Often overlooked at the lower levels, pre-season preparation is crucial to a player’s success in the season. This week Alex gets into his pre-season preparation for the spring of 2015 for the Terps.
As a student-athlete finals week was always a time of the year that I looked forward to for many different reasons. Academically it meant the end of the semester where a short, yet well-earned break had arrived. Athletically, it meant that the spring season was around the corner, and we’d get an opportunity to beat up on teams and pick up where we left off the prior year. From a personal standpoint, it meant relaxation and the freedom to set my own schedule for the day. It was almost like the end of the semester was a test on its own with the reduced structure and increased self-accountability. During the fall and spring, there was so much routine and repetition that we became dependent upon it. While at the end of the semester it was all on us to get things done and take ownership of our individual business.
After finals were over in mid-December, everyone would go back to their respective homes and the campus would be empty. I used to look forward to going back home to New York to see my family, as well as my friends when I had the time. However, as College Park continued to feel more like home, the harder it was to leave. I didn’t want to miss anything that would happen in general because I knew my remaining time living this lifestyle was coming to an end in six short months. A few days after Christmas, I returned to College Park to spend New Year’s in my apartment and begin preparing for the 2015 season. I remember our team’s group chat blowing up with the seniors, juniors, and some underclassmen all writing how excited they were to get down to campus to begin training, but also to get back with the boys. Some of my fondest memories from my college career came from that pre-season. My closest group of friends and I came back and had about three and a half weeks on campus with only our strength coach to answer to. Our days were awesome. We would wake up around 9 am, get to the weight room by 10:30 am, and finish up around noon. From there we would head over to “the bubble” which was this massive heated indoor facility that was adjacent to the field. We’d have a brigade of cars packed with our equipment rolling over there. Our group would be in that bubble for hours sharpening our craft, helping each other improve, and we engaged in some form of competition. After we finished throwing, hitting, and fielding, we would play European handball for our conditioning, and boy did those games get intense. Our group of ten grew to fifteen in a few short days after the rest of the team had heard what we had been doing. Before we knew it, we had almost the whole team back on campus following the same schedule as us. That was the first time we had that many players together on-campus training when it wasn’t mandatory to be there. I can honestly say, it was the most fun I had with the team by far. We were in-charge of ourselves, and we knew what we needed to do in order to be ready for the season.
Mid-January rolled around, and we were back to our traditional practices, lifts, and inner squads. We were still competing in everything we did, but the level we were at in the fall had been reduced it seemed. Maybe it was because we had the season right around the corner and everyone was a little tight; we had a lot of national attention and that came with expectations for us as individuals and as a team. We had about a month to prepare to head down to Coastal Carolina to begin our season and I hadn’t been throwing the ball well. The velocity was there, but I couldn’t locate any of my pitches. My fastball was arm side and high, and my slider just spun, overall, very uncompetitive performances. One poor outing led to another, which lead to another, and before I knew it, I was in quicksand. The more I tried to pitch better, the worse I was performing. How could this be happening; how could this happen now? I just had an incredible summer ball performance that put me in the national conversation as a top MLB prospect and dominated the fall at Maryland in front of scouts from every MLB team. I could feel myself losing the closer/set-up man role which I had worked so long and hard to earn. My mind began to spiral, and I was pilling on pressure in an already pressured situation.
I had become more focused on the MLB draft than I did on winning as many games with my teammates as possible so that we could get to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. I had become selfish in my actions and thoughts, and through my performance, I was hurting the team. With a week left to the season I had thrown the worse I had thrown in my entire career. It was laughable. Pitchers were flying all over the place, you would’ve thought I was allergic to the strike zone. That evening I was with my roommates who were my closest friends and a few other teammates who rounded out our group. We were sitting in our living room talking about the season and how good we were going to be. As the conversation went on with me just kind of listening, I thought back to what Coach Szefc had told me about my role and his challenge to me. He told me that we were only going to be as good as I was going to be, meaning if I’m doing my job at the end of the game and closing the door on the other team, we're going to win a lot of games. I loved the challenge and the motivation it gave me, but I had forgotten that. Then I looked around at all my teammates, my closest friends, my brothers and listened to the passion and excitement they had in their voices. I began to tear up and the group took notice quickly. I told them what was going on with me and how I felt about it all. They were all extremely supportive and understood the battles that we go through in our minds. Each one of them reassured me of their belief in me and that we were in this together. At that point, I put the MLB draft behind me and put all my focus on getting to Omaha with my group of guys. The last outing of pre-season I struck out the side, and when I returned to the dugout my teammates looked at me with big grins all thinking the same thing -- We’re back!