Bring Your "A" Game

Always Bring Your Best, or One Day You Might Wonder What Happened

It’s the last inning and the temperature just broke triple digits. You’re tired, you’re hot, your teammates are blaming each other for costly errors, and you’re in the hole by eight runs. It’s easy to give up, you tell yourself. Nobody will fault me if I don’t hustle. Why give 100 percent in a cause that seems lost? Outside of the fact that “the game ain’t over til it’s over,” as Yogi Berra would say, there’s another important reason to always play your ‘A’ game, no matter what: you never know who is watching.

Sure, you know Major League scouts and college recruiters are at showcases around the country. You know they come out to various big-name tournaments like the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., during the summer. But what about that high school winter league game, that Babe Ruth double-header or that weekend USSSA tournament your team entered just for fun?

OK, you feel safe you have a spot on your high school team, or next year’s travel team, so it’s tempting to not always dive for a grounder, slide on a close play or stretch to catch that foul ball along the fence. But just when you thought it was safe to play your “B” game, you better think again, because you have no idea who is in the bleachers making mental notes about your every move on the field. If you want to be noticed, if you want to play ball in college and beyond, take heed.

True story: Dennis Gonsalves, a Southern California scout for the Seattle Mariners, got a tip to check out a 6-foot-4, 240-pound catcher playing in a Sunday adult league. While watching the game unannounced, his attention soon turned to a 23-year-old lefty, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound fireballer who was dominating hitters for nine innings. Turns out he was the manager of a local Pep Boys store.

“He was totally surprised when I gave him my card and told him to call me,” said Gonsalves. “He had no idea I was watching him. I wanted the area’s supervising scout to see him. He played some college ball, but you could tell this guy was out there because he loved the game.”

Gonsalves, who at one time pitched for the Athletics, did not want to reveal the man’s name, noting the competition among scouts, but said he will be tracked for several more games.

“If the supervisor wants to, he is authorized to offer him a contract. He’s not a shoo-in. He has talent, but he needs to get in better shape and sharpen the command of his pitches. But if he works hard, he can do it.”

Besides the ‘big five’ attributes that scouts look for - Hitting, Power, Fielding, Throwing and Speed - there are other aspects of the game that are also important when it comes to swaying a report in your favor.

“You watch their motions, their mannerisms,“ Gonsalves said. “You pick up attitude. That’s key. You pick up a certain vibe. Does the kid hustle to his position, or does he drag himself out there? Does he give you an honest 90 when he knows he will be thrown out at first? Does he show enthusiasm? Does he have respect for his teammates and the game? Does he tell a teammate “good job”? A player can have loads of skill, but his character is important, too.”

For those players eligible, a scout will talk to a prospect’s coach to find out what kind of a kid he is. He will talk to the family as well. And he will talk directly to the player himself to find out which side of the foul pole his attitude lines up. “Sure, a kid can be a pain, and he’s got such great skills a team will take a chance on him,” says Gonsalves. “But, is that what you want? You want to put up with someone who is difficult to deal with? I don’t think so.” Remember: There’s no impression like a first impression, and it doesn’t take talent to hustle.

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, “There are three kinds of players ... those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.” Always bring your ‘A’ game and you’ll never have to wonder which player you are. -- Joe Bensoua