Little Things Make for Big Wins
By Darren Fenster
Every June, this quaint Midwestern city becomes the pinnacle of the college baseball world when it hosts the College World Series. Every February, it is the destination for all 298 NCAA Division I baseball teams. It is the goal. But out of those 298 clubs, only eight get to go. Only eight get to play for the National Championship. EIGHT. It is a special place that only a few special teams get to experience.
Last June, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied, deciding game-three of the Louisville Super Regional, Cal State Fullerton found itself one run away from its season ending when the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals reached base. A sacrifice bunt was in order. Everyone in the ballpark knew it. Everybody watching on television knew it. And Cal State Fullerton’s defense knew it, too… especially their second baseman, Taylor Bryant.
As Louisville’s hitter laid down a textbook sacrifice, Fullerton’s catcher fielded the ball cleanly, and without a play at second, shuffled his feet towards first to take the “sure” out. When the ball left the catcher’s hand, it was apparent that “sure” out would not be recorded; the throw airmailed over the 1st baseman’s head and headed for the right field corner- but the ball never made it there. The ball never even made it into the outfield because Taylor Bryant was backing up the play, in position behind first base, exactly where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there. Had he not been there, Louisville’s runner from first likely would have scored easily, and a frantic dogpile at home plate would have ensued with the Cardinals’ ticket punched to Omaha.
But Taylor Bryant was there.
Bryant’s simple backup of first base not only saved the game, but it saved Fullerton’s season. Fittingly, both he and the Titans were rewarded, escaping out of that 1st and 2nd, nobody out jam without giving up a run, and an inning or two later, they would push across a run of their own that would punch THEIR ticket to Omaha… all because Taylor Bryant was backing up a base.
Who knows how many times Bryant had made that sprint to back up first base, only to watch his teammates throw and catch the ball without issue and get that “sure” out? Who knows how many times Bryant practiced backing up first base, only to realize his energy to be in position, just in case of a bad throw, went for naught.
What do we (and Taylor Bryant) know? Clearly, that “little thing” is not so little after all.
One of the biggest challenges for coaches in any sport is to get their players to buy in to the small details of the game, the things that seemingly, to them, don’t really matter. While stories like Fullerton’s help in the cause, the reality is that it takes a special culture to get an entire team to embrace those things that barely get noticed. When you have a roster full of players who take pride in doing the little things, a funny thing happens: those big things tend to take care of themselves.
Creating that detail-oriented, little-thing atmosphere begins with the coaching staff. We as coaches cannot expect players to care about something in games if we don’t show how much we care about something by working at it. From there, it’s time for us to get our players to buy in. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the majority of these little things garner little notice, nor recognition. So take it upon yourself to change that. Take notice of the details. Recognize those who are doing the right thing.
Everyone knows the hitter who got the game-winning hit, or the pitcher who secured the win with a key strikeout with the bases loaded. Praise the unsung hero. The guy who isn’t in the box score. The player who didn’t get the headline. Point out the guy who moved the runner, or drew the walk to keep the inning going that gave the hero the opportunity to be the hero. Applaud the middle-reliever who pitched those middle innings that kept your club in the game and give the closer that chance to close the game.
In the age of selfies, every kid wants the lens of them. So give them what they want, but do it in their selfless moments. Those moments that aren’t about them individually, but about the team as a whole.
The ultimate compliment a coach can get is that his team plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That compliment, while independent of winning and losing, is a testament to simply caring about doing the right thing- always, and in all ways- because it’s the right thing to do. Caring about the little things shows a love for the game. Caring about the little things shows an attention to detail. Caring about the little things displays character.
Caring about the little things, we promise you, will help make for big wins. Watch this month’s MLB postseason, and you’ll be sure to see for yourself.
Just ask Taylor Bryant…
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.