Some players make a name for themselves with speed, others with power and still others with impeccable defense. Justin Toole has made a name for himself by doing it all.
Signed by the Cleveland Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2009, Toole has established a niche as an uber-utilityman (or super-sub, if you will), the sort of player willing to embrace any role and fill any need. The University of Iowa product has never been regarded as a prospect, but his work ethic and adaptability have allowed him to carve out an unlikely five-year (and counting) Minor League career.
The highlight of Toole's professional journey -- and the best indication of his versatility -- occurred on Aug. 25, 2012 as a member of the Carolina Mudcats. As part of an end-of-season "Toole Time" promotion, manager Edwin Rodriguez gave him the rare opportunity to play all nine positions in a game. Despite pitching a somewhat shaky ninth inning, Toole and the Mudcats managed to eke out a 4-2 victory over Salem. A year later, Toole has followed up the unlikely feat by doing something far more unlikely: he's written a book about the experience.
Boasting a title that is nothing if not accurate, 9 in 9: Nine Life Lessons Learned From Playing Nine Positions in a Game uses each inning of that memorable game as a means to discuss a larger issue (chapter titles include "Perspective," "Expensive and Inexpensive Experience," and "Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable"). In this interview with MiLB.com, Toole talks about his motivation for writing the book, what he wants people to get from it and his future plans, both on and off of the playing field.
MiLB.com: Writing a book on the experience of playing nine positions in a single game is (almost certainly) something that has never been done before. How did this idea come about and what inspired you to do it?
Justin Toole: I think every athlete wants to tell their story about their journey to get where they have gotten. ... It didn't occur to me until a couple months after the "9-in-9" game that that was my avenue to use to tell my story. It's not something a lot of people have gotten the opportunity to do and I just kind of ran with the idea from there. With that in mind, I got the idea while talking with a mental conditioning coach that I've worked with for many years, Brian Cain. He's been a huge influence in the success of my career and I wanted to share with others the things I have learned about the mental game that have helped me in my career in hopes that I can help others in their journey of chasing their dreams.
MiLB.com: What has the response been to the book? Any reactions from coaches or teammates?
JT: The response to the book has been tremendous. I had a vision of how I wanted people to take the information, but you just never know how the response will be until people read it. Once it started to get out there, the support I received was better than I could have imagined. People have really enjoyed reading about the lessons I talk about as well as the inning-by-inning recap of the game. A few teammates and coaches have the book, but I haven't checked in to see if they've read it yet. I'm sure I'll get their 2 cents on how it is when I get to Spring Training!
MiLB.com: Who do you see as the book's ideal audience? What are the most important things that you'd want them to learn from reading it?
JT: I think the ideal audience of the book would be any athlete, coach or parent who strives to take their game to the next level. I think college and high school athletes can really relate to the stories and things I share about my career. I didn't write with a specific audience in mind. I more was just trying to relay the message of what has helped me in my life, in hopes to help people use that information in their life. There are a lot of lessons and information I hope people take away from the book, but the No. 1 thing would be to chase your dreams. So many people will tell you all of the things you can't do in today's world and I feel like that turns people away from what they really want to do. I was always told what I couldn't do, but that hasn't stopped me from chasing my dreams of making it to the Major Leagues. If you have a dream, work hard and have a good attitude. Anything is possible.
MiLB.com: The book is written in a conversational style; it's easy to imagine it being turned into a speech of some kind. Do you have aspirations to be a motivational speaker?
JT: I would love to work in sports psychology when I'm done with my playing career. I have personally seen the difference that a change of mind-set and a good mental approach has had in my career. I would love to work with athletes and teams and pass that knowledge along to them. Right now, I'm focused on trying to reach my goals, but I think in the future I will find myself working with athletes and speaking to various teams in hopes of inspiring them and helping them to chase their dreams.
MiLB.com: Outside of the obvious ultimate goal of making it to the Majors, what are some other things that you'd like to accomplish on the playing field? More specifically, what are your goals for the 2014 season?
JT: I feel like I have continued to improve each year, and that's something I want to continue to build on. I also feel like I have taken advantage of the opportunities I have been given throughout my career, and that's something I am really proud of. My goals for the upcoming season are to continue working on what I need to do to make it to the Major Leagues. Being a utility player, I am working to be ready for whatever situation I am put in when the season starts. Ultimately, everyone wants to continue to move up the ladder, but I'm going to show up to Spring Training and be ready for whatever the Indians organization throws at me.
9 in 9: Nine Life Lessons Learned From Playing Nine Positions in a Game is available at Powell's, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, among other places.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.