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Sophomore Season @ UMD Part 1

No longer a new student-athlete on campus, Alex discusses the competitive culture and brotherhood in College Park during his sophomore year.

After a humbling freshman season, I was anxious to get back to our field, Bob “Turtle” Smith Field in the fall of 2013. I had been fortunate enough to spend time in the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts and the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in Maryland the past summer. I had the opportunity to share the field with some extremely talented ballplayers such as John Means and Kevin Newman, as well as work with knowledgeable coaches that had personal experience in the game. I felt that my summer had prepared me in many ways for my sophomore year. My biggest takeaways were that I needed to conduct myself like a professional, and there was far more work to be done. Those two ideas became engraved in my head and eventually became part of my mindset and still are to this day.

The feelings of the prior season were still fresh in my mind. Fortunately for our team, we were bringing back a lot of talented guys that were impact players the season before. We all felt like we had something here with this group. Not only were we talented, but we had shared a year of games, practices, early morning lifts, late-night bus trips, classes, study hall, and parties together. This was our second season together and we knew each other like we knew our families. We knew what made each other tick, what pushed us, our insecurities, and our goals. As we geared up for the Old Liners and Aggies fall competition, there was a buzz around the team. Looking around the field it was apparent that we would be better than we were the year before, and the comradery we had for each other was adding fuel to our fire.

That fall a movie titled “Lone Survivor” was released. The movie was based on the true story of four American Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan to surveil and eliminate a Taliban target. Throughout the movie, the four SEALs were tested physically, mentally, and philosophically in completing their mission. They were pushed to their limits in life and death situations. We watched this movie as a team when it was released in theatres and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, it seemed like none of us could. We thought that we were going to see the movie as a nice relaxing change of pace from practice and our normal routine, but it turned out that our coaching staff had an alternative motive for us viewing this movie. It resonated with the concepts of never quitting, pushing yourself past the limits of what you think is possible, and doing whatever is necessary to ensure the group succeeds. Those ideologies became a part of our mantra that year. It’s about the guy standing next to you, not yourself. We arrived at a place where selfishness to be the best as an individual, and selflessness to work hard to not let down your teammate intersected, and we began to transcend into a group of hard-nosed, blue-collar, ass-kickers. The movie “Lone Survivor” remains my favorite movie of all time and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a sense of brotherhood, commitment, and mental toughness.

As I gained more perspective on what it meant to be a good teammate, I realized that my role was not to be a starting pitcher, it was how best I could help the team, and we had thirty-six guys that had the same mindset and goal. As the fall ended, I began to contemplate starting and relieving which was different for me. I had always been a starter and enjoyed setting the tone of the game from the moment I crossed the foul line to take the mound in the first inning. In a conversation with the coaching staff, we arrived at the conclusion that my talents would be best served out of the bullpen, late in the game. I was hesitant to make that transition. Selfishly I wanted to start because my end goal at Maryland was to put myself in a position to get drafted and play professionally. As a starter, the scouts would know what day and time I was scheduled to pitch, there was a sense of stability with how often I was on the mound. As a reliever that consistency wasn’t there and would prove more challenging for relievers to get seen by scouts. I had to decide whether to be selfish or selfless. I reasoned that if our team does well, that means I am doing well. Ultimately, I trusted that our coaches would put me and our team in the best situation to succeed. I had reservations about becoming a reliever because of my pro ball dreams, but the process was more important than the product.

We opened the 2014 season in Gainesville, Florida against the University of Florida. We played them closely every game and despite going 1-2 on the weekend, we felt that we were in a much better position as a team than we were a year ago in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Our process was more important than the results and if we all stayed the course, we believed that we could build upon our momentum. As the season continued the brotherhood mentality came and went for various reasons, not one would pull us together or away from it. It’s hard to get thirty-six people to maintain the same focus and dedication for a short period of time, let alone an entire season. We knew we would have our growing pains and our share of losses, but it was how we responded to those losses that would help propel our season to where we wanted to go. In late April things would drastically change for our team.

Alex Robinson