"You have to want it! No one else is going to want it for you! You have to go out and execute it..."
"It is all about teamwork. Teamwork is EVERYTHING. We are all connected, life is about synergy and playing your position to the best of your ability, day in and day out !"
In baseball, there is no guarantee that you will ever make it to the major leagues. In fact, according to HS Baseball Web, "Less than eleven in 100, or about 10.5 percent, of NCAA senior male baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team. Approximately one in 200, or approximately 0.5 percent of high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will eventually be drafted by an MLB team. "
Think about that. Now think about drive and determination. For that very, very small percentage, there is success in the Pros. For some, there are other avenues that makes a person equally successful.
I am happy to offer a glimpse of 2 very successful people to our Oradell Little League audience, and they just happen to be related. Billy Sample, is a former major league ballplayer who played for the Texas Rangers, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. The other, is his son and my friend, Travis Sample. A man that learned about drive from his father, and went on to create S.A.M.P.L.E. Fitness, a mobile training service specializing in group-oriented workouts repurposed for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Please share this interview with our Little League players. It's important that they see how drive can allow a player to grow into a successful human being.
OLL: Billy, you are one of those small percentages of athletes that made it to the major leagues and was successful doing it playing for the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves. Explain the mindset as you approach something as big as achieving your goal. Take us back college ball and James Madison University when you realized you could make that jump, being drafted by the Rangers.
Billy: I was fifteen years old when I thought that I'd have a better chance playing baseball at the next levels than basketball or football. Growing up in a minor league baseball town helped me get a sense of what it would take to reach the majors as I would occasionally get some advice on the particulars of the game. I went to all of the local tryout camps, improved my speed by a half second in the sixty yard dash from my junior to senior year and subsequently was drafted in the 28th round by scout Joe Branzell and the Texas Rangers.
Joe didn't expect me to sign and I didn't. I went to Madison College (later James Madison University), the only school that offered me scholarship money. In the summers I played in the Shenandoah Valley League where many of the best eastern seaboard college players and some released pro players honed their skills. It was a huge struggle my first year, and I had to change my hand position in my batting stance to combat the plethora of good sliders I faced. By my second year in the league, I was the most valuable player, and after my junior year in college I was drafted by Branzell and the Texas Rangers again, this time in the 10th round. I signed.
At one of our first meetings in Sarasota, Florida, our manager and Assistant Farm Director, Joe Klein told us to take a look to our left and right, pick out another person, because that is all that will make it to the majors. He wasn't saying it so much as to scare us, but just to give us the odds of making it. Right-handed change-up artist, Steve Comer preceded me to the majors and stylish right-handed pitcher Brian Allard followed me to the big leagues and that was it out of the group including yours truly.
OLL: Travis, you grew up with a famous pro baseball father in Billy Sample. How instrumental was he when it came to guiding you through the obstacles of sports and life. Give me 1 piece of advice he gave you that has stuck with you to this day...
Travis: My dad looked me in the eyes one morning as I was eating cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios as a matter of fact, and he said this..."Son, you're not afraid of success are you? Someone's gotta do it, it might as well be YOU." That stuck with me and triggered a fire in me. Now, at 27 years old, that fire is still in me and still burning, brighter and brighter every second!
OLL: We at Oradell Little League like to teach but challenge our Little Leaguers explaining the importance of mental toughness in this game. What are some words of encouragement you can offer to kids in the game of baseball that can really open their eyes to what the true goal is?
Travis: Stay dedicated! Stay patient! Stay focused! And most importantly stay positive. Stay positive and remember it is not about where you start but where you finish. Mentally envision greatness and excellence. Mentally envision yourself blasting the ball out the park, robbing that Home run, making that diving catch, or pitching that perfect game. Believe first than execute!! Your greatness is right around the corner!
OLL: Billy, what is your fondest memory of playing little league ball? Where did you play, who was that one coach that made you realize that you could be great at this game?
Billy: It was Junior Epperly. He was the coach that gave me an opportunity to play as a 12 year old third baseman. That was the beginning of my athletic confidence as I sat the bench for most of the years before that. We won the league and our team had a future draft pick, Sandy Hill, via Virginia Tech, who ended up playing minor league ball in our hometown of Salem, Virginia.
OLL: Travis, what was the most inspirational moment for you as a Little Leaguer? That moment where you realized that you could accomplish anything you put your mind to....
Travis: The moment I got my first hit in my first little league game. It was fantastic! I made contact, a rocket down the third baseline and I made it to first base just in time ! It was at this moment I realized anything and everything was possible. Why? Once you do it once, you can do it again, and again, and again! Believe then achieve !
OLL: Kids get discouraged and distracted easily these days with many other sports and activities around them and negative coaching styles. What's the most important thing kids need to realize and focus on while playing baseball?
Billy: You have to want it! No one else is going to want it for you! You have to go out and execute it ... and that's in all sports and all walks of life.
OLL: Travis, you became a success in your life becoming a powerhouse fitness guru in the New Jersey area with your bud, Evan Williams. Some would suggest that team sport, baseball or other helped you grasp that 'killer instinct' to push forward in your life to become successful. Would you agree? And how important is team work to an individual?
Travis: I agree! I strongly agree. Infant that IS FACT. It is all about teamwork. Teamwork is EVERYTHING. We are all connected, life is about synergy and playing your position to the best of your ability, day in and day out!
OLL: Mistakes happen in this game. More so as you are learning it in Little League. This is a tough one. What's that one mistake you made on any level, that you grew from and why?
Billy: At almost every level of athletics there are going to be physical mistakes. And if you keep them to a minimum, very few people are going to complain. It's the mental mistakes, like forgetting how many outs there are in a close ballgame that can haunt you. Yup, I did that once. I know from experience.
OLL: You played little league and learned about hard work and discipline. How much of a factor does that play into your path in baseball and in life?
Billy: Very little substitute for hard work or diligent work. Incredible nature gifts might be the exception, but many of us remember the dominant Little League player, who for whatever reason didn't continue to dominate when he or she got older. When I was twelve years old, that player was Russ Rumberg, a pitcher. He was in the other division and I am thankful for that as he was hitting the mitt before players had a chance to take the bat off their shoulders. He was bigger than most of the other players, but didn't get much bigger as he grew older and wasn't nearly as dominant.
OLL: Take the audience back to when you achieved your favorite moment in Little League. Take us back to little Billy Sample on a small baseball diamond.
Billy: I can't remember a seminal moment in which I advanced to another level. I remember that we were coached hard and we played the game hard ... and to have two players sign professional contracts meant that there was some talent and dedication amongst us. Sometimes one takes out of it, what one puts into it .
OLL: Your path didn't end with Major league baseball. You are an author and movie maker as well. Both are surrounded by baseball. You’ve managed to become successful in all you have done in your life. Tell our audience how important this game was to you all these years?
Billy: Well, I'm not quite sure about the successes off the field, or maybe even on the field, but I was selected 'Most Versatile' of my senior high school class, so I guess it's not unusual to have other interests in life. I spent more than my share of time in the English Office in part to learn how to write a theme. That would help in later years as I chronicled some of my experiences in sports and life.
A special thank you to Billy and Travis Sample, both bring inspiration to our Oradell Little League players!
For more information on Billy Sample's post baseball projects, be sure to check out his film, Reunion 108. It's rated R.
His book, A Year in Pinstripes ... And Then Some, can be found on Amazon as well.