Early this year, I wrote a post on how to excel at spring training. Now, one of my teammates and good friend, Adam Sonabend, wrote this great piece and sent it over to me. Adam is one of the most positive and mentally sound players I know and has a great work ethic when he comes to the park every day.
Like Adam, I had a taste of extended spring training last season. Although, this year, Adam made it out faster than I did and is already in AAA (Don’t forget about me, dude).
I was originally going to call this post “Surviving Extended Spring Training,” but that gave me the image of a downtrodden player waiting to be rescued from some God-forsaken baseball island, bloodied and donning a tattered uniform. We are not trying to merely survive Extended Spring, we are trying to thrive in it. Just like any other level in the minor leagues, Extended Spring Training is merely one more stage to be beaten before we move on to the next step.
Extended Spring Training can be described as baseball purgatory. It is essentially a holding place where minor league players practice and play unofficial games, staying ready for an opportunity to present itself with a full-season affiliate within the organization or preparing for a short-season team, which doesn’t start until late June. Going into Spring Training, a player’s goal is to break camp with a full-season team. In the Giants organization, our minor league affiliates range coast to coast, from Sacramento, California to Augusta, Georgia. These teams have fans, travel, promotional nights and stadiums. They have records and statistics and playoffs and championships. Unless you count the two people who sometimes show up at our games (who also happen to be my parents) as fans, none of those things exist in Extended Spring Training. Needless to say, it can get monotonous and stale.
For those of us whose hopes and dreams in baseball go beyond Extended Spring Training, here’s some tips on how to keep moving forward while waiting for a greater opportunity to arrive.
A positive outlook is fundamental to success. This notion is generally accepted in all facets of life, and is particularly important in Extended.
I know, this one is far easier said than done. No one planned on being in Extended, but we’re here, and we might as well keep it light. I am not suggesting players should be disingenuous or mask their feelings. Heck, I was so fired up earlier this week that I sought the advice of our Peak Performance Coordinator, Derin McMains. D-Mac explained that being pissed off is sometimes a good thing, and anger speaks to your level of emotional investment. However, it’s important not to allow your edge to consume you. Perpetual anger isn’t going to get anyone to the next level.
I spoke with a teammate, who is currently on the Double-A roster in Richmond, VA, about his experience in Extended. He claims if he didn’t get sent there his first year, he probably would be out of baseball by now. He went into Extended with a plan. He knew he had things to work on and focused intensely on those aspects of his game. He said he had fun, went to work every day and improved more than he thought he could. It’s all about perspective.
Extended is a time where you need to really lean on your teammates and other support systems to help you persevere and maintain a progressive mindset. Thankfully, we have a solid group of guys to share a laugh with and some veteran presence to help keep things entertaining.
As a side note, I would advise players to avoid the salt, and I’m not talking about the stuff that sits on your table. There are going to be bitter and angry players looking to pull you in to their negativity. As the saying goes, misery loves company. It’s an easy trap to fall into, so avoid it at all costs.
Develop a Routine
The schedule in Extended Spring Training is almost as predictable as the Giants winning the World Series in even numbered years. If you are anything like me, this is fantastic because you can set a daily routine that will hardly ever change. There is no travel, which means no chance of broken down buses screwing up your plans, and we play in Arizona so rainouts are simply out of the question.
This allows us to plan out our day, even our whole week, from start to finish. Players generally have a good understanding of when they will play and when they will have an “off-day,” which helps when mapping out the week. I found I usually will not catch consecutive days because I am one catcher in a five catcher rotation. This means I can go a little heavier in the weight room on days I catch without worrying about it affecting me too much the next day.
Whereas Spring Training is a time to show what you have worked on all offseason, Extended Spring is a time for continued development. This is a great opportunity to pick out 2 or 3 specific things to work on daily. Giving thought to improvement and being intentional about a couple aspects can really elevate a player’s game. Things that seem like glaring weaknesses can be overcome and even turn into strengths in a matter of weeks if you set a routine for yourself and stick to it.
Work at a New Position
During Spring Training, I made a habit of taking ground balls at first base during batting practice on days I knew I was not going to catch in the game. Fast forward to earlier this month: I had a (very) brief stint with our High A affiliate in San Jose. I was sitting on the bench in the 8th inning during the third game of our series, which ended up being my final game in San Jose, when a teammate got hurt in the middle of the inning. I was called on to play first base even though I’m primarily a catcher.
Because I had spent some time at first base during practice, my manager felt comfortable with putting me there in the game. This by no means is a Cinderella story as I went on to make a pretty bad error (whoops), but hey, at least I got the opportunity because of a little preparation. Turns out, this was my official professional debut and I left with something to show for my time in San Jose.
I would never have gotten a chance in professional baseball if I was primarily a first baseman, but since I am already here, it’s a good idea to learn how to play at other spots on the field. Batting practice is great for learning a new position, since there are always coaches standing off to the side willing to hit fungos, and anyone can go into the outfield to get reads on fly balls hit off the bat.
The more things you can do, the more valuable you are to your organization. This principle holds true in almost every industry.
Use Off Time To Your Advantage
Taking my mind off my performance, whether good or bad, has always been something I have struggled with. There is plenty of down time in Extended since we usually leave the field no later than 3 PM every day and have every Sunday off. This leaves players with plenty of off time. The ample free time can be good or bad, depending on how a player chooses to spend it.
A teammate of mine loves to hike. Fortunately for him, we are stationed just a few miles from the eminent Camelback Mountain and various other trails, so he spends some of his off time trekking through these scenic desert landscapes. I feel like I get enough physical activity at the field, which is why I spend a good amount of time reading or listening to podcasts. My favorite book I have read since Spring Training began is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I frequently tune into the phenomenal podcast“The Tim Ferriss Show.” (I also have my own podcast idea, so if any readers out there have experience and would like to help please leave a comment!)
Something I started doing in college that has proven to be beneficial not only on the field, but has poured into other aspects of my life, is meditation. I take 10-15 minutes out of my day to lie down, close my eyes, and let my mind wander. Along with helping me concentrate at the field, I have also seen great health benefits from this short and simple activity.
What you do away from the field can be equally as important to your game as what you do at the field.
You’re a Phone Call Away
There’s no getting around it, Extended can be a frustrating place to be. We need to remember to control what we can control and enjoy ourselves. The goal of Extended Spring Training is to come out of it as a better, more complete baseball player than we were before. And remember, we’re only a phone call away!
Adam Sonabend is currently a catcher in his first year in the San Francisco Giants organization. He resides in Scottsdale, AZ. Adam attended Kansas State University, Mesa (AZ) Community College, and Eastern Michigan University where he earned a degree in Business Management.