SARASOTA, FL – While watching the Gulf Coast League Orioles play their Tampa counterparts, I learned a few things about these youngsters hoping to get into the minor league system. This is no game log or even an analysis of individual players, but the overall picture of how Everyone from Dan Duquette to the volunteer ushers are producing the stars of tomorrow for Baltimore.
Attitude stems from leadership. As does character. In sports, in politics, in business, and in life, when the leader, be it the coach, congressman, chief executive, or your parents motivate you to greatness while developing mind, body, and soul, good things will happen. At Camden Yards South, that primary leader is Orlando Gomez.
As the coaches and players made their way from the clubhouse to the practice field, each displayed a level of confidence that they were going to excel in the game ahead of them. They were fully aware that scouts and player development personnel were watching their every move. Yet, when the game was underway, the level of confidence and concentration rivaled those who had already reached the majors. Gomez set the standard; the rest followed.
The little things in life mean a great deal. And one of the details that stood out with me was the authenticity of the equipment, uniforms, and level of play. Each player was wearing the same type of uniform as the players in the majors. The only things missing were the names on the jerseys. Fitted hats. Quality cleats. Even the umpires were decked in minor league uniforms. This was no “small potatoes” operation. When the details are covered, the players will respond in kind.
Evaluation & Development
If it weren’t for the children’s groups that were with us (see my previous column), the few fans in the bleachers would have been outnumbered by the scouts and scouting assistants. Sitting next to me were three young scouting personnel from the Rays’ organization. One was getting the speed of every pitch with his radar gun. One was evaluating the types of pitches (fastball, curve, slider, and sinker). The third was recording onto a computer what the others were calling out to him. There were others who were watching batters, runners, and fielders.
During the game, there were some plays that would have been considered questionable by readers of this site and friends on Twitter. I could hear the screams: “Why would they send him to second when this catcher has a cannon for an arm?” “Why didn’t the runner get held up at third?” But Gomez and his Tampa counterpart are there to see “what if” scenarios play out. They’re refining the players, not merely trying to win.
In the long run, this is a great strategy. When you pay to see the Shorebirds, Iron Birds, Keys, Baysox, Tides, and Orioles, you want wins. You won’t get them if you fail to work out the kinks in Sarasota.
Early in the game there was a balk. I noticed it just as it was called. I used to umpire little league baseball, so I was able to see it before others. When some kids wanted to know why the Rays got extra bases, it became a teaching moment that no one expected, but I was happy to explain. But something caught my eyes as I was demonstrating some examples of a balk. The umpires themselves were correcting the pitcher. Even they knew the power of a developmental league and took the time to correct a pitcher so the game could proceed without further delay.
When I served in the Marine Corps, one of the best lessons of leadership ever taught was that it was best shown by example. According to Baseball Reference, Gomez never made it past AAA. But at 68 years old, he gets back out into the sun every day to help the O’s put together a quality product for the future. Most men that age are ready to call it quits and relax. This example alone should inspire everyone under his tutelage.
The late Edwin Louis Cole, a renowned minister and author on men’s issues, stated that there is a big difference between good and great. In fact, he wrote the “good enough” is the enemy of greatness. Good means doing something until you get it right. Great means that you keep trying until you can’t get it wrong. Clearly, the teachings of Ed Cole and other great leaders are being practiced down here.
Bottom line, the GCL Rays beat the GCL Orioles 6-5. As the players were heading back to the club house, you could tell they preferred winning. But before they were dismissed, Gomez spoke with them. I couldn’t hear what he said, but his demeanor and gestures displayed a “keep striving” and “try again tomorrow” mentality. This can only make better players.
And better men.
Next column, I will give our friends in Sarasota some suggestions, free of charge, to generate some interest beyond just charity groups and scouts.