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This week in Coaches’ Corner we get baseball insight from college coaching great Ray Tanner, Head Coach at University of South Carolina. Coach Tanner is one of the most respected coaches in college baseball (2010 National Championship) and also has experienced success at the international level with his involvement in the USA National Baseball Team. We appreciate Coach Tanner taking the time to sit down with Next Level Ballplayer.
As always, the questions asked were geared toward helping you become a better ballplayer by understanding what coaches look for and ways to improve:
When you are recruiting position players, what are 3 things they can do to stand out?
Perform, hustle, and demonstrate an attitude that’s impactable. Just doing all the right things. They have to perform, but it really goes beyond that. Can they handle adversity? Baseball is a game of failure. The guys that can handle themselves well at all times and show true character, those are the guys I want.
What would you say is the most difficult adjustment for freshman to make when transitioning to college baseball?
Confidence. Guys come in and question themselves. They say to themselves “Am I gonna be THE guy or just an afterthought?” Every freshman that comes in was a “big guy” at their HS, but college baseball is different. The biggest thing is confidence. Most of the time, they have the ability, but what holds them back is themselves. It’s a challenge. I’ll play a freshman in a minute, but I’ll play a 21 year old over an equally talented freshman if they’re more mature and comfortable. At the end of the day, I need a guy that’s going to be consistent.
What’s the best way for an underclassmen to get more playing time on a talented team?
Always keep a positive attitude and be ready for your opportunity. Work hard and continue to improve even if you’re not getting consistent playing time. You never know when your chance will come. I had a freshman outfielder who played well early in the year when he was filling in for our injured starting outfielder. He played well, but sat right back down on the bench and played sparingly the rest of the year. Late in the season when we were struggling on offense I threw him in the mix for a few games and he caught fire. He ended up hitting over .400 for the NCAA tournament and making the College World Series All-Tournament Team. He kept a positive attitude and stayed ready. That really impressed me.
Today, what are some of the biggest obstacles that keep college ballplayers from reaching their potential?
There are a lot of guys that position themselves to be great. They don’t realize their potential because their mental approach is not where is needs to be. It’s not just about performance, but about how guys carry themselves.
How would you define a winning ballplayer?
A guy that does everything right every day, on and off the field and helps his team win. Whether it’s in the clubhouse, through his leadership or his performance. A winning ballplayer is more than just statistics. Statistics are what they are, but I don’t think they define a ballplayer.
What do you think separates the good ballplayers from the great ones?
First you start with talent, but then I like to go beyond that. The guys that work hard refining their skills. They find out what their weaknesses and to improve in those areas. And they have to be passionate about it! We talk about working hard and all those things, but it’s really all about the passion.
Who is the most talented player you have coached?
That’s a tough one. I’ve had over a half dozen guys play in the big leagues. One of the most passionate guys I’ve ever coached is Reece Havens. He’s a AA guy with the Mets right now. He just loves to play. If he stays healthy I think he’ll be the future of the Mets.
Adam Everett, Brian Roberts, Justin Smoak, are some other special players I’ve had the privilege of coaching.
What advice would you give to ballplayers out there who want to take their game to the next level?
One word- INVEST. If you want to get better, you have to invest. You have to put in the time that’s necessary to make it to that next level. Is that a guarantee that you will get a good return on your investment? No, but the guarantee is that if you don’t invest it’s not going to happen. That’s almost a definite. You can’t just say, I want to do this or I want to accomplish that. You actually have to live it. You have to show it. And if you do invest, than just maybe it comes to pass, but if it doesn’t work out, at least at the end of the day you can look yourself in the mirror and say, “You know what- I did the best I could.”