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The Journey to the Other Side: From MLB to MBA

August 29th, 2018
By Brendan Harris

About two years ago I came across an energetic young lad with an inspiring personal story and a shared affinity for baseball.

Luke and I have since been able to discuss at length different ways to help players leverage the skills learned through the game to succeed in business and entrepreneurship.

I love the platform he’s created that connects guys and shares information on the often turbulent process of transitioning out of the game. When we met, I had just started an MBA program and a job with the Angels, and Luke asked me how the process was so easy for me. I was about seven months removed from my last at bat, back in a classroom for the first time in 14 years and feeling quite out of place. I was far from having it figured out, and two years later it’s still a work in progress.

A little older and a slightly wiser, here are a few of my observations about the whole process and how to harness those skills and lessons from baseball and use them as a springboard to success in the next venture.

#1 Make peace with your exit from the game

One question it seems we all run into is, “When did you decide to retire?”

I have a litany of responses depending on my audience, all with the common theme of “When teams stopped offering me jobs.”

Very few players leave the game they want to, regardless of how much time they got in. I’ve seen it vary from feeling like you still have something left to give, to some being institutionalized and scared of living on the outside.

Each journey is unique, but the game washes its hands with everyone at a certain point, we all know it and shouldn’t be surprised. Yes, it can be impersonal the way it’s done, but as was noted in the Godfather II, “This was the business we’ve chosen”. It’s extremely important to find some closure and not let how it ended control or delay your future. That ‘peace’ will make you grateful and humbled that you were one of the chosen few that got to wear a professional uniform, whether that be in A ball or the Major Leagues. It has prepared you for the next phase of your life in ways you haven’t even discovered yet.

Spend your time on the multitude of positives which far outweigh how it ended. We were blessed to be given the opportunity so many could only dream of.

#2 Network while you’re still playing and network the right way

Many of us were taught that anything but 100% focus on baseball would compromise or inhibit your ability to reach your full potential. I didn’t realize the power of building a strong network until the last couple of years of my career. One of the things I try to advise current players is to build and foster relationships while you are still playing. You can use the tools and resources at your disposal to connect with new people without creating too many distractions. Players should leverage their travel and social media influence to make introductions with people that align with their business interests.

A second part of building a strong network is approaching it the right way. The biggest mistake people make is looking solely for how they can benefit from a new connection. Networking is essentially building relationships and it needs to be reciprocal and authentic.

Even if the relationship is purely transactional, find a way you benefit or help the other party. It may not be something you can do for that person, but maybe you know someone in their field that could provide better insight.

I’ve been fortunate to consult with Ryan Howard’s sport tech VC firm, SeventySix Capital. Founder and Partner, Wayne Kimmel, has mastered the art and built as extensive a network as I’ve ever seen. He develops genuine relationships with people and knows the names of spouses and kids of everyone he does business with. He also goes out of his way to help people in his network without needing something in return. Allocate a good amount of time and energy to build and maintain relationships as they are everything in business.

#3 Realize it’s a new chapter, not a new book

People in your orbit will constantly use the clichés, “turn the page” or “time for a new chapter”. Those are correct but not in the context they are often used.

Both presuppose the information from the previous chapters is not relevant to the rest of the story but it is. However you need to understand how to harness and mold the previous experience in a way that helps you bring value to a new company or venture.

This concept is also highly relevant to guys who struggle with having an identity tied to being a baseball player. We were successful players because of our discipline, resilience, drive, and ability to quickly make adjustments. That’s not an identity just a brand people should know you by and is HIGHLY transferable and valued in the marketplace.

Obviously you will need to continue to learn and gain experience in a new field, but don’t sell yourself short and think you’re farther behind than you actually are. People that are accountable, resilient, and can perform under pressure are worth more than the apathetic employee from the Ivy league school. That mindset and competitive edge shouldn’t retire.

#4 Stay in shape

Is this the most important thing to a successful career transition? No…but it will have several benefits aside from the obvious. First, in terms of branding, people who know you were a professional player or college athlete will assume you possess discipline and a strong work ethic.

If their first impression is of someone 25 pounds overweight, you lose the benefit of the doubt with those intangibles which could have separated you in a highly competitive environment.

Additionally, in your new day to day reality, where things may seem disorganized and chaotic, the discipline to your fitness will bleed into everything else. I played for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and his one rule was to run hard to first base. It later more famously became Respect 90. He believed that running hard down the line would permeate the rest of your game. Being faithful to a workout regimen is also the most natural thing we are used to. It is a connection to the past that feels normal. It also clearly is the best stress reliever and rejuvenator you will have.

A short essay really seemed to escalate on me. I will continue with my last three points tomorrow. Please feel free to reach out as I love opening dialogue, talking ideas, and hearing from other people with similar stories. Connect with me on LinkedIn, on Twitter @BrendanHarris23 and Instagram @b.harris_23.

Part 2

#5 Make a roadmap

One of the biggest frustrations we run into is the lack of a clarity or linearity in the path to success in a new venture. Since high school, it’s been very simple and straightforward; you play well, you get to play in college. Further success brings a draft selection, promotions through the minors, and ultimately the Major Leagues. That will NOT be the case in business, and the quicker you accept that the path isn’t necessarily clear, you’ll save yourself a ton of frustration.

That being said, even if you aren’t sure where to start, create a roadmap or loose framework of deliverables that you can focus on. Make progress each week, but maintain flexibility. Take meetings, jump on a call, grab coffee, you never know where it will lead.

We’ve been creatures of habit and obsessive about our routines for many years now. Do your best to apply that to business. Routines provide structure and familiarity, increase efficiency and help you to build momentum and confidence. Flexibility will also be extremely important. Accept that the path will be anything but a straight line.

#6 Stay confident and keep growing

The confidence and edge that you played with will be a difference maker for you in business and entrepreneurship. Preparation will be key, but it’s also important to maintain a little bit of that calculated crazy, take chances, and continue to embrace the arena. The marketplace is littered with people that do just enough to keep their job, and never put themselves out there. People with energy and competitive drive are infectious, be willing to go above and beyond. You will be surprised when you see people with more experience unable to do things you take for granted; work productively on a team, take criticism and still perform, overcome the slightest adversity, or be willing to operate outside their area of expertise.

Additionally, don’t let others set expectations or put labels on you that limit your potential. You are in control of this process and don’t hesitate to think big. Part of this transition is continuing to learn and grow, and find how you can add value to a company. Build your brand as someone that is dependable and is the go to guy on a particular issue or problem. There will be plenty of obstacles and a steep learning curve in some areas, but don’t doubt yourself or hesitate to ask questions. I had a finance professor once tell my class that even if you think something is a dumb question, 10 other people are also sitting there debating whether to raise their hand. And what is the alternative, not learn?

#7 Find balance

We’ve experienced the mental and physical grind of a long season. That was palatable because there was a definitive end date and an off season to recover. With no off season, it’s vital to balance short and long term goals, and not overwhelm yourself. Craft your plan and try to make progress each week. There will be setbacks, but we’ve spent years being conditioned to bounce back after something doesn’t go our way.

One thing we were told ad nauseum was to worry about what you can control. No self-inflicted wounds of frustration are going to make the process any easier. Do things with a purpose and have a sense of urgency but make sure you maintain a healthy perspective and have a good deal of patience.

One Response to “The Journey to the Other Side: From MLB to MBA”

  1. Brendan
    Great points, all true for every industry. It’s all about Relationships, self awareness and Respect!
    Now I need to hit the gym! Spent too much time putting others first, take care of your self first.

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