What Is Your Reaction To Adversity?

Mark Kertenian
Special Contributor; Player Development - Los Angeles Dodgers

(Editor note: This is a special contributing feature piece from Mark Kertenian who is currently the bench coach for AAA OKC Dodgers and is closing in on two-decades of coaching experience. All video provided by Mark Kertenian

What is Your Reaction to Adversity?

The handling of adversity can be one of the more misconstrued and underdeveloped parts of our game, and life. More under rewarded than over, how we admire a player’s reaction to an undesirable outcome is, in most cases, where we can find “meat on the bone” in developing a steady team with pliable individuals. Looking at the right guys, at the moments in time where powerful choices are made, is wise for any of us who seek to improve. This view is an important piece to the puzzle for those of you who crave responsibility in the construction of a team to cherish, and a career to be proud of.  

Recognition for the moments in a game - every game offers countless reps  that stand to benefit you and the team resulting from passionate effort - is what adds up over time for progressive groups. We should all admit this is not always easy, not always executed, and something that requires more than a cracking of the whip to master. With that said, I have chosen to provide a few video examples of contemporary greats that make the choice to support their clubs with beautiful effort in attempts to extend the opportunity at hand for the better - to get the “next guy up” - and extend an inning. It is important to note that these highlighted plays are microcosms that can transcend into defense, pitching, and yes, into practice settings. Your draws from observing need not be limited only to what is being watched, think big and attach them to wherever you wish.

This first clip is of Mike Trout charging down the line post poor contact. Please note the time, or lack of time, it takes for him to get to full speed on this play. We suggest you view the clip a couple of times and ask yourself why. Where does this decision come from. What is at stake for his club at this very moment? And, what message does this man send to his team, this game, and to you as an aspiring high level player in reacting this way?

Mr. Trout was at the plate with less than 2-strikes, runners at the corners, and 1-out in the 10th inning at league opponent Texas. Safe to say that the game was on the line and his desire was to do damage. His reaction to a checked swing ground ball was a no hesitation all out sprint down the line. A special effort that he has developed into his “normal.” 

Getting to the “next pitch” is indeed a mental skill that requires routine attention. “Finishing” a play with low odds for success by attacking your current reality is a trait you want to include in your game, it is something your team can rely on. The next set of clips demonstrate active choices made by Cody Bellinger in the 2018 NLCS series versus the Milwaukee Brewers. He was 23 years old at the time and surely working to make a major offensive impact for his club in this series. The prized results not a part of these clips, rather it’s his reaction for his team that served as a catalyst for a World Series run. His speed and hustle tools are on full display in moments where it would not be easy or simple for anyone who has played this game. 

In both scenarios, Cody made it his immediate goal to take away the double play. Suggesting you re-watch the clips and focus on a couple images, his first steps out of the box and his face which describes the physical effort he poured into the plays. Surely not in his plans to ground out in either at-bat, but his handling of himself purely extraordinary and a shining example for hard-nosed play. Would you have picked him up in the dugout after these plays or perhaps later in the game to thank him for these efforts?

The inspiration we experience as observers of a statistically performing player is real, both Trout and Bellinger now MVP’s for their 2019 seasons. Coaches, fans, and teammates encounter joy and pride when seeing you achieve. But there should be more to you than being a hot hitter or pitcher, something that speaks to your value for the play at hand. Let us call it your choice or attempt to make something out of what others might consider nothing. Attacking your play in this way breeds TEAM PLAY, it just does. When coming from you, regularly, it becomes an infectious level of effort that pays dividends for your team. Coaches and players alike, who value this pattern of play, and react aggressively to opportunities, open the door to recognize these choices in others amongst them and spark a style of play that simplifies our mentalities, keeping play on track.  

We will conclude our video examples with Cleveland Indian Jose Ramirez. A star player, especially in the clubhouse, who was once rumored to be a low ranking prospect in the Indians organization as a minor leaguer. For those of you that may not know what that means to a player’s status, Jose had a hard and uphill climb to the big leagues, the odds were certainly against him. His path towards this clip, hopefully, provides a lens for the mentality he displays here. This is one of the best at-bats, physically/emotionally/mentally, in the history of the game. It is an expression of value in the moment.   

Down 5 in the 9th inning and this was his chosen response. The first piece to an incredible team victory. Notice the headfirst dive into second base? Surely Jose’s historical behaviors are a big part of the energy this provided his team. But what if he flew out? Would that have altered the at-bat quality? Suggesting that we all focus on the fact that this was not an isolated effort, not the only time he grinded this way. Layering deeper, it is actually a major part of how he climbed the ladder of his career, taking pride in every at-bat possible. Taking it one step further, this is simply the result of something he allowed himself to learn as valuable - the instinct to play with passion throughout. A pure example regardless of individual or group result. 

We can keep it ultra-simple, yet that is not always easy. There are so many options and carrots out there. Simply value your reps. Value the actions that create and craft excellence, add them up and stack them, over time. Seek not the typical rewards of this game more than you need to. Instead, cherish your goals and challenge yourself to be a contributor, even when the result is not ideal. Make the choice to hustle, even when it seems less than obvious. You are more than a stat, the same goes for your teammates and coaches. Seek inspiration from less than obvious places and continue to build yourself up from the inside out. Be holistic about your game and observe to improve it as often as you can. Learn, both what to do and not. There is no telling what you will find and your application will surely benefit. We truly do nothing of significance alone. Not everyone will get it all the time, just keep going.

I'd like to extend a special thank you to James Weilbrenner, Dodgers Front Office. James sifted through hours and hours of video to excavate the ones used in this piece. 

Together we are honored to have had this time with you,

Mark Kertenian

Minor League Player Development – Los Angeles Dodgers 

Mark enters his 4th season in Player Development with the Dodgers. After spending his first 3 seasons managing the Ogden Raptors (2017), AZL Dodgers (2018), and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (2019),  Mark will be the bench coach and 3b coach for the AAA OKC Dodgers in the Pacific Coast League this summer. Prior to his time with the Dodgers, Mark was a coach and the recruiting coordinator for 3 Division I College Baseball programs (CSU-Northridge 2002-2010, University of Nevada 2014, and Florida International University 2015-2016). Throughout his 18-year career, Mark has taught Kinesiology, Health, and Fitness courses at 5 Southern California Community Colleges, opportunities he describes as mutually rewarding and healthy reminders for how much learning is available to us daily.)