Baseball history repeats itself

A handshake between the captains of the Great Britain and USA teams before a game in a series that earned Great Britain (who won the series 4 games to 1) the title as the first World Amateur Champions

So, as a Baseball coach, I seek out an insane (if you ask my better half) amount of content on the game. Especially on coaching it. I’m fascinated by how much sharing is happening.

The fact that a guy like Jerry Weinstein or Tim Corbin would break down the details behind their success (and the players they’ve coached, who sometimes also share) over a channel that I can access FOR FREE on my phone is something I try to take advantage of a little bit every day (get 1% better every day).

And there are so many sources.

You want to understand Elite Baseball Development concepts? Check out Eric Cressey’s (who heads the training and strength/conditioning department of the NY Yankees) podcast called… wait for it… “Elite Baseball Development Podcast“? You want to hear some of the most fascinating stories about MLB players? Full Account by MLB breaks down why Mike Trout was the 25th pick overall in his draft class (and if you just read that line and don’t get why that would be an issue, you definitely need to invest 49 minutes into that story).

Of course, diving deep into Baseball content can sometimes be as dry as it sounds. (Note: I’ve only heard from other people that it sounds dry. I call it heaven… not to be confused with Iowa). Unless you’re listening to our guy Sheets.

Jeremy Sheetinger, aka “Coach Sheets” knows how to tell a story. He knows how to get others to tell their stories. Most importantly, he knows how to make those stories not only relevant – but useful and helpful to coaches all over the world.

It’s because of his podcast that I became an ABCA member for the first time this year. It’s because of his podcast that the spark for becoming the best coach I can be has gone from a little flame to a raging blaze. And it’s because of his podcast that I am constantly reminded that no matter how different all of our circumstances may be in this great game of ours, that the keys to unlocking success are the same whether you’re teaching thirty 7-year olds how to hold a Baseball or if you’re 9-innings away from a spot on the biggest stage in the world.

What’s awesome about Sheets is he gets guys to open up and share universal human insights about coaching. What’s incredible about the podcast (which he did on the ABCA’s channels before Stick&Ball TV) is that highly successful, high profile people are sharing what they do in detail… because they believe that it will help everyone.

When I can get the guy whose team lead the NCAA in stolen bases to tell me exactly how he built that mentality, what drills he uses and how it has changed over the years I’m growing as a coach. If I can get that same guy to tell that story to the whole world, I’m growing the whole game. That’s what Sheets does. He’s a legend.

10 episodes into “Dugout Chatter” (on Stick & Ball TV) and the featured interview is our Liam Carroll (Field Manager of Great Britain Baseball and the face of the National Teams programme for years).

So first of all, worlds colliding. Halfway through my coaching career in Great Britain, I bought a fungo from Liam. We had a chat at a merchandise booth they had going at the UK Little League Championship and I found someone I could really talk to. He’s come to one of my youth practices and taught timing to 9 and 10 year-olds (using a drill I stole and bring out every time I talk hitting with youngsters). He sent me a text after my club team (The London Mets) lost to RusStar in Moscow last year, ending our hopes of making it to the final of the CEB Federations Cup Qualifier that lifted me up (when I was really down) and reminded me what the game’s all about. We’ve spent many afternoons and evenings sipping on a nice cool soda (or two) in a pub talking about how to grow the game in the UK. He’s also shared a dugout with guys like Trevor Hoffman and counts people like Brad Marcelino as family.

And now, alongside Britain’s biggest Baseball fan, Joey Mellows (aka BaseballBrit on Twitter) he is talking to Sheets about what it’s like to “grow the game in an entire country”. Mind blown. I never thought of it in that way. Like wow. There are even lessons to be learned from our little corner of the Baseball world. (Note to Sheets: it’s actually 4 countries… sorry Scotland, Ireland and Wales… there’ll be a bunch of Scottish Baseball players who will appreciate that you know this, pal).

You should listen to the whole episode because what I’m about to say is about 1/10th of the audio gold streaming into your earbuds.

But the one thing that Liam said that I kept coming back to was about history repeating itself in British Baseball.

We’re currently in a world where so many people are ‘breaking away’ and doing their own thing. People in different regions all over the country have found things that they want to have done differently where they live and, in order to achieve that, they have broken away and created their own leagues.

Trust me. Everyone has their reasons. I know that. I’ve had conversations, at length with many of the very people who have been the leaders of these new leagues. I’ve talked at length with players about it. There are some very good reasons why people have chosen to break away. If I look at what the guys in Hull, Birmingham, Northampton, Manchester or Nottingham need, they can be very different to what the London Mets or Herts Falcons need. And in many ways, it seems easier to be in a situation where the league I manage in is separate to the league that coaches in Edinburgh or Dublin are managing in. Until you consider it from a historical perspective.

When you look at it over a longer period of time, you see something different. We’ve been here before. Britain has had Baseball for a lot of years and over those years, more than once, there has been a movement to break it up into a bunch of smaller, regional communities who feel it’s best to build something that’s best for them – which has then ultimately not worked out. And then that period of breaking everything up is followed by all the work it takes to build it back up into a unified thing, only to be split apart again.

I want us to learn from that.

And if you stretch back even further on this issue, you’ll see that it’s not even unique to Great Britain. One of the defining moments in Baseball in the US was the realization that there were too many different professional leagues springing up all over the country. Each with its own different variations on the rules, its own culture and ultimately its own style of play.

This was caused by a “schism that developed between professional and amateur Baseball players”… and (spoiler alert) ended with the realization that it was hurting the game when everyone had their own version of it.

That story (which began in the 1870s) is what led to the formation of Major League Baseball. Among the issues that caused the split were:

  • Some clubs were forfeiting scheduled games once they were out of the running for the Championship.
  • One league featured clubs from major cities, which everyone felt gave them an advantage because they could attract better players and had more resources for them.
  • Some leagues were considered “Minor”, which they didn’t like.

Sound familiar?

If you don’t know this story, watch “Baseball” by Ken Burns. Or Google it. The point is that Baseball’s been down this road before.

The lesson is that it’s not that having different ideas isn’t important. It is.

Or that we don’t need to find ways to account for the different challenges that people might face, based on where they live or how much money their club has. We do.

The lesson is that we should be trying to do that together, not through 10 different leagues and 3 different people trying to prove their way was the best way.

Liam mentioned (in episode #10 of the biggest baseball podcast in the world) that there has never been a better opportunity for British Baseball. We have MLB coming to the UK again this year. We have our National Team playing in the World Baseball Classic, one of the biggest Baseball stages in the world. The UK is part of Major League Baseball’s calendar again this year. We have a new programme sponsored by MLB going into schools. We have a chance to compete for a European U-15 Championship and European U-12 Championship.

There will never again be another opportunity to grow the game and to inspire the next generation of players that will be bigger than the one we face now.

We all play, coach, watch and love the best team sport there is. You literally can’t win a Baseball game without people with different perspectives and skillsets working together. (The game will teach you everything you need to know).

What can we do to be more of a team and make more of the chances we have in front of us?

That’s the lesson I took from Liam, and Joey, and Sheets.

What’s next, British Baseball?