Though the many young ballplayers participating in Major League Baseball’s virtual DREAM Series this weekend weren’t able to play in actual games, they still received a wealth of knowledge from some of the game’s best.
MLB hosted several online panel discussions on a variety of topics, with lively conversations touching on everything from game preparation to refining mechanics to exactly what is going through a player’s mind when he’s on the field.
Sabathia, who will be an intriguing Hall of Fame candidate when he’s up for election in a few years, said he always pitched as if he were off his game, even when he wasn’t. When he didn’t have his best “stuff,” it rattled him a little. He also felt this way when he was in sync and strong -- it was all part of gaining that edge.
“That’s the way I pitched, all the time. I pitched under the assumption that I didn’t have my good stuff,” he said. “I was always out there panicking, always thinking, it could leave at any second.”
Stroman relies on his self-confidence and competitive nature to carry him on the days when he’s not feeling at his best.
“I know when I step out on the mound, I’m a different dog, I’m a different savage,” he said. “So regardless of how I feel, mentally, I’m dominating already, before the guy steps into the box, regardless of how I feel.”
Stroman and Sabathia were part of a five-man DREAM series panel, a compilation of decades of baseball experience and expertise intended to enlighten the next generation of players. The panel also included former Major League manager Jerry Manuel and former pitchers Marvin Freeman, who pitched in the Majors for 10 years, and moderator Garvin Alston, who pitched for the Rockies and is currently a pitching coach in the Giants’ system.
The group shared past experiences and compared notes on how to deal with the various challenges that test an athlete’s mettle throughout his career.
Like how to simply get through a start. Kids, it’s harder than it looks. It also begins hours -- sometimes days -- before a pitcher actually takes the mound.
“My competitiveness comes from my father,” Stroman said. “This guy told me when I was five years old, I’m never going to be the biggest guy in the room, but I better act like it. I better always have a chip on my shoulder no matter what. I took that mentality and nature into life and have run with it.”
That’s the Stroman fans see on the mound -- confident and energetic, getting the most out of his 5-foot-7 frame. And when the game’s over?
“It’s so draining,” Stroman said. “When I come out of games and I’m dead and winded, I lay on the floor for an hour. I’m mentally done. I put everything into this. On the field that’s when everything comes out -- the yelling, the screaming, all the fun parts of it. Because you put so much work into it before, when I get out there, I’m going to let all this out.”
The DREAM series is a showcase event that focuses on the dynamics of pitching and catching for a diverse group of high school elite athletes, predominantly Black, from across the country. The tournament is always held over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Though on-field activity isn’t possible right now because of COVID-19, the virtual nature of the DREAM series allowed participants to focus on one of the most important elements of the game -- the learning aspect.
The panelists had similar advice for young people: be coachable, listen to advice and then decide what’s best for you.
“I tell people all the time -- I’m not a velocity coach, I’m a pitching coach,” Freeman said. “I try to teach guys how to move correctly, and understand you’re not going to move like Marcus Stroman at 12 years old. As they get stronger and they learn how their bodies will grow with their game -- because the game speeds up -- let their mechanics grow with their game.”
“There’s going to be so many different people that are going to approach you and want to put their stamp on your career,” Sabathia said. “Some of these little tidbits can help you. Listen to everybody, take what applies to you and throw the rest out.”