Inside Pitch Magazine, March/April 2022

Last Inning: Be Careful What You Wish For...

by Kevin Graber, head coach at Phillips Academy Andover (MA)

Kevin Graber in full uniform on stage at 2022 ABCA Convention discussing systematic chaos…is something my high school coach used to say. The thought popped into my head the moment when ABCA Vice President Matt Noone invited me to present on the main stage at the 2022 national convention. “We need a high school coach to present on baserunning,” Matt said. “You’re it.”
At first, I was excited. Holy cow, I’m presenting at ABCA Convention! I have to tell my wife. I need to call my mom. But soon it gets real. More than five thousand coaches registered. I could be mentioned in the same breath as fellow presenters Bobby Valentine and Bruce Bochy. I had to chew on that.
I trained like Rocky Balboa. I over-prepared, actually. My first draft dragged on at ninety minutes, way too long for my thirty-seven-minute allotment. The agony! What to cut? What to keep? Thankfully, the ABCA does a great job keeping presenters on track. Presentation titles due August 26, one-page outlines October 12, AV requirements November 19, PowerPoint first drafts December 3, and final PowerPoints New Year’s Eve.
After following that workflow, I was still left with a solid week to rehearse. I delivered my presentation to an audience of, well, no one for the next seven days. In the shower, jogging, in my car, at the office – I was continually going through my presentation.
Then the text messages rolled in. “Can’t wait to watch you present at ABCA!” “Good luck in Chicago!” It’s enough to make you want to hide under the covers.
I arrived in Chicago, and now it was really real. Hey, there’s Dan McDonnell from Louisville. OMG, that’s Ron Polk. Should I present at ABCA or walk around asking for selfies?
I took a highlighter and circled presenters I wanted to see – Brian Cain, Jeff Pickler, and of course my coaching idol Mike Roberts – but I didn’t go. I was scared I’d clutter my mind and forget my own presentation. If my brain was on a pitch count, a call to the bullpen was in order.
The big day finally came. Breakfast? Lunch? No thanks. Instead, I blew off some steam in the fitness center, grabbed a shower, suited up in my home cream uniform, and made my way to the big stage in a room large enough for a full football field. “Breathe,” I said to myself. “Just breathe.”
On stage, the first thing I noticed were the lights, which were almost blinding. I couldn’t see the audience. I focused on my PowerPoint and began: “I grew up across the street from a sandlot style baseball diamond. Every day on that field, it was me and my friends against you and your friends. No umpires, coaches, parents, or adults. I think that’s missing from today’s game.”
I realized, I’m okay, I can do this, this is actually fun! I buzzed through my slides. The videos played exactly as I’d hoped. No glitches. Then, just like that, it was over. 

How’d I do? I’m not sure. Then the people, one after the other. “Hey, I liked your presentation.” “Can I ask you a question about jump-lead steal breaks?” “What’s your drill progression for dive-backs?” “Can I get our contact information?” I dare say there’s a receiving line. It was awesome!
‘Be careful what you wish for…’ I thought about that again. It would’ve been easy to play it safe, easy to say no thank you. But I couldn’t. Life presents opportunities. They don’t come along every day. And who knows if one like this will come around again.

Phillips Academy Andover head coach Kevin Graber was named ABCA/ATEC Northeast Region Coach of the Year for the second time in the last three seasons in 2021 and was recognized during the 2022 ABCA Convention in Chicago this past January. 

Graber led Phillips Academy to a No. 1 ranking in the final New England Baseball Journal Coaches Poll for the third consecutive season in 2021. The Big Blue also cracked the Perfect Game National High School Top 25 for the first-time last year, peaking at No. 19 in the country. He was a first-time speaker on the main stage at the 2022 ABCA Convention. His presentation was titled “Systematic Chaos: The Control Freak’s Guide to Deprogramming Today’s Robotic Base Runners.”

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