This is a show that’s about using and aligning everything that’s around you and within you so that you can be your very best. You have that vision, you have that goal, you have that dream, let’s align our beliefs, our values, our thinking patterns, our strategies, whatever we possibly can so that we can go out there and not only perform at the highest level but enjoy it more than we’ve ever had before as well. Live life in the zone.
Today we have a great guest, a dear friend of mine, a guy who was a former Major Leaguer as well, Mike Colangelo. This guy has done not only tremendous things within the game but I have the highest utmost respect for him as a man and as a father and husband. One of the things that I really love about him is he is a straight shooter, real talk. That’s what we should be calling this episode, Real Talk with Mike Colangelo. As a man who works with so many young and up and coming athletes in baseball with travel programs, with the showcase that he puts on, with now coaching a high school team, the man knows how to get the best out of them, how to shape all of them. He has his own beliefs on them and he shares them. I love him to death. I can’t wait for you all to hear it as well. I think it’s going to open the minds of a lot of other coaches and a lot of other parents as well. Hopefully a lot of athletes will be able to walk away with things that they could focus on, that they can improve, that they can go out there and apply their next practice or their next game.
With that being said, one of the things I want to start doing more of on these little openings especially when we have guest interviews is to give a tip of the week or a little assignment for you to go out there and maybe spend a little extra time focusing on or applying as well. I know in the past episodes maybe if you’ve gotten back and you’ve caught up on them and you’ve heard them all, you heard me over and over talk about finding the positives in failure. Finding the wins, there’s always little wins that you can find in failure. The reason why this is very strong in my mind right now, last night I had a conversation with a player, a good, young, up and coming kid. We had this game plan. We did the visualization before the game for him to go out there and pitch and to have this outline of the successful game. He had his attention set. He’s going to go out there and make quality pitches. His focus is reducing his number of walks. Instead of saying, “Going out there and let’s not walk people,” I’m always re-emphasizing to him, “Let’s go out there and make quality pitches. Let’s control the ball and let’s put it where we want it. Always speak in things in a positive manner, positive statements.” He goes out and he pitches. I got a text, “Three innings, two walks.”
When I get him on the phone I hear in his voice, he’s talking about the walks, “I’m having a walk two guys.” He didn’t get up any runs by the way, he didn’t get up any hits after a walk. I was surprised that in his voice he sounds so down. In my mind, I hear about the walks in the way he’s speaking so I go ahead and asked him, “What happened? Walk me through each pitch of these walks? Did you lose your focus? Did you not use RESPA? Did you not take that centering breath to calm yourself down when you got a little distracted?” In my mind, the way he’s talking, the way he’s referring to these walks and being disappointed, I’m thinking in my mind that he went out there and threw eight consecutive balls, that he stuck up the joint on these walks. They sound horrific.
He walks me pitch by pitch, both at-bats. They happened in different innings. One of the at-bats, the first one was nine pitches. He went 3-2, hit the spots, the batter kept falling on the pitchers off over and over again and finally he missed just a little bit outside the zone. He was spiking in the dirt. He didn’t overthrow the catcher and he didn’t hit the ball. He missed by a few inches.
Then another one, in the last inning, pretty much a very, very similar thing. He’s like, “I thought it was a strike.” I said, “What are the things that you did well there? You went through all these pitches. Was that a quality pitch? Was it not a quality pitch?” We went through these eighteen, nineteen pitches of the at-bat and he made sixteen quality pitches, in his mind, his definition. He made sixteen quality pitches. How was that failure? Eventually, after a couple of foul balls in 3-2 count, you throw a ball four. You’re human, it happens, the best of the best in the game.
The point of this whole thing, the way that I want to explain it to you so you could take it and apply it is just because one thing didn’t work out in the result, you have to speak about, “I walked these many guys. I went 0 for 4 today.” Give yourself a credit where credit as due, breakdown a pitch by pitch. Don’t just over generalize what you did in the at-bat and think it was a pass or if it was a fail. There are little things you could take away. There are things that you do every at-bat to give you the same explanation from a hitting standpoint. I know that some ideas of quality at-bats is spreading. When I go to any high school they talk about quality at-bats. The example I give is obviously if you were a hitter and you go eight, nine pitches into the at-bat and you end up swinging and miss and striking out, that’s a quality at-bat. Majority of the people are starting to learn that.
Let me ask you this though. What if you went five pitches? I haven’t seen a place where five pitches automatically turns into a quality at-bat. I haven’t seen that example yet. That wasn’t mine, either. You strikeout, let’s say, you chase a slider in the dirt on that fifth pitch and it was a strikeout. You can sit there and over-generalize and say, “I feel horrible. I struck out.” Maybe you do that multiple times in the game. Now, you really feel bad. Let’s just say that of those five pitches, the first pitch was a slider just out of the strike zone, just below the knees, you take it, you lay off of it, not your pitch, ball one. That’s a great job. That’s doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Say the next pitch is fastball out of the play. You take a big all hack at it. Hitting a round ball from a round at-bat is hard sometimes. Sometimes you take great swings and you just happen to barely miss it and you fell off, but you did everything you’re supposed to do. You got the pitch, you took the swing, aggressive swing and you fell off. To me, that’s a great job. You did great on the pitch. If I’m the coach on the baseline, majority of them I imagine are clapping their hands on those swings.
The next one is a two-seamer just inside off the plate. Umpire goes ahead and calls it a strike. You did an outstanding job again. You did what you’re supposed to do. You can’t control that the umpire just called it a strike when it wasn’t. He makes another pitch just out of the strike zone. As he split fingers, you see it early and do a great job, you laid it off of it and goes diving into the dirt, ball two. Outstanding job again. He goes fastball up out of the zone, it’s up in your letters, maybe it’s in your chin and you chased it, strike three; horrible at-bat. You struck out. I know sometimes this is a little extreme and maybe this is a little silly but what I’m trying to do is open up your eyes to see that a strikeout isn’t just a strikeout always. Sometimes we have strikeouts like that situation.
Four of those five pitches, you did exactly what you’re supposed to do. Don’t be happy with a strikeout. Don’t be satisfied with only doing four out of five outstanding jobs on pitches. Go out there and at least give yourself a credit. Don’t beat yourself up that you suck the entire at-bat. If you develop this habit, if you take the time to write pitch by pitch down in a journal or in your phones or at least think about it after the game in your mind for a little bit. Spend a few times just reviewing and giving yourself credit for the pitches that you did exactly what you were supposed to or you did something you were really excited about. Give yourself that credit.
What it will do is it will help you keep the ball moving, the confidence ball, the confidence wheel, as I’m starting to call her. The confidence wheel will keep moving even if you’re not getting the results that you want. You’re going to take the time to focus on things you’re doing well that maybe you’re grateful for or you’re proud about or that you really appreciate about yourself. If you keep feeling those three things, this confidence wheel is going to keep moving and so you’re not going to fall down in such bad ruts or cold streaks. When you come out of it and you get hot again and everything starts working in your favor, you’re going to go even higher, I guarantee it. That’s the focus I want you to have this week. Don’t just generalize, “It was a bad game. It was a bad at-bat.” Really get intentional with how you break down pitch by pitch and give yourself credit. Be a good self-evaluator. Don’t make things worse than they are. See them how they really are.
That’s the tip of the week. I’m very excited to bring you this interview with Mike Colangelo. He and I will see you on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
MLB Mike Colangelo – The Value of Competing
We’ve got Mike Colangelo, former Major League Baseball player and a dear friend of mine. Mike, thanks for being on the podcast.
No problem, Jason. Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.
I’m really excited about this. The more that I work with athletes, I keep bringing in guys who play and who have obviously tremendous insights, not only of the game but the mental side as well. I was really thinking lately about having someone who I really admire and respect as a coach and a coach at the amateur level. I’m privileged to have a lot of friends that fit that bill who are tremendous coaches. For you, something stood out in my mind and you’re the first guy who jumped out because I see so many of your posts and I know that your players are family, and just the way that you talk about them. That’s really one of the things I respect the most about you. I’m really excited to not only dive in about your career, your journey through the game but some specific questions about coaching as well.
I agree. Jason, you know as a player, the easiest coaches to play for are those player managers. That door is always open. You walk in the locker room, you may be struggling in your marriage, your kids, your family. I went through some bad bouts with cancer with my in-laws. I had some really terrible days back in ’04, ’05, ’06 where baseball to me was the last thing on my agenda that day, was making sure I can talk to my father-in-law who was battling cancer and end up losing his battle. Hitting a fastball that day wasn’t really important to me. Having managers that understood you and understood your family and understood every player in the locker room is different and the needs are different and our wants are even different and goals.
One guy came to my mind was Dean Treanor, who’s now on the Big Leagues now as an older coach. When you play for him, you’ll love him. When you played against him, you hated him. I had a great relationship. I visit him in Nashville when he was in Nashville last year. Now, he’s in the Big Leagues. I still talk to him. I always say, “When I coach kids one day, I’m going to be that guy that understands there are second chances, understands there are errors, but also understands that there’s accountability and that I’m going to treat every player like my son. When that day comes where I don’t do that, then I’ll never coach.” That’s probably a long way from me.
I see that and I definitely commend you for it. People make comments all the time on social media and how it can be displaced as fake but for me, over a length of time, you can’t fake anything like that. The way you write about players, the way you write about the game, it jumps out to me. No doubt about it. The first question that I really want to get you started is just tell us a little bit about your background and where you started, where you grew up and your path through amateur ball and on to the professional level.
I was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. My parents moved in Northern Virginia when I was two, 1978, I’ll be 41 on October. Like any other kid, I played Little League. I played Tri-Ball later in life. I played at Hilton High School. It was All-State, All-Met, everything you could do in high school. I got numerous scholarship offers, I chose to go to Georg Mason, which is famous two days ago for Justin Bour’s Home Run Derby exhibition. He’s a guy that I work with now in the off-season and a dear friend. I couldn’t be more proud of him. It’s not often someone from your alumni who does extraordinary, which I thought he did. Then I went to George Mason in three years, ’95 to ’97. Every year I went to the college summer leagues. I was one of those athletes that I wanted to always get up against the best. I went to the Jayhawk League in ’95 summer. I did very well. My roommate was a guy named Rod Barajas. Big Rod was my roommate that summer, obviously a long time Big Leaguer. ’96 I went to Cape Cod and my roommate was a guy named Seth Etherton. He was first round pick out of Southern California; great guy, a college coach now.
I had the pleasure earlier in my career to have really two extraordinary roommates. A catching side who was probably one of the best catchers when I played and also a pitcher that was probably a guy that had to have a pitcher ability to win games. He wasn’t an overpowering guy. Awesome human being, Seth Etherton. I had a pleasure of learning a lot from those guys, my coaches. My sophomore year I went to Cape Cod and I made the All-Star team. I lost the at-bat title the last week to some guy I’ve never heard about. He had an extraordinary career. You’ve got to play against those guys. I was also one that wanted to learn from watching people. I’m a visual guy. I would watch hitters, how their approach was. I was a guy that would come up even in my pro career, I would say to a Jason Botts if I saw him out on a dinner, “How did you spin on that breakable 2-2? Did you know it was coming?” I wanted to get inside the whole approach.
Mechanics are mechanics. Maybe my physical strength wasn’t, maybe my core rotation wasn’t, my preparation definitely was, but it’s the approach. I think that’s something that no one really touches on which is obviously something that you do, which I think is in order to unlock their approach you’ve got to unlock the mind. No one ever talks about the mind. A great analogy is Matt Miller, a dear friend of mine. He always said the best phrase I’ve ever heard in instruction, “What’s the most important thing in pitching mechanically?” Everyone says, “Balance.” “What about baseball? What about hitting?” Everyone says, “You’ve got to be balanced.” When you ask those same high school coaches or amateur coaches or youth coaches, “How many times in your practice plan do you work on balance for your kids?” Usually the answer is none. “What do you do to promote balance?” Then that unlocks the key to success in Major League Baseball, amateur baseball, is we oftentimes throw phrases out to kids or we say that this thing is paramount, this thing is the absolute in hitting, but yet we don’t train it.
Really the circle of development in sports is really just a broken cycle because no one really talks about the mental side. No one dives into that, which is what you’re getting ready to do for your career. No one dives into the physical side, the strength, the legitimate strength and unlocking the kinetic chain. No one ever really dives into the nutrition side. No one ever dives into the life side, which is probably the most untapped. You have an athlete but he’s only an athlete for 125 minutes a day maybe. What does he do the other 21 hours? What happens in that kid’s life probably affects him more on that field than what he does on the field because that’s what allows him to focus 100% on the process. In high school, his girlfriend has broken up with him or his parents divorced or the F he just got on his exam. That stays in that kid’s mind through my whole practice. I’ve got to convince my kids when they walk through that chain-link fence to erase all of that and that this is for two hours a chance where you get to be normal.
For my life, that’s why I feel like I had the success I had, not because I was a great player because I wasn’t. I was good. Baseball field was my chance to get even with all the demons I had. All the kids that told me I couldn’t do it. I’m a fighter. I want to fight people. I want to go in the box and I want to battle against the best. I take that same approach now. I have friends of mine that have done things to me. You just want to fight, you want to battle in life. The battle is whatever you’re doing. If you’re in center field, you battle. You battle the pre-pitch routine, you shade left, you shade right, you shade in. Every six inches to a foot in your game, you have a chance to make a great catch and change the game. It’s not all about just in the batter’s box or on the mound.
For me, my background was pretty simple. High school was All-State, All-Met, which is a big deal in Virginia. I’ve got elected in the Hall of Fame this year for All-Met. College, I went to George Mason three years. I was All Conference two years, hit 480 in my Junior year. I got rated 65th best player in the country in 1997. It was going to be a day of remembrance for me in 1997, the draft. I had a party. I was going to sac around the Diamondbacks as a pre-draft deal that we were trying to work out. The day one went by, twenty rounds I was never drafted. I had to tell everyone to get out my house. I had to go up my room as a 20-year-old boy and cry like a baby because my life was over, as I thought it was. I was like, “I didn’t get drafted. I was supposed to sign for $500 to $1 million.” That was life-changing money at that age. Now you’re left with zero.
The Angels drafted me the next day which is the 21st round. They called me they said, “You have injuries that’s why no one took you. We want to see you play healthy.” I said, “I’ll be healthy in four weeks.” They came to watch me play. I did really, really well. I got drafted and ’98 was my first year Pro Ball with the Angels. I did very well, I climbed the high A. In ’99 with the spring training, I made Double-A for a month. I was in Triple-A for a month and got to the Big Leagues in ’99. Basically from ’99 to ’06, I was either in the Major Leagues or Triple-A doing pretty well. There are some years bad, but for me I just battled injuries and I couldn’t shake that bug. I just had my thirteenth surgery which is an elbow reconstruction. I got two hip replacements waiting for me in the future. I did my left elbow cadaver tendon and some screws and rebuilt the muscle graph. It doesn’t stop me. We all have issues. You grind through them and you persevere and then you’re better for it tomorrow.
For me, my career was not what I wanted it or probably not what I expected it to be day one, but it was enjoyable because it really made me a better father, a better coach because I had struggles and I had a lot of success. I had success quick and I had failures long and so I understand that it’s a process and you’ve got to find the best in kids and try to bring out the best and not always find the negative of, “This kid is not fast enough.” Because I wasn’t fast enough. “This kid isn’t tall enough.” I’m 5’11.5”. “This kid isn’t strong enough.” I wasn’t an 80 on the arm scale either. For me, I always try to tell my trainers, “It’s easy to tell people they’re not going to make it.” If told Jason Botts he wasn’t going to make it to his teammates, there’s probably one kid on your youth team that might have been you. I’m going to be right 99% of the time. What’s hard is to take that kid on your team that no one thinks is going to do anything and you make him something. I always try to see the great in somebody and build that and move forward. That’s just something that’s always been in me since I was a young kid. I was always the underdog and I like playing that card and I’ll play that until I’m six feet under.
You brought up a lot of tremendous points. You got hurt in your first Big League game too, right?
Yes, I was in a collision in a seventh inning. I was 1 for 2 at the time with an assist from the outfield. I was in a big head on collision with a guy named Reggie Williams. It was a little miscommunication. We never played a whole lot with each other. It was one of those routes where I went steep and he went shallow. It’s like a blind side in a car. He blew me up pretty good. I put two screws in my thumb. I was on the field really motionless, paralyzed for five, six minutes didn’t feel anything on my lower body. That right there was a changing point in your life. That was probably top five, sitting there and not knowing are you going to walk, you did not know you’re going to play the game again. At the time my girlfriend who now is my wife, we got engaged at All Season, she was there, my brothers were there. I had company to help me get through it. Even at that time, I remember telling my agent, “It’s just something small. It’s just an obstacle I’ll overcome.” I did get hurt my debut.
You touched on it earlier in your explanation but can you go a little more in depth when you mentioned you’ve had all these setbacks. You’ve overcome all these adversities. What are some more of the lessons that you learned? You mentioned how it made you a better coach, better father, better parent. What specifically comes into your mind when you think about some of those lessons learned from dealing with this adversity?
The only one that’s going to love you is yourself. You’re only as good as yourself. If you’re going to wait for someone to build you up, then you’ve got to look internally. I was a number one rank hitting prospect in the front system coming at 1999. I got hurt in ’99. In 2000, I go to spring training. I was going to make team at spring training with the Angels. I got hurt, I rehabbed all year but I really bust my tail. It was a big time shoulder surgery that they don’t do anymore. In fact, only two guys ever had this surgery I had and got back to the Big Leagues: myself and Mike Cancade. It’s a labrum tear, a rotated cuff, bicep tendon and reattach all three and then they thermal shrink the caps around the head of the humerus. They don’t do it anymore because it doesn’t work. I can tell you it doesn’t work because my range of motion is off now. I’m going to be 41. I learned how to throw differently. I lost my velocity.
What I learned was that once they figured out that I wasn’t in their opinion use to them, they get rid of you. I learned that quickly at the young age of 23, it’s a business. I learned that your friends usually aren’t your friends. I learned that the ones you need to trust are the ones that probably you lean on the hardest: my wife, my kids, a guy like you ,or Shawn Camper, Matt Miller. I just learned that you got it. The only one person I can count on in this life I know every single day will never cheat me is myself. I talked to my high school kids, “I can’t do that. I couldn’t find anyone to do with it.” Then you do it yourself because that’s what I had to do.
What I learned in professional is you got to count on yourself. Too many people look for exterior factors of why they couldn’t do something. Whether you want to say an excuse or the blame game, for me it’s most kids at a young age and it’s an epidemic in this country for parents, is they always want to blame Jason Botts the coach, Jason Botts the trainer, the kid next to you that should have caught the ball. At the end of the day, the kids got to own it. They’ve got to quit listening to their parents. Kids have to learn to own it themselves. I actually do it on my upcoming nine-year-old and thirteen-year-old, I try to talk to them about this a lot, “You stumped today. How hard did you work? Not real hard? There’s your results, that’s what you get.” They’ve got to own their failures. We all like to own our successes. That’s easy. It’s easy for me to come 0 for 4 a day. It’s got to really bother you when you get to the showers in professional baseball when you’re 0 for 4 and you did not come with a great approach and you did not prepare that day because all you were trying to do in BP was see how far you can hit it.
I’m working with a young prospect right now at the Red Sox. That’s basically my thing, “How often do you really think about what you’re doing?” You’ll be amazed how many pro athletes don’t think about it. They wake up and you get such a cycle and all of a sudden you look back, “I never thought about trying to hit the inside of that ball or see the spin on the ball or take the time to start to posting pictures every single day.” I felt like I did a lot of this stuff a lot. Probably as much as I should have. I did a lot more than everyone else. I was a good athlete, not a great athlete. I was a good baseball player, not a great baseball player but I was able to get to the pinnacle, to the top of that mountain because I was probably better prepared.
Some of those same points I like to pass on to my own sons. You mentioned going to George Mason. There are so many people that I’m beginning to work with and talk with now that are going through, not necessarily the recruiting process as much but the decision of where to commit to and where to sign with and go to college. As a coach and as a player, what are some of your advice for your guys who are going through that process? What’s the criteria? What advice do you give them in terms of picking a college to go to and to play at?
This is one of the subjects where most parents miss it. They really swing and miss every day of the week. Number one is there are decisions in your life that are very important. Picking a spouse, how you’re going to raise your kids, picking a college, that’s got to be in your top five because that’s going to shape you for the rest of your life. I always tell my kids that I train, “What do you want to be? I don’t know what I want to be, coach. Do you want to be a doctor? I don’t want to be a doctor. Do you want to be a social worker? What do you want to be?” Find a field. College has to have that. You’ve got to find that.
The second thing is you’ve got to find the fit. The fit isn’t about, “I can go to school tomorrow at UVA because I’m from Virginia. They’re the best team in Virginia right now or one of the best in the country.” That may not be the best fit for you. They got Jason Botts, the third baseman who’s all American. You’re not going to play over him. What I tell parents to do is ask five or six questions. Number one is, does my son need to go there educational-wise first? Number two, does my son fit in that atmosphere? I was not a UVA-type kid. It’s a little stuffy for me. It’s a little more preppy. I’m more of a blue-collar, relaxed atmosphere. You’ve got to fit the atmosphere. Number three is do you fit the coach’s philosophy? What does that coach teach if he’s a pitching coach? Does it go with what you have been taught or what you want to learn? What’s that guy’s hitting philosophy?
Number four, is it a fit for you personally? When I was at George Mason, we were a mid-major school. I would be hard-pressed to find them to go out and recruit Mike Colangelo. Once I was there you couldn’t over recruit me because I could have been going somewhere bigger. I didn’t. If you thought you’re going to come to George Mason in the three years I was there and start center field, it was going to happen. Take a back seat, enjoy my career watching me. By the way, if I come back my senior, you’re back on the bench also, which I left after my junior. You’ve got to make sure the fit is good for you and you’ve got to be realistic about it. I was. I didn’t go to Clemson University because they had some guy named Shane Monahan, who I actually am friends with now. He’s an unbelievable player. At the time he was better than I was. I think I might had a little bit more Big League time than him, some of that might have been luck. The guy was an extraordinary college player. One of the best of all time actually. Was I going to go get start over him? Absolutely not. Was I afraid to battle up against him? Absolutely not. But if you don’t have to battle, why battle? I always tell the parents, “Go somewhere where you know he can play right away so he develops.”
The last thing and the least most important should be, what kind of aid are they going to give you? There are so much things written out there: there’s financial aid, there’s grants, there’s academic money, there’s athletic money. I think, for them, there are five things they’re going to look at. Those five things they got to answer themselves. Most parents just go into it, they get excited, the kids getting recruited. If I’m in California, I probably want to go to let’s just say Stanford, USC or Long Beach. Once they go and all a sudden they get there and go, “My son hasn’t played in two years.” You’ve got to be realistic. It is a tough process. You’ve got to be sensitive because most times it’s the first time those parents go through it and they get excited. They got to remember it’s a business. Even though it’s college baseball, it’s a business.
You bring us some excellent points. A lot of people get caught up on what division it is or what’s the best baseball school. Actually, when it’s all said and done, when you go years passed, it’s very similar to what round you got drafted. When you’re in the Major Leagues, after you spent two or three years in professional baseball, you don’t go around asking people, “What round did you got drafted?” By that point you’ve already separated yourself. It doesn’t matter anymore. I look back and now when I found out that someone played a sport at the college level, I don’t go, “Was that Division 2, Division 3?” It doesn’t matter. Once you’ve enjoyed the experiences there, that’s what matters most, is what you did there and how well you did or how much you enjoyed it.
Another great thing that you brought up, I know you are a battler because I played against you. I like that same idea because I see kids who, there are so much emphasis put on mechanics and drills and having the proper form and all these things. The idea of competing I feel like hasn’t been talked about enough or it’s forgotten. I think kids today, they don’t grow up playing on the streets playing stickball or Wiffle ball, whatever it is. They grow up hitting cages with professional hitting instructors at seven years old. We had, I know someone you probably would have known, played against, Terrmel Sledge. I had him on the podcast. Great player and we played together when I was in Japan. He was deep in the mental game. It was an important question for me to ask him when he was on the show. I was like, “When things were going right, what did you try to do?”
It was great because I never heard of such a thing but it makes so much sense now looking back on it. He said, “If I was really struggling, I would stare at the pitcher’s eyes. That’s all I would do, just lock in on him and I would make it a battle. That way I was out of my own head. I stop thinking about mechanics. I stop thinking about my approach.” He was just like, “I’m not going to let this guy beat me.” From a mental standpoint that makes so much sense. I’m curious to some of the things that you might have done in terms of when things aren’t going well, how do you get yourself back on track?
Early in my career, I never went bad. The first time I went bad was in ’99. I was in Double-A. I went through a week. I faced this guy, older veteran playing, his name is Cliff Politte. He’s about 94-96, a good cutter. A cold day in air and he just owned me. It was the first time I strikeout three times in my life.
I call it a Tuesday in my career.
You hit with a lot more power than I did so you’re allowed to strikeout. I went down in the cage, it was about 50, 45 degrees that night. I wanted to be by myself. When I struggle, I wanted to be by myself and I wanted to just work through me. Really when you struggle, a lot of times you’re the obstacle. I went there and I hit. My manager by 11:30 comes out, Gary Tobler. He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I was struggling my ass off. I just need to work.” He was like, “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.” The next day I came in and my hands are just scabbed up. I’ve hit until I’ve actually bled. For me, I wanted to outwork myself. I felt like if I worked hard and work at it, when I actually got in the box and stared at, let’s say, Jason Botts that pitcher, I actually breathe in confidence because I kept saying myself, “There’s no way he’s outworking me. There’s no way he did the 5 AM workouts. There’s no way he didn’t do A, B or C.” For me, I always felt like the work ethic breed in my success and my confidence. Whenever I struggle, I went back to two things. I went back to simplistic which was, “It’s just a game, get in the box and let’s compete.”
A good story was, you’ll like it but some parents didn’t like it which I didn’t care, I was coaching my son’s 12U Team. We were playing and we were doing great. The team’s playing great. We’re the one seed. This is the start of this year, this spring. We played another team in my organization who I respect and good coach, good players, and we lost. We beat ourselves. We literally just beat ourselves up. These kids are all in middle school. They’re all going to be thirteen years old, young men. They’ve got these girls now and they’ve got potential drugs. They’re actually going through what I call the hardest time in life, twelve and a half to fifteen. If you’ve got a kid at fifteen with good morals, he can make it all the way up. That twelve and a half to fifteen, you’ve got to be there for your kids.
I brought these kids down to a field behind a thing. I start telling them a story. I’m like, “How many of you guys already have been to a fistfight?” No one raised their hand. I just remember, “I don’t even know what to say to this. How many of you guys have ever got so mad one day that you outworked yourself?” No one raised their hands. I was like, “How many of you guys have ever just woke up one morning, your parents told you to do A and B and you’re outside in the damn heat and you were so damn hurt and you were just cursing your parents up and down?” None of them raised their hand. I realized that a lot of these young kids that I train, they just really don’t get the fact that money and lessons help you, but you can’t buy success. That individual, Mike Colangelo, because that’s who we’re talking about, I’ve actually got to own it, work for it, eat it, live it, sleep it, I’ve got to own it.
I was talking to the kids and I got really animated. I was like, “Guys, you know how you lost today? You basically did this. You basically beat yourself up.” I started punching myself on the face. I didn’t think it was hard but at the time I was really intense. My lips start bleeding. I cut my lip open on accident and I see all these kids’ eyes raised up and I’m like, “They all look at me like they have fish eyes.” By the time I talk for another five seconds, I’m actually now tasting the blood in my mouth. I realized that these kids are probably thinking, “Coach Colangelo is crazy.” The whole moral of the thing was, “Guys, in life, you can’t beat yourself. The reason why you’re beating yourself is because you’re not working. That’s something as a coach I can’t allow. From here on out, we’re going to work our asses off and you’re not going to like me and that’s okay because I don’t need to be your friend. When I look at my son, I don’t need to be your dad when you’re in my team. I need to be your coach. You need to understand that if you’re going to get from A to B, you’ve got to outwork every single person. Just so you know, your special population isn’t Northern Virginia, it’s the world. There’s some kid in Dominican right now with a stick ball with no shoes that wants to make millions because he just saw so and so on the All-Star game or whatever.”
For me, when we’re talking about the circle of development, for young kids the best thing a parent can do is try to support coaches as much as they can and find a coach that has just a huge passion about competing. What I’ve done down in my practices is I try to have competitions. If you don’t win, I don’t let you sit down. I make you go do something else. You know what that something else is? Something a little bit more difficult that you may not want to do because I want that kid to try to push through barriers. I don’t think kids nowadays have to push through barriers in sports. Everything is so skilled developed; catch a ground ball, fingers down, outfront, funnel, move your feet, follow your throw. When the same kid misses ball after ball, what’s the punishment? Nothing. You just got to keep trying to teach him. There’s got to be something where they understand. Even though we have this team built of eleven kids in Travel Baseball, which is a big phenomenal now, I can’t bench three kids, I only have eight. Every kid gets to play. I don’t recruit nine shortstops. Jason Botts is my shortstop, you’re my shortstop. There’s got to be coaches that put emphasis on, “If you struggle, there’s got to be some accountability. There’s got to be a penalty.”
In high school, I know it’s pretty easy for me. I just bench the kids. I bring up the freshman on JV and I go up there and I go five and sixteen like I did this year. Next year, the kids will know that, “I better really bust my tail in practice because Coach Colangelo is crazy. Open up a freshman and lose the game to prove a point.” He was talking about is when you look at a pitcher’s eyes. I’m not so sure if kids can do that. I don’t know if they know what they look for.
Can you elaborate though with something you said? For other parents who might be listening to this. Explain the difference between competing and winning.
For me, competing is like I told my team we’re at the Myrtle Beach Nationals. I end up finished second we lost that same team I was just telling you about; great team, well coach in my organization. I tell kids, “Competing is pretty simple. When you wake up in the morning, it’s important. What’s important? It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re in baseball and my sons are at a robotic stage champ, whatever it is. When you wake up in the morning it’s the first thing on your mind. When I wake up Friday morning, I’m competing. I’m a coach. I promise you, I’ll be the most prepared coach that day. I’ll never get out prepared. I may get out coach once I make mistakes but I won’t be out-prepared.” When I go to my practice tonight at 7:00, I already know what I’m doing, Jason. I already know I’m prepared. I’m going to be there the first one there and I’ll be the last one to leave because my athletes can’t know that I’m getting out-worked because then there’s a chink in my armor.
Competing is understanding that when you go to bed, you did everything in your soul to get better and you lifted someone also. I don’t need Jason Botts lift my whole team. If every single kid on my team, and this is what I preach, gives me everything they have in their soul and you try to lift one brother, we all try to do it one time. Everyone on the team elevated in their level. The problem now is we’re so focused on skilled development. We’re trying to figure out a way to win games that we’re forgetting about the piece. I tell my athletes, “We’re five and sixteen. I led the whole area in stolen bases in high school. We’re 97 for 103.” They were like, “Good God, how does that happen?” “Because in November, I preached that that’s the number one goal I want, 85% success rate stolen bases because we’re not going to hit. Let’s be real. We’re not a hitting team. We need to play defense, we need to steal bases and we need to throw strikes.” Going in this year for my high school team, I’m on the same boat. I don’t have a great team. I have an average team at best. Whether they like to hear it or not, that’s the truth. We’ve got to steal 120 bases this year. We’re going to have to field a certain fielding percentage, we’re going to throw an amount of percentage strikes for us to compete and win the games I want to win, which is twelve. We’re going to get to twelve because I’m going to make sure we got the twelve. This year my goal was two to three, we’ve got five. This year my goal is twelve. I’m competing right now as of today, work myself to get to twelve wins. That’s my goal. Kids need to set short-term goals, long-term goals and they got to be achievable. It’s okay to adjust your goals and refine them.
Number three is kids need to understand their support system. They’ve got to find kids around them that have the same interest and same goals. Otherwise, you’ll get rid of them. I call it trash. Get rid of the trash. Then the fourth thing is you’ve got to be able to compete. What is competition? It’s probably different for everyone. My thing is I know when I go to bed 1:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the morning that my mind is just done. My wife always says, “Mike, turn your brain off and go to bed.” When that happens, then I go to bed. For me, you’ve got to pull everything out in your body. I think kids sometimes just get drop loads of practice, they try to get themselves better. To me, it’s not about trying. Trying to me is not a word I like to talk about. To me, it’s about doing the process. The P word is big, process.
Competing was giving everything in your soul. How did you phrase it?
Everything you have in your soul. Everything you have in your body, whether it’s your heart. I tell my kids sometimes like today, “I’m not 100%. I’m about 65% today. Those guys tonight will get 100% of my 65%. That’s all I care about.” That’s back to your first thing. I tell my players. My players, I know they like me a lot because I hear people tell me they do. I said, “I’m an easy coach to go along with. If you’ve got 50% to give me, give me 50%. That’s it.” Tell me, “Coach, I had a bad day at school. My girlfriend broke up with me. I feel like crap. I feel about 40%.” “Okay, buddy. I want all 40% today.” That’s it. To me, it’s just about getting everything out of people’s souls. It’s not just the physical. It’s the physical, the mental, the emotional, everything. You’ve got to get it out.
I’m curious, being a very successful hitter over your career, we’re talking about the mental part, when did the at-bat start for you? You talk about how you love to be prepared. What was part of the preparation process? When did the at-bat specifically begin for you?
I was a 340 career Minor League hitter in ’01. In ’02, I had the worst year of my career. I was hitting about 150 most of the year in Triple-A. I started off in Big Leagues in ’02 and went down. I broke down mentally. This was the first time I realized when hitting started for me. It’s pretty simple, I can sum up in 30 seconds. When I woke up every morning, I visualize me hitting whoever who I was facing. As you know, we know who was pitching. I visualize myself hitting that person, four, five at-bats visually. In ’02, I was roommates with a guy named Mark Ellis and Jason Grabowski. I lived in the dinette, in the kitchen, they put a bed in the dinette. I remember waking up and not being able to see success. I couldn’t visualize it the whole year. I remember going to see a psychologist.
In ’03, I went to Toronto in Triple-A. I hit 280 or 290 that year. I remember sitting in bed, now my wife is with me, I wake up where I just sit and close my eyes and I could see success. I could see balls coming at me, sliders, taking a really nice hack. I could visualize success. For me, when the hitting start? The minute I woke up, the minute my brain was turned on, I thought about that game and I thought about it all day. Yes, I could carry a conversation with my wife but there are numerous times, even today my wife would say, “I’m going to do something different because you’re not locked into me.” Sometimes when my mind is working, I’ve always been that guy. I just can’t stop it and go to something different. When I step with my eyes open, I step on earth right that day, I’m thinking about hitting. Then I take a break, I go to a mall with my wife. When I got to the field, I don’t know what your pre-game routine, I have my own routine, and again I’m focused on me. I’m focused on getting ready for the game. Then I have my BP routine then I would shower and get treatment and I’d meditate or whatever you want to call it, meditate, visualization, imagery, whatever word you want to use. I would do that.
Then I get out to the field. I was usually one of the first ones. I go to my pre-game running and stretching. I’d sit in the dugout by myself with my hands over my head and I visualize again. Then usually about ten minutes before the game, I get myself mentally ready. I’d crack one of those ammonias and take a hit and I was ready to go.
When you’re going through your visualization routine, what was important for you to see, hear, feel? Let us know what you did specifically in yourself being the success.
For me, I was really trying to take it away from me in the batter’s box. I would just close my eyes and try to visualization. You know who was pitching. I knew I was coming to Oklahoma City in ’04 where I was facing R.A. Dickey or I was facing Vólquez or there was a big country kid who was throwing there that one year, I don’t know who it was but he threw hard but he’s big, fast, straight fastball foreseen with a big hammer, big curveball. I was just trying to visualizing those pitches coming at me because the clearer I can see it, the better I knew I was going to do at night. For me, it was all about just seeing the pitches coming at me because I knew I was controlling this moment that I could stop the ball. It was in my mind. I’d stop the ball and I hit it and take a good swing. I never saw a ball go off the bat, which is funny we’re talking about this. I never saw the result to come to think of it.
When I said I couldn’t see success, I couldn’t see the ball come at me and I couldn’t find a way to stop it for me to hit. It was just crazy how the brain works. When I was going really well for all these other years, I could see R.A. Dickey throwing me a pitch. He seems to be 90, 92 probably a fastball in the other half and me being able to just stop the ball and take a good path on it. That’s it. That’s all I care about. Boom, I was good where I’d say the 2-0 changeup. Whatever these pitches were, I try to visualize what their tools were and I’d see it coming at me. Then I’d stop it. I had the ability to stop it. When I struggle, I didn’t. I couldn’t see success.
It’s interesting that you made that point because a lot of the trainings that I received to do what I doing now, it’s not just straight from the sports psychology world but it’s a lot of other outside influences that I think haven’t really been applied yet to athletics. One of my trainers, one of my mentors, when it comes to the idea of meditation or being peaceful, there’s this specific routines that we learn how to walk ourselves through and walk others through. One of the examples that she gave was whenever she is not calm, not in balance, there’s this inner lake. When she’s out of sync, the water is very ripple-y and she can’t control, she can’t smooth it out. When she’s centered and she’s in her groove, the water is perfectly common still. I remember when I used to visualize that when I could slow the ball, when I could control the ball, when I could make it barely spin, that was when I was at my best. I knew I was centered, calm, my breathing was full and relaxed. I couldn’t see it if the ball was moving rapidly or darting around, then I better do something to calm myself down or it was not going to be my day.
I think you hit it. That’s exactly how I feel. When I was going good I could stop the ball. When I was going bad in ’02, I couldn’t. I tried so hard. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t un-crack it.
Now, fifteen years later you’ve got a player maybe who describes that same situation to you. What advice would you give them now?
Number one is breathe. I wasn’t breathing. I was just tense. When I say breathe, I don’t mean the inhale-exhale, I mean the definition that probably doesn’t exist of letting life, like looking the trees, enjoy the trees, look in the plane when you’re stretching above and wish you go to Mexico and not playing that game that night. Take in the fans. Go talk to a fan over there and find out what they do for a living. Don’t come to the field and think that your result is life. What happens when you struggle, it affects everything. It affects relationships, it affects everything. Then all of a sudden you put pressure and pressure and then you go, “Shit, I’m 2 for 20. I could go 6 for 15…” “Relax, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re hitting zero today. Today until next week, I want you to hit zero again. I just want you to be in control of your at-bats. I want you to see the ball, hit it hard and breathe and enjoy the process because at the end of the day, I’ve been through it. You’ve got to trust that I’ve been through it. You can go look at my stats. Your stats are always going to be your stats. No matter how hard you push through, your stats are always your stats. Enjoy the process, enjoy the fans, enjoy the young lady right there who’s 57 something years old with her grandson, go sign the autograph. Relax. Don’t let that affect you. The old guy up there that’s a war veteran, go thank him. Just take it in.”
I started doing that in ’04, ’05 and ’06 when I was in Albuquerque. Fans love me. I’d talk to everybody even when I struggled. I realized that my struggles were never struggles. I went back in ’04 and I was hitting 150 for the month of April. I’d hit three in a quarter, 16 and 77 because it didn’t let it bother me. I never let the game become life. I think too many athletes think that the game is life. At the end of the day, if we all live to 80 years old, most average professional careers are six, eight years. It’s 10% of your life. Don’t let that 10% be so not enjoyable that you forget maybe the greatest time of your life. I think a lot of athletes do that and truly, a lot of these athletes struggled. I never really struggled at one season but if you find a Minor Leaguer that never made it, which would be interesting too, that really probably had a career with 250, I’d be curious to see if he enjoyed the game. I’m going to bet all the money in the world he enjoyed the camaraderie, the club house and saying, “He’s a pro guy.” He’s probably the guy that posts on that Facebook that I can’t stand seeing, him throwing 93 miles per hour at the Carnival in Seaside New Jersey. That to me isn’t what it’s about. It’s about enjoying that you’re a role model, enjoying that even if you didn’t make it, you touch kids’ lives because you’re a role model, you’re a ball player, you’re one of the best 1500 in the world.
I’d be curious to see if you take a guy like Jody Gerut, who’s a good friend of mine, really cerebral guy. A guy I highly recommend you get on. That would be interesting for you to do. I look back when I struggled, it affects everything. On mother’s day, I remember not wanting to call my mom. I didn’t want her to go, “How are you doing, Mike?” “Mom, I’m hitting 110. I’m doing shitty.” I wouldn’t call her. I did not want to be near anyone that would ask me about the negative. Instead of compartmentalizing and going, “I suck on the field but I’m not going to let it make me suck in life and make me suck for the fans and make me stink for the young boy that wants an autograph.” I think too many people when they struggle, they don’t move past that if I had a kid, the answer to your question I’d say is just breathe. Just enjoy it. The baseball will take care of itself if you keep working at the right stuff.
I don’t want to add to that because I think that was about perfectly said as possible. The one thing I do want to mention though was where you very started with and talking about looking at the tree and the fans in the crowd. That’s something that talking to other sports, that’s something you don’t hear people in baseball talk about. Though on this podcast, when I’ve talked to guys who played professional tennis, they played PJ golfer, they refer to it as disengagement. It’s something that within their sport, they do talk about, they do teach. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast. Even if baseball is what I’m known for, it’s who I work with the most, to be able to incorporate what other sports do because they do pay more attention to this idea of, “Take a mental break.” Even in baseball, there’s a pitch every fifteen seconds now. You’ve got to be intense in level ten every second of every day. I was like that for years and years.
As far as my own story, when I got to Oklahoma City after a year or two, as I started to believe more in myself and you become more open and you start talking to more people. Not only what that impact means to them, you can’t always measure that but yet I feel in my case there’s a lot of instances where I can. So much of what I’m doing now with this business and with social media, the amount of messages that I get all the time from people in that Oklahoma City area, a lot of my clients now who are seventeen, eighteen years old are the little kids that were running around that place at seven and eight. I took the time to talk to them and say things and meet the parents, stuff like that. What goes around comes around.
I’m a firm believer in that. I just think you take the time today to build tomorrow. I think too many people just forget about today and they just think today is always going to be here and it’s not. I just was in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago. My buddy is the Wing Commander in Altus Oklahoma. He’s a colonel. He’s right in that Air Force base. I saw a guy named Shawn Wooten. He’s a hitting coach right now, a friend of mine when I played. He took the time out. Matter of fact, I had to stop the meeting because he would kept talking to me, which is amazing. Here’s a guy that’s a Big League hitting coach, he’s a Triple-A back and forth and he’s talking to my kids, he’s talking to me and like we’re just doing in1998 in California. I thanked him. I said, “That mean so much to me.” He would have kept talking. We just kept reminiscing and talking. It meant so much to me because those are the kind of guys that you want. We talked about the trash, that’s not the trash. I want that guy in my circle. That’s why he made it and had a good career. You look at the superstars are superstars. Those are the one percenters. Justin Bour, my buddy. He’s a great guy. You saw him in home Run Derby eat his donut. He took it in. No one at Home Run Derby is having more fun than Justin Bour. He had the most fun in that Home Run Derby. That’s who he is. You’ve got to be like that in order to enjoy this game. It’s too tough otherwise.
There are so many people out there being negative and ripping even when it comes to the baseball game, talking about all things that are wrong. I want to say to you specifically what is right about the game today? What’s getting better over the last 20 or 30 years ago that you really like?
The stadiums are nicer. I think Major League Baseball right now is in a bad place for a community. It’s probably a good place business-wise, money-wise, but it’s in a bad place, anyone that would like to debate this, you can give my number. When I was in baseball in 1999, we had a program that I was part of called RBI, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. They’ve gotten away from that. They wanted to bring more African-Americans in the game, which I think is a huge thing that we need to do because we lose them to basketball and football typically. I think that’s important. You want some of those athletes in this game. You want a lot of adversity in every sport. Major League Baseball is now going into the foreign countries and dumping a lot of millions of dollars into these academies. I don’t think that’s correct. I’ll be the first one to say that. I know maybe some players don’t like to hear this. I don’t think that’s right. I think they should dump some but not as much as they do. We need to dump it right here. We need to dump more inside our borders and take our players.
Look at the All-Star game, the American player isn’t there as much as it was. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Do I think the American players are going to be out of baseball like some people predict? No, I don’t think so. I think when I play the game, if I had to guess, it was 65%-70% of Americans. I’ll be willing to bet it’s down to 50%-55%, maybe even lower. Do I have a problem with that? No. Not from a humanitarian perspective of, “It’s great that everyone is playing.” That’s great. My problem is this. When you’re a Major League athlete like Ken Griffey, you’re a role model. I know people will say, “No.” That’s the cheap way of getting out of it. That’s the Charles Barkley excuse. You’re a role model. You need to change people’s lives. God gave you the ability, if you believe in God. Some people don’t. If you believe in God, God gave you a gift. You had the gift, I had the gift and a lot of thousands of people have the gift. You need to give back. I don’t see as many Major League Baseball players giving back. It’s not about money. It’s about time, it’s about effort. I don’t see it.
Second thing is, no one can bunt anymore. Sacrifice bunting is just a complete joke. Pitchers are trying to just strike for velocity. Pitcher ability is lost; the Tim Hudsons of the world, the Greg Madduxes. That’s lost. In my opinion there are some better athletes playing the game. I think some of them are better athletes then when I played. I challenge you to do this study. In the ’80 s and ‘90s and early 2000s, go count how many 300 hitters were in Major League Baseball. Then I want you to go in the last eight years of how many they were. It’s pretty simple. Just Google 1998, there were 38 guys that hit 300 better. In 2010, there were only sixteen. Then also, understand that it was harder to hit in the old days than it is now. The reason for this in the old days, there were specializations, in my opinion. When I first got to the Big Leagues, there was a pitcher for everybody. Jason Botts, you’re a big left hand hitter, I’d have a pitcher just to get you out. They call those guys left-handed specialists. You had your set-up guy, you had your closure, you had your left-handed specialists, your starters. Nowadays starters, they’re trying to stretch those guys out and now they’re trying to put in the bullpen a closure, a closure and a closure. Everyone at the bullpen comes out, they throw 94, 95, and then they watch the Nationals and want to know why they can’t find any bullpen. You’re going out about it wrong.
If you look at the teams that won the World Series in the ‘90s and 2000s, even before that, there are rules for pitchers. Nowadays, it’s like we’re rolling out everyone throwing 95. Everyone is like a closure-type. That doesn’t work. Those guys can’t go back to back to back in days like that. I’m actually one of these guys that’s still about the game. I actually watch it tremendously. I’m not sure what’s better not in a negative way. Do I think pitchers are better? Do I think pitchers are better than Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson and Tim Hudson? No, I don’t. I don’t think you can show me a pitcher right now. If you ask any player in the game right now, do you want Roger Clemens to win game seven or Clayton Kershaw? I will guarantee 100% people will say Roger Clemens because he we won a World Series. He did it. I’m not sure if I said, “Who do you want playing shortstop? Do you want Derek Jeter?” I would think most people would say, “Derek Jeter.” You and I are were on these guys. You and I were on this level. I’m talking about the everyday Major League guy for a decade or even eight to ten years. Your Derek Jeters, your Ken Griffeys, your Barry. Take the steroids out. These guys these days are still doing different drugs. That’s all. They may not be doing their steroids. They’re doing that to their selves. That hasn’t gone. I can tell you that for a fact because home runs are up and body types are the same, so nothing has changed.
My problem is, what’s the difference? I don’t know. Is it better? Are we finding better players than Derek Jeter when he came up in 1993? No. Derek Jeter was playing in the Major Leagues two years ago. I just don’t think the game is getting better. Then you could say I’m crazy but then let’s talk football. Football, are people running faster? Yes. Are people hitting harder? Yes. Are players getting better and more skilled? Yes. Are wide receivers more dynamic than they were twenty years ago? Yes. Then go to basketball; Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron. Who would guard Kevin Durant in the ‘80s? Who would you put on? Nobody. Who would you put on LeBron James? Michael Jordan can’t guard on LeBron James. He’s a different player. I take Michael Jordan over LeBron by the way. The athletes in basketball are bigger, stronger, jump higher. I know nothing about hockey, I won’t comment. Go to Tennis. Go back today of Andre Agassi and then go to the guys nowadays, it’s not even close.
Then you go to baseball. You just look at the All-Star game. I’ll look at a guy who made the All-Star team last night hitting 314 with five home runs. I think the guy is just a good Big Leaguer. Back in the day, I remember you turn on an All-Star team. It was Hall of Fame. I don’t think that line up last night. I don’t think you see 30 Hall of Famers in that game, where in the past you’d see Don Mattingly, Pete Rose, you’ll see should be Hall of Famers. I don’t know if the games are getting better. I think it’s getting more tools; more home runs, harder fastballs, but as far as the game, the creativity of the bunting and the hit and running. When was the last time you saw hit and run in Major League Baseball? I’ve watched 30 games, did you ever seen one? When I was in San Diego, I hit and run three times and I was not your everyday player. When was the last time you saw a squeeze play in Major Leagues? There’s just things in the game that’s just not getting done anymore. I don’t think that’s good for baseball.
It’s not a negative thing. It’s just maybe I just love the era I was in so much, although I never took steroids, I can attest to that. Everyone can look at me. No, I didn’t do that. I just love the era I was in. I love the George Brett, he was at the end of my era, he was getting out, and then the new guys in my era would have been the Eric Chavezes. I just love those guys. Maybe I knew them better than the guys now. I just look at the game now. The other thing I don’t like is I’m a clean guy. I’m not a guy that likes to see a guy with the baseball cap on with a beard that looks like Grizzly Adams. I know to each his own. To me, I always felt like baseball is just more of that clean cut game. I think it’s turned into something different. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. I don’t know. What’s your feel on that?
I let you go on this for a long time because I thought you bring up a lot of tremendous points. When I first specifically asked the questions, I should have been more specific towards this. Like the youth camp. I know you’re so involved at the amateur level. I did thank you for having some tremendous points and the majority I might do agree with at the Major League level. What do you think is right about what’s going on at the youth level, amateur, high school, all the stuff that’s going on in the summer? Do you think they’re dealing with the same problems? Do you think that there are some people that are stepping up and making sure our youth are going a different direction?
I think there are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives, which is scary for kids. The youth game, I would think, is really equivalent to where our country is right now. You wake up and you see stuff in North Korea and you get scared and then you all of a sudden see a star go up and some really good things, you go, “Okay, maybe we’re okay.” That’s the youth game of baseball right now. For instance, a good example, kids are able to get seen by more colleges. Check, that’s a positive thing. The avenues in that stuff, that’s great, that’s easy, the perfect games, these companies are doing a good job. Guys like myself are doing a good job. That’s positive. Negative side is what you and I talked about earlier, the competing. I’m not sure if kids compete like they should. I think that’s more the fault of guys like me. We have these academies and they work so bad on teaching and educating that we’re forgetting about the application are just purely competing.
The other positive side on the new side is that kids are more accessible to guys like you or me, so their minds are going to be better. I would envision fifteen, twenty years from now we’re going to have a country of really great coaches. My son, who may not make it to Major League and has kids and he coaches, he’s going to be a whole lot better coach than 99% of coaches that I’m coaching at right now. They’re more educated on things that you and I never touched on. I think the biggest negative is the bat restrictions. In high school, you’ve got to use drop threes. That’s a big deal. We’re able to create whip and really just focus on mechanics whereas these kids are really trying to drag these big bat through. I see a lot kids who really struggle with it. I think guys like you and I don’t understand that that’s a big difference. I think I would have been crippled with a drop three. I was only 150 pounds in high school. That would have been a big bat for me. I didn’t eat dumbbells for breakfast like you did.
The one other question that I have for you, I’m really, really curious about this. The first part, did you start a lot of the academies and the programs that you’re running now during your career?
Yeah, I started doing lessons in ’97 and then about 2001, I started doing bigger camps. Then I started the academy in ’05, ’06 where I started training teams and doing teams. I did that as a player. I started as a player.
When you talked about competing, and the word that you used earlier on was breakthrough and barriers, I think this is part of where cultures change and parenting has changed. Looking at my two boys and seeing kids play fight or fight for real, it’s really not about fighting, it’s the little young masculine energy developing, learning how to breakthrough things that are stopping us and learn how to resolve things on your own without having to go to the teacher, without having to go to mom or dad. I want to specifically ask you about the business-wise. You start all these things while you were playing, did that make the transition of leaving the game as a player? Did that help you at all? How do you feel?
I think we all got in the game. You probably wanted to get in the game and played ten years, because that’s the magic number for pension, and make enough money where you could just do this and that’s it. I don’t have to do anything else after this, make a podcast or maybe a Kelvin Mellor or just go coach high school and do nothing else. We didn’t do that. For me, when I got a game I was like, “I had my degree done. What am I going to do?” I’d look at it, Jason, like I got out of the game and I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go. It was easier because I had somewhere to land probably more financially. I was able to make little money. I always knew I was realistic. When I got in the Big League dugout the first time I was like, “I can probably do this. I can probably make seven, eight years,” but I never thought I’d be $100 million or $200 million or $300 million guy. I knew I wasn’t that player. That’s when I went back and got my degree when I was still playing and that’s why I started creating a business while I was still playing. As my wife always says, “You always have one foot in and one foot out.” I didn’t. I was just smart because I was realistic that I knew my weaknesses. My weakness is when I would never going to be a power hitter. I was never fast so I play center field every day. There’s always going to be a role play. Role players come and go. I knew that. I might have been too smart for the game where I was always preparing for the end. I look at that as a positive and negative because I go over that before.
When my career ended, it ended abruptly. I was actually really playing well in Triple-A the last few years, it’s just my hips gave out. I’d get a hip replacement here soon. It just to the point where physically I can’t do it anymore and mentally I was just over the grind of getting surgeries trying to come back, but I did already have something to land on. It probably made it easier for me the most.
I’m just really curious about it because so many guys, myself being one, I think that’s why it is important to me, that going out of the game and the transition of, “What do I do next? I don’t feel like doing anything next. I still want to play but I don’t have an opportunity. I can’t play at the same level.” For me, it was just painful. The reason why I moved on was I could no longer play at the same level. I was very blessed I never have any serious injury. I had one hand surgery and that was it. That almost shouldn’t even count because you wake up and then as soon as it doesn’t hurt anymore you start trying to hit again. I have never had anything that reconstructed major down, but just the little wear and tear of the shoulders and the back and the hips. I just couldn’t hit the way that I wanted to. It’s not always fun when it’s like that. What was next? I’ve heard of guys having even more depression or a longer battle of years where they just can’t get themselves motivated or they can’t find a new passion to fill that void of no longer playing.
That gets back to me. I’m pretty strong inside. I’m emotional, I let people see me cry. My 12U Team saw me cry last week saying goodbye to them. I think it’s good. I think you’ve got to be able to cry as a man in front of people. At the same time, I’ve got a huge, huge side of me inside that’s probably tougher than most people. For me, I was never letting myself get into depression. Did I get down sometimes? I’m not going to lie, sure. For me, I had to be the man of the house for my wife and my kids. I had to be the man of the house for my team. I had to be the leader for my community or the people that looked up to me. For me, I always felt like you always have a job to do as a guy. Everyone in life has got a purpose. I just felt like so many people feel like baseball is your purpose. It’s not your purpose. It’s just something that you do really good.
I’ll leave it on this. You break it down: professional, college, high school, youth. If you’re a professional athlete, you need to find your purpose in life. I can tell you right now it’s not playing baseball. Baseball gives everyone a chance to do something great. For me, it was a chance to get with some more vets and build relationships. I brought a guy out this year for my high school team. It gave me appreciation for greatness. It gave me appreciation for work ethic. It gave me a lot of things I could take into my life and apply for kids and friends’ kids. It gave me a stage to say, “I did the work and I got there.” What was my purpose as a freshman athlete? It was the ability to spread the word of work ethic and confidence and knowing your soul and what you should be doing in life, not what your parents tell you should do, not with your wife. What do you want to do?
When you’re a college athlete, I think your job is to refine your skills. Do I ever have the chance to be the first team All-Met or All Conference? Do I ever have the chance to be at All-American? I think too many college athletes enjoy being a part of the team picture and not being part of the process. They want to make sure they’re going to be the big man on campus or be the best center field in the conference. Try to be a draft pick. I don’t think there’s enough in college athletics. The best players have it but the average player doesn’t. I did it when I was at Mason, we had players in this of really self-development and try to become better now because you have more time, you have more accessibility in things.
High school athletes, this is the one that really tugs at me. It’s about life skills. It really has nothing to do with baseball. You’re baseball coach in high school, you need to touch these kids in life. A lot of these kids are getting lost. Their parents aren’t parenting and you need to step up as a coach. You need to make sure that you hold the kids to the standard that that is right in the community. I suspend nine players, 22 games if you’re in my high school team; nine starters, 22 games. I had to do it. It broke my heart but I had to do it because they were doing things that are not going to be allowed in my program. Every other coach in the county would have turned the other way. I’m not turning the other way and I won’t. They could fire me for it, but I’m not turning the other way. As a high school coach, your number one goal should not be about baseball. It’s about making sure these kids are better fathers and better people and they’re not drinking and they’re not having unprotected sex and they’re not bullying people and they’re not skipping class thinking they’re Johnny badass because they start in shortstop. No.
A good story was I found out one of my kids left for a lunch break off campus, which is out of the school. I said, “Where were you?” “My mom said I can leave lunch.” I said, “That’s fine. When you’re in her house, she’s your mom. When you’re in your school, you’re mine. You better stay in school for every second. Yeah, but I had to go get lunch. Then pack your lunch. I didn’t. Then you buy lunch. I didn’t have money. You want to keep going on that. Bottom line is you stay in school from now on. What time did you come back to school? I didn’t come back the rest of the day. That’s a long lunch break. Most people only get fifteen to thirty minutes for lunch. You took a three-hour lunch break. You’re suspended in the game. Most people would never look at the attendance and see if you came back or not.” Teach these kids accountability in high school and teach them about being just a great person.
At the youth level, it’s even more important. We’ve got to teach these kids the C word and the P word: compete and process. We’ve got to teach these kids at seven years old to let’s just call it thirteen, fourteen that every day is a process, every day you compete. Really, that’s where we want to try to build that self-esteem, that self-imagery for these kids. That it’s okay to be fat because it’s only part of the process. It’s okay to have the acne, it’s okay to have glasses. It isn’t about winning. It’s never about winning. Do I want to win? Yes. Do I hate to lose? Yes. To me, it’s at the youth level teaching these kids about self-confidence, high school level, life skills, making sure they don’t get in trouble. Once you get to college, I think it’s become self-development as a player. Now, you’re at that funnel that is gotten really skinny. You’re one of the best of the best. That’s what I would tell parents.
Right now I think most parents they go to all these travel team tryouts and they try to find out which one’s the best. Don’t look at the winning percentage, look at the person running the program and what that person has a chance to do for you. When you go to look for a showcase team, which is after travel. That’s your fifteenth or eighteenth. Don’t look at what program won the most national titles. Look at what person is trying to do the most for your kid to get to the next level. It may be a team that never wins a tournament. This guy is going to push your son. Then when you go to college, look for a pro that can develop your son as a baseball player. You get to the professional baseball, that’s like their complete circle of life, “Now you’ve made it whether you’re in single or in Major Leagues.” Understand that it’s just a job and you’ve gotten really good at it and you’ve got to work on all of that stuff. What’s your purpose? What percentage is making off to work in? 2%? Not a lot. What are you going to do? What happens is a guy like you, if you’ve gotten to pro ball and say, “What’s my purpose?” What would you say at 22-years-old, what was your purpose?
I would have thought it was baseball at 22.
So would I. I would have thought it was baseball too. The problem is it took me getting blown up in ’99 in that collision. It took me an 0 for 4 to see my father-in-law battle cancer and died. My mother-in-law battled cancer and died. To realize that baseball is just a sport. I look back and I go to some of these Minor League games, I look at these guys, I just want to go down and hug them. They didn’t realized how could they have it. They have taken it for granted probably. Some don’t. Justin Bour, he had a great time in Home Run Derby. He comes home every year, talks to all my kids, does these camps with the kids. He really gets it. I’d cheer for that guy so strong because he actually really gets it. He has fun. That’s my youth, travel, high school, showcase, college, pro, if parents would just understand what are they supposed to be getting out of it. A lot of times it’s not even what they think. It’s not about me getting your son better. It’s about me really getting your son better as a whole because if I can get your son to not do drugs in high school, not drink, not chase girls and work on school and sports, I’ve just simplified his life really easily. He’s going to be able to give everything he has and I’m going to develop him.
The best thing I’ve done in the last twenty years is coach high school baseball. It really scares me for my two kids because I see some strong things out there. I was naïve to it. I’m going to be honest, I was naïve. My kids are having a hard time set up in our press box and talk for an hour. We’ve really got to look into this. I had kids tell me that they couldn’t make it to practice because they’re sick and they drove three hours the night before to go to a college party. I never thought of that. That didn’t exist when I grew up. My dad would have grabbed me by the neck and slammed me down. Then I had the parents tell me that that’s not what they did. I think as parents we become naïve at some point. I’m trying to be not naïve as a parent. Now, my son’s going to be thirteen. He’s going to seventh grade. He’s a great kid. He’s still a kid. We’ve got to make sure we surround our athletes with coaches that are more leaders and not so much maybe the greatest baseball coach. He needs to be a good baseball coach, but just a really good leader. I don’t think people look for that. I want to ask you a question. What’s the one trait in a person or two traits that all leaders have? At the end of the day, for your two boys in the background, I would think the one thing you want them to be in life is a leader whether it’s a husband, a player, a president of a company, you want to be leaders.
First, I’ve got to acknowledge, in fact this is the first time I’ve ever been asked a question at my own show. Congratulations on that one. You were touching on at the very, very beginning of the show. You want to pick other people’s brains and that’s something I do know about you. For me, what I want most for the boys and I think it funnels into this idea of leadership is to have a heart that cares for other people. I think that’s one of the most important qualities for leaders. You’ve got to go out of your way to go out and genuinely connect with other people if you’re going to have any ability to make their lives better and for the good. Managing is another thing. You just tell people what to do. For me leadership, you’ve got to connect and you’ve got to care to really be able to do that.
Who is the best leader you’ve had in life?
That’s a very excellent question. Obviously, when it comes in the Pros pro, Michael Young, I think you listened to that podcast, I remember you told me in the past and his definition. I asked him what a professional was. For me, he gave the greatest answer being in a leadership and that has a lot to do with it because he didn’t say anything in those words. Regardless of who it was in the clubhouse, he was going to find someone who did well or someone who had a bad game. He was going to go and acknowledge that person. One of the best leaders I’ve ever seen is the boy’s mother and what she’s done in her business. I see that same quality in her. That’s when I really began to realize and become aware of the idea of it’s about heart, it’s about the ability to connect and care genuinely about another person.
That’s right. I think it’s the ability to connect. I think that’s why I’ve been successful in this business. Then my last thing was, whatever you just mentioned, you put it in your life and you’re good. My greatest leader was a guy named Jerry Williams. He’s my high school coach, older guy. The first game that I had as high school coach this year, I woke up I started crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I was so excited to do it. I called him and I texted him. He goes, “You’ll be great. Just make sure there’s growth every single day in those kids. Just remember what I did for you guys.” I remember the greatest trait that he taught me was accountability and discipline. If you ask anyone that was around me they always say accountability and discipline.
I took the greatest leader that I’ve ever played for and his greatest trait and his leadership, it was compassion, accountability and discipline. What’s in my life? Those three things. I think too many people, they know who the best person in life is. They know what trait they have. They don’t do it. They don’t bring it to their life. I think that’s absolutely crazy. The next time you’re on the cast say, “Who’s your greatest leader in your life? Define leader. Who is your greatest leader yet in your life? What trait do they have and do you bring that to your life?” Most people will say, “No. I really don’t.” That’s crazy to me to think that we all have good leaders that we have. There are a million leaders in the world. They all have certain traits and sometimes they are different traits. Mine was compassion, discipline and accountability and those three are 100% in my life because of Jerry Williams, not because of my parents. My dad had leadership but again your dad is always your dad that’s why you and I have this business because kids won’t listen to their parents. It’s the reason why I pay for my kids to get training and I’m a trainer. Jerry Williams, he put that in my life; greatest leader. I followed those three things. I hope for me that I’m that for someone, that I’m someone Jerry Williams that my high school kids go, “I’m 40 years old and I do A, B and C because my high school coach Mike Colangelo did it. He was my greatest leader.”
No doubt you’re doing that for other people. It’s been awesome to have you on here. If anybody’s got any questions for you, how can they get in touch?
I do a lot of stuff by email. I’m an email guy although it’s bad for communication, it’s the easiest thing. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. They can visit my website ColangeloBaseball.com. I usually get back to everyone quickly. I like open dialogue that’s why when I first met you I felt in love with you. I just like open dialogue. I like picking brains. I ask you a lot of questions when you talk to me. I learned a lot the one day you came down and spoke to our group. Kids still talk about that actually.
I tell you a quick story. They said, “Who’s that one really big guy?” I said, “I don’t know.” “No, the big guy a couple of years ago.” I said, “The bald guy? That’s Jason Botts.” “He was huge. Then he talked to us about breathing and just trying to relax.” The irony in that is the simplicity, that’s baseball. Slow the game down, breathe, relax, and here you are 6’4”, 270 pounds of muscles and these young kids are looking up to you like you’re going to tell them, “Get in the box and swing.” Then you’re like, “You’ve got to breathe. I want everyone to close their eyes, feel the earth.” They’re like, “This is crazy.” It was eye-opening for them because really no one talks about this. The two areas we lack is the nutrition side and the mental side. People do strength and speed, it’s still lax but nutrition no one talks about, how to feel your body, how to feel your mind. No one touches on it. I know you’re going to do a great job, so I always follow you. I appreciate your time. That was awesome.
I appreciate you. This has been phenomenal. I hope you guys out there enjoyed it too. Until next time, aim high, swing hard and smile often.