We are excited to bring you another tremendous Major League Baseball player, Kevin Youkilis, a man who had multiple All-Stars, won a Gold Glove, even a two World Series titles, two big giant rings with the Boston Red Sox. I think back of him and having the honor to go out and play against him. Even back into the earliest days, I remember him in his first instructional league, it might have been my second one where they bring in the best of the best of the Minor Leaguers at the end of the year. Thinking back all the way to those days just knowing that there was something special about him; the presence and the way he went out there and played the game, just hard-nosed and him out there to beat you. There was this humility to it all too. That is one of the things I most respect and most admire. I’m grateful because that’s who he is and that’s what comes out in this interview.
When he shares with us not only things that he did or the path and journey of his own career but when he gives advice, there’s some tremendous things that I think he says. He talked about young ball players. So many athletes that I work with I know they go through the transition of high school to college and college or to the pro level. He gives a tremendous advice and definitely make sure you take away, you write that type of stuff down because I want you to get it deep in your mind, the mental skills, the mental habits that we create. They are no different than the physical skill ones. We don’t just go to the cages and listen to the hitting instructor or practice on our own, take a few swings and then just come back a month later. We do repetitions over and over and over again.
A great saying from someone much smarter than me once said, “Repetition is the mother of all skill.” With our physical skills, we want it to become second nature, taking those thousands and thousands of swings or throws or whatever sport it is you play. The mind game, the mental habits, whether it’s specific things like visualizing or saying the affirmations, incantations, doing those types of exercises to build up a strong mind, or if it’s just listening to me talk about it and doing these interviews with other successful Major League athletes.
Just know that if I keep saying something over and over again, I know it might get boring but I’m doing it for a reason. I’m doing it for a purpose. This show isn’t always about being an entertaining show, for me it is a show that is informative and educational for young athletes, even higher level athletes and for the coaches and the parents who want to learn the thinking patterns, the strategies, the viewpoints of some of the games’ best in all different sports. We’ve been fortunate enough and blessed to bring in a lot of Major League guys but also guys with the NFL, the PGA and a couple of tennis players as well from the ATP. When you hear things get repetitive, that’s okay. It means it’s going to sink in deeper into that mind and become muscle memory within you too.
The idea of competition has been on my mind a lot. Maybe you listened to the last episode, we went in depth about it. Maybe you’ve been following us on social media, the Jason Botts Peak State page or even my personal page and you’ve seen me make videos and make posts about the idea and the importance of being an athlete and having this mindset that you are going to compete. It’s not necessarily about beating the other guy. Maybe you focus on that but that’s not the important part about it. Winning isn’t the important part. The important part is when you compete, that you go out there and you’re giving it every bit of who you are, everything is moving towards the direction or the results that you want.
I ask Youk a lot of questions about it. The reason why we’re talking about it again even after we did it last week was I wanted his insights on it. I know he was tremendous, he was a grinder, he was a fierce competitor, a guy who wanted to go out there and beat you. At the very least give it everything and over the course of his career, he had to constantly go out there and prove himself.
With the young athletes that some of the things that we’re teaching, this emphasis on if we’re not getting results we want it’s because we had the wrong swing mechanics or we’re not doing the right gadget or we’re not going to the right hitting instructor. I find it interesting too that the more I talk to guys who are a little bit older or more old school in their ways of going out there and playing, they question me or they look at me silly when I talk about the idea of working on the mental skills of ball players. They don’t quite understand it, which is interesting because actually they did it phenomenally when they played. One of the reasons why they were so strong mentally back in the day was because it was so much more focused on just competing, on going out there.
When you compete, what actually happens when you’re going out there and you say, “This guy is not going to beat me. I’m going to do everything I can to get the job done,” every little ounce of you is in that present moment where you play your best. You’re not thinking about your mechanics. You’re not thinking about how your body is moving or any of these details that could be distractions. When you’re competing and you don’t want that guy to beat you, everything is in the present, just like when you play in the zone. I always use the analogy of being the mongoose. You ever see that video of a mongoose fighting this cobra snake? If you were to start thinking about his mechanics and how he’s moving his feet or how his hands are, thinking about what’s going on tomorrow, he’s going to take himself out of that present, his reactions are going to be slower. When we compete and we’re focusing on that cobra, that present moment, we allow our best to come up.
Ultimately, the things that are most important about playing this game, whatever game you play, whether you do it at a young age for a few years or whether you get the blessed opportunity to be a longtime star in your sport, the real reason in my mind why we play and why we need to teach things like competition is because it’s a skill that needs to be developed in life. The more that we develop that skill on the field, the more it’s going to translate into other areas of life. There’s going to be plenty of challenges off that field. I ask any big time athlete, “When were the times you were most fearful, most afraid, most nervous?” None of those times ever come out on the baseball field between the white lines or the football field or whatever it is. It’s always something that happens in everyday life: personal relationships, family issues, health issues, financial situations. Those are the times when your back gets against the wall and your guts and courage have to be called out. If you have this weak underdeveloped muscle of being a competitor, of doing whatever it takes to get to the result that you need to get to for yourself or for your family, you’re going to be at a little disadvantage.
When I look at the young athletes that I work with, when I look at my own sons, everything that I can do to teach them this value of being a competitor is one of the highest things on my lists that I hope I can instill or make them aware of its importance, of its value to their overall lives, not just to being good at their sport. With that being said, that’s the tip of the week right there. I hope you really enjoy this interview. I hope you enjoy as much as I did. Youk is a tremendous man. With that being said, I’m going to go ahead and call him up to the plate. We will see you on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
Kevin Youkilis on Work Ethic, Determination and Education
Here we are. We’ve got Kevin with us right now. Kevin, you go ahead and say hello to everybody.
Hey, everyone. How’s it going?
It is definitely an honor and a pleasure to have you on here. I really want to get you started by sharing where you grew up, who influenced you as a player and where the passion for the game of baseball began.
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. All throughout my years I was in Cincinnati, even in college I went to the University of Cincinnati. Growing up in Cincinnati, I had a great opportunity to see Pete Rose play. I got to see Pete Rose play and then I got to see Pete Rose as a player manager, which is always interesting. I always was asking my dad, “He’s the best hitter of all time, why is he managing? Shouldn’t he be up there hitting right now?” That was always fun as a kid. I was always waiting for that time where Pete would maybe tell a rookie to go, “Sit on the bench. I’m going to go get that at-bat.” That was my biggest influence. The Cincinnati Reds, 1990, I was eleven years old when they won the World Series. There were a lot of great players that I loved; Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, José Rijo, just a ton of Reds. Pete Rose probably had the most impact and influence on my career, just the way he went about playing the game and never giving an at-bat away. He grinded so hard. That attitude and that competitiveness and that spirit just really was probably my biggest influence.
Growing up as a young ball player, was there a certain age that things really started to take off for you? I know all guys have different paths and they develop at different stages. Was there a distinct time for you where things started coming together as a player?
I had an interesting path. For some that probably don’t know my background, I was the unorthodox, I was the chubby kid, I was the guy that was not the 5-tool player. I had got cut from Midland, the big baseball team in Cincinnati, the Midland Organization. I don’t know if it’s still big anymore but it was huge back when I was growing up. I got cut from that team. There were just a lot of things. I basically was under the radar. I had to work. Everything I earned was through hard work and through dedication and passion for the game. I had two Division I college scholarship offers that weren’t full rides or anything big. They were to Butler University and the University of Cincinnati. As I tell everyone, if I was a six-foot shooting guard that would have been pretty cool because those are really good basketball schools. As far as baseball, not the most prestigious baseball schools. I had a different path. I just grinded it out and worked hard.
My whole thing was I always wanted to make the next team. In Junior High, I wanted to play freshman baseball and make the team. Then I wanted to play JV and then JV, I wanted to play varsity. From varsity and all that, I wanted to play college baseball. I never looked really far into the future. I was really caught up in the moment and really just playing the game and trying to get better each and every day. That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, was never losing sight of what’s in front of me.
I’m curious about what age was that when you were cut? What year was that?
I was sixteen and I was cut from the Midland team. The best part about it was the summer team I went on to play for, we actually played Midland in a tournament. Aaron Cook, a buddy of mine, he played for Midland. We played together when we were thirteen or fourteen. It was really, really good select team. We won the AAU National Championship together. Then he went on to play for Midland. It was cool when the team I played for, it was some guys that got cut from Midland or were overlooked from Midland, we went on to beat them a few times during the summer ball. It was glorious for all of us that were not the misfits, you can only have so many guys on a team. There were so many talented players on Midland from all over the country. We were just happy just to play on this team together and compete against some of the best.
Sixteen, that’s definitely a key moment. Is there anything you remember going on in your head? I’m sure a lot of people would go the other way and maybe give up or throw in the towel, but obviously something went on and motivated you even more. Do you remember some of the stuff that went on in your mind at that time?
I was given a trait at birth of being bullheaded and headstrong. I really didn’t have a choice in life. My genetic makeup pushed me more to being that way. I got a chip on my shoulder. I even got cut in seventh grade, in my Junior High; I got cut from the team and didn’t make it. I tell that story all the time. I still see the coach that cut me. I made the team the next year as an eighth grader. It was more of just determination. In life, that’s what we lack more than ever now. Through technology, everyone wants to feel comfortable. Everyone wants to be treated comfortably. Some of the best lessons we ever learn in life are when we’re knocked down. You don’t succeed a lot and the people that make it to the top in whatever they do, at some point, there were some failure.
Michael Jordan got cut. My brother-in-law is Tom Brady for those who don’t know, he was overlooked at Michigan for many years and got pushed aside by other quarterbacks. Some of the best athletes and some of the best people in life are the ones that get knocked down and get right back up. I always try to teach kids that. I say, “Don’t worry if you get cut. Figure out what you need to do to get better.” Usually what getting better is, is finding a way and changing what you’re doing. Not making huge changes but little changes here and there and just wanting to get better every day and learn.
You touched on several key topics that I’m very passionate about. One obviously is the idea of work ethic. Could you give us some examples of maybe in your journey of what you said, “I need to get better at this,” and how you went about doing it?
For me personally, looking back, and I joke around with my parents about this, but the biggest problem is the information that’s out there and these standard American diet or different doctors that just keep doing the same thing over and over and it’s just a standard practice. There are alternatives out there. I also say that some of these alternatives that people are presenting are not studied as well and you’ve got to be careful. You just have got to be careful about the information you’re getting and from whom.
That’s one of the biggest things for me growing up, was once I got to college and I learned a little bit more about nutrition and got my body in better shape and learned what I was doing wrong. That’s where I say I joke with my parents. They just didn’t know any better because the standard American diet that’s fed to a lot of kids and a lot of parents at an early age is not healthy. I’ve just recently got on a Paleo or Primal, there are so many different variations of Paleo. I lost fifteen pounds and feel better than I have ever in life. If I would have had that information when I played, it might have helped me too in a sense of understanding how big nutrition is. To me, the first step that every young athlete or every person in general is you can change your nutrition, you can change your diet and you can do it to benefit you.
First and foremost, that was one of the biggest helps of my life, was going to college and getting educated on nutrition and then followed up by that was probably weightlifting and learning all about that. It just carries over on to the baseball field where you just keep learning every day. From high school to college, there are so much more information being passed on. From college to Pro baseball, there’s this incredible amount of information that you learn. For me, it was just watching my peers, listening to the coaches and figuring out how my body and how my structure works. That’s key too, is understanding yourself more than understanding the game. We’re all unique. Our bodies work in different ways. You have to figure out what works best for you.
You talked about two things that come to mind for this next question. The idea of keeping the next step in focus and also you mentioned the transitional parts of the game and your career of going from high school to college, college and professional baseball. I’ll even throw in there the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues. Which one of those for you was the bigger challenge? What did you really focus on during those times to keep you moving forward to where you wanted to be and play the way you wanted to?
High school to college is a huge jump. One, you’re usually playing around the same age range of guys. The talent is a lot different. When you go to college, your first year, it’s a big learning experience. You’re still developing. You’re eighteen years old, you’re still a pup and then you’re going against some guys that are 22, 23-year-old guys, even 21-year-olds getting ready to get drafted. That three years of development is huge. You see it more probably in football than any other sport, but in baseball you see a lot of it. It’s mind-blowing going from having your parents there and taking care of you to taking care of yourself. The opportunity to make a lot of wrong decisions in college versus making really good sound decisions but also having fun too.
That’s the key I tell guys, is learning how to have fun and knowing you have to go to class and you have to do all of the things to be able to play. For me, high school to college is the biggest one. After that, in Pro baseball, the biggest jump in Pro baseball hands down to me was Double-A to Triple-A. I thought Double-A to Triple-A is the biggest jump. It’s a huge transition. Once you’re in Triple-A for a little bit of time, you learn. Some guys jump through that easily but it’s a very different style of baseball. I know it’s changed a little bit since we were in that level, but it was just a huge jump from Double-A to Triple-A.
What specifically about it was different in your mind?
Like I said, it’s a little different now because there’s a lot more younger guys and there’s not the veteran guys that played Major League Baseball and that they’re down at Triple-A. The hardest part was you’re a young player, you’re coming in to an atmosphere where guys have Major League service time. It’s a little different now like I said, but they would treat you like you have to earn their respect. You’re looking at these guys and you’re looking up to them. You’re looking up to a lot of guys that have experience and you’re trying to learn from them. The biggest problem I had was I listened too much to too many guys. I had so many guys in my ear. I was unique, I had a unique batting stance, I had a unique way of going about it. What worked for me didn’t necessarily work for the other guy. You can learn through other guys by watching them and trying to take in what they do and figure out how you do it yourself.
I hit 180 or something in my month of Triple-A in my first year. My biggest problem was I was trying to please the players around me by listening to what they had to say every day. There were six guys telling me what I should do. All six of those guys had different information. What I should have done was I should have been a strainer. I should’ve taken a little bit of the advice while keeping some of the other stuff. I always compare when you wash blueberries; you have a little bit of blueberries and you have the water draining out. You don’t want too much of that coming out. I was allowing so much of that information going into my head and it was just messing with my head. I should have just let a little bit of information from each person to basically sink in and take each little bit of advice and not 50% to 90% of their advice.
That’s a great metaphor. I have never thought of the strainer idea. It’s definitely something I’m going to be using in the future talking with young players. You get to the Major Leagues. I’d love to hear that first Big League game experience and who you faced and how it all went down.
It was May 15th 2004. The Red Sox were in Toronto. I remember I was in Charlotte. Our Triple-A manager called our hotel room. I answered the phone. Buddy Bailey, he’s from Virginia, he was like, “Youk, you got your own passport?” I was like, “What?” I actually had my passport on me for some reason. No one ever usually has their passport but I had it because I was on this Red Sox cruise that year before in the winter. I kept it on me. Luckily I had my passport. He was like, “You’re going to the Big Leagues, son.” I go to the field and I get on a plane. I go to Toronto. It was in between because Ben Miller got hurt and he had to get knee surgery. I finally get the call after the game’s over. It’s 10:30 or whatever in Toronto. I’m in the hotel room and just waiting like, “What’s going on here? Who’s going to call me?” Terry Francona calls me and laughing and joking with me. He’s like, “You’re in there tomorrow.”
Telling me I’m starting tomorrow in the Major Leagues, the anxiety level and the excitement went through the roof. I got hardly any sleep. I got four hours of sleep, I was so jacked up. I go to the field, look at my locker. All of a sudden I have a number twenty sitting there with my name on it. It just hit me I don’t even know what this number is, never had it. I don’t even care. This is the greatest number I ever had because in spring training I was 79, 55. I go in there, do all the stuff. My first at-bat, I faced Pat Hentgen, former Cy Young Award winner. He wasn’t the same Pat Hentgen then. It was more toward the tail end of his career, but he was a Cy Young. 2-1 changeup, I pop it up my first at-bat. It’s just one of those balls you clean everything to sky high. I look up and I’m like, “Hit the roof, hit the roof,” so the guys can’t catch it. I’m like, “That’s a little high up there. I don’t think it’s going to hit the roof. You’re out. Sit down, son. Great at-bat.”
I get up the next at-bat, I get a 2-1 changeup again. I hit it clean and bailed it up, home run, come in, everyone’s on the bench, no one’s saying a word. I come in and get fake high-fives. I go to the end of the bench and just sit down because I ran as fast as I could around the bases. That was it. My teammates came up and just congratulated me, the coaches. That was one of the greatest days of my life. I’ll never forget that moment. It was truly special.
I always love asking former Major League guys and guys who are still playing too, what stands out in their mind. You talk about that jump from Triple-A and just the lifestyle being in the Minor Leagues to the lifestyle that’s in the Major Leagues. It’s just something that is small and just different but it’s really cool. I was thinking about the quality in coffee. In Triple-A, you’re drinking instant Folgers and next year in the Big Leagues you’re drinking Starbucks in the clubhouse, you’re getting your own room and all these other things. Is there something that really stood out in your mind that’s like, “Wow, this is the Big Leagues. This is really cool.”
The first paycheck. I never saw so many zeros on a paycheck in my life. That was it.
There was a comma. It was the first time I ever saw a comma in my paycheck. I was like, “Holy cow.”
I signed for $12,000. That was the biggest check I’ve ever seen. Going in the Major Leagues and getting another paycheck that had five figures on it, you’re like, “What do I do with my life now? This is crazy.” The paycheck was big. The biggest one honestly besides the paycheck was not having to carry your bags. Not having to carry your bags is the coolest thing ever. I was just like, “What? Wait.” In Triple-A, you’re carrying your bags, you’re going, riding on the buses and then just the flight. Everything had to do with bags. You don’t touch your bags, you’re on a flight, you get food, and the Major League clubhouse food too. It’s a whole other element. There were a lot of cool things but I have to say, paycheck, number one and then not carrying your bags is definitely number two.
I think back to the first time I ever got called, it was only for three days and I never even played. As soon as I got sent down, it also bumped up my pay too. I remember getting my first paycheck and going to the mall. Like I said, it was the first time I ever had a comma in my paycheck. I was jazzed, I was excited. I go walking around thinking, “What am I going to buy?” I don’t know, I guess being at that stage, being 24 years old, there’s just not much that you want other than playing baseball. I ended up buying the Air Jordan basketball shorts. They were $50. That was my big spending spree. I walked out of there.
I look back to the Minor Leagues, how much time did you spend in a mall? If you look back on how much time you spent in a mall as a professional athlete, it was wild.
I imagine a lot of people that might be listening don’t even know, but the ideas of the getaway days where you have to checkout of the hotel. It’s the last game in town and it’s a night game and you have to check out of the hotel at 11 AM or maybe noon and the whole bus of players goes to the mall. You hang out until it’s time to go to the field. You’re right. Guys are taking naps in the mall. Find a place with furniture and a comfy chair and just zonk out.
You definitely got to go to a restoration hardware anywhere like a Macy’s or something like that. You’re going to lay on the beds.
Just crawl into the bed, testing it out.
So much time there, especially spring training to get out of the heat.
For me, being with Texas, coming into Fenway was obviously one of my highlights. The history of the stadium as well as the fans. That was just something different there. What was your experience of playing at Fenway?
Fenway, it was one of the meccas. The old Yankee stadium was a mecca. Cubs and Wrigley is a mecca. They’re all just these staples that have so much tradition and history. For me, being able to go there and be on the field in the Cape Cod League helps to get my bearings, being there before. There’s nothing that compares to the roar of the crowd at Fenway when you come out for your first at-bat there and the fans are cheering you. I’d go back and I still have goosebumps thinking about it. It was funny because where our group hub is here in California, there are a lot of Ace fans and a lot of Giants’ fans. An Ace fan came up to me and he’s like, “I don’t know how you played in Fenway.” I said, “I don’t know how guys play in Oakland.” He looked at me like I was crazy. I said, “No, it’s not what you’re thinking when I say that. The hardest thing to do is not play in front of a lot of fans.” For me, I came up in the Red Sox system so I’ve played in front of sold-out crowds every night.
Once you get used to that atmosphere and that added extra adrenaline rush every single night, it’s hard going where there’s no adrenaline being filled by the fans. For me, people always say, “Wasn’t it so hard?” I said, “No, it was actually easy in the sense of when I didn’t have that adrenaline rush that day, I knew the fans would be able to pick me up on those days.” Some guys can’t deal with that pressure and added thing. I look back and I was always looked at that I couldn’t do things so I had a huge chip on my shoulder that I was trying to prove myself, that I was helping myself to such a high standard and being a perfectionist that I didn’t care what the fans had to say because if the fans say I stink, I’m thinking I stink, I need to get better and all that. I’m already thinking it. The fans didn’t affect me as much.
One of the questions I wanted to ask you when we get to talking a little bit about mindset and the mental side of the game, was there a pregame routine that you did? A routine to prepare yourself mentally. I don’t know if visualization or just breathing or just something to slow yourself down before those games.
That’s one of the good things that is being implemented more, is the mental side of baseball. A lot of teams are really adding a lot of mental skills and breathing and meditation and mindfulness. I wish I would have had that more. My old thing was, “I’m going to go, go, go. I’m going to grind this out as much as I can.” It showed on the field. People watch me play. My pregame routines were all about just getting my body loose.
Probably the only thing that I would do sometimes is if you’re in the right stadium, Tampa Bay was the best one, if you’re playing in Tampa, you could sit there on the line, you could see the pitcher on the right field line. I would just visualize getting my timing down and visualizing his pitches and what I was going to do. That was pretty much the only visualization-type ideas I had. If you’re in the right ball park, Texas was tough because they’re warming up and you can’t see them. You can see their head, you can see their motion. I used to love the stadiums where I can see the pitcher warming up where I could just visualize the pitches and visualize him from the stretch and the wind-up. Those were probably the only visualizations I ever really focused on, was just timing of the pitcher.
What about in the box, hitting approach-wise? What were some of your thinking or what you were trying to do during that at-bat?
The big cliché is a pitch to pitch was always the big one; knowing yourself and going from understanding a pitcher. Pitcher reports were always really good in a sense of they would give you percentages and allow you to guess on certain pitches. For me, I always look at fastball and reacted. I always felt that if I miss that good fastball, if I was looking slider and I got a fastball right down at the middle, that would crush me for two at-bats. Why not just look fastball and if I get that good fastball and capitalize on it, because you’re not always going to capitalize on a good fastball either. A round-ball around at-bat is tough.
In the box, my big thing was always just, when I would get jumpy, take a deep breath, hit my back hit, calm myself down. Sometimes it was the breath. The breath is one of the biggest things we teach nowadays; take that big deep breath. Why are you taking that deep breath? Like you said, maybe it’s that visual. Manny taught, he always would visualize and he would always look at this maybe a number or some object usually over the dugout into the stands. He would pick one thing and focus on that to get his laser focus and attention and then he could look at the pitcher. I learned how to do that too. I’d look at one specific spot rather than scattering my eyes and my vision around. I learned how to do that too. I’d pick one image in between each pitch, look at it, take that breath or whatever pointer that I was going to say like, “Look in here. 2-1, he’s going to come in here. I’m going to look for 2-1 in but I’m not going to expand the zone in.” It would be just that self-talk. Some of that self-talk was not good, as you know. Sometimes the self-talk is like, “I got no chance here. This guy’s eating me up. Please just throw me a fastball. I need to hit this.” For the most part, it was trying to have good positive self-talk.
You were focused on a specific area and feel like you’re narrowing you’re focused a little bit and take it to the pitcher?
Sometimes I would also really try to focus on where the guy was throwing out of. He might have thought I was staring him down. Sometimes your pitcher is probably thinking you’re staring at him or staring him down, but I was more visualizing the backdrop and bringing that image and seeing where it comes from and really visualizing that to get the farthest depth possible from where that ball’s coming out of.
I’ve never asked this question, but this is interesting. When did you start looking at that point? When would be too early and when would be too late when you’re trying to look in that spot where he’s releasing the ball?
That’s one of the big things. There would be some days, I go up there my first at-bat and I’d be looking. This is one of the big ones that all hitters realize. You’re taught never to look at their head because they never throw from their heads. Sometimes you’re just looking at the guy and then you’re like, “Wait, I’ve got to look at where he’s throwing.” I started doing that a lot more when I read a little thing about Tony Gwynn talking about sidearm guys and how you go from the ground up and you look at a spot. It was interesting. He said, “Look at the ground and then go up to their belt line.” I always thought that was fascinating.
Are we talking about sidearm or even lower than sidearm, like the submarine?
Yes, submariners. That was my thing too. He said, “Go from the ground level and go up a little bit.” I thought that was really interesting. I took that and I saw a huge, huge jump with sidearm guys or submariners. It really clicked with me on the guys that even throw overhand. That should be your point of focus every single time, is where they throw out of and figuring that out on deck. Figure out on deck where they’re at and then when you get up there your first at-bat, your first pitch, or if you’re taking the whole way, that should be your full focus, is visualizing that position for the next pitch and saying, “He’s throwing out here.” That’s where your eye sight should be the whole time and not on their hat. Sometimes you get to where their hat is and then you’re moving your eyes too much to where they’re throwing.
I definitely think you’re a great person to ask. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more maybe about the idea of going out there and just competing. One of the things I see today with young players coming up is they live in this great time with this amazing technology. Even ten-year-olds now have access to what their swings are doing and their mechanics. Whenever someone’s struggling, it always seems like it’s because of a mechanical thing rather than just doing whatever you need to do to get the job done. I’d really love for you to elaborate on that idea of just doing what you need to do.
The big part is technology is great. Technology gives us a lot of useful information. But sometimes the technology and the useful information is more for coaches, front offices. I’m a firm believer that to be the best hitter, you’ve got to be your own hitting coach. The video can only help you in certain aspects. The video, if you can’t feel it and you can’t make an adjustment with using your body and your mind, you’re never going to be the best hitter on the team and never reach the potential you need to be. I play with more guys that went down to the video and they just click, click, click and keep going like this. What they do is then they force their mind to think it’s mechanical. It’s not always mechanical. Sometimes it’s your mindset and what you’re thinking and where the pitch was.
For me, when I would watch video, I wasn’t looking at my swing, I wasn’t looking at my mechanics, I really just look for where the pitch was. I want to know where the pitch was because sometimes when you’re hitting, you think the ball’s inside and the ball’s right down the middle. Sometimes you think the ball’s outside and the ball’s down the middle. Sometimes you think it’s right there and it’s not there or down-up vice versa or whatever.
For me, the videos are great but young kids should not be focusing so much on the mechanics. They should be focusing on feel. I always teach when a kid hits a ball really well, I say, “How did that feel?” Not how did that look, because the feel is what you have to repeat every single time. You can’t go up to the batter’s box and have a camera there in between pitches. You can’t have a computer telling you, “Your foot didn’t get down, you opened up your hip, you dropped your hands too much. You did all that.” A lot of things happen because of your timing. If your timing is off, you’re going to rush go get stuff, you’re going to open up, you’re going to do all these things that are going to negate what you’re trying to do as a good hitter by repeating good on-time mechanics.
For me, sometimes with all these, the video and all the technology that we’re using, it’s a blessing and a curse. You’ve got to know when you need to use it and how to use it correctly. That’s the biggest problem that I see now. There are so many coaches that want to break down the video for young kids when young kids just need to feel why they hit the ball at the right center field better or center field or left center and how do they do it and how do they know it on their own, rather than the coaches making sure they know it through the video or the different technological advances that are pushing kids more to do that stuff.
I know for any young player that might be listening, what you’re saying, to be a quality baseball player, you need to be able to make adjustments pitch to pitch. If you’re not in that batter’s box and you take a swing, you fell off a good pitch to hit, you can’t just always look down to the third base coach. He’s going to give you one of those, “Stay inside the ball,” type little things with their hands. What does that mean? You can’t get back that feedback information that you see from watching the video. You have to develop that feel, like you mentioned, to know what needs to be different. That’s a dynamite drop. I know one of the things I reached to you about too was the idea of this thing you got going on, Big League Perspective. I don’t even know that much about it. Can you tell me more?
Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, John Baker and Mark Moore, currently I’m trying to get the other three guys working on it. Not everyone is so technological savvy of using Twitter, Facebook and all that or comfortable yet. We started this page called Big League Perspective. Michael Cuddyer and I have been doing it this week. The other guys will jump on soon. Our whole goal and mission honestly, we all got together, we’re all dads and we all love the game of baseball. We’re seeing a lot of negatives attached to youth baseball. The negatives attached to youth baseball come from a lot of it is through bad coaching and not even bad coaching as much as people not having enough knowledge about things that can hurt your children, both emotionally, both physically. There are a lot of people that are really seeing this. There are a lot of organizations that are really trying to combat the problems.
The biggest problem as everyone knows is overuse in pitching or just overuse in general of these kids playing. There are eight-year-old kids playing 80 games. Eight-year-old kids should not be playing 80 games a year. That is way too many games. It’s ludicrous in my opinion. People might disagree and that’s okay. Their bodies are so young and they’re still developing. Baseball is a big torque sport. It’s an unnatural emotion. When you throw a baseball, it’s very unnatural. Your body is doing a lot of things it shouldn’t be doing. That doesn’t say that kids shouldn’t be doing it. It’s definitely healthy and a lot of fun for kids to be out there playing ball.
Big League Perspective, all we’re doing is trying to create awareness, trying to educate and allow parents and coaches to ask former Major League Baseball players, dads like ourselves, that are seeing some of these things that are happening in youth sports. We’re just trying to help. We’re trying to do anything we can to help. It’s not a business. We’re not trying to make money. We’re just trying to give our support to a lot of people that quite frankly are looking for help and they need the help, but they’re too scared to ask because they’re having problems with these programs that are telling them one way to do things and it might not be the best thing for their kids physically and emotionally.
You gave examples of overuse the arms and having kids not focus so much on mechanics but focus on the field. If you were to give another bit of advice, is there something that comes to mind for the ages of ten to twelve years old?
For me personally, I don’ want my kids play in Travel Ball until they’re at least thirteen years old. There’s something that has been lost and that’s Little League. There’s something good about community and staying within your community, and then maybe at the end of the year you have your community All-Stars play against the next town over’s All-Stars and stuff like that. There’s such a positive in building up your community because in that community, that’s where you’re going to play High School Ball. You’re going to follow that community throughout. I really wish there was more youth baseball locally. It’s okay if the talent is not the best because you really don’t develop and I tell people, they’re like, “There has got to be better competition. The better the competition, they’re going to play better and they’re going to go on.” They are but there’s time for that. They have six years from thirteen to eighteen that they have that chance. All these kids get weeded out. Talent will always weed itself out. Some parents hold on as long as possible and I like it because they want their kids to keep playing the sport. On the other end, you’ve got to be very careful about this stuff.
Two years ago in NFL draft, 28 of the 32 players drafted in the first round were all multiple sport athletes. Out of every sport, football is a very athletic sport in a lot of ways. Playing other sports allows you to one, stay healthy in the sense you’re using other muscles and other ligaments and different motions that you’re using to allow you to stay healthier. You’re not using that throwing motion that you do in baseball. I personally feel that every kid should play as many sports as possible. When you have the local Little Leagues, you can’t play all year round with these Little Leagues. You have a set amount of time that you can play baseball. There’s a set amount of time you can play basketball. There’s a set amount of time you play football, lacrosse, you name it, all these other sports.
I personally want my kids playing as many sports as possible. I don’t want them having one sport, especially at ten or twelve years old. They’re still so young and having fun that they should be playing. One of the biggest things I’m seeing is, “My kid is not good at that. I don’t want him playing that.” It’s okay. It’s good for him to see, “I’m not the best in this sport but I can maybe get better and have fun,” and there might be another kid that’s not the best at baseball that might be the best at the other sport and they should enjoy all of them together as a big group and a community.
A similar question in terms of advice. For a young player, maybe high school going into Pro Ball or even college going into Pro Ball, what would be your advice for someone entering into the professional world?
First and foremost, I always tell people education is number one. If your main focus for your children is sports over education, it’s going to be a very sad road down the way, because education is the key. Sports are great and they do a lot of great things for kids. You only have to make it to Pro Ball to see a difference in what kids that play sports even at the high school level on teams and the camaraderie that grows into the business world down the road. First and foremost, I think education. For all the parents out there and all the kids out there, hit the books as much as you can. You can always keep getting smarter and smarter as time goes on. Sports will end at some point.
For me honestly, it’s bad to say but I believe in college. I believe in college over going to Pro Ball immediately. That’s just my philosophy. I grew so much as an individual not just as an athlete in college. It’s a healthy environment. I’ve been around a lot of guys that got drafted right out of high school and had a tough road and a lot of regrets, but that’s not to say, to each his own. Some people are ready to get drafted at that point. There are first-rounders right now, they’re getting a lot of money. It’s hard to turn down. I truly believe and I talked to most parents and tell them to go to the college route. It’s not going to matter in the grand scheme of your professional career. There are so many guys that get drafted in high school and they get drafted in college and they go on to have ten to fifteen-year career still. For me, that’s always my advice, but other people disagree with that and it’s okay.
How about the advice of the player going to college and then getting the opportunity to enter the professional baseball world? What would be the advice for that player?
I tell guys just sign for the right amount of money because getting that college education and getting that degree is huge. If you’re getting life-changing money your Junior Year, I would never tell anybody not to sign. You can always go back and the teams pay for college and stuff like that. I always tell guys, “Get your degree.” I’m working on my degree right now where I have two classes left. I’ll hopefully finish up this fall and graduate. For me graduating, the whole key was whatever you start you need to finish it. It’s a lesson for my kids to show that I went back and I went to school and got my degree. That is the key. Even if you go for three years, make sure you go back and get that degree.
One final question for you. I know you have the group hub going. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that as well. How do you think being a baseball player and all that you have to deal with in the specific characteristics that seem to bring out, how has that helped and served you with running this business?
It has definitely helped with dealing with personalities. That’s the biggest one. On a baseball team, you have 25 different personalities from different countries. You learn how to work with different people and try to get the most out of them. I’m still learning a lot at this job but the big thing is just hard work pays. Nothing’s going to come easy in life. Nothing comes easy on the baseball field. It’s a grind. Right when you think you’ve figured it all out, you get hit with the humble pie and you’ve got to get back in the cage and you’ve got to figure something out. Same thing in business, that’s what I’ve learned, is you just keep learning and you have to learn from your mistakes and keep trucking forward. A lot of that has helped me in this business. It’s a grind and you’ve got to keep grinding.
I can definitely see myself use that metaphor to get back in the cage even in the business world. You’re not getting the results that you want then you need to get back in the cage. I really appreciate having you on, Kev. I just want to thank you one more time.
It’s a great time. Like I said, just come to Big League Perspective, any parents or kids or coaches that have questions, we’re a good group of guys. We just like to hear stories too, good and bad. It’s not just bad. We don’t just like to hear about it. We like to hear good stories too about youth sports. We’re on Facebook and on Twitter. Facebook is easier because people can type a little longer and it’s easier for us to type back a little longer. We prefer Facebook but we know people like Twitter these days, so either one. Like I said, it’s free. It’s not a business. We’re just trying to educate and give our opinions that we think can be helpful.
I hope everyone enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Any questions, comments, criticism or sarcastic remarks, you can email me at info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. Until next time, aim high, swing hard and smile often.
Kevin Youkilis is a former Major League first baseman and third baseman. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2001, after playing college baseball at the University of Cincinnati. He played in the Major Leagues for the Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees.
A Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman, he once held baseball’s record for most consecutive errorless games at first base (later broken by Casey Kotchman). He is also a three-time MLB All-Star, two-time World Series Champion, and winner of the 2008 Hank Aaron Award.