Why Do You Play Baseball? - Coach Tierney

Rhino Home Plate
To me, it was always easy.  I played baseball because I loved it.  It’s as simple as that.  Sometimes you can’t even express that love into words; you just know that it’s the greatest thing in the world. 

When you’re 5 years old, hitting whiffle balls in the front yard, pretending you are your favorite big leaguer, hitting home runs over the giant maple tree, you do it only because it’s the greatest feeling in the world. 

There is no money, there is no fame, and there is no status. 

There’s just a little white ball and all you want to do is hit it over the fence and round the bases.  Every day your Mom asks you how you can possibly be so full of dirt, but while she is getting the stains out of your clothes she smiles because she wouldn’t have it any other way.  This is baseball, and that is why we love it.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget why we love this game.  I was lucky.  I was fortunate. 

Watching Cubs games on the roll out TV was the highlight of my day, and I would run out into the front yard between innings to fire tennis balls off of the garage, imagining I was striking out all of my heroes.  I never dreamed that I would have the opportunities that I did.  I was so caught up in the moment that there was no time to think ahead.

I grew up in a family that supported what I did, as long as I was determined and stuck with it.  I remember my Dad saying, “I will always support you no matter what, as long as you give it your all and you’re a good person.”  I tried everything growing up.  I played football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and I was even on the wrestling team in high school.  Heck, I even sang choir in grade school but I think that was more of a punishment than anything.  Despite all of this, nothing compared to baseball.  Maybe it was the camaraderie of a close knit team, or maybe it was my fascination of the mental and mechanical side of baseball, my desire to learn what makes winners and losers tick, what separates a champion from someone who finishes second, or maybe I just loved the hot dogs at a Cubs game.  Who knows?

I never dreamed of playing professional baseball, I just wanted to be out in the field with my friends on a hot summer day.  Even as a high school kid, I still never thought those dreams would be possible, but I never gave up.

I was always a good baseball player, but until my junior year of high school I was more of a first baseman than anything.  I was tall and gangly, had no idea where the ball was going, and was light years behind my teammates with just about everything.  I had no idea what a changeup was, had no pick-off move, got mad at umpires and fielders when they made errors, and made excuses.  I was a typical immature high school kid who didn’t have the guts to accept that he needed to grow up, admit that he didn’t have all the answers, and face his faults. 

I went into high school wondering if I would even make the team, and when I left high school, I was the 7th round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals.  I often get asked what I did to make such a drastic change.  The answer is simple, yet very complex.  I asked myself a simple question:

“Chris, how good do you want to be?  Do you have the ability to get better or are you telling yourself that your potential has been reached”

Once again, the answer was easy.  I had to figure out how to become the best I could be.  There was absolutely no way that I was going to get short changed and regret my baseball career.

To me, one of the worst things in life is wasted potential.  I was tall, left handed, and had ability.  There’s no way I was letting this go to waste.  But this was a different time.  The lack of quality pitching instruction was severely hampering not only me but other players as well.  Every pitching coach I went to said the same thing; stay back, stay closed, and follow through.  Great.  Now what in the world does that mean?  It was time to take things into my own hands.  Back in the late 90’s the internet wasn’t the unlimited source of information that it is today, so things were a little harder. 

I started taping every big league game that I could.  I would find guys that were similar to myself and try to figure out how their mechanics allow them to pitch like they do.  I started to actually figure out what staying back, staying loaded, and getting your arm up meant.  I started comparing my own videos side by side on another television, and sure enough, I started to find my flaws.  I’m not saying that this was the key to everything, but maybe it was.  My fastball climbed from 75mph as a sophomore to 85mph as a junior.  I compared what I was doing with some big league pitchers I developed my own set of drills to reinforce these mechanics.  Sometimes these drills weren’t very orthodox, but they got the job done. 

There were nights where I would be in the basement until 2am trying to pitch off of a 2x4 with my eyes closed.  Other days I was measuring the angle at which my stride was at upon landing, trying to create maximum velocity and momentum towards home plate.  Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop until I had it perfected.  As my fastball velocity increased, my curveball became sharp, and my command was honed.  After pitching in front of the right people, I received a full scholarship to the University of Arkansas.  I had never even thought of playing college baseball, and to have the chance to play in the SEC for one of the top teams in the country was unreal.  But still, there was no room to slack off.  I had to work harder to show everyone that I was truly worthy of such a great opportunity. 

Everything happened so quickly from that point on.  Life was truly a blur.  As my fastball started gaining velocity, I hit 90mph in the spring of my senior year.  Then it hit 91.  The phone started to ring with pro teams on the other end asking if I would sign if drafted.  I was speechless, but I knew I had earned it.  It was time to work even harder.  Back in 2001 we didn’t have internet, so did everything we could to have it installed, hoping we could hear my name called over the broadcast if I was fortunate enough.  I’ll never forget the words.  “In the 7th round, with the 206th pick overall, the Kansas City Royals select Chris Tierney, left-handed pitcher from Lockport township High School”.  I’m not a very emotional guy, but at this time, I looked around the room and saw my entire family smiling with joy.  I saw how proud everyone was, and despite this dream coming true, all I could think about was being that little kid in the front yard, playing baseball because I loved it, and how I never thought this day was even a possibility.  One month later, as a 17 year old kid, I made the decision to sign that contract and forgo college baseball.

I look back at my career and I have no regrets.  While some of my teammates were out partying, I was in my hotel room doing mirror drills and mentally visualizing my next opponent.  I’m proud of the fact that during my 10 year minor league career I chose not to drink, use performance enhancers, nor did I stay out late succumbing to all the distractions that were presented, and believe me, there were an awful lot of them.  My goal was so crystal clear that I had no room for distractions.  I simply wouldn’t allow it.  When I was tired, I pushed myself to run harder.  When I felt weak I gave myself proper physical rest and worked on the mental side of the game.  I made a journal of every start I had so I could make adjustments the next time around.  While I didn’t become a big league all-star, I stayed around long enough to have the an incredible 10 years, learn from countless big leaguers and Hall of Fame players, and experience things that I never thought I would.  I am so passionate about teaching and coaching baseball, and I make sure that every ounce of my experience goes into each and every player that I come across.

I want thank my parents, my friends, my coaches, my family, and everyone else that has helped me along the way.  I sure didn’t get here by myself.  We didn’t always have the best resources but we made things work.  Sometimes instead of a Christmas present I got a few baseball lessons.  When I got a glove, I treated it like gold so I could keep it as long as possible.  I believe this made me appreciate every little thing in life, and it made me hungry for success.  While this may not be everyone’s situation, I try my best to pass on these lessons in my daily life.  Life is too short to think otherwise.

Welcome to my blog.  I want this to be a place where you can come and feel like home.  I want to give back to the game and help as many players as possible.  I truly hope my passion shines through my words just as I hope they do through my actions, and I thank you for taking the time to get better, and maybe even learn a thing or 2 here. 

We all have the ability to be something great.  We are all champions; some of us just don’t know it yet.  With enough hard work, you can and will get there.  Your dreams are right around the corner, whatever they may be.  I guarantee it.



Anything is possible

Chris Tierney

 

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# coalers123 2013-05-15 16:28
whar a great article.Can't wait for my guy to read it.
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# Angie Rendina 2014-01-24 22:52
Wow, what an amazing story and a true inspiration to my son. He read your story and was truly moved. You are a great coach and I'm sure you will continue to make an impact on young lives.

Thank you!
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