The season finally ended and what a year it was. We took the season to the last possible day you can have in Minor League Baseball. We won the first 2 rounds of the playoffs being West Division champions and played the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) in the best-of-5 finals. They won the first two games at their place, and we took the next two at ours. Game 5 was at our place where we were 30 games over .500 on the season (best home record in all of baseball). They got off to a 3-0 lead, and then we scored five, but then came the sixth, we let in eight runs on six errors. Really have never seen this before, but it happens, bad hops, routine plays, and weird stuff. We ended up losing 11-5.
It was a tough loss for the troops, but they also realized this was one game, and they had so many positives that outweighed the negatives. We ended up 85-64, and more than anything these boys became better players, teammates, and they learned how to fight and never give up. Skills, mental and physical, both improved.
The next day I left for Naples, and drove the 23-hour trip down. With lots of time to reflect and anxiousness to see my family, I managed to get home two weeks ago with only a four-hour stop. As I reflected, more than anything I think the thing that stuck out in this season was that no matter how much a player gets paid, no matter how good a player is at my level, these ball players are just kids, and it is easy to see what kind of environment yields the most success: A positive, relaxed environment where a kid is not afraid to make mistakes helps development along. Yes, you have to get fired up once in a while, but you always remind them you are trying to get the best out of them. The only way you get players to trust you is to let them come to you when they are in slumps or struggling. If you always try to change things to early it will not work. You really get attached to these kids, and I will miss them.
A lot of them started up more baseball already with instructional league (20 more games), but everyone has work to do, as athletes are getting bigger, stronger and smarter every day. But, like all athletes, these kids need take some time off, let their bodies refresh, minds clear, and let them spend some quality times with their families, because no matter how a season went they are No. 1 at their house.
Thanks for all of the support in another great year, and I will see you soon.
Naples High graduate Jeff Smith finished up his second season as manager of the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers, the low Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins in the Midwest League. His wife, Ronna, and young son, Cooper, live in Naples but visit him occasionally in Wisconsin. He stayed in touch with them and the rest of his hometown through this blog.