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Junior Fall @ UMD Part 1

This week we look into Alex’s final fall at the University of Maryland and his experiences in the first of a two-part post.

Junior Year. How did the time go by so quickly? I remember driving down to College Park two years ago with my parents and brother as they helped me move into my apartment and we took a tour of the campus and city. Now the campus felt like a second home to me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my brothers. This year was going to be my breakout season, just in time to be eligible for the 2015 MLB Draft. Coming off a dominating summer campaign in the NECBL in Keene, New Hampshire where I was an All-Star and ranked #1 MLB pitching prospect in the league, my confidence was higher than ever. The work I put in and the commitment I made to my craft was paying off and I was getting notoriety from my teammates, coaches, and professional scouts. My personal goal was to get drafted by a Major League club at the end of the season, and my team goal was to get to the College World Series in Omaha.

I cherished that semester more than any other up until that point because I knew that I would not be returning for my senior year. This year felt different from the start. The interactions I had with the coaching staff were more mature and more conversational than in years past. I quickly became an upperclassman before I realized it, presented with a unique opportunity to be a leader on the team and keep everyone moving in the same direction. This was a familiar feeling, a feeling that I had my senior year of high school. I loved being in a position to help guide and motivate through understanding, communication, and competitiveness. I loved the fall as much as I did the season. In a sense, we had our own season in the fall. The Old Liners and Aggies were back at it again, competing in every aspect of our lives.

I remember being in the locker room before the first inner squad of the fall and one of my teammates on the Old Liners asked if I was going to get the team hyped before the game. I responded with an “absolutely” but didn’t know what to do or say. My teammate challenged me to memorize and recite the Navy Seal Frogman Speech from our team’s favorite movie, Lone Survivor. With about thirty minutes before the stretch, I accepted the challenge and got to work. As we huddled up before our team took the field, I gathered the Old Liners together and recited the entire speech flawlessly. The adrenaline running through my body mirrored the sensation when I would step on the mound. As I recited the speech and looked my teammates in the eye they could see my passion, and I could tell I was feeding theirs. I never thought of myself as much of a public speaker, but after that day I felt I could use this hidden gift to help inspire my team before we took the field and went to battle. As the fall games progressed, I began to get more creative with my pregame speeches; including concepts of how our preparation is more detailed, our level of commitment is higher, and our desire for greatness devours our opponents. I looked forward to standing in the middle of that huddle before the game, just as much as I did stepping on the mound.

The games were as competitive as they’d ever been between the Old Liners and Aggies. The smallest details were affecting each team in terms of classroom attendance, grade checks, on time or lateness to class, study hall, lift, practice, and team events. With the scores being so close, everyone was on top of their business and didn’t want to be the weak link. It got to the point where we the players would indirectly run practice and scrimmages and our coaching staff allowed us to. We understood how to conduct ourselves and what standards we needed to uphold. It wasn’t a surprise that this year the coaching staff took a step back and let us do our thing. We had been putting in the sweat-equity over the past two years to earn this right and now our time had come. On multiple occasions, the team would get together without our coaching staff and the Old Liners and Aggies would compete in some event, and the following day the two teams would tell the coaches which team to give points. We were really a close-knit group of guys, always around each other whether it was in the classroom, the student union building where we would get food, or hanging out in the locker room in between classes. Our apartment felt like a big home where your brothers were always around to hang out with, we were never alone. We treated each other like brothers, constantly butting heads and cracking jokes at one another. During our inner squad games throughout the fall, our banter and chirping at each other escalated with each game. We got pretty personal with the things we would say to each other and would step over the line at times but in the end, we knew it was all part of our blue-collar grit and grind mindset, and no one took it personally. We had a bunch of guys with super thick skin that all wanted to be the best players on the field, leading the best team in the country, and we felt we were that team.