…the Baseball Positive website has been online for years and I’ve never said hello to all the folks who have visited the site. Thanks for stopping by; I trust the content has been useful.
Hello, my name is Mark Linden. Baseball Positive was started in 2008. After playing a bit of minor league ball in the Cubs organization as a middle infielder, center fielder and catcher, I spent eight seasons coaching at the college level.
The beginning of my college coaching career is a classic example of being in the right place at the right time. While visiting my family in Nebraska during Christmas of 1993, I dropped by the Wichita State Baseball offices (a four-hour drive south) to see if they might have an opening on their staff. Fortunately, Head Coach Gene Stephenson was available to meet with me.
Sometimes being young and ignorant has its advantages. When Coach Stephenson came to the lobby of the Shocker offices, the baseball secretary pulled my resume out of their file cabinet. Something tells me it had straight from the envelope into the file and Gene had never seen it. Well, I was there and the 3rd winningest coach in D-I Baseball History took me into his office to talk.
During the first week of my January classes at the University of British Columbia, Gene called to tell me a spot had opened up. Forty-eight hours later I had dropped my classes (I’d already earned a degree from Whitworth University) and made the 1700-mile drive to Wichita.
After spending two seasons with the Shockers, I moved on to assist June Raines at The University of South Carolina for a season. The next five years I held head coaching jobs at Centenary College in Shreveport, La and Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon WA.
Those were great learning experiences. Gene and June, between them, had a eleven College World Series appearances, four appearances in the championship game and one CWS Championship (Wichita State, 1989). The greatest lesson I learned from these two legendary coaches was that keeping instruction simple was at the core of their success.
Later, in 2007, I found myself working as the colour commentator alongside Rob Fai on 1040AM Sport Radio for the Vancouver Canadians (minor league affiliate at the time of the Oakland A's). Sean Doolittle was a member of the team....as a First Baseman. He's an example of the guy who didn't make it as a hitter, switched to pitching and parlayed it into a Major League career.
Another streak of good fortune in my baseball experience is my 'little' brother grew up to be a 6'3'', 225 lb switching-hitting power hitter who played at LSU and became a first round draft choice of the Giants. Todd started his professional career at the AA level in 2002 and was in the Big Leagues by 2005. While following Todd's career, I was able to interact with professional players and coaches and gain insight on the game at its highest levels.
Today when I see a player making their Major League debut and the camera shows their family and friends I understand the array of emotions they are feeling. In August of 2005, I watched Todd working his way around the bases during his first game in San Francisco, scoring his first Major League run on a passed ball and going through the high-five routine as headed down the dugout stairs.
The feeling is indescribable. I was sitting there thinking, that Really is Todd down there playing Major League Baseball [:o ...I had always imagined what it would be like to play in a Major League game. I never experienced it personally, but seeing your own flesh and blood doing it is pretty darn amazing.
A month or so later the fact he was playing in the Major Leagues stuck. That was the day he became one of only a dozen players to homer into the upper deck at Dodger Stadium. I still haven't made it there to sit in the seat where the ball landed, but it’s on my bucket list.
While I never made it to the Big Leagues I was fortunate to play football in college as well as baseball. Eastern Washington University offered a football scholarship when I was at Roosevelt HS in Seattle, but turned it down to attend Bellevue Community College and pursue baseball. Assistant Coach Jake Cabell, who was recruiting me, was not happy when I told him I’d decided to accept a $300 scholarship to play junior college baseball over a full-ride to play ‘big time’ college football…my lower-middle-class family wasn’t so sure about the decision either, but was supportive.
Though having been drafted by the Cubs and Royals while at BCC, I felt I wasn't yet ready to play professionally and decided to continue my college career at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. My instincts seemed to have been correct when I wasn't drafted following my junior year. I'd developed into what is known in pro baseball as an 'organizational' prospect - a guy to fill a spot on a team, so the true prospects have someone to play with.
This type of player gets drafted after their senior year (the Cubs did get around to picking me again in the 31st Round) or is a guy with limited options or little desire to continue their education following high school or junior college. I can remember, like it was yesterday, signing over that $1,000 bonus check to Whitworth, at the tuition window, following my first year playing professionally. ...most minor league guys don’t sign for $1,000,000 : )
That fall brought a return to the gridiron and the first of three seasons playing for the Pirate football team having a good level of success as a running back and co-captain for two years. Being named captain is something I am proud of, but mention it primarily because I feel it illustrates the leadership and communication skills that are at the core of Baseball Positive's approach to Coach Training.
In 2002 the Whitworth University Hall of Fame committee came knocking. Having played two sports no doubt helped; it was an honor to be inducted. But, let's be honest, it’s a classic story of a 'big fish in a little pond', being that Whitworth was a member of the NAIA and had an enrollment of 1,100 (about a two-thirds the size of my High School).
That's the Cliff's Notes of the story behind an instructor of kids and their coaches. Yes, there were some cool experiences along the way and while it all has value in what Baseball Positive teaches, the fact is very little of it applies to coaching kids who play on the small diamond.
Aside from the 'keep it simple' lessons I learned from Gene and June, most of what is shared in Baseball Positive's teaching comes from my experiences growing up (somehow the feelings and experiences from playing as a kid remain very clear), what I learned while studying Human Kinetics ('How to teach physical movement') at UBC, the influence of my Little League coach, Bud Burrill, and the hundreds of youth league coaches I've worked with over the years…
....thank you All-Stars coaches in 2008 who taught me that the pitcher is the cut to home on the 60' diamond (not the 1st baseman or third baseman), David Reyes who shared a key point taught to him by one of his youth coaches, "Ball First, Base Second" and Paul Lepley, 40 year veteran of Queen Anne Little League in Seattle, who is a master of teaching the game (and keeping it fun) to young kids.
One little ballplayer that Paul worked with and watched develop his skills as a seven-year-old and beyond, was current Diamondbacks third baseman, Jake Lamb (whose father John played linebacker at Whitworth a couple of years before I got there). I’d been in touch with Jake about working our summer camps while he was in High School, but we filled out our crew, so he was never associated with Baseball Positive …guess I blew that one, huh?
I imagine you have special memories of your time in youth baseball/softball, youth sports or sports in general. Making the experience of playing with neighborhood buddies, building life-long friendships and the 'small world' connections our kids are establishing by playing youth baseball and softball is the motivation behind Baseball Positive.
The information shared on the Baseball Positive site, which is dedicated exclusively to the game played by kids ages 5-12, is an effort to achieve one goal: 'Kids have such a good experience that they Want to Play Again Next Year'. Hopefully some of site content is beneficial to you and your kids!