Youth Baseball (Even During This Spring)

Youth Baseball Players Should Think Of Every Rep As An Opportunity Whether You Are Working On Your Swing or Attending Baseball Camp

Jon Zuber
Former MLB Pro and Baseball Coach
March 17, 2020

I was fortunate enough to play baseball for a long time. In one way or another, I have been involved in baseball for the majority of my life. I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people around as a result.  I played Division 1 college baseball, got to play in the College World Series, got drafted and played 11 years professionally. I even played in the major leagues over in Japan. After my playing career was over I got to coach five years at the Division 1 level, and now I run my own program.

Right now I want to talk to you a little bit about taking advantage of the opportunity. I'm going to add quotes on opportunity throughout this post.  They are all worth memorizing.  You'll recognize most of the names.  These are some of the most famous people in the history of our country and the world. I want you to think about the common theme.  In their perspective fields, they were all where you (or your son or daughter) are right now.  They had a crossroads to navigate and they chose the path of opportunity instead of deflection.

As a youth baseball player, all you can ask for is a chance or an opportunity. First as a player and then as a coach, my philosophy has always been "control the controllable" and let the rest take care of itself.  Every situation is different so you need to evaluate what you can and can't control.

For Youth Baseball Players Opportunity Is Where You Find It

There are a lot of things in sports that we can't control. You can't control what call the umpire makes. You can't control if you hit a line drive and a guy makes a diving catch.  You can't control if the pitcher makes the perfect pitch and a batter hits a blooper down the right-field line to drive in 2 runs.  Here's the kicker.  If you're busy worrying about things outside of your control it's going to take away from how well you can play. If you're focused on the wrong things you may miss an opportunity that won't come your way again. Rather than wasting time thinking about things outside of your control, you should be looking to take advantage of any opportunity that arises because you never know how many you'll get.  Let's face it some guys, whether it's fair or not, are going to get more opportunities than others. Whichever camp you're in you need to be ready when opportunity knocks. There are a couple of things that you can always control and those are your effort and attitude. Obviously, those two things go a long way toward being ready. So make sure you control what you can control and put things into proper perspective for everything else.

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

Albert Einstein

This time of year is when tryouts for high school baseball and travel ball are taking place and it can be tough. It's nerve-wracking, I get it.  You go out there, you do the best you can and then you find out where you land. The hard thing that a baseball coach has to deal with is when he gets a phone call or an email that says, "Hey, is this the best team? Is this the A team, or is this the B team?"  That's a very common call for a travel baseball coach.  High School, baseball is a little more clear cut, you're on varsity or JV. At this point in your lives, none of that should matter. What should matter is whether you can get on the field and play. Can you take advantage of whatever opportunity you get? It wastes time to complain. It puts you on the bad side of a coach. Use whatever level you're at and whatever team you are on, to get better. That's the opportunity you want.

No Matter What Baseball Team You're On It's An Opportunity.

No Matter What Baseball Team You're On It's An Opportunity

"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them."

Ann Landers

Would you rather be on the best team and play a couple of innings and get 10 at-bats during the whole season, or would you rather be on the B team or JV and get out there every single day and be an active part of a ball-club? Contributing to the process, the wins and losses, getting your uniform dirty, that's a lot more fun than sitting on the end of the bench wherever you are.  Trust me, I know.

Youth Baseball Presents The Perfect Environment to Learn.

Whether you sit or play is a big thing for a baseball player or for any athlete for that matter. From my experience, when I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for JV baseball and thought I was a first baseman. I played first base my whole life. Well, the coaches had other ideas.  The JV coach said, "If you want to play this year, you better learn how to play the left field because I got my first baseman."  At first, I tried to reason with him, I explained "I play first base".  As if the fact that I wanted it meant I would get the first base spot.  His response was less cordial than I expected...  "Yeah, well, that guy plays first base and he's gonna play over you."  So I was left with a choice, stand my ground and ride the pine, or take advantage of the opportunity to play and learn a new position.  I chose to play.  So I grabbed my baseball glove and went out and learned how to play left field. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career.

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. "

  Winston S. Churchill

Youth Baseball Players Should Be Open To Possibilities To Broaden Their Game

The Next year I was a sophomore. Most of my friends made varsity and I didn't. I got sent back down to JV. But that year I got to play first base because the other guy moved up. In my junior year, I was fortunate enough to make varsity. I got to play the left field again.  Then in my senior year, I got to play first base again.

I didn't play very much my freshman year at Cal. I was a designated hitter sometimes and played a little bit at first base.  We had a senior first baseman and I figured, heck, he's gonna leave and then my sophomore, junior and senior year I'm gonna be the first baseman and everything's going to be great. Well, little did I know that they recruited two other first baseman to come in my sophomore year. When they showed up they didn't have as much versatility so I got to play a lot of left field. I kept thinking back to how thankful I was that I chose to play rather than complain back in high school baseball.  I went out and I took the opportunity and learn to be versatile and learn to play another position and it served me well in college. Eventually, I ended up playing a lot of first base at Cal too. But being versatile meant I was on the field all the time.  As a result, I was able to earn all Pac-10 3 times and Pac-10 Player of the Year as a senior.

"Excuses will always be there for you. Opportunity won't."


Even in Pro Baseball, Versatility Provides Opportunity

After my senior year at Cal  I got drafted. Guess what... I was back out in left field. The next season I was at first base, and then the next season as in left field. They kept bringing in another first baseman and I would get bumped out to left field and then the next season, that first baseman was gone and I got to play first base again. Although I thought of myself as a first baseman, at that point, it didn't bother me anymore. I just wanted to be in a lineup, I wanted to contribute. I wanted to help my teammates, my buddies. I want to get out there and compete. While other players would come and go, my versatility kept me in the lineup.

"Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them."

 William Arthur Ward

These days a lot of players are more concerned about status than production.  When you're worrying about what team you're on, or where you're placed, you guys are too young for all that stuff. Just play. Just play and take the opportunities that you get because I'm telling you, I've sat on the bench a lot in my life.  Playing is a heck of a lot better than sitting on the bench no matter the level. As a player I hope you can take that into account.

Playing Is Better Than Sitting For Youth Baseball Players

"Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Thomas A. Edison

There are a couple of great examples of guys in the major leagues that took advantage of their opportunities even though it wasn't at their natural position. One guy in particular was in the MVP race last year for the American League.  He was one of the top three vote-getters for the MVP. His name is Marcus Semien. Marcus played at Cal. I was fortunate enough and lucky enough to coach him at Cal for a little bit. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2011. They played him a little bit at shortstop. They played him a little bit at third base and played them a little bit in the outfield. And he was trying to figure out what was going on. The White Sox didn't think he was an everyday shortstop. But that's what Marcus wanted to do. His versatility and willingness to play several positions kept him in the lineup. Fortunately, after the 2014 season, he got traded to the Oakland A's. His first year with the Oakland A's he led the major league in errors at shortstop... Everybody said, "Oh gosh, Marcus can't play. He can't do it."  Rather than listen to his critics and let things outside of his control get to him, he put his head down and he worked hard.  The A's gave him a great opportunity and he took advantage of it.  In the last two years, he's been a Gold Glove finalist. That's how good he got on defense. He took advantage of that opportunity instead of crying. Instead of saying "it's not fair you guys are bringing in other infielders." He just went out there worked, and that's what young players need to learn to do.

Marcus Semien Is One Heck Of A Baseball Player

"Opportunity is everywhere. The key is to develop the vision to see it."


Another great example also plays for the Oakland A's. His name's Mark Canha. Mark got drafted by the Marlins and was putting up great numbers in the Marlins organization, but they never gave him an opportunity. They never gave him a shot to get to the big leagues. For whatever reason, they always thought somebody was better. Somebody was a little bit better on defense or a little bit better hitter. They invested a little bit more money in somebody else. Well, the Oakland A's took a chance on him as well. He ended up playing a ton of games for the A's and Hitting over 20 home runs while establishing himself as a very good Major League Baseball player.  He could have complained or let the fact that he kept getting overlooked with the Marlins get him down.  Instead, he was all about taking whatever opportunity he could get.

"Your big opportunity may be right where you are now."

Napoleon Hill

It's easy to look at those examples and say "They're major leaguers...of course I'd do that If I was at their level."  The fact is if you don't learn to "roll with the punches" or adapt to coaches and situations by putting in the work to be useful to the team now you'll never learn it.  The further along you go in sports the less forgiving they become.  Baseball coaches and players alike at the higher levels don't have time to deal with egos.  They're looking for output.  A player that tells you how great they are is far less attractive than a player that shows you by putting in the work and adapting to what the team needs.

Put In The Work For Success In Baseball

"There are secret opportunities hidden inside every failure."


Your opportunity might not be there in one spot or on one team, but it might be there at another. That's a great thing about our game, this game of baseball. If you focus on what you can control, if you work on your game, if you try to prove everybody's decision wrong that you think has wronged you, good things will happen. So get out there and play, whatever position, whatever team you're on, get better. That's what you have to do. Because if you're 14-15-16, whatever age you are, if you don't play, you can't get better. If you don't improve you're not going to make it very much further. I hope you guys can make the most of every opportunity.