By Maurice Patton
At its more competitive levels, winning games isn’t the primary objective for summer league baseball.
That’s not to say those teams don’t want to win, but the focus is on preparing players for their next step in competition.
To do both – as the Columbia-based GameTime 17U squad did in its opening two games of this week’s Music City Mania wood-bat tournament in Nashville – is, as coach Justin Foster said, “The best of both worlds.”
Playing Thursday at Goodpasture, GameTime earned a 5-2 victory over the 16U Hit After Hit Outlaws to follow up on Wednesday’s 6-1 win against Knights Platinum at Brentwood Academy.
“For where (assistant coach/general manager Chris) Hamm and I sit, the way we try to run this program, our view on summer is really about player development,” Foster said after Spring Hill rising senior Jackson Marbet struck out six in 3 2/3 innings of relief to pick up the come-from-behind win.
“It’s about helping guys get potentially seen, working on things they need to work on. If we’re developing players and putting them in position to be seen by college coaches – if we win games, we win games. If we don’t, that’s OK.”
For most coaches and players, that’s not an easy approach to embrace.
“Everybody wants to win, but that’s not the ultimate goal,” said Jim McGuire, director of baseball operations for Hit After Hit and longtime Middle Tennessee State coach. “Development is the objective, whether it’s to develop them as the best high school player they can be or develop them for college. You’re just trying to make them the best player they can be. You don’t want to sacrifice the development for winning.”
That often requires a shift in the thought process, particularly when highly successful coaches are involved.
“We’ve got (Pope John Paul II coach) Chris Parker, we’ve got (Summit coach) Chad Kirby and several other high school coaches working with our teams,” McGuire said. “The mindset has to change somewhat. They lay out their plan for the week and you try to stick to the plan as much as you can, which is to get guys the right amount of pitches, the right amount of innings, the right amount of at-bats to continue to go. You can’t just let them sit over there and get stale to try to win a ballgame.
“It’s a slippery slope and a fine line because you are trying to definitely win, but when you’ve got the mindset of a competitor that they have, you’ve got to kind of change what you do.”
While that emphasis on winning and losing may be a bit different, it’s still baseball.
“High school is a little more intense; the atmosphere’s a lot different,” said Marbet, an MTSU commit. “But we still compete pretty good. We still intensify the game pretty well, we still want to win.
“I feel like for summer ball, it’s (more) about reps. School ball is more about wins and losses, but I think in summer ball you come out and try to get better, improve your game all around. I’m a two-way guy, so I try to come out and get better pitching and hitting. The summer’s here to get better and try to get ready for the next year of school ball.”
Foster, an assistant at Spring Hill, thinks his team typically handles the transition well.
“We’re blessed to have a lot of very talented guys, very ‘baseball-smart’ guys,” he said. “Really at this point, the coaching mindset is making them think through the game, giving them a small key here and there, maybe reset during an at-bat.
“It’s really talking more on the mental side of things – what just happened, what could have happened – being sure they’re still developing mentally as well.”
Following a Friday morning matchup at Hendersonville’s Drakes Creek Park, GameTime continues in Music City Mania with a 9:30 a.m. contest Saturday at Brentwood Academy. Play will conclude Sunday, with matchups and times to be determined by pool play results.
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.