Baseball: Is it a team game?

college baseball

Thomas DiBenedetto, avid fan, student, and teacher of the game of baseball, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2008 following an impressive career at Trinity College.  After playing minor and independent league baseball for the past 5 years, Thomas took up coaching this past season at Georgetown University.

How many times have you heard the success of a recent championship team credited for being a “close group of guys, that pull for one another?” I would say you hear frequently in high school, just as often in college, and fairly often in Major League Baseball. Where is the gap in this? The gap is in Minor League Baseball.

For most pro baseball players, College (or High School for those drafted out of High School) is the last time the game is truly played as a team. For the majority of college baseball players, their college playing careers will be the last time they play the game of baseball in it’s true form. Hundreds of college players are drafted and signed by professional organizations every year, and it is no secret that the overwhelming majority of pro careers end prior to making a major league roster.

College baseball is truly the last time the team game of baseball can be seen from top to bottom on a team. A college team is filled with players who share a passion for the sport. Many of which enter college knowing they likely have only 4 years left in their playing careers. These are the guys that really bring a team together, killing themselves in the gym, making sacrifices off the field for no reason other than to compete and give themselves the best opportunity to succeed and help a team win.

This is not to say those who go on to get drafted and play professionally did not put in that same dedication, but the selfless dedication put in by college players for no reason other than to be able to look their teammate in the face with him knowing he gave everything he had to the team, is what leads to college baseball being a true example of team baseball.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that once a player starts his Minor League career, the game really changes. Minor league rosters change daily, with players being called up, sent down, as well as released. It is highly unlikely to play with a teammate for 3-4 years like in college, which only adds to the lack of the team game.

Players become far more interested in their personal performance, than the performance of the team. While it is always more fun when the team wins, winning takes a back door to personal statistics as players are working towards individual promotions and making their way up the Minor League ranks, with the hopes of one day cracking a Major League roster.

Front Office and Player Development personnel also take valuing personal performance over team performance in Minor League Baseball. They are far more concerned with the development of a young prospect who could one day make a big impact with the Major League Club, than whether their Single-A or Double-A affiliate is going to compete for the playoffs.

The lineups for these games are often pre-set by upper management. Substitutions and pitching changes are often pre-determined, and made not because a manager likes a matchup or thinks it gives them the best chance to win, but for the common goal of developing players. When a minor leaguer begins his career in Rookie level or Single-A ball, his goal is to move up the Single-A classes to Double-A, and from Double-A to Triple-A, and ultimately to the big leagues. However, once in the Majors, his goal becomes staying in the Majors.

Now, I strongly believe that Major Leaguers want to win games, make the playoffs, and be a part of a World Series championship regardless of how established they are in the Majors, but it is not until then that they can solely focus on winning… This is really the first time the team game of baseball can be seen professionally after college.