Hustle: The Forgotten Art of Baseball

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cincinnati Reds)

Hustle can be defined as: moving quickly in an attempt to work hard.

When it comes to baseball, hustle would entail, sprinting on and off the baseball field, running hard after hitting a routine ground ball, or pop-up. When thinking about baseball players that hustled: Derek Jeter, David Eckstein, Brett Gardner, and Dustin Pedroia come to mind. These are guys that are known to give everything they have to their team. They demonstrate a willingness to win; and will do whatever they can to help their team win.

Manny Machado has been quoted saying he is not a Johnny Hustle type of guy. He stated that he has been successful without having to be an all-out type of guy. Machado is a very talented player, however, at times he looks like he does not care. These quotes came in the wake of Machado not hustling out a routine groundout in a playoff game. This conversation may not happen during the regular season. However, fans, managers, and teammates all take notice when it comes to chasing a championship ring.

Unfortunately, Machado is not the only culprit in the MLB. It is incredibly common to see players in the MLB jog it down the line on routine outs. This presents a do as I say, not as I do scenario. Youth and high school players are looking up to these players and modeling their behaviors. This is very apparent with the emergence of the “pimped” home-runs, and bat flips. The art of hustling has become a forgotten skill when it comes to all areas of baseball.

Unfortunately, for youth and high-school players scouting agencies have not forgotten about these skills. Players are heavily evaluated when it comes to how they hustle on the baseball field.  

Baseball players of all ages need to understand how important hustling is. Hustling on and off the field, hustling out a routine pop-up or ground out can make a player stand out.

I once had a coach put this aspect into perspective. He stated that if a scout is in the stands, they are wanting measurable outcomes to evaluate players. For instance, a home to first time, or how a player runs on and off the field. Even if a player goes 0-4 with four hard-hit ground balls to shortstop, they can hustle down the line. That scout now has four opportunities to obtain a home-first measurement with his stopwatch.

Hustling allows fans, teammates, and coaches/managers the opportunity to see how invested you are. Players take the “easy” way out when they jog it down the line on a routine out. They make the game about them and publicly pout on the baseball field. Not only do scouts want to see hustle, but they also want to see an emotionless baseball player. Spectators should not be able to tell if a player is 0-4 or 4-4 by the way they are acting. Players should be even-keeled and play the game the same regardless of that day’s performance. Players have the opportunity to stand out by hustling.

Once players enter upper-level baseball settings, everyone can: hit, field, throw, and run. Scouts are looking for the intangibles at these levels.

Yes, there are guys that can throw harder, hit further, and run faster. However, hustling allows scouts to decipher between equal talent levels. Lack of hustle gives scouts the opportunity to pass on guys that are on the bubble.

I saw this principle first-hand several times in my career as a baseball player. I strived to always be a hustle guy. However, there were two occasions in my career in which I forgot that principle. Both of these instances hurt my recruit-ability. I was playing in a fall league at the University of Kansas during my sophomore year of high school. I hit a weak ground ball to shortstop, flipped my bat down in disappointment, and jogged down to first base. The recruiting coordinator yelled across the field “Merrill, respect the game”. Needless to say, I was not a Jayhawk after the lack of effort/hustle. Another example occurred during my sophomore year at Neosho County Community College. The pitching staff was doing Pitching Fielding Practice (PFP’s) and I had thrown live the day before. I was sore and did not want to be moving around. I was lazily taking ground balls, and barely throwing. Little did I know; Wichita State University was in the stands watching closely. They had come unannounced to check in on myself, and another player. Once again, I did not sign to play at Wichita State after that lack of effort/hustle.

Youth and high school players that are reading this, please take heed to my caution.

There is always the potential for someone to be watching. It could be the coach of the high-school that you will be attending, or a collegiate coach wanting to recruit you.

Hustle needs to be a mindset that is engaged 24/7. Yes, there will be players that skate by on talent alone; and jog out ground balls and walk on and off the field. These bad habits will follow them, and they will be exposed in time. Take care of what you can control, yourself. Stand out by sprinting everywhere you go. The baseball field is not the place to walk or jog.

High school and collegiate coaches will love the hustle. Nobody will ever tell a player to slow down and stop sprinting. Yes, there are times in which players need to control their bodies. However, there is a huge difference between being out of control, and hustling on the baseball field. Extra Innings Analytics wants athletes to thrive and play baseball at high levels. In order to thrive, players not only need to know the fundamentals of the game; they need to strive to give 100% when they are on the baseball field.

In conclusion, youth and high school baseball players need to follow the models of hustle minded players. There are several players that model bad habits that will not benefit players who are trying to get noticed. Never take the game of baseball for granted. Hustle on and off the field; and sprint down the line on routine outs. You never know when the game of baseball will say it is time for you to be done, and you never know who is watching in the stands. You do not want to leave anything left to chance. Have a hustle mindset 24/7 to stand out when a scout is in the stands. You may not be the fastest or strongest, but you can definitely be the hardest working.       


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