(BaseballStL) -- The formula for success in baseball is simple, says Dann Bilardello, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Class A Palm Beach manager: You have to fail first to get better.
“Every player who is promoted to another level in the organization is going to struggle,” he says. “You learn to make adjustments.”
Bilardello, former major league catcher and now catching instructor and manager in the Cardinals system, said every player on his way up hits bumps in the road. The secret is to not keep going over the same bumps.
“The Cardinals organization gives its players a lot of opportunities,” he said. “Sometimes second tier teams who are already out of it will take a look at the younger players. But the Cardinals give players a chance (when it counts).”
That inclusion resonates throughout the organization, making all members of the Cardinals – major and minors – feel connected to each other.
“Every player goes through that period where he wonders whether he really belongs,” says Bilardello. “I remember when I was promoted from single A to double AA, I had had a good year. I think I hit .300, had 20 homers and 80 RBIs and I began to feel like I was good enough. But it takes awhile to get confidence in yourself. It’s rare that a player goes right through the minors without that self-doubt or struggles. Success takes time.”
Former Cardinal pitcher and current Peoria Chiefs (Class A) pitching coach Jason Simontacchi echoes Bilardello’s sentiments.
“As a young pitcher, you question whether you are good enough. You don’t trust your stuff as you go up in levels. I tell our guys you first have to command your fastball because everything comes off of that. You have to also command both sides of the plate. Then we work on secondary pitches like a change-up. You might get to the majors with a good fastball only but you won’t stay there.”
While they may be professional baseball players, many of them are just out of high school and without the support structure of family and friends. Staying positive through all the struggles and self-doubt can be very challenging when you are failing for the first time in your life.
Keeping them on an even keel is the main job of a minor league manager, said Joe Kruzel, Chiefs’ skipper.
“I want them to get better and refine their skills but the main thing here is they need to learn how to work hard every day and be professional. We work with them on how they act, how they (train) and how to play the game the right way. If it’s not going well for them, it can be tough but they need to make adjustments as they go,” he said.
Kruzel said that above all else, the most important job for him at the minor league level is to create a positive environment.
“It’s a lot easier to learn when people are upbeat and even make you laugh,” he said. “They can’t dread coming to the park. They can’t say, ‘Oh no, he’s going to yell at me again.’”
When failure does occur, Kruzel handles each case individually. “Every one of these guys is different. Some of them need reassurance, some need a (a little stronger discipline).
“It’s part of the game. They have to learn to handle it mentally.”
From the ashes of that failure is born the next success.