The Value of Versatility

By: Paul Bennett-October 30, 2007


As players, we are constantly looking for ways to get better: make the varsity team, make all-conference, sign a scholarship, get drafted, or make the big leagues. We all go about that in different ways, of course, but the basic idea remains the same.

Whether it’s lifting weights, hitting in the cage, running sprints, towel drills, or cords and bands; the goal is improvement. Of course, enhancing your skills should be an everyday goal but what does it really mean to get better?

I’ll tell you what I think, getting better or improving should be a reflection of increasing your value to your team. Whether you’re trying to move from the bench to the field or from college to pro ball, the name of the game is value. If you continually drive up your personal value to whatever team you’re on, you’ll find yourself on the field more, getting recruited more and playing at a higher level.

How do you do that? Well, the physical workouts I mentioned above certainly won’t hurt; but what about versatility? I’m talking about expanding your baseball horizons by expanding your value to the team.

Let’s face it, you may not be the best shortstop on the team. Matter of fact, you may be the third best; but what if you were the best third basemen or centerfielder and never knew it? In another instance, your varsity baseball coach has 17 roster spots- give or take a few. Now, let’s say you don’t think you have a great shot of making the team as a catcher because there are two upperclassmen catchers in front of you. Rewind to the first day of tryouts and imagine if you had told your coach you could also play first base and even some right field. There’s not a coach in America that would cut a young man who could catch pens, backup three positions, and allow him to keep more pitchers on the roster! Now, rather than watching the varsity games from the stands, you get a whole season’s head start on your fellow underclassmen. You’ve now learned the ropes, gotten to know the coaches and honed your skills at practice.

Not to mention, anybody that knows high school and college baseball will tell you that anything can happen. Any injury here, an academic suspension there and you find yourself starting at first base or in right field by the time conference play cranks up. It’s not a difficult concept; you’re simply creating more opportunities for yourself. And in the long run, more opportunity translates to greater success.

I understand everyone wants to be THE shortstop, or THE catcher; and I’m not saying you can’t be. My point is, when the odds stack up against you (and they will eventually in your career) you’ll be very surprised how far, “Hey coach, I can play there” will take you. By declaring yourself a pitcher, catcher, shortstop, etc; you actually pigeonhole yourself and stifle your opportunity for advancement. You might think that the positions are worlds apart, I can assure you- they’re not!

I can remember my college coaches pulling me aside in the fall and saying, “Paul, how do you feel about leaving shortstop and moving to centerfield?” I said, “That’s cool, what do I have to do?” My infield coach looked right at me and said, “When they hit it, you just go get it- take everything you can.” And it really is that simple- obviously, there are intricacies to every position that you’ll pick up as you go along but it’s pretty elementary. If you’re a shortstop and they want to move you to third, just catch the ball and throw it to first- simple!

Finally, if it’s glory you seek and you think one position will bring you more fame and recognition, be wary of the inglorious view from the bench as a result of not being willing to be versatile! Hard work and willingness to learn will take you places talent can’t. Setbacks and obstacles are simply hurdles in the race of life- get over them, get around them or watch the people who did blow by you on their way to success.

About the author: Paul Bennett played three seasons in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. After beginning the first full year in Myrtle Beach, he ended the campaign in Double-A Mississippi, The next year he was in Triple-A Richmond. Bennett was a 2006 graduate and a four-year letter winner at Elon University. He prepped at Charlotte Christian High School and played two years with the South Carolina Diamond Devils.