We look into the fall of 2012 at the University of Maryland where Alex learns what it's like to be the fresh face on campus.
I remember move-in day of my freshman year at the University of Maryland better than any other day from my past. My family drove me down to College Park with the car filled with things for my apartment, which made it fairly uncomfortable making the four-and-a-half-hour drive down from Long Island. I could have been strapped to the roof of the car; it didn’t matter to me. Finally, I was going to get to play, live, and be with the rest of my recruiting class and attend college. As my roommates all showed up with their families we unpacked the cars, setup our apartment, and said our goodbyes to our families. We were all excited to have our apartment with no one telling us what we had to do and when we had to do it. The excitement eventually turned into “ah-ha” moments when we realized how much responsibility we had now that we were on our own. Small things like washing and folding laundry, preparing meals, and housekeeping became new responsibilities that we all had taken for granted in the past.
The first day of conditioning absolutely kicked my butt. In high school, the conditioning was structured around running laps around the track, as well as running “poles” (left-field foul pole directly across the outfield to the right-field foul pole, and back). The mindset when running long distances for me was to keep my pace steady throughout. This mindset doesn’t apply to sprints when we are running twenty sixty-yard sprints on the minute. I came in last almost every time and it was obvious that I was not prepared for this level of conditioning. I became exposed even more when my lifting technique left a lot to be desired. Instead of weight training to get stronger, I was working on simple movements to retrain my body on how to move efficiently. I was frustrated with my lack of preparedness because I had just spent the last summer working out with a team filled with Power 5 Division 1 athletes, and now retraining my lifting patterns. Over the next four months, I would struggle with conditioning and weight training, but I was slowly improving. The 5 am lifts became easier, easier to wake up for along with the routine of lift/condition, classes, individual training, team training, study hall, and home was beginning to become more natural.
As I was settling into this routine, I began to neglect certain responsibilities, mainly my academics. One day I received a text message from Coach Szefc asking me to come to his office for a 2pm meeting at the Comcast Center, where we also attended study hall. I arrived and found about twelve of my teammates (a majority freshman like myself) sitting in the room. At first, I thought I may have been in trouble, but when I saw the rest of my teammates there I felt more at ease. That feeling of ease quickly turned into panic and worry. The reason we were in this meeting was that we all had been neglecting our academic responsibilities and would be ineligible to play once the season began if our grades stayed as they were. Until we got our grades up, we would not practice with our teammates during the scheduled time, instead we would come to that room, study, and complete assignments from 2 pm to 4 pm, Monday through Friday. Coach Szefc put it very simply, “if I can’t trust you in the classroom, I can’t trust you on the field.” That message was received loud and clear by every one of us in that meeting. Grades quickly rose and we were back on the field after meeting the required GPA to be eligible.
I was getting more acclimated to the college baseball lifestyle each day. I was getting stronger and more explosive in the weight room, my grades were on the rise, and I had a designated time to do laundry. The other aspect of my life was beginning to catch up to my production on the baseball field. During our inner squad and practices, I was feeling good about my performance and mentality. I believe my success came from the experience of playing a high level of competition in summer ball and year-round training, preparing me for college baseball. I had been facing the best of the best throughout my amateur career so when I got to college, I felt confident to compete against whoever stepped in the batter’s box.
This was the first year that the new coaching staff was at Maryland, so we did a lot of events together to build chemistry and comradery. My favorite thing we did was team building where we were split into two groups in the fall, Old Liners and Aggies. Every aspect of our lives was calculated by a point system. The team with the most points at the end of the fall season would win. We carried a brotherhood mentality similar to the military. The mindset was that it’s not about me, it’s about the guy next to me, and for my brother, I’ll keep moving forward. If something happened to one of us, it happened to all of us. The competition of the fall was amplified by what was on the line. The winners of the fall were awarded a victory dinner while the losers had to attend additional conditioning. The winners had bragging rights and in a group of alphas, no one wants to lose. A level of accountability was taking shape, and we would battle each other not only on the field but in all aspects of our lives.
· If you were late to lift, minus ten points.
· Didn’t have your teacher sign your weekly grade check, minus thirty points.
· Win an event during practice, plus five points.
· Win an inner squad game, plus ten points.
The addition and subtraction of points were public for our team and was checked frequently by all of us. We all wanted to win, but more importantly we didn’t want to lose. Even though we were separated into two teams, we were all striving to achieve the same goal. Iron was sharpening iron (one man sharpens another).