It’s not where you start the race…
One of my favorite sayings is “It’s not where you start the race that counts, but where you finish.” I will say it to players who didn’t make a team they wanted, or who start the season riding the bench, or otherwise find themselves in a less than desirable position.
Of course, it’s easy to say things like that; platitudes come easily. So I thought I’d share one of my favorite success stories today – one that proves that saying is more than words.
I first met Erin Yazel when she was a first-year 14U player. (I’m old school, so I only recognize even number team levels.) As I understand it, Erin had joined an A-level fastpitch team after coming from rec ball. Not on the basis of her skills as much as the team needed players and Erin tried out.
To put a little more perspective on it, I came to that team as an assistant coach after it was already formed, about midway through the offseason. When you’re working indoors in a small gym it’s tough to get a real read on things.
Once we were outside, however, it became apparent that even though she was an outfielder Erin’s outfield skills were not quite at the level that was expected. That was a potential problem since the team had a few legitimate A-level players and some of their parents were vocal about who could cut it and who couldn’t.
Erin was a hard worker, though, and a good kid, so I went to the head coach and asked her if I could work with Erin separately at practice to help her learn to track fly balls better. The head coach agreed, and off we went. I also suggested to Erin that I could meet her before practice, or stay after, to help her hone her skills some more. She was more than willing since she wanted to be a full-fledged contributor and she, her dad Steve and I spent a lot of time together.
Over the course of that first season she got better and more reliable, although she did end up breaking her nose in a game when she lost track of a fly ball in center. That one was ugly to see and hear, but it didn’t stop her. After a couple of weeks off she was back on the field, more determined than ever.
One of the qualities Erin brought with her was that she was fast – like 2.7 home to first fast. So naturally I suggested she spend the off-season becoming a lefty slapper.
We worked on that the entire winter, along with bunting and swinging away, and by the next spring she was a different player. She took naturally to slapping and soon had earned the leadoff spot in the lineup for our travel team. She also made her JV team as a freshman, and likely would’ve gone straight to varsity if the head coach hadn’t come straight from baseball and didn’t understand the importance of speed and the short game (a deficiency he fixed the following year, by the way).
Erin went on to have a great high school career as well as a travel ball career, and actually came back to me a couple of years later to play on my IOMT Castaways team. I encouraged her to try college softball, and even helped her make a recruiting video, but in the end she decided it wasn’t for her.
But that doesn’t mean it was the end of her fastpitch career. Instead, she became involved in the Illinois State University club team. If you’re not familiar with the concept, club teams are groups of girls who form their own teams and play against similar teams from other schools. It’s fun and competitive, without the bigtime commitment and time sink of playing at the college varsity level.
This past year was Erin’s second playing for the Redbirds, and it’s clear she’s still loving the game. Her mom Judy sent me her stats.
For the season she had a batting average of .488, with an OBP of .533 and slugging percentage of .537. In 41 at bats she had just 4 strikeouts, and her OPS was a healthy 1.090. You can check out her whole line here.
That’s pretty impressive for a girl who had trouble even getting on the field her first year of travel ball. But it shows what you can do when you have a love for the game, the determination to improve, and the support of great parents. Not to mention self confidence, which Erin always had boatloads of despite some of the outcomes.
So if you’re not quite where you want to be, take a lesson from Erin. Don’t let anyone else define you, and don’t define yourself by where you start. Because that doesn’t matter. The most important consideration is where you finish.