great question, and, depending on when you ask a player during his career, it can be answered in many different ways….
I remember my first and only Spring training with the Rays. I got a big league camp invite, which meant I got treated like a human being instead some mutation fresh off the wastelands. At least for the first month, anyways, then it was back—back you filth, back—to the minors.
In my short stint as a quasi Rays big leaguer, I got to sit at the feet of Joe Maddon. That guy is just the best. I really do feel like he should spend his off seasons on a mountain top someplace, just so people can do long, Sherpa and llama assisted, treks to him.
That Spring he dropped one of the most used chunks in my “evolution of a big leaguer” analysis speech, aka, The Five Steps. Essentially, it goes that, when you first arrive in the big leagues, you’re just happy to be there. I mean, it’s the Bigs, you’ve spent your whole life chasing the dream, this dream, and now you’re in dreamland. Congratulations! If it lasts a day or a year, you can officially and always tell people you’re a big leaguer.
That’s Step One, by the way, and it really does count for a lot. So much so that some players spend so much time thinking about that step they can’t see themselves going past it.
Step Two, according to Joe, is this point when you start to get a little greedy. Not bad greedy. Just the humble beginnings of believing that you can actually contribute at the big league level, and you want more of it. My career ended right around Step Two, when I was getting enough results to show the world I might have what it takes to play at the Bigs beyond the role of starry-eyed, roster fill-in.
Step Three is when you’ve figured out you can do it, and your team accepts that you can and has started to count on you. Step Three is good. Step Three is about proving it. Step Three is like when Luke Skywalker came back on the scene as a fully functional Jedi knight. He knew he had the power and he wanted to use it.
But Step Three is also the one you’re going to be in for the longest time, and carries the most outside expectations. Step three is great, but it’s work. Hard work. Not only can you do it, but you must do it to remain in dreamland.
Get the results long enough and you can move on to Step Four. This is the real greedy step. It’s when you realize you’re good and you realize other people have realized you’re good. Now it’s time to get paid. Nothing wrong with this step. Some fans may get pissed at you (Cardinals fans hating on Pujols for going for the big money over hometown roots. Robinson Cano and the Yanks, Hamilton and the Rangers…) but it’s an integral stop in the process. You play to achieve a dream and the money is part and parcel to that dream. You earn Step Four, and once you get it you don’t have to do anything besides collect.
But the best and the final step is Step Five, the one when all you want to do is win.
Some players never make it past Step Four. But for those who’ve made their money and houses and cars and clothes, the only thing left for them to want is the legacy. Of all the steps, this one is the most important because it is innately focused on the team around you, and not you. I mean, you can only do so much to help your team win the World Series. All the other steps are directly related to your individual accomplishments. This one is about your team, and how much help you can provide it. Organizations and managers love this step.
It’s important to note that you can go backwards on these steps, or skip some altogether. Most players have a few good years sandwiched around few bad years. You’re the best and everything is perfect and all you want to do is win, and then—whoops—you’re injured, in Triple-A for a few years, wondering if you’ll ever make it back to the big leagues. Happens all the time. Ask Chein Ming Wang, or Santana, or Randy Wolf.
Maybe you’re a super competitor and all you care about is winning, at anything, all the time forever, like a David Price. Maybe you just want money, and you play as hard as you can because you know the free market rewards your efforts. Maybe you want people to know how good you are, and that need for them to know is born from your own insecurity.
Now, lets take the Five Steps and apply them to organizational development. Ever wonder why organizations value minor leaguers who’ve played in championships while in the minors or college? They say it’s because they want players who “know how to win.” Ha, yeah, I think we all know how to win, it’s called scoring more than the other guy.
What that phrase actually means is, players who’ve played in championship caliber games in the minors, or even the College World Series, have been exposed to Step Five.
When you play in a championship series, you don’t worry so much about yourself as you worry about your entire team working together so you can get the ultimate prize: becoming the champs, aka, just winning.
Today Kendall Graveman will take on Drew Hutchison. Both are young pitchers, both are on different parts of the evolutionary spectrum. Graveman is still enjoying the first and second steps, but his team isn’t playing for anything. Hutchison is trying to figure out if he still belongs in the Third Step, but his contribution could be selfless because his team has a chance at something bigger than his personal outcomes.
One has more pressure on himself than the other. Can you guess which one? If you can, you’ll better understand the baggage, or lack their off, that any pitcher—or player— takes the field with on any given day.
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