The average Major League player spends so many hours honing his craft between the lines that it's impossible to calculate. But how much time does each work on his off-the-field skills?
This is a big reason why Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association joined forces to create the Rookie Career Development Program more than two decades ago. The mission of the program, its most recent edition completed on Jan. 12 outside of Washington, D.C., is to help the game's up-and-coming Minor Leaguers avoid the kinds of pitfalls that have kept many players from putting all of that on-field work to good use.
There are sessions on dealing with the media, how to handle situations in the clubhouse, drugs in baseball and financial planning, just to name a handful of issues addressed.
"In 23 years of doing the Rookie Career Development Program, this one may well have been the best overall," said Brian O'Gara, the senior director for special events for Major League Baseball, who helps coordinate the annual program. "We worked hard to develop a full agenda that exposes the players to key issues and challenges that will likely come their way. That list is a dynamic one. Topics when we first started this program may not be as relevant today; new issues get introduced."
It may seem like the top prospects in baseball -- there were 19 players on MLB.com's soon-to-be-released Top 100 Prospects list in attendance -- wouldn't want to be subjected to lectures and panel discussions. But how the program is set up, the history of it, and what it means to players that their organizations wanted them to attend, had these Major League hopefuls paying very close attention to all the information thrown at them.
"I'm really excited just because of the fact that they have big plans for me in the future, and they think I can spend significant time in the big leagues this year," top Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos said. "I talked to a lot of my friends who've been to this program and they had said it was awesome. Come with the right mindset and the urge to learn, and you're going to come away with a lot of useful information that's going to help you in the future."
The program is specifically designed so players don't feel like they aren't an active part of the proceedings. Interaction is encouraged. Second City, the famed comedy improv company from Chicago, sends a touring group every year to do role-playing with the players on a wide variety of potential situations. There are breakout sessions with former big leaguers to allow smaller groups of players to drill further down on specific issues.
"The Second City guys; I love it," Nationals pitching prospect Sammy Solis said. "It makes it more personal than just sitting there and watching a presentation. Watching those guys act, having us go up there and talk and interact with them is a lot of fun."
Undoubtedly, the lessons learned at this year's Rookie Program will come in handy in 2014, with many of the prospects in attendance ready to make major contributions in the big leagues and in the seasons to come. Being so close to that ultimate dream can be a very strong motivator.
"This is a big honor," Blue Jays pitching prospect John Stilson said. "I know some of the great players in Major League Baseball have come and done this. For them to ask me to join these other great prospects, it's something I couldn't turn down. I was more than happy to go."
The message that this was a tremendous opportunity for all of the young players in attendance was brought home throughout the weekend, coming from both Major League Baseball as well as the Players Association. Perhaps the two offices are typically viewed as adversaries, but for 23 years this has been a very big example of cooperation.
"This is an exciting time for these rookies -- being at the doorstep of the big leagues," O'Gara said. "Our players have dreamed of playing Major League Baseball for many years. But they may not have contemplated the unique challenges that can come along with it. Our main goal is to help them think about those issues, to give them the tools to make the right decisions, and know that they have many resources available to them as they embark on their Major League career.
"And the rookies see the very clear commitment of the Commissioner's Office, the clubs, the Players Association and the resources we bring in to help them. This is truly a collaborative effort and has been since day one."