Softball players and softball fans. I would like to give you some input on why I think it is very important that in order to win championships you need to have team unity and want to play together.. As some of you might know already I did stepped down from playing competitive softball after the 97 season. In 1998 I was involved with Nike and it's first participation into the softball arena. Nike sponsored 13 tournaments for the 98 season and gave away some really great award packages. In 1999 I came back for a little while and played with the R&D team. I brought Nike into the highest level of softball for the first time in that companies history. They were very excited about the whole deal but little things got out of control so I decided to back away from the team along with Nike and did not finish out the season.
After a year off of not playing in 1998 I wasn't in shape in the beginning of the season for 1999 so I decided to hang up the spikes. In 2000 I played some tournaments with the Budweiser team out of Texas. The team had Larry Carter, Derrick Williams and a number of great players from Texas. I ended up not finishing the season again because of work issues within my family business. I still take some batting practice from time to time, but nothing like when I was serious about playing.
For the people that don't know me, I played organized softball for over 28 seasons. Most of those years I was playing with a team called Steele's Sports Company out of Grafton, Ohio.. For a number of years we were ranked either number one or two in the country. It was just as hard to stay on top as it was to get there. At today's Super level it is really hard to stay on top. That's because there are so many great softball players across the country competing for the prestigious honor of being number one. I would like to take a second and congratulate all the players from the Rich's Superior team for the consistency they have had over a 8 year period. . I know that there are a number of teams on different levels across the country that were probably as consistent as the Rich's team and my hat goes off to them too.
This little bit of background brings me to the topic I want to talk about today. TEAM CHEMISTRY. I have learned over the years that it does not matter how much talent you have on a team. If the players can't play together then they are not going to win. Now I know this for a fact. I've played on teams where you would say on paper they should not lose a game. But it's almost all the time the opposite. You could not win an important game if your life depended on it. In 1988 my Silver Bullet team had 20 players on it.
Now what does 20 players on a team do? They bitch all the time. How come this guy is playing and I'm not. They feel like they should be in the ball game. And all this will do is bring a team down. I know that of all the softball division out there from Class E to the Super division the bottom line is whether you win or lose. Why play competitive ball if your not trying to win. I hate to say it but when I stepped on the field I put my soul and heart into it, and you would be surprised on how many games we won on just heart. Team chemistry is what wins games.
I want to give you an example of what I mean. In 1990, my Steele's Silver Bullets team by far did not have the best softball talent in the country. There were other teams on the Major level that were loaded for bear. But somehow we were not afraid of playing anyone and after a few tournaments we created something special. Now I have to give the credit for our teams success to someone and that goes to Dave Neale Sr. There has to be someone to put a team together and that should be the managers job. How he picks and chooses his team will depend on his softball knowledge. Now Dave Neale knows softball talent probably better than anyone, so when he put our team together on paper there was no way I thought we would do as well as we did.
This is where the team chemistry comes into place. Sometimes you have to mold it into a team unity and sometimes its already there. I feel that after just a few practices Dave could tell what laid ahead for us. If we had our work cut out for us or if he thought that things would just come together naturally. Now we could be driving down the road to the next city to play a game. Somebody would get pissed because he lost a card game. It would actually turn into a fist fight. I remember one time when Ernie Montgomery had Scott Virkus by the throat in the back seat and when Scott gets loose he is going to tear the whole van up.. I had to tell them to cool it down. Now when we got to the ballpark all was forgotten and as soon as we hit the field we were like brothers.
Now as soon as the game is over they might say something to one another but DURING THE GAME WE WERE A TEAM. What ever it took to win the ball game we would do. If it meant for someone hitting the ball backside for a hit then that's what we did. The most important thing in the game was whether you won or lose. I know myself that I would rather go 0 for 5 and be on the winning team than going 5 for 5 with 5 homers and not be bringing the championship home. That's why it's called a TEAM sport. If every one is hitting on all cylinders that's an extra plus, but that doesn't happen too often so you should always encourage your teammates. You should never want to see your teammate do badly. I've seen it before where you just know that players want to see others go into a slump. This is just not good chemistry and it will come out in the wash.
Now getting back to my Silver Bullets team we lost our first tournament of the season in Austin, Texas and I remember Mr. Neale was so mad he told all the players including myself that there was going to be some changes. Now I don't know why he didn't but all I know is that the next thing was we had won 13 tournaments in a row. We could not lose even if we tried. Once again I felt the reason for our success was the team chemistry. Now I played on teams with a lot more talent but we could not get the job done. Too many people worried about how they did
During my earlier years of my career Dave would tell me things that just didn't make sense to me at that time but as time went by I would see his point more clearly. He would always say that you don't want to jell too soon. By jell I mean peeking. When everything comes together for your team. I saw all types of softball last year while doing the Nike tour and believe me there have been times where the better team did not win. This was due to a team that just seemed to bring it all together for that one moment. But that's the excitement of this game called softball. You never know what is going to happen once you walk on the field. So here is the reason that I feel that team chemistry is a must. The odds are against you if you don't play together. The first thing I would do if I was managing a team I would try and put together people that you think will blend together. In other words sacrifice himself for the team. Do whatever it takes to win the ball game. After you win a big game you can hold your head up high.
I have a golden rule of softball that I think every player can live by.
" I think that every softball player should have a commitment to their team mates, and that's to play every game as hard as you can. When you play the game of softball, play it with a vengeance.... No matter what the outcome is, never give up. Their will be times when you will be down a large number of runs and you will comeback to win. Keep that same attitude whether you are up by 20 or down by 10. Don't ever feel like you have enough, that's when you don't have enough..... You have to have that killer instinct in your eyes. You always want to have that same look because that way they will never know what to expect from you. Never let them see you sweat. Just keep coming after them. I lost a lot of close games and not so close games against some of the best teams in the country before I ever won consistently. So always remember to play hard and never, never quit. And play for the love of the game..."
The most important lesson I learned while playing softball for 27 years is it's a lifetime full of longtime friendships and camaraderie between players. You can be a fierce competitor on the field but once the game has ended your friendships still go on.