I’ve had the privilege of being around Jake Gronsky for over 12 years and he has taught me a lot more than he thinks about life and baseball during our years working together. While he was still playing professional baseball, he took the time to put down his thoughts on what it takes to succeed on and off the field. He brings a unique perspective to what it’s like to be a “grinder.” I’m proud of everything he has accomplished.
Since retiring from his professional playing career, he has co-authored the book, “A Short Season” – Faith, Family and a Boy’s Love for Baseball. It’s the gripping, real-life story of Josiah Viera, a child fighting through life with Progeria – a rare genetic condition that causes a child’s body to age fast.
A Short Season is a story of hope; a story of acceptance; and a story of faith based on the idea that sometimes a person’s only journey to peace is first trekked through pain. A Short Season is a family’s journey through sorrow and joy, it is a baseball team’s inspiration, and it is the story of one exceptional child’s ray of hope that changed all of their lives forever.
I highly recommend grabbing a copy for you and someone you care about.
An Insomniac’s Dream
My intention of writing this was never to show an accomplishment. It is not to be looked at as a player who has it all figured out. At the very most, I achieved the boyhood dream of being called “a professional baseball player” and at the very least I achieved a false sense of entitlement. There is no denying that a professional career with the St. Louis Cardinals is held in high standard, but it is not glamorous. My intention of writing this is to show a road map. Each year, I faced demons that not only challenged me, but strained the fibers in which my career has been built. And each time, I found a way to grow. It was never motivating or inspirational; I simply learned and moved forward. My journey is unique in its own way; however, the challenges I face are not. All players go through the same struggles, the same development, the same success, and the same game. But not all players make it out alive. My entire life I have always wondered and always sought to find out what separates the 1% of the best players in the world into big leaguers. Playing in A ball I can’t say what personally has propelled me to the big leagues YET, but this is how I’m going to get there.
Defining Who I Am
A player trying to navigate through the jungle that is Minor League Baseball is a feat most do not fully comprehend. A common belief is that the minor leagues are meant to teach young players about the game, develop the skills needed to play in the big leagues, and build sustaining careers from breakthrough mentoring programs and have players reap the benefits of life changing leadership. It’s a storybook tale of growth and conquest. Yet, I see it differently; and I see it for the better. The minor leagues were not meant to build, nor were they meant to create. The purpose of the minor leagues is to break down players to their core. To force players out of their comfort zones and ultimately push them to the brink of failure. Once a player is pushed into a corner, the only way out is to fight. The minor leagues act as this push, and the fight is the pursuit of defining who you are as a player and owning our specific skill set.
The artist Michelangelo took a block of marble and saw something more than a mass. He saw a work of art, a purpose, and a lot of useless rock that needed to be removed. At the very minimum he had a grand vision that most would view as overwhelming. But to Michelangelo, completing the Statue of David was simple: he just chipped away the pieces that weren’t him. Just as Michelangelo’s chisel turned a block of marble into something more than rock, players are turned into big leaguers by challenges faced, successes attained, and ultimately a conviction of who they are as people and players. Growth is by subtraction, development is sprouted from failure, and success is gained by understanding. If a player can complete this process, he might look in the mirror and finally meet the person staring back at him. From a baseball perspective, this means if you are a slap hitter with outrageous speed, put the ball on the ground and run… EVERY GAME. If you’re an RBI guy, find ways to produce runs… EVERY GAME. If you are strike-throwing pitcher, dedicate your time on the mound to hitting corners… EVERY GAME. Turn the game in your favor, give yourself the advantage and do not ever let the opposing team make it an “even” playing field. Make the game tip toward you.
Living For The Moment
The player that makes it out alive is the opportunist. A player must live for the moment and be ready to thrive in his opportunities, big or small. By far, this is the hardest challenge to hurdle. Baseball players are notorious for focusing on where they want to be rather than where they are. It’s partially due to the nature of the system: continuous progression through 7 levels of minor league baseball until reaching the golden carrot of Major League Baseball. Glancing over a level or being ungrateful for the present time makes the moment merely a stepping stone, losing all value it has to offer. Yet if a player can embrace the opportunity with each present moment, they will find the power that lies within attacking each day. It’s a tough balance between seeing the final product as Michelangelo did, yet focusing on each strike of the chisel. The mindset of a minor leaguer cannot be on being promoted, it must be to conquer. The mindset is to take ownership of the level you are at and hold yourself accountable to that time in place.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what level or what stage of the game you are dealing with. It matters how you go about it. More careers are ruined by frustration, lack of presence, and an entitlement to certain advancements. In High School—your recruiting letters, your draft status, or lack of both, quite frankly, doesn’t matter. What matters is your ability to embrace the level you are currently dealing with. If you are a Division II baseball player, you are not defined by a label of D2 baseball. You are defined by how you go about your profession, and D2 is just the platform. More careers are built from putting your head down, working hard, and capturing the moment than hoping players around you to play poorly. As much as we need to focus on each opportunity, missed chances, slumps, and strike outs are part of the game and honestly part of development. Conquering each opportunity does not mean you must hit the game winning home run each night (though it wouldn’t hurt); it means each time a player steps foot in the box, it’s his game. If he can control the game for that split second, he has captured the moment and seized his opportunity which will lead to more.
Playing with Conviction
On paper this sounds simple. Each time your cleat touches dirt, take ownership and responsibility for what you do in order to perform at the highest level. Yet it’s a daunting challenge. Competition and trials do not bring out the best, it reveals whether or not you are prepared for the struggle. Not all challenges can be won. Each missed opportunity, each failure, each time you are questioned for being on the field, you are given the choice to either fight for your boundaries, stretching your limits, or get smothered and limit your own capabilities. A player’s life is filled with uncertainty, insecurity, and failure; so oozing with confidence is usually a delicacy meant only for the exceptional. However, if a player can understand that what they can control is more important than what they can’t, the “ooze of confidence” can take a back seat to complete faith in your ability to rise to each challenge.
This confrontation between insecurity and confidence is the fork in the road between success and failure, or the chisel meeting the marble. The mesh between doubt and struggle reveal to us what is behind our physical talent and show us the capacity of our faith. The only way we can adapt and bring our talent to light, is to play with wholehearted conviction. When I say faith and conviction, I am not speaking on behalf of an ideology; I am referring to the ability of walking on a baseball field and knowing we are right. Knowing we have the right talent, the right approach, the proper preparation, the ability to be ready for whatever the game throws at us, and knowing we are meant for this. This is the basis of controlling what we can control. Some look at this step and cover it by saying “every player needs confidence.” And they are correct., kind of—confidence is passive and at the mercy of your situation. Confidence waits to get knocked down as conviction hits back. We need conviction in everything we do. Each moment on the field needs the conviction of being ready to execute our own plan within our own skill set. What we do on a daily basis is who we are as players, so we must find out what type of player we are, then wholeheartedly buy in. Enjoy being the RBI guy when runners get on base ahead of you. Embrace being a pitcher throwing 88 with deadly sink and command. Understand that the talent given to us is to be used for its specific purpose and not just seen as raw ability. We can talk a big game and have all the tools we want, but if we cannot take each at bat with conviction, and conquer each moment, we are nothing.
In order to hold ourselves accountable to our specific purpose, we must base our evaluation, direction and execution on honesty. You cannot lie to yourself and pass blame during times of struggle. But you cannot lie to yourself and claim your success is a whim. Certain facts will hold true, good or bad, but we must see the final product and honestly tell ourselves that the result is real. Our entire career needs to be based on an honest unwavering faith that our goal or dreams will come to pass, while also facing the immediate facts. (This is the basis of the Stockdale Paradox. I strongly suggest reading about Admiral Jim Stockdale and the “Alcatraz Gang“ which turned the American way of thinking upside down). These are the truths we must face head on and embrace. And if we do, I know this journey’s destination is worth the gas mileage.
Fact: The success of your career depends on you.
This is a statement of freedom. However this can be very frightening. Holding yourself responsible for your career, your season, your week, and your day gives no room to pass blame or give an excuse. You must honestly look at each day and take ownership of what happened, good or bad. And I don’t mean wrecking the clubhouse after a 0 for 6 day and putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. (That is insecurity at its finest). And we cannot expect instant gratification when things do not go according to plan; but we can expect progress and we can hold ourselves accountable to that. If you are playing the game the right way and sticking to what makes you great, the conviction in yourself should never be higher. But it needs to be from an honest mind. If all I have in this game is an honest conviction in the way I play, I have all I need.
Fact: No one cares about your problems…Including yourself.
The warmest safety blanket we have is the ability to wrap ourselves up with the story of “how I got screwed.” Even my dad found humor in ex-athletes telling him about their career ending injury stories so he started wearing a tee shirt that said: ‘Which Knee Did You Blow Out?’. Ultimately every athlete that played little league has seen the ugly side of sports. I’m about to tell you something you may not want to hear. No one cares. Politics, nepotism, and bad breaks are something everyone has gone through, is going through, and will continue to go through. The moment they define your career is the moment you have reached your highest level.
Fact: Timing is everything
After being the best psychiatrist you’ve ever had in the last paragraph, you need to understand that every storybook ending has been the product of being in the right place at the right time. In this game we all need the right timing: the right people like us at the right time in the right situation. However, what we do with the opportunities given decides the extent of the next opportunity. Embrace it, and become the opportunist that gets the right breaks. As described by a 30th round pick who turned himself into a big leaguer, “You gotta play well enough to hang around long enough so you get the right timing.”
Fact: Problems will arise
This is where the optimist fails. Optimism holds hope, which is the coward’s version of faith, and will only look to what can be – never what is. They hope there will be no traffic on the NJ Turnpike, then panic when they hit traffic. The pessimist, conversely, never leaves their house from the assumption that traffic will be at a standstill. This is where facts must meet faith. A person should fully believe in the destination and tell themselves that traffic is just a price you’re willing to pay. Your goals in baseball must be clearly defined and honestly believed; problems are just the cost of doing business.
Fact: Live simply
This has been a household saying since I was playing tee ball. This defines who I am and what I believe. I may just be an overly confident 24-year old with a major chip on my shoulder, but I would like to think this game teaches us a lot about life. I think of baseball as our walk through manhood. Our ability to stay true to who we are through the trials reveals our character. And our ability to stay true during times of success shows our humility. These journeys are never easy, and at times it can feel like I have failed at both. But with every trial, and with every triumph, the chisel of defining who I am and what I can become has always been worth the fight. Most of the journey has felt like a gauntlet of tests and bouts of fear; but every time I was faced with defeat, it was met with an unwavering push to take one step forward. Never fear being the man who walked through darkness to find salvation, fear being the man that never had to walk through darkness to find his.
Jake Gronsky is a former minor league player in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He is the co-author of “A Short Season”- Faith, Family and a Boy’s Love for Baseball. You can purchase a copy of the book for you and someone you care about here.
Follow Jake on Twitter @Jake_Gronsky
Follow Josiah Viera on Facebook
Follow Josiah Viera on Twitter @JosiahViera