Gettin' MADE: A Story About Overcoming Adversity and Creating Champion Habits, EVEryday

I am very passionate about the game of baseball. I used to be very passionate about playing baseball...that was when I was hyper-connected to the idea of playing in the big leagues. These days, I still love to play when I get the chance, but coaching is what really fuels me. I feel so much purpose and contribution to my players and my community through coaching the game. It goes far beyond watching my players succeed on the field. I get even more fulfillment in teaching my players what it takes to be a champion off the field.

From the young age of 12 years old, I was lucky. From that young age, I had fallen head over heels in love with baseball and everything about it. I knew that no matter what happened, I would do absolutely everything in my power to make it the MLB. Everything. After all, I am left-handed and was blessed with a lot of natural talent, and if I made it to the MLB, I could afford to buy my mom a log cabin in the woods like she had always talked about and dreamed of. I was always so connected to knowing I could make it. We did not have a lot of money when I was young, and I never actually had one lesson from a professional baseball coach in my youth up until my junior year of high school, when I was introduced to one of my most influential mentors. He gave more more confidence than money could buy. These days, there are tons of kids that are beginning baseball lessons and all kinds of other types of private lessons for pretty much anything you can think of. Hence, the creation of a great platform and business like CoachUp.

I really resonate with CoachUp, and this awesome platform for parents to find coaches because I always wonder what else I could have been capable of if I had the opportunity to get private coaching.

For me, baseball and the prospect of accomplishing my primary goal of moving to the next level--Division 1 College Baseball, really started getting real during/after my freshman year of community college when I had hit 90mph on the radar gun as a left-handed pitcher and had a great season.

From here on, I knew if I wanted to keep making it higher and higher, I had to create championship habits. 

During my freshman year of college baseball, I played at a junior college in Phoenix, AZ. After that, I'd received a full-ride scholarship to pitch for Washington State University during my sophomore year. The first day I arrived at WSU, I had a physical. This was after a 22-hour drive with my mom in my ghetto (but totally rad) 1994 Corsica from Phoenix. At my physical, the doctors informed me that I would not be cleared to play baseball at their school and that I should stop playing all together in order to prolong the necessity of receiving a total hip replacement. I'd had a condition when I was 7-years-old called Legg Calve Perthes Disease, which caused significant abnormalities in my left hip socket. I'd played with it all my life, and actually endured some pain due to the condition, but I was always able to play through it. The pain had continued to worsen each year, but I was completely ignorant to the fact that a hip replacement was in the cards of my life. I did not even know what a hip replacement was at the time. Nevertheless, this was what I was told, and I had a decision to make. Give up and listen to the doctors at WSU, or get a second opinion. I got a second opinion (duh). I still knew I was going make it. I got in solution mode and got a second opinion from a champion doctor in Phoenix, AZ. His name is Dr. Michael Wilmink, a leading orthopedic surgeon to this day, and now a personal friend. He told me that even though I was only 19, I was a candidate for the surgery based on the condition/stage he had diagnosed my hip.

From my research, I learned that if I wanted to play professional baseball with a total hip replacement, then I needed to realize that I would be only the second person in history to do so. The other? A pretty decent athlete, referred to as "immortal" by some: Beau Jackson. It was all good, I knew I could do it. I had a lot of motivation to make it happen. I had always had the unwavering support of my mother. After my sophomore year at WSU, on May 22, 2005, just two months prior to my surgery, she passed away from an unexpected heart failure while out with her friends having a Corona at a bar in Arizona. My father had also passed away just nine months prior from cancer while I was attending WSU.

In nine months, I had lost both parents and I was slotted to be getting my hip replaced, all at the age of 19.

I had two choices:

  • Option 1 - Honor my mother by giving absolutely everything I had in order to make a come back to the game from a total hip replacement at the age of 19 years old, or
  • Option 2 - not doing option 1.

I chose option one. My mom was my best friend and there was no way I would do anything but give everything in my power to live her legend as wholeheartedly as I knew how. Her name was EVE, and I teach MADE Baseball. MADE stands for Motivation, Appreciation, Dedication, EVEryday. These are life pillars. Also, my dad taught me to have the fire in my belly. I had it, and it keeps burning and growing more than ever, day after day.

EVEryday is the root of my teaching. Each day you have in this life is currency, and EVEryday counts.

It is about connecting to something that motivates you to play for something bigger than yourself or your own ego.

It is something that inspires you to Get Better EVEryday and to Live Like a Champion. It transcends baseball and sport. It is simply about being aware that bettering yourself in all that you do, on and off the field, is what will connect you to your best life. In this practice and realization on a day-to-day basis, you will bring up the vibration of your team and anyone that crosses your life path. It is an energy that we are all capable of tapping into, and I am so grateful for the game of baseball for allowing me to have baseball as a portal to channel this life energy.

After receiving my hip replacement on July 25, 2005, I had work to do. I was scared, but I quickly learned that fear would not serve me. So I basically ditched the emotion of fear. Best move I ever MADE, and a principle I practice in my personal life to this (EVEry)day.

I played my full freshman year of college in 2003-04'. Then at WSU, I was told by doctors that I needed to hang it up and try to wait until I was at least 30 to get a hip replacement in August 2004. I got a second opinion in December 2004. I then received my surgery in July of 2005. For my junior year of college, I transferred schools and attended the University of Arizona with the intention of rehabbing my whole junior year and proving to UofA that I could be a starting pitcher for the school in my senior year. I did that, and I was on my track to getting a chance to play and ultimately get drafted by an MLB team.

In 2006, after throwing for and repeatedly persisting/annoying assistant coach Mark Wosikowski, who is now currently the head coach of Purdue University, I was invited to come out for fall ball with the team so long as I would be cleared by the UofA medical staff. They didn't clear me due to the fact that I had a hip replacement. Welp, that back fired. (Just kidding, getting a hip replacement is still the best thing that ever happened to me.) I didn't know where to go from here. I thought it was over. I worked my entire junior year EVEryday and did everything I could possibly do to get healthy again. I found yoga, which transformed my hip strength and my life strength, and it is something that I introduce all of my players to til this day. I changed my diet. I worked out and threw EVEryday. I focused all of my energy into doing what I needed to do...and it wasn't enough. But it wasn't over.

I went to an open tryout in Tucson that I was told about by a scout and mentor of mine, Jon Kazanas, for the White Sox at 8am on March 3, 2007. I threw an absolute gem of a bullpen after not picking up a baseball for over two months. I didn't miss a spot. I hit 87 mph on the gun, and my curveball was as good as I'd ever thrown it. As a lefty, it was what I needed to do to stand out just enough to get called back to be told by the White Sox scout at the time, JJ Lally, that they didn't have any spots to sign any guys to their minor league system. I was one of only five guys out of about the 50 that were there, so that was cool.

It still wasn't over. Lally called me back two days later and got me connected to two opportunities to play independent league baseball. One was in Shreveport, LA, for the American Association, and the other was in Chicago, IL, for the Frontier League. Both leagues were notable and respected leagues for multiple years, and both were legitimate shots to get into pro baseball. Mind you, this was after not playing college baseball for three full years from my sophomore year to my graduation senior year. I chose Chicago. 

I graduated from UofA in May of 2007 and packed up my trucked so I could drive across the country from Tucson to Chicago in order to show up for the last three days of spring training. I MADE the team. If it wasn't for him being in first year as a professional manager, Andy Haines probably would have laughed at me for even showing up and not even let me throw. I literally missed 10 of the 13 days of spring training that May of 07', and I was up against a roster of invitees made up of at least 80% of guys that had played affiliated ball. I'm a lefty and I hit 88 mph, and he said he loved my mound presence and my curveball. He said I wasn't supposed to make the team and he couldn't believe he was keeping me, but there was only one other lefty that he wanted on the team, so it would be only me and the other lefty, Danny Borne. I made it to pro ball. I was in. This was my start. Can you believe it? Haha...I already knew it would happen, remember? I already MADE my choice to make it. It was inevitable. My mom was there the whole way.

Danny quickly became a huge inspiration and mentor for me. He was in his 4th year of pro ball, and he was our go-to lefty out of the bullpen. Luckily for me and not so luckily for him, he faced early struggles in the season and was really struggling to throw strikes. In his first few outings, he was walking 2-3 hitters right away out of the bullpen, something you just cannot do. This opened up my chance...here we go. 

In my first 20 professional innings for the Windy City Thunderbolts professional baseball team in the Frontier League, I gave up just two earned runs. In the first half of the season I was 8-0. I MADE the all-star team. I threw the second inning in the all-star game. I struck out two and had one flyout. Three up, three down. I finished the season with 58 innings pitched, and a 10-2 record with a 3.28 ERA. We won the championship that year going 74-30 including playoffs. I won the championship MVP after pitching in 4 of the 5 games as a reliever and not giving up a run. It was a fairy tale. I remember so vividly just sitting on the mound at our stadium in Crestwood, IL, with the trophy just crying and talking to my mom and telling her I knew I would do and that I couldn't do it without her. It was incredible and I still remember it like it happened yesterday.

I was a professional baseball player now. I was going to the MLB if I had to kick and scream my way there. I was going. That was it. 

In my second year at Windy City, we won the championship again, and I threw a no-hitter. I left the organization as the all-time winningest pitcher with 17 wins. In my third year, I went to the Golden League (now defunct) in 2009, and played for the Victoria Seals. I started the year 9-0 and won Golden League pitcher of the month, and I started the all-star game. I left the Seals as the all-time winningest pitcher with 14 wins. I ended up getting traded to the Calgary Vipers for the last month of the 2009 season and won my third professional championship with them. Three championships in three years of professional baseball after taking three full years off in college. Where you at Beau Jackson!? =]

During these first three years, I had three different affiliated organizations sign me to a professional contract only to be told by the doctors/risk assessor people (whoever the hell those guys were?) that since I had a hip replacement, they were not going to move forward with inviting me to spring training. Those organizations were the Chicago White Sox, the San Diego Padres, and the Boston Redsox.

You see, Beau hadn't really set the precedent I needed like Tommy John did for all the guys who have gone on to have great careers post TJ surgery. Beau only played for two years after his surgery, and since he played the field, his hip was required to take a beating as an every day player. Being a hitter and every day player is a very difficult thing to do with a total hip replacement, but I was a pitcher and it was my push off leg, so the logistics were far different and more easily calculated. Also, getting a hip replacement at such a young age is very rare. 

This brings me to Mack Newton. Mack is my hero and someone that I idolize. He was my first private coach, other than my yoga teachers I had found in Tucson in 2006. He has a double hip replacement, and he was the fitness coach that helped Beau Jackson rehabilitate his hip replacement in order to come back to the game. Of course I would find Mack...it was serendipity.

He taught me that when you want something bad enough, the universe conspires to help you get it.

Nothing made more sense to me in my life than hearing him say that that day. Mack is a tae kwon do coach by trade and life coach to many. Look him up, he's the man. His teachings also transcended physical realms, and I am beyond grateful to have found him. He was and still is, based out of Phoenix, just a few miles from where I lived. Coincidence? Haha...absolutely not. I already MADE my choice so Mack was going to come into my life whether I knew it or not. If it wasn't Mack, it would have been another shape-shifting human that would have come. I'm glad it was Mack. This year, 2017, I got his logo tattooed over the scar of my hip replacement in order to always remember that my hip will not only be protected and ok, but it will Get Better EVErday. I've already chosen.

So, I didn't end up making it to the MLB. What I did make it to was the creation of MADE Baseball and a lifetime of champion habits. I played for seven professional seasons, winning four championships, making two all-star teams, playing in five countries, three continents, and having a lifetime of experiences playing the game I love, all while getting paid. So...I definitely MADE it. It just wasn't exactly what I thought it would be...what it was instead was more than I could have ever imagined.

Now I get to share it with our youth and attempt to do for my players the same thing that Mack did for me. This is how I attempt to make the world a better place, by teaching people how to Get MADE.

To this day, I focus my life on creating championship habits EVEryday. If you are a parent, I ask that you focus your energies not on how your player performs in his/her games, but instead on how they approach the game and the habits that they practice. This begins with your example. Your habits will be their habits. I originally created MADE with an intention of creating such champion habits for my players that my influence on them would actually serve them to have an influence on their parents! Haha...this is unrealistic, because they will always look to you because you are their everything. YOU need to be a champion in YOUR habits. YOU need to hold YOURSELF accountable, and you need to hold your children accountable.

You especially need to hold them accountable for the details. This means being aware of how they run on and off the field, how they react when they fail, how they treat themselves and how they treat their teammates. This means being aware of how you approach your work day and the team that you work with, and how you treat yourself and your team, and how you react to the failures in your life. It is always a team effort.

Regardless of how financially fortunate you may or may not be, you need to implement ways of making your children earn everything they get relative to sports. Even if you are able to, do not just give them everything. Please, find ways to make them earn it. If you do not make them earn it and work for it, you will not be assisting me in creating a life-long champion who has the ability to overcome adversity.

I understand my role as a coach on a deep level, and I take more pride in it than you will probably ever know. It's not over, remember? It's never over for me. I'm still making it by Gettin' MADE...this is EVEryday. I also understand that my message can not be this deep to the players I work with that are very young, but I do understand that I have the opportunity to plant champion habit seeds in even the youngest of players I work with. 

My number one rule/expectation as a coach, and I express this from the very first time that I meet a player and/or family, is that my players Get Better EVEryday...not just the days I work with them. I make it clear that I want them to have a fundamental consciousness of improving themselves in all they do and all that they care about. We do this by working hard and having fun, in that order. When you work with me, you can't have one without the other. I always assess my player's level of commitment and tailor my lessons according to what I see.

This obviously differs for every individual, and it evolves over time, but I will always teach my players to create champion habits on and off the field. This is not an option.

Baseball is a portal for life. Don't take the outcome of any game too seriously. You must consistently focus on teaching your children that what happens does not matter. What always matters is the choice they make on how to respond to what happens. Your children are learning life lessons through this game of constant failure. Teach them to stay even keel and to stick with it, because nothing valuable and rewarding in this life comes easy. Yes, you can teach your 5-year-old this. Even though most of the younger kids won't understand it right away, you must plant the conscious seed. Do the same for yourself, EVEryday, and water it.

Thanks for reading my story, and I look forward to helping you create champion habits. Oh, and those habits will indeed help your player throw harder, hit farther, run faster, which will make playing those games a lot more fun for everyone. The success they experience will not be an accident, but they will inevitably continue to experience failure as well. Failure is where the real growth occurs.

Most importantly, I hope the habits they learn from me through the game of baseball will help them Get Better EVEryday and to Think and Live Like a Champion. 

Peace!

Coach Isaac

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