I am super excited to bring you another great interview today with former Major League baseball player and a two-time All-Star, Shea Hillenbrand, a guy who I had a lot of respect for competing against him; a guy who I had a chance to talk to a little bit on the side over many, many years ago. I just remember the amount of passion that he had when he was talking about a swing or something that he was working on. I remember how excited he was to share his tips and his insights on this new distinction that he made. At that point, I just remember being an A-ball player. He was a guy who just made the All-Star team.
One, I have respect for him right out the gate for taking the time to give me any attention. Secondly, to sit here and share with us what he found was some profound distinction about his own swing and to pass it on to help me as well. Thirdly, I remember all that passion behind it. To get him on the show, I was super excited. I just come to find how great he speaks about not only the mental side, but just to hear his story how inspiring it was and what he’s doing with his life now, that’s like the total package. That is living full force in my world. A phenomenal guest, phenomenal interview that we go through.
Just little parting words before we turn over to that conversation is with things that are going on both inside and outside the white lines, what comes to my mind as one of my mentors is always telling me, “What you feed will grow. What you starve will die.” What you choose to focus on, it doesn’t matter what it is, you are going to find it. That’s one of the ways that our brain works. You ask it a question and it’s going to come up with an answer, even if the answer isn’t true. If you keep asking yourself, “Why am I not good enough? Why is this not working?” It is going to find an answer. It’s going to be on search mode for it and it will make up an answer even if asked because the brain has got to finish those questions.
Be careful what you ask yourself. Be careful what you choose to focus on because you will find more of it. That’s why one of the reasons that we created the GPA model, that daily time where you find one thing that you’re grateful for, one thing that you’re proud about and one thing that you appreciate about yourself, the GPA model. Spend a few minutes, think about one of those every day and feed it. What you feed will grow. Over time, it’s going to get bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger just like a snowball hitting down a mountain. Without any further ado, I want to get Shea up to the plate. He and I will see you on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
Shea Hillenbrand: 2x MLB All-Star
The first question that I wanted to ask you is where you grew and where the passion for the game began and maybe just a little breakdown of your journey through grown up and youth sports.
I was born in Mesa, Arizona. When I was three months old, my family moved to Southern California, which is Arcadia, Temple City area. Arcadia is where the Santa Anita Race Track is. It’s right next to Pasadena locking on up. I grew up a diehard Dodger fan. Being a diehard Dodger fan growing up in the ‘80s, you show up in the third inning, you leave in the seventh inning and you listen to Vin Scully to beat traffic. We’d have season tickets at the top of this day and my mom would take us, myself and my best friend. I’d have my nachos in one hand and my chocolate malt in the other hand. I really take in the senses; make it everything my dream become tangible. I really didn’t care about the players. I used to love watching Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, all those guys. To prove that I really didn’t care about the players too much, my favorite player was Steve Sax. He couldn’t even throw the ball to first base. I never had Dodger Dog until I played until I played in the Big leagues.
My ‘why’ was pretty strong. I love baseball. I was always outside kicking a ball around. I was always outside throwing a baseball or whatever. The biggest thing with me is a story I told myself at fourteen years old when my dad walked into my room, telling me that he’s going to uproot our family from beautiful Southern California and back to the hot desert of Arizona. This was in my prime formative years of adolescence. I just finished ninth grade, which is junior high, going into high school. When my dad left the room, the story I told myself was that my dad doesn’t love me, I’m not lovable and I’m not good enough. As I reluctantly left all my childhood friends in Southern California and moved to Arizona, I decided to become a little achiever through athletics.
By the time I was twenty years old, I was an Arizona High School soccer player, the number one soccer in Arizona. By the time I was twenty, I walked on at Mesa Community College. I didn’t have anywhere to go in really baseball, so I walked on at the local junior college. In two years, I quickly became the number one baseball player in Arizona. With that being said, I was drafted by the Red Sox. When I was drafted by the Red Sox, I proceeded to tell all my friends that, “I got drafted by the White Sox.” I didn’t even know what team I got drafted by. All my friends were saying, “You got drafted by the Red Sox. You don’t even know the history?” I said, “Whatever Sox it is, I’m going to the Big leagues.” You’ve got to give me some credit. Growing up in Southern California Dodgers fan, we don’t know White Sox, Red Sox, whatever it is. I just want to play baseball and this is in college too.
My story is really interesting because I really wasn’t trying to seek stardom. I really wasn’t trying to seek Major League Baseball. All I was trying to seek through the process was approval from my dad. Over the next five years in the Minor Leagues, after I got drafted, I remember my first spring training the Minor League director coming up to me. He came up to me and said, “Son, I need to talk to you.” I said, “Yes, sir.” He says, “You have all the makings to become a Major Leaguer and make millions and millions of dollars in the Big Leagues.” I was so green at it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know what team I was on barely. I said, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” He laid out his plan for me and I put my head down and over the next five years, I made Player of the Year three times in the Minor Leagues. After that, in 2001, I got my one shot to play in the Big Leagues.
My story is a lot different from a lot of other people. The whole time, I really didn’t even care. I didn’t care about the success. I didn’t care about everything. I just wanted to seek approvals. That pain from that story I told myself at fourteen really, really drove me to the top but really brought me down as well. I utilize that to travel around and speak and share those with kids. I try to get kids and I’m sure it parallels with you, to get connected with their true story. A lot of the stories these kids are telling themselves isn’t the real story.
So much of that story is made up when we’re children. It’s childish when we say it out loud but we’re living our life based on that and adults do it too. I’m grateful that you shared that with me and with us. I want to ask more questions about it as we go along but the one that I want to make sure I don’t forget to ask is you talked about leaving high school as being a better soccer, but yet after two years of being at junior college, being the best baseball player in the State of Arizona. What happened in those two years for you?
It’s very simple and you can relate easily. When I showed up to junior college and walked on, the only reason why I made the team was my work ethic. I was the first guy there and the last guy to leave. While all my buddies were partying and everybody was hanging out, and when people said it was too hot, the people were saying they’re sick, they were saying they’re tired, I was working. I remember that one thing that we needed to do to become part of the junior college team is when you get there, they put us all at shortstop and they take a radar gun. This is in 1994 or ’95. They radar us throwing across the diamond from shortstop to first base, and I threw 84 when I got there. I figured out that the guy that threw the hardest threw 91, my freshman season. I told myself, “When I come back next year, I’m going to throw the hardest out of anybody here.” I didn’t have any trainers. I didn’t have any coaching. I just simply took a ball and threw it up against the wall 300 times a day. With that passion and that ‘why’ inside so deep I wanted to become a Major Leaguer, to get my dad’s acceptance. I came up my sophomore year of college and I went out there. We got it sourced up. I threw the ball against the diamond and I threw 94. I gained 10 miles an hour and I had no idea, no training. I just had that ‘why.’ I just threw and I threw and I threw. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thrown a baseball. My arm’s still totally fine right now at 42 years old.
After two years in Mesa Community College, I’m sure there were offers to go and play in a Division 1 school or something like that. I’m getting the feeling that you were all about getting yourself to that Big Leagues. Was there any doubt or was there any thought of making the decision to go to college for a couple more years?
My dream as a kid in Southern California was to come over to Arizona and play for Arizona State University. That was my dream. I wanted to be a Sun Devil. I wanted to be like the guy. I don’t know why. I didn’t think I’d be good enough to play professionally when I was a kid but as a childhood dream, you’ve got to put things in perspective and have short-term goals to reach that ultimate goal. I wasn’t good enough to play at Arizona State at a high school, so I went to Mesa Community College. I was drafted by 28 of the 30 teams out of junior college. I had 20 of the 30 scouts at my kitchen table. I just walked on two years ago. The coolest thing that I want to relay to kids or people out there is that every single scout, I was talking to my parents about his about eight months ago and I don’t know how the topic came up. Every single scout that sat on my kitchen table, they all said the same thing and it was really interesting, because I really wasn’t that good but I worked harder than everybody else so I got results.
Every single scout said that I was the only guy they scouted in Arizona at the junior college level. Arizona is a melting pot. Arizona has a big area for exposure. Every scout said that I was the only player to run hard from home to first every single time. It’s crazy to think just running hard and that’s what they’re looking for. They’re not just looking for running hard but what’s cool and what I want to relay to the kids is that gave me an opportunity for them to look further at me to give me that shot. I didn’t standout too much with a power bat, with a great glove, with the bigger average, I had success. But that gave me a chance for them to look at me and then when they looked at me further with my character and my makeup and my success and all that stuff, that’s what gave me the shot to get drafted.
I’ve heard scouts in the past and some of the guys we came up playing with. I know a lot of my really good friends that they are scouts now. I’ve heard these stories of scouts taking players off their follow list because they saw them tank a 90-foot sprint. What does that say about a player that was 90 feet, if they give up or if they run harder every single time? What does that say about a player in your opinion?
I think it more so says everything about the coach because this game is so mental. There is no such thing as un-coachable player. I can’t stand that when coaches say that because I deal with that out here and I keep an arm distance away from coaching; I independent contract to help people out from here and there and do things. It’s the kids and I believe it’s just a weaker mindset because of the generation. We have to have empathy for the kids that we’re working with now. The generation of the kids is so different as you know. We can’t just go out there and try to coach them like we were coached or how coaches coached us or whatnot.
We have to have empathy meaning that we have to have just simple understanding and compassion who we’re leading. The understanding is the kids with technology now, using the phones and all that stuff. Everything is like releasing dopamine. All these phones are like niche. Parents that give their kids these phones and let them on all these technology all the time is just like opening up the liquor cabinet and handing a kid a bottle of vodka at seven or eight years old. All they’re seeking is that addiction of releasing that dopamine and now their social skills, their communicative skills, all that stuff is lagging. Their physical skills might be there because they play 10,000 games a season, a year and they go out there and train all year round. What has to be trained is that mind, the process orientation of that.
To answer your question, a lot of times these kids don’t understand how to train their mind because they haven’t been taught that. When we are told as kids or players, we just went out and did it. Like I said, I just went out and threw the ball against the wall because I love baseball. When I got into college or you go to a ProCamp or you go to a scouting league or whatever or you get around people that are at D1 universities or at the pro-level coaching, they say, “To get to the next level, you just have to understand you need a process. You need a process to be able to hit off the tee. You need a process to be able to run. You need a process to throw.” That’s where it laid with us. We went out and figured out that process. I think that’s where the disconnect is now with coaches and players with this new generation is that we’re just telling them, “We need a process.” These kids are like, “Huh?” Like how your dog looks at you when you talk to them, “Process?” We need to give them a process and get them to understand the process. I have a four-step focus formula on how to hit off the tee. Everything of what we do to hit 300 in the Big Leagues, and that’s what’s lagging and we got to be there and the kids need instant gratification because that’s what they get everywhere around. We’re losing the love and we got to stir up that love back in the game for the kids.
I remember when I was in junior college myself in Glendale in Southern California. When I was down there, I would take a tee and put it on the field. It wasn’t too big of a yard but what I would do is I put the ball on the tee and the goal was to see if I could hit the ball out of the yard and hit it over the fence. If I knew I got that result then I was doing things right. I’m using my legs, I’m staying inside the ball. To be able to drive the ball off the tee out of the ballpark, you’ve got to do everything right. I think about in today’s day and age, if I was coming up, instead of doing that and just focus on the result and doing it 300 times, 400 times until I had it figured out, what I’d be doing today would be like I’d set up my tripod with my iPhone and I would sit there and take video of myself probably hitting into a net. It’s not the same thing because you are focusing on the mechanics as opposed to getting the job done. I really relate to what you said about throwing the ball over and over and over again until you figure it out.
It’s very simple and this is the key to success. Every successful person got this: 80% of success is psychology. Psychology is what you focus on, it’s what you think about and what you feel and 20% is mechanics. This is billionaires, this is millionaires, this is everybody across the board. This is how we’re made up as human beings. Let alone hitting a baseball, which is the hardest thing to do in sports. 20% of the success of me hitting a baseball in a game is mechanics. Why do 95% of coaches just talk about mechanics? This drives me nuts. Because you have to hit them pure consciousness. Just like martial arts, just like performing, that’s how you hit in front of 50,000 fans in Yankee Stadium or whatever. I was the most shy introverted person but I can rank. I have the third highest active batting average in Yankee Stadium behind Paul Konerko and Ichiro. I have no idea why but I love thriving in those environments just simply because of where you place your focus.
Our focus of our mind needs to be specific. Our mind is like a heat seeking missile that serves a mechanism in that. It needs to be focused specifically on the end result. When they get off of a tee, when you get over there and hit the tee at the field, you’re trying to get the end result of hitting the ball over the fence. Then if you have that end result and know what the focus on why you’re doing it, you can hit in pure consciousness. Now, you’re engraining that into your nervous system and now, you’re filing that feel. That’s what we did, we filed that feel consistently. I never talked mechanics ever. Even in the Big Leagues, we don’t talk mechanics. It’s all the feel and going off with that feel. The only way you can seek that feel is being specifically focused on one thing while you’re in achieving your task at hand. Whether you’re hitting off a tee, soft toss, BP, whether you’re taking ground balls, fly balls, throwing a bullpen, whatever. My problem is with the coaches nowadays, they keep all the training too generalized. If they keep training generalized and it’s not specific with your focus with the kids, generalization in the mind causes confusion. The number one byproduct of that every single time which I get so passionate about is if I got a player that’s confused, he 100%, every single time, has zero confidence.
Now we’re walking around with kids who have no confidence because he didn’t set the tee up and hit it 300 times and try to hit the ball over the fence. I didn’t have your size, so I was just trying to hit line drives at the middle with the same thing you did or hit it gap to gap because I couldn’t hit it over the fence, but I felt it, you have to feel it. You have to hit. Your intuition has to kick in the game. You can’t be competitive if you’re thinking mechanics, thinking this, thinking that so everybody turns to their phone. Everybody talked to Josh Donaldson, “You got to swing up.” Chipper Jones says, “Swing down.” It’s like all over. How about just loving the game and have fun because 1% of kids after high school aren’t going to do anything with it.
I love you’re stressing the feel. This is what I hear from all the other guys who’ve played for a long time is the feel. What’s being taught more and more is what you see and what you see is the video and it’s the breaking down and analyzing the swing. I’ll throw it out there, I just love to hear what you have to say about it too. What I tell the young players is you have to be able to not just see it, understand what it looks like but you have to be able to feel it because when you’re in between those pitches, it’s up to you to make the adjustment yourself. That’s when you’ve got to feel when you’re doing it right or you’ve got to feel when you’re doing it wrong.
High school level baseball players, what they try to do is make an adjustment in between a tournament situation, which is pretty good to make an adjustment that level. College players try to make an adjustment in between the game. Minor League players try to make their adjustments between an at-bat, but what you and I do and what 300 hitters do in the Big League, you make an adjustment in between pitches. The only way you can make an adjustment between pitches is I’m focusing on two things in the batter’s box, and two things only. That’s it. I already know my approach. What I want to do, what I’m hot now outside the batter’s box. Once I get in that batter’s box and dig in, there are only two things I’m looking at. I’m trying to figure out at what point in time in the wind up or in the stretch in the pitcher’s motion am I going to start. I have to be in a ready position and able to fire. That’s what I agree with Josh Donaldson or whomever they talk about is your loading mechanism is the most part important part of your swing. You’re getting ready. That has to be out of the way. Your swing has to progress to where your loading mechanism is achieved by the time you read the pitch. What point in time do I start my swing and then read the pitch? That’s only two things that go through my mind and then my intuition of all my training kicks in.
If my loading mechanism is achieved by the time I read the pitch, all I do is read the pitch to get my coordinates, to get the information, get all that set. Once my mind dials in the information and my eyes read it and processes the information in milliseconds, my mind says fire. When I say fire, when I swing forward, once I read the pitcher swing forward, it’s a 100% reaction. Two things have to happen in order for me to react. I had to be focused 100% what I’m reacting to. I can’t be thinking mechanics. When do I start to read the pitch? 100% focused, I’ll focus on reading the pitch and then my body has to be relaxed. That’s where the kicker is. It has really very little to do with mechanics. I just have to be in a balanced position. By the time I read that pitch, boom, I’m on my backside, I’m in my legs, I’m relaxed, my shoulders are relaxed, my hands are relaxed, my wrists are relaxed. To where when I read that pitch and I say fire, I have a reaction. The reaction is all your muscles firing at the same time.
If we can get kid from just swinging a bat with this mechanic garbage to reacting, you’ll gain seven miles an hour in your bat speed, your exit velocity, all that garbage they think about, just by reading the pitch and reacting. What the cool thing is you have more fun when you train that way and when you compete that way. Now, you got the kids’ competitive nature kicking in to compete. Now, we’re out there competing. That’s what we want to do. We want to compete. We don’t want to swing. We don’t want to get results. You can’t if you don’t go compete.
One of the questions I want to ask you is, what does competition mean to you? Why is this so, so important?
I think it’s engrained in people and I think people have different levels of how they compete. It’s the hardest thing to do for a professional athlete, especially a baseball player because you’re at it every single day, is to reintegrate back in the society when you’re done playing and find something to fill that competitive niche. I couldn’t golf. I couldn’t do volleyball games. I couldn’t play pool. I couldn’t play video games with my kids because as I do, it’s all or nothing. I’m going to kill you or not. That’s not really conducive when you’re trying to grow up the youth and to have relationships with people. My last year was 2007. I walked away from the game in my prime to come home to be a father to my kids. I have three adopted children, beautiful children. It was really difficult.
You mentioned the importance of being in a relaxed state. Was there anything that you would try to do as part of your team or part of your focus to put you in that relaxed place?
People always ask, “Did you have any superstitions when you play? Do you have this and that?” I don’t believe in superstitions. When I woke up at 9:00 every morning when I played in the Major Leagues and went to bed at midnight, I always had to have nine hours of sleep. I could tell you what I did every day, all day long from 9:00 to midnight. All that is is just placing that focus throughout the day and training your mind to be able to have that specific focus and that specific thinking, to be able to compete at that level to where we were. It’s all in the mind. It’s very little that has to do with the mechanics and the training. I always did the same every day so my mind was at ease because there’s so many variables involved of having success on the baseball field that you can’t control.
If you don’t have that specific focus and that specific drive of how you train your mind, it’s going to be a very, very big challenge. I take 40,000 swings in the off-season. I give myself straight every day like hitting was an obsession to me. I was like addicted. That’s the only place I feel at home. I referred to the Michael Jackson thing, just performance-wise nothing off the stage. That’s the only place he felt at home. The only place I felt at home and felt peace within me was either in the batting cage or in the batter’s box. Anywhere else, even on the field, I suck. I sucked at third base. I was a two-time All-Star third base man and I had no idea how to fill the ground ball. It’s in the process. I knew what to focus on to get the job done but I can’t tell you how many times I was at third base and get a ground ball and threw it to first, left the first base and I was like, “Sweet, yes I got it.”
I feel the same way even with my own swing. I get asked from time to time to do a hitting lesson or something like that. I’m like, “I don’t really know anything about mechanics.” I think you and I are on the same wave length. I always believe the state and the focus and how I concentrate was always more important than the actual swing that I took. I’ve never really ended up figuring out the defense of things. I don’t even know how mechanic swings. I don’t even get in any of these discussions about launching, going all those other stuff because I don’t even understand my own swing.
I’m the same way. I just think back, I would work with kids out here in Arizona with batting lessons and stuff like that. I give their mechanics straighten out. I would follow that thing and do the mechanical thing because we got a PhD in this stuff so we can help. I get kids straighten out and they come back the next week and their swings will be just atrocious. I’m like, “What happened?” My high school coach said this, “It’s like zooming up stream without a paddle.” It’s like beating a dead horse every week just trying to get these kids back on track. I sat for about six months and I really studied it. 2004, I hit 310 for the D-backs. What does every successful hitter in the Big Leagues do that have success? From high school to being a two-time All-Star in the Major Leagues, my swing never changed. You refine it but I believe solely that each kid, each person has a certain swing like zebra stripes. Everybody has a certain way to do it. You can refine it and help them understand it. But if you take that kid or that player off of their swing that they’ve been born with, you’re going to battle. You’re going to have struggles. What I came up with is just that focus formula. You hit it straight on right there when you said the state. You’d always have to try to figure out the state of mind, the state of being, “I’ve got to be in to compete with that certain pitcher.”
I remember facing Kenny Rogers in Texas. I didn’t have to be in a big peak of state or some other pitchers I had a lot of success of. I didn’t have to be in a peak of state, it almost like it just came to me. Then you face Justin Verlander or you face Roy Halladay or a Carpenter or Andy Pettitte or a Mariano. You have to be in a different state. The level of state that you’re in has to change. That’s just to be able to compete because if you’re not in that state, you know how it is. You get one pitch on average in the Big Leagues to hit and if you fell off that pitch, you’re done. There’s no mechanics. There’s no nothing. It’s all being in the state of mind. That transfers over into life. That’s what I love about what you do is that if you focus training and use this beautiful game of baseball to help train up these kids with those life skills, with the process orientation, all that stuff. When they go into life, they have a better chance of having success of whatever they do. That’s what I love doing.
My ‘why’ is different from a lot of coaches out here. My ‘why’ from when I coach and get on that baseball field is just to be able to gain confidence for the kids. Utilized that because I’ve mastered that here and I know that will transfer over regardless if the kid has success or not. We can get a kid into a $100 million contract easily, with understanding the game, the mechanics, the connections, all that stuff. But if we don’t build the character, these kids are going to fail. I’ve seen it time and time again, I failed. I brought home $20 million four years ago and sleeping in a van. I’m back going on top now but this is real life stuff where perspective is huge and understanding what the game offers is way more important than the success. I take the kids with my non-profit foundation that nobody wants. I train those kids up because they’re hungry, their ‘why’ is different and we have a lot of success doing that.
You touched on there a little bit but what about expanding on finding positives or finding victories even in failure, whether it’s small as taking away something good from a strikeout or a bad at-bat? At least an over generalization that, “It was a bad at-bat. I struck out.” There’s always little things that we did good inside any at-bat or even when we struck out. You’re saying some of the hardest times of life, I know for myself the two worst moments off the field that ever happened. I look back on them now and just see them as the absolute biggest gifts of my life.
I think at some point, I need to write a book because I don’t really think about my baseball career anymore. That’s not my identity. I love using that. In the Minor Leagues, I would get kicked out of five, six games a year by the umpires. I get arguments with the managers six, seven times a year. I’d hit a hard ground ball to second base and I wouldn’t run hard to first. They’d take me out of the game and I’m leading the league in hitting. My thing was, “You don’t understand why I didn’t run.” I was so pissed off because I should have hit that ball in the right centerfield gap to drive in a run or to be able to do something to be able to have success because I knew what I was capable of doing. Just to understand how the body works, how we work as human beings.
When you go through diversity, ups or downs, the first thing that happens is emotional reaction. I would react emotionally big time all over the place. Just Google my name, you’ll see what happened. I really realized at a certain point in time when I was on the fast track to the Major Leagues, I can’t act this way in the Big Leagues or else it doesn’t matter how good I’ve been, they’re going to get me out of here. It’s just not going to be good. What I did was, whenever I hit a ground ball or when I get out, I’d run hard to first base and after I touch first base. On the way back to the dugout, I would go through a process consciously of, “What did I do wrong? Did I get a good pitch? Did I understand? Did I try too hard? Did I swing too hard?” I analyze the swing and that helped me get pass that emotional phase and be able to be more consistent because I was up and down all the time with my emotions because I was so passionate. Being able to do that with life was the biggest and the biggest hurdle for myself because being a professional athlete and having success, you could do whatever you want. You’re treated like a god and you don’t really have to work on your character. Being able to do that and find happiness and fulfillment inside and utilizing my talents to make somebody else’s life better, that’s the key to success in my mind. It’s just being able to help people out. I love doing it.
I actually relate quite a bit as the early years of my career was achieving those feelings are not being good enough. When did you recognize that and become aware of it? What were the steps to working through it?
What happens is after my seventh year in the Major Leagues, I was sitting on my couch. I think I was going to have an invite with the Texas Rangers in ’08. I was sitting in the couch with my first born son who is my pride and joy and he was eighteen months old. I was having a father-son moment and I was looking into my son’s eyes. All I could see is joy and happiness and just think that my son’s going to have such a bright future because he’s a beautiful little boy. I was trying to connect with my agape, unconditional love with my son and I couldn’t. All I can connect to was with that pain and that hurt and that disconnect that drove me to the top. Here I am on the prime of my baseball career, already made $20 million, a two-time All-Star in the prime of my career. I always told myself between 35 and 40 would be my best years because I’m mature and I always matured physically late. I’m still healthy right now at 42.
I sat there and I started to become numb with everything and everyone around me. It was miserable. That pain became so great because of that story. Right there, I made a decision proven to be the biggest decision of my life. I quit. I walked away from the game. I walked away from my one childhood dream that I always wanted. The one thing I worked for my whole life that everybody else envied, I walked away. I convinced myself that if I just come home and be a father to my children and open up my second passion and dream of owning a zoo, everything will be great.
I bought a $5 million horse farm. I not only opened up one business, I opened up three businesses. I figured now, I should be able to get my dad’s approval because he was an entrepreneur. Major League baseball didn’t do it. The fame didn’t do it. The glory didn’t do it. The money didn’t do it. I had three mansions, six cars, 300 pairs of shoes, flew Learjets, I lived the life of Major Leaguers, none of that did it. I remember a story when I was in ’05 going from Chandler, Arizona to Detroit, Michigan in the All-Star game. I flew in the fastest civilian plane in the world, it’s a Citation X. I was flying at 64,000 feet going 640 miles an hour and got to Detroit in two hours. I was sitting up there on this multimillion dollar jet and the pilot and the co-pilot and myself on top of the world. I sat there just, “I hate myself. This just sucks. I hate my life.” Here I am living all my dreams, so I quit.
When I came home to open up my farm and zoo, I quickly made the transition from professional athlete to entrepreneur and I had a lot of success. I quickly became the guy that own Marley Farms not the two-time All-Star in the Major Leagues. I rescued and adopted out over a thousand dogs. I accumulated 300 farm and exotic animals. I had camels, kangaroos, llamas, alpacas, monkeys, raccoons, everything under the moon. I’d utilize these animals that I rescued to interact with intercity disabled and child crisis kids that change kids’ lives every single day. I had so much success. I quickly became the biggest and baddest place in town in Gilbert, Arizona. All these came at a steep price. I just received my third foreclosure notice on my farm, my fifteen-year marriage has fallen apart and everything else in my personal life was raveling out of control. I’ve never been so scared in my life.
As I lost everything: I lost my wife, I lost my family, I lost my kids, I lost my farm, I lost everything, I gave away my last $150,000 I had which is a lot of money now but it was nothing then because I was making $350,000 every two weeks after taxes when I was playing baseball, which is chump change. I gave it away to help people out. I was riding my son’s bicycle every week to church to try to get my spiritual fixed, just to try to find that balance. I’d scrounge up change out of my cup holder in my car to be able just to feed my kids Little Caesars Pizza. Four years ago, I couldn’t even feed my kids. I found myself on the floor of this van that I purchased with the kids around with my non-profit foundation. I have a non-profit foundation called Against All Odds. I really realized that the spiritual thing with the mind, body, spirit, all that stuff was just masking the pain. I was speaking in churches, speaking in schools, speaking in prison and I was changing people’s lives but when I go home at night, I still have that pain. I really realized all that, even God’s spiritual stuff was just covering up that pain like a Band-Aid.
I found myself at 3:00 in the morning on the floor of this van because I was living in a van at that time. After taking fifteen sleeping pills, eight Ibuprofen 800s and I don’t know how many drinks of alcohol just to numb the pain. I wasn’t trying to do anything, just to numb the pain. Here lies a guy that everybody envied. As the soul was leaving the top of my head, all I was filled with was guilt and shame. What will my parents do if I left this world today? What kind of dad would do this to his kids? I quit the game of baseball, my dream to come home and be the father to my kids, but that story ruined me, so I just let go. My mind was like, “Just let go. You’re miserable. You’re dumb. You’re stupid.” That’s what I don’t get about these coaches nowadays with these kids. They don’t get it because we lived it of what this game does. I had to sell my soul to the game.
The next morning, the sun appeared to the front wind shield of my van and I woke up, and it went right into my eyes. When I woke up and as I came to, I really realized I don’t have any side effects. I didn’t have any stomach ache. I didn’t have any headache. I didn’t have any ill effect because what I took with the concoction of pills and the alcohol I drink the night before, and I’m not trying to get all crazy with people but I should either been in the hospital or dead. Here I was and the first thought that went through my mind after I came to, when I didn’t know if I had died the night before, after I’ve experienced everything in my life, the first thought was, “Where’s my horse?” I don’t know why. This is four years after I lost my farm. I said, “Where’s my horse?” This wasn’t just any horse. This was Coors Light, CL. When you get to the Big Leagues, when you get on top, you always have a first purchase when you got some money. Some people buy their mom a house, some people buy themselves a house, some people buy themselves a car, all that stuff. I bought a horse. I always wanted a horse when I was a kid.
I said, “Where’s my horse?” It was weird because when I thought of this horse when I was just on my death bed, it gave me a good feeling. It changed my state. I reached out to my buddy and I said, “Can you help me find my horse?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll help you find your horse.” He called me back that night and he said, “Reach out to this person on Facebook. This person has your horse.” This is four years after I lost my farm. I went back to my van, down by the river that night. I didn’t have a house. I was living in a van, just humiliated and I reached out to that person on Facebook. I vaguely remember who this person was because he was a customer at my feed store. I said, “Do you have my horse?” The person instantly freaked out, “Why?” “Because when you adopted an animal from me at my farm, I had you sign a contract and it give me first right of refusal to where if you couldn’t keep the animal, you have to give the animal back to me just so we had the well-being of the animal.”
That person freaked out because I asked if that person have my horse because the day before, this person sent this horse to Utah because she’s going through divorce. I hadn’t talked to this person for four years or whatever, so striking up a conversation, I lay in bed at night, so many nights in this van, crying myself to sleep after being a successful Major League, “I wish God would just send me that person.” I know that woman is out there for me. Just send me that person, that woman of my dreams and a mother to my three children. This is that woman. I took this woman’s hand and married her, she’s my wife today.
My story is so insane. I’m so happy, I’m so content. She helped me, the last person that you would think. She’s a nerd. She’s super smart. She’s a geek but she’s hot, the total opposite just because I was right in that feeling of, “Where’s my horse?” All the answers I believe are inside of us. If we just stay connected inside of us and leap out and take that leap of faith and step outside that circle of our comfort zone, allow ourselves to fail and go off and stay connected to who we are, it’s going to lead you. It always has. I can’t tell you how many nights I was either at a hotel or sleeping on a couch in the ghetto. This is four years ago. How can I lose $20 million? Are you serious? I wish I would have buried the million dollars in the backyard. It’s just you sell your soul to the game to be able to have success on top. My ‘why’ was so driven by that hurt and that pain that I didn’t care about money. I never once sat there in the Major League cement, “I’m a millionaire. This is cool.” I was always trying to seek that approval.
Whenever I had success, I was that guy, that player that would get traded. I played first, I played third, like the super utility guy in a DH in American League. Similar to what you did. Whenever I had success, they would trade me. I would sell my soul for the team that whole year, whether it’s in Toronto, whether it’s Boston, whether it’s in Arizona, I’ll perform, and after, “See you later. We’ll trade you.” When I’d leave, I’ll be like, “Don’t you realize what I did for you?” That hurt was rejection just like I thought from my father. I didn’t realize that’s just the industry. There’s nothing personal.
I struggle my whole career with creating relationships. I always hung out with the security guards, the clubhouse guys, the cops, the police officers that sit in the dugout. I never really hung out with the players because I never felt worthy enough. I never felt good enough so I was always secluding myself and everybody perceived that as being like, “He’s a cancer in the clubhouse.” I just had to be so focused to be able to go out there and perform. It just nearly ruined my life.
What’s up for the future?
I’m so happy. I created a baseball academy in Mexico in Rocky Point, Puerto Penasco. It’s four hours south of Phoenix here. You go down towards Gila Bend and it’s just one hour south of the border. It’s like Arizona’s beach. It’s on the Sea of Cortez. My wife took me there two years ago. I didn’t want to go because I grew up here. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to party. Seriously, I just got off of just trying to survive. When I met my wife, I just want to go, I’m so passionate, I want to help people. She finally dragged me down there. As we’re pulling into town, there was a baseball stadium. I was like, “I didn’t even know they had baseball here. I want to help the kids.” She’s like, “No, we got to go to the resort. I’m sick and tired of you. Everywhere you go on vacation, all you do is help the kids.” I was like, “This is what I got to do.”
I got a relationship with the Mayor down there. He gave us rights to a baseball complex. We’re utilizing this baseball complex in the poorest part of Rocky Point, which is a neighborhood called San Rafael where all refugees go. Everybody that gets deported goes there. They live in shanties, they live in shacks. I partnered with a Christian group called Young Life. They have a medical clinic there. They have a dental clinic. We feed the community five times a week lunch. We use baseball just as a platform to educate the kids. We use baseball to teach the process. Same stuff we’re doing here but I love the kids there because they have nothing. When you grew up with nothing, you place your value in God and your family. Their ‘why’ is so strong and they love and appreciate the game.
Last September, I brought this team that I sponsored down there up to Arizona for a baseball tournament. They’re called the Los Tiburoncitos, the little sharks. I brought them to a tournament. It was the first time a Mexican team has come to USSSA tournament in Arizona and they won the whole dang thing. They got rings. They’re loved. They weren’t really that great but they’re intimidating to the other players because they love the game and they appreciate it. I worked with a baseball academy up in Canada as well and the kids are the same way. I have this vision of infiltrating baseball in Arizona with these teams, the kids who show Arizona players what baseball is really about. It’s not about the results. It’s not about my kid having 800 whatever whip this and that, batting average at thirteen, trying to go to these showcases. It’s just insane how the industry has changed and the coaches within the industry have changed it for the kids. It’s not the parents. It’s not the kids. It’s us coaches within the industry that are ruining it because these parents and kids don’t even know what they’re doing. They’re just trying to do what’s best for their kids.
I got that baseball academy in Mexico. I’m doing real estate full-time. I never thought I’d be doing real estate but I got experience in that. I bought plenty of luxury properties over my career so I know that. I have a vision of creating a concierge service of helping athletes. There are 260 current Major Leaguers that live in Arizona and not many retired players. I know when I played, I got screwed a lot by people taking advantage of me, so if I could be of assistance to players to be able to help them out with that purchased transactions. I also have an academy here in Arizona where we live. I speak everywhere. I travel around and I speak at churches, schools, prisons and I share my story. I get kids try to connect with their true story of how they are because I’ve lived it. I’ve been on top and I’ve been all the way in the bottom and I’ve been everywhere in between. Like I said, the key to success is not monetary. It’s identifying the talents that we have because we’ve all been given talents. Identifying is hard. Identifying your purpose and your talents and mastering those talents, speaking, whatever it is, everybody is different. Utilize those talents to make somebody else’s life better. That’s the key to success.
I can’t tell you how much stuff I bought. Do you know how it is with the President, with movie stars, with everybody? $4,000 dinners on the road with buying anything that’s meaningless. All these stuff that we’re telling these kids with baseball and these sports is out of control and they’re going to be empty and my heart hurts. My heart hurts for these guys that are struggling. If I could be of assistance or help with current players or retired players or kids coming up, that’s what I do. I’ll do it until the day I die. I’m so happy, I’m so complete. If I leave this interview right now and get into a car accident and I die, I’m complete. This world has nothing to offer me because I’ve already had it all. It has nothing to offer me. I don’t care. I just want to help people, just like you. That’s why I love being able to have this opportunity for you to interview me.
There are so many different types of people and so many different reasons to get a hold of you. Is there a website or an email? How can people if they want to get in touch for the speaking or some type of service that you provide?
I have a website for my non-profit foundation. My non-profit foundation is Against All Odds. I was just driving on the road one day when I was playing in the Big Leagues and I was like, “I want to do a non-profit foundation. I want to call it Against All Odds. It’s AgainstAllOdds.org. That’s where you can reach and see the stuff that we’re doing with the non-profit foundation. Then, through social media at Twitter, it’s @sheaaao. My Facebook is just my name. I got a Facebook page for my foundation, Against All Odds Foundation and then, my own personal Facebook. Doing that and trying to do some YouTube videos to be able to share and just to help. I love helping. I have a passion so I’m transitioning that passion from baseball and using that voice that I had in baseball to try to get my acceptance and transitioning that. That was controversial then but now it’s good to be that voice for kids now and help them out.
I created a campaign, #zipit for the kids out there. I got these Canadian kids that come down to play baseball. We had them in Las Vegas and Arizona. They’re the kindest kids ever. They didn’t want to cause controversy. I’m like, “I got to connect with these kids. I got to help them out.” I had this one kid, he’s eleven years old. His name is Joss from Canada, the BC area of Western Canada and he was overweight. I’m trying to talk to these kids. They’re down in Vegas for a week. We got this event going on. I pull all the kids over the dugout and said, “If any point in time, if ever coach yells at you or says anything to you or does something you don’t like, just tell him to zip it.” The kids were like, “No, coach.” I’m just trying to get these kids to have a voice. I wouldn’t tell it to anybody but these kids are such kind kids. Needless to say by the end of the week, the only coach that these kids were calling to tell him to zip it was myself. I’ll come up to field and be like, “That was a great play.” They’re like, “Zip it, coach.” I was like, “How did that feel?” They’re like, “That felt great.” They carry that over.
Joss’ mom wanted me to talk to him the very last day of this experience in Vegas. I finally talked to him off the field at the end. I called him and I say, “Joss, you don’t feel like you fit in here, do you?” This kid was the kindest kid. I can see it in his eyes that he was a leader, but he’s got the challenge of weight. He was overweight. He couldn’t catch the ball at first base. He had a tough time but he loved it there. I asked him, “You don’t feel like you fit in here, do you?” He’s like, “No,” and this kid started bawling. I was like, “I hope I didn’t mess up this kid.” He’s so frantically bawling but he let me in. I said, “Wait a minute, you don’t understand. You think you don’t fit in because of your weight, but that’s not true. You don’t fit in because you’re not a follower, you’re a leader.” I was being truthful.
I proceeded to talk to the kid and trying to get his attention as he’s bawling profusely like that cries when you can’t catch your breath. I said, “You get bullied at school too, don’t you?” He said, “Yeah,” and he started crying worse. I’m like, “What did I do to this kid? Please help me. I got to say something to him. I don’t want to ruin him. I barely even know this kid.” I said, “What do you think you can tell the kid at school that bullies you?” The kid turns to me and says, “Tell him that it’s not nice. Tell him it’s not good.” I’m like, “No, tell him to zip it.” He snapped out of it and he’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I could tell him to zip it.” It’s not really controversial. You might not probably get in trouble in school or whatever.
I said, “Even more importantly, Joss, when you go home at night, when you go to get the cabinet in the kitchen and the pantry and get those Oreos and go in your bedroom and just to try to release that dopamine, you eat to cover that pain because that story you’re telling yourself is wrong. When you laying on your bed at night, because every day from the day you wake up to the day we go to sleep, we have 60,000 thoughts go through our mind at the subconscious level and 48,000 thoughts are negative. Those thoughts of negativity go through your mind, Joss, at night when you’re lying in bed, hiding those Oreos. You hide those Oreos, don’t you, Joss?” He looks at me like, “How did you know that?” I was like, “I don’t know. I just know you got Oreos in there because I know how this stuff works. When you’re telling yourself you’re fat and you’re no good and you’re not as good as the other kids, I did that to myself at fourteen. I’m not good. I’m not lovable. My dad doesn’t love me. I’m not good enough. I did it, Joss. When you’re telling yourself that stuff in your mind, what do you think you could tell yourself?” He said, “Zip it?” I said, “Yeah, you got to talk to yourself. You’ve got to retrain yourself in a subconscious level. When you tell yourself, “Zip it, Joss,” the only place you’ve heard it is through me.”
I was standing in front of him, looking at him to his eyes and I said, “When you hear ‘zip it,’ you’re going to think of me telling you, with my arm around you saying that, a two-time All-Star in the Big Leagues, I believe in you. You’re an amazing person.” Two months later, his mom calls me, “I don’t know what you said to my son.” I was like, “I don’t even know what I said to him either. I just told him to zip it.” She says, “He lost twenty pounds. He went on his own and lost twenty pounds. He wanted to come back to do baseball with that team and another experience in Arizona.” The mom called the director of the baseball academy and said, “Joss wants to come down.” The director was very kind to the mom and said, “He’s welcome to come. You’re welcome to invest the money but he’s probably not going to play because he couldn’t reach the ground to catch the ball,” which is all right, I understand that because they want to compete. The mom, Deborah, told Joss, “Marty says you can come but you probably won’t play.” He said, “I don’t care. I want to see Shea.”
He came down and he shocked everybody. Nobody has seen him in the last three months. He lost twenty pounds. This kid was working out on his own. Something switched, his story switched. What switched in me to help me and I want to relay to everybody out there is that you have to raise your standards. This boy raised his standards. He came down and when Marty, the head guy, said that he probably won’t play, this kid played every inning. He got a hit every game. He stole two bases. He’s never done this before. The reason why I’m telling you this story, the mom is like, “How can I help you? What can we do to help you?” I was like, “Nothing.” She’s like, “You saved my kid. You changed my kid’s life.” I was like, “I just helped you, I don’t care.”
We’re raising baseball equipment. We’re collecting baseball equipment. This mom and Joss, this boy that everybody left aside, everybody didn’t want to deal with, one of 40 kids. I just was able to talk to him because I saw something in this kid. This kid that was bullied at school that everybody just pushed off to the side, he got a little bit of help. He changed his story. They created a Glove with Love campaign from Canada to help these kids of Mexico that I helped out because the kids I helped out don’t have any equipment. They collected 120 baseball gloves, put a baseball in it but most importantly, put an inspirational note for these kids in Mexico to help them out. They collected seven great big bins worth of equipment, shipped it down to me. This kid that was bullied at school, changed his story. Now he’s affecting hundreds of kids’ lives in a third world country. That’s what we do. Just tell everybody to #zipit.
We are going to have a part two on this podcast in the near future because it was an absolute pleasure and honor having you on here. Everyone out there, if you’ve got any questions, comments, criticism or sarcastic remarks, also feel free to reach out to me at info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. Until then, aim high, swing hard and smile often.
Shea Hillenbrand is a former Major League infielder and a 2x All-Star. His first Mid-Summer Classic appearance was in 2002 with the Boston Red Sox and the second came in 2005 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Shea grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and was a 10th round draft pick out of Mesa Community College.