During the tryout process in sports like baseball, coaches evaluate players based on ability vs peers, talent, potential, and what that player can bring to help the success of the team. When a set of players score the same and the coach needs to make a decision as to whom he/she will select to make a team, intangibles that don’t show up in box scores are often the determining factor. One of the most highly regarded intangibles is hustle. Two players of equal talent, similar arm strength from third to first, similar drive to the left field gap, similar 40 yard dash speed can be a nightmare for a coach to choose one and cut the other. Hustle on the practice field, in game situations, during critical times can be that important tiebreaker.
Hustle is not a physical skill that can be taught in a batting cage. Unlike pitching and hitting drills, hustle workouts are not as commonly found in books or in videos on YouTube for youth players to educate themselves. Hustle is a state of mind. Hustle comes from your desire to make difference in ways that may require sacrificing your body. Hustle is the catcher who bolts into the field of play, one hands a bunt laid down by a speedster, and in one motion grabs the ball, spins, and throws with so much effort that he falls down. Hustle does not have a designation in a scorebook. You don’t put an “H” next to a diving play or first to third sprint in the bottom of the 7th inning of a tie game. Hustle is simply a player’s body, mind, and soul going all out to make a positive play in practice or a game.
The Boston Red Sox were facing the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series last season. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the game on the line, and Alex Bregman at the plate, the Sox were faced with a stressful situation. A base hit by Bregman would secure a win for the Astros and a trip to the 2019 World Series. With Craig Kimbrel pitching, Bregman smoked a line drive to left field. Without hesitation, left fielder Andrew Benintendi dashed forward at a sharp angle and lunged for the sinking line drive. If he misjudges his leap and angle, the ball drops and Houston wins. But, he did an incredible job of hustling to the spot the ball would land, diving and stretching out his glove to snag the baseball just before it hit the ground. Benintendi’s efforts recorded the final out of the game with his hustle play and the Red Sox won the American League Championship series and went on to win the 2019 World Series. A hustle play that was scored “F7” made one of the biggest impacts in the season of the 2019 Boston Red Sox.
Here is a breakdown of what I believe what makes up the word “H-U-S-T-L-E.”
- H is for Heart. You can be the smallest player on your team in terms of your physical size but have the biggest heart in terms of your desire to make your team better.
- U is for U Have To Want It. You have to want that to dive for that sinking line drive, you have to want to reach first base when you know the second baseman has an easy play to throw you out, you have to want that ground ball up the middle to save a baserunner from scoring from second. You Have To Want To make a difference.
- S is for Sprint. Diving plays are not made by slowly, methodically, lazily going after a baseball. Sprinting and Hustle are two old friends and work together to make a positive play in the baseball world.
- T is for That First Step. Something clicks in your brain when you begin a hustle situation. A hustle nerve cell gets others cells involved, they relay communication to the muscles in your body, and your body makes that first initial and critical step. Get moving as soon as possible to make a hustle play – on the base paths, in the outfield, up the middle of the infield. More often than not, a close play will be determined by whether or not a player makes That First Step.
- L is for Leap, Lunge, Lay Out. Hustle plays come in all shapes and sizes but the most incredible are the leaping grabs, the lunging step to first base to beat a throw, the outfielder who unbelievably lays out “Superman” style to catch a baseball. Hustle is what is behind these amazing plays.
- E is for Effort. Hustle plays do not always result in a catch, a stolen base, a lunging grab in the infield. Even if you have the “H” and the “U” and the “S” and the “T” and execute the “L”, you stay may fall short. But, coaches reward players who hustle and fans cheer and parents stand up and clap for a player who shows Effort. So, get that uniform dirty, get those pants dirty because they can be washed. Baseball is a physical game so don’t be afraid of a few scrapes on your knee or forearm for diving for baseballs.
When it comes down to selecting players for a competitive team, interscholastic baseball squad, district all star team, the competition’s talent may be so similar that a coach has to use other criteria to select a player. Intangibles such as hustle can mean the difference between a roster spot and not making a team. Coaches and Players – Continue to work hard on the physical skills like pitching, hitting, catching, fielding,and base running this off season. But consider incorporating more hustle type skills into your baseball practice routines. A towering home run to left is impressive. Striking out the side is impressive. But a hustle play made by the smallest kid on your baseball team, who had the Heart and Want and Effort, Sprinted to the Baseball with an amazing First Step, and Leaped in the air to make a diving catch – well that is the stuff of legends. That player will be talking about that play in school, in high school, at his wedding, and then at his grand kid’s first Tee Ball game.