July 16th marked the first scheduled off day for the Williamsport Crosscutters and the rest of the New York-Penn League, since beginning the 2013 campaign. For some of the first time professional ball players, who aren't accustomed to the daily grind, this off day is very much welcomed.
Whether they were drafted out of a collegiate program or high school, very few programs will match the level of intensity and commitment that the professional level demands from these young athletes on a daily basis.
Many people think of a professional ball player as someone who shows up to the ballpark and only has to play in games to earn a paycheck. Many casual fans think every professional player they see is financially set for the rest of their lives before the first game of their professional careers, this is far from the truth.
This story offers a quick insight into the daily life of a professional baseball player and what it takes to make the product that fans get to see on the field.
Home game days start with a mid-morning team workout in the weight room, which aims to build and maintain player's strength and endurance throughout the long season.
Moans and groans are often heard from the players at these workouts, especially if it's a morning after returning from a long road trip.
High school baseball players are accustomed to going to school throughout the day, then arriving at the field an hour or so before the first pitch. At the professional level, they are expected to be at the ball park anywhere from four to five hours before the game starts.
In the hours leading up to the first pitch there isn't much sitting around and waiting, this valuable time is being used. It is enormously important for these young players to develop and take advantage of all the knowledge and experience being thrown at them by their coaches and teammates. This time is often filled taking extra swings in the batting cage, watching video and absorbing further instruction. This is also a crucial time to get worked on by the training staff in order to keep minor aches and pains from turning into major problems down the road.
After all of the extra work has been put in, it is time to start the structured pregame warm ups. This is a time where the heat of a summer's afternoon helps to work up a good sweat and ensure that the players are loose and ready perform at their peak.
Once the players are loose it is time for batting practice, a vital part of the process that can set the tone for a batter's night. It is where they get their timing down and work on their mechanics while benefitting from further instruction.
While batting practice is going on, infielders are taking countless groundballs from coaches, which is crucial for young players at this level. This is very useful for those learning a new position in the infield and they take as many reps as they can get.
When batting practice comes to an end, it is time for more infield and outfield work with the manager and coaches. More repetitions at a new position for some, while others continue to hone their skills at a position that they may have been playing since they first hit the diamond.
Once the infield and outfield work has come to an end, it is time to head back into the clubhouse for about an hour to get ready for the game, but it is also a time for players to head back into the cage to get some extra cuts to fine tune what they worked on in the previous hours.
If you haven't noticed, there has not been any mention of pitchers to this point. While the position players are doing their work, the pitchers are working out by running in the outfield. Timed laps around the field help to build their cardio for their later innings of work as the season moves along. Each pitcher warms up and long tosses with a partner to build their arm strength.
Keep in mind that all of this happens before a pitch is even thrown in that night's game.
For a professional baseball player this is just a quick look into a normal day before a home game. Not to mention the bus trips that can range from three and a half to seven hours the morning after a game. That is a bit of minor league baseball culture that is an experience all in its own.
The amazing fact is that this process is repeated day after day, night after night. It often becomes a mixture of wear and tear with a side of fatigue that can be hard for even the toughest ball player to handle. It is the goal of reaching the big leagues that keeps these guys going.
Off days are few and far between in the New York-Penn League and for almost everyone involved with the everyday grind, they provide that perfect bit of rest to re-energize and refocus the young prospect as they continue their climb.
For the players, a day off provides a chance to do things on their own time, away from the daily regimen of professional baseball. They are able to indulge in hobbies or take in their surroundings for the first time and finally get to know more about the city they play in. More importantly, it is a time for these guys to get away from baseball for a day.
This is not a piece seeking sympathy for professional baseball players, it is simply intended as an insight, behind the scenes of what goes into developing these young athletes. The daily grind can be considered the foundation of what supports these players as they continue to improve and climb their way up to the major leagues.
The next scheduled off day for the Williamsport Crosscutters is set for August 5th, a day before starting a six-game road trip to Tri-City (Albany, N.Y.) and Vermont.