Inside Pitch Magazine, November/December 2023

Respect, Responsibility and Reality

By Keith Madison, Chairman of the ABCA Board of Directors & National Baseball Director for SCORE International

A catcher shaking an umpires hand at home plateBack in the ’90’s, I was recruiting the top left-hander in the state. Scott Downs was a confident (some would say cocky) pitcher who had a reputation as a great competitor with outstanding command of his fastball and curve. His coach, Bill Miller, was a legend at Pleasure Ridge Park High School and throughout the baseball community in the state of Kentucky.

On the day I was scheduled to do a home visit with Scott and his family, I decided to stop by his practice and say hello to Coach Miller and then follow Scott after practice to his house in Louisville’s Southside. After PRP’s practice, I noticed the players did an excellent job of raking the field and putting all of the equipment away—not surprising considering Coach Miller’s reputation. Soon, I noticed that almost all the players had left the field with only a couple of assistant coaches left. I asked one of the assistants, “Coach, where is Scott?” I hoped he hadn’t forgotten me! The assistant coach said to me, “Coach, Scott’s job after practice today is to clean the restrooms.” I remember thinking, “Wow, the best player in the state is cleaning the restroom after practice!” I wanted Scott to play for Kentucky more than ever. We were fortunate enough to sign him and he became one of the best lefties in the SEC in that era and later pitched 14 years in Major Leagues.

One recruit I was evaluating during a game did not perform well. He went 0-4, popped up twice, grounded out once and struck out on curveball in the dirt that got away from the catcher. He ran to first base each time like his pants were on fire. Because of that, we continued to recruit him. We decided to watch him again. This time, he was much more successful at the plate, and we eventually offered him a scholarship. His attention to detail and his hustle got us back to watch him a second time. Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. If he had been the normal high school player in his reaction to performing poorly, we would not have seen him the second time and he would not have been offered a scholarship.

It’s great to have vision and long-term goals, but the foundation of a winning program rests in the details. Author and entrepreneur, Israelmore Ayivor, said “No step forward is too small. Just be sure it’s taking you to the right dream, then take more of those tiny steps.”  

In baseball, many times, it’s getting a bunt down, baserunners identifying (early) when the pitcher will throw a ball in the dirt (“dirt ball reads”), outfielders hitting the cutoff man, catchers blocking a ball in the dirt etc. And, like Bill Miller taught Scott Downs, team leaders also must take care of details, pay attention to the “little things” and develop a good work ethic and “team first” mentality. 

Coaches can lead the way in this area by having a more detailed practice plan and placing an emphasis on little things. One of many things I learned from Ron Polk as a Graduate Assistant at Mississippi State was to post practice schedules several hours before practice so that players see that thought and preparation has gone into the practice for the day. More importantly, this helps players get mentally prepared for what they will be working on that day. This helps players understand the importance of detail. Coaches and leaders can set themselves apart by teaching details that appear small, but when put together makes a significant impact. There are many examples of this, but I will share a few of my favorites as a coach:

  • Standing properly and being respectful during the National Anthem
  • Hustling on and off the field after each half inning and wearing the baseball uniform properly
  • Cleaning trash from the dugout after the game; especially on the road
  • The catcher introducing himself to the plate umpire and shaking hands with him at the beginning of the game

These are only a few things that can set a team apart in a positive way. There are many more, but you get the point.

Another coach approaching these small things in a different way doesn’t make them wrong, but doing things consistently and uniquely can create a more positive and disciplined culture. A combination of little things will turn in to a big thing…winning consistently and perhaps even a championship. Little things make a big difference. Everything matters. Every player matters.

“Whomever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whomever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
— Luke 16:10 

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.