I remember my first day in California like it was yesterday.
Considering the events going on in the world, it was tough to forget. The date was March 14, 2020. My dad and I had spent a week driving across the country from my hometown in York, PA. I left my friends, family, then girlfriend of two years, and everything I had ever known 3,000 miles away. When I hugged my dad and told him goodbye, a tough reality set in. I was really truly on my own for the first time in my life.
The timing, in a lot of ways, could not have been worse. The spread of COVID-19 had forced our shop to close down the day before I arrived. Our lease for the shop ended March 31. My first two weeks on the job were spent tearing it down. It was the place I had hoped I was going to spend the majority of my days. A few days later, my co-worker moved back to Texas out of fear for a pre-existing medical condition. Within 72 hours of being in California, my life had been completely flipped upside down: We didn’t have a facility, we couldn’t coach athletes in person, I was completely on my own, and my new office was going to be my boss’ 400 square foot garage. My dream job was turning into a nightmare – which is funny because looking back, I never viewed it that way.
My first few months at 108 were honestly all over the place – but I loved it. We regularly had Zoom calls with some of the best coaches in the game – Jerry Weinstein, Fred Corral, Lantz Wheeler, Andy McKay, and many more. I went back through all the calls and clipped them up for content on our website. It was audio gold. Every single day, I was in Eugene’s garage asking him questions, cutting up Zoom calls, and diving into depths of the game I had never experienced before. I wrote and documented my experiences, some articles spanning up to over 5,000 words. I had to capture it all.
When I wasn’t putting together content, I started to get experience with our website and marketing team. I learned how to make web pages and write ad copy. Most of them were really bad early on, but man did I learn. I had prior experience coaching athletes. I had zero experience with any of this. Looking back, it was the perfect timing. My days would have been spent coaching athletes, but now I had the opportunity to learn different skills because I wasn’t coaching.
My average day looked something like this: I’d wake up around 6 AM and go downstairs to get a workout in. I stole a few dumbbells from our old shop, along with some bands and a 106 lb. kettlebell (maybe the dumbest thing that’s ever been made). I would grind through a 30-45 minute lift, making it as enjoyable as possible. During the summer, you’d start sweating the second you walked downstairs. I don’t think I’ve been back down there since LA Fitness opened up.
Afterwards, I’d proceed to shower, eat breakfast, and make my way over to Eugene’s somewhere around 10 AM. Some days, he was up. Other days, he was still sleeping because he didn’t fall asleep until 5 AM. For better or for worse, this rubbed off on me. I was regularly at his house until 11 PM, often well beyond midnight. Sometimes 3 AM.
Most of my day was spent on the computer. I was either cutting up content, adding to the website, writing, or learning about something new. I had no wifi at the apartment, so I took advantage of wifi whenever I had it. Whenever I got stuck or bored, I’d watch 2019 LSU football highlights (I still do this from time to time). I would often do this 6-7 days per week, clocking in anywhere from 65-80 hours/week at Eugene’s. Many times more. The rest of the world might have been smoking weed and playing video games, but I was going to work. I didn’t come all the way across the country not to.
For all the time I spent at Eugene’s house, I started to become a part of his family. They were the only thing I really had. Without knowing much about me, they took me in with open arms. His wife Caroline regularly cooked me dinner. I was an active participant in their post-dinner board games. The games were intense, but they were a ton of fun. His two girls – Brooklyn and Mackenzie, are absolutely tremendous. I had never before in my life seen two kids with such big hearts and personalities. They gave me a nickname: Cupcakes. To this day, I’m not sure if they actually know my real name. They just know me as cupcakes. It’s wonderful.
Everything was great for a while, and then I hit a breaking point. I thrive off the relationships you build with players as a coach. For three months, I had zero in person interaction with any of our athletes. It was miserable. On top of that, I had no friends. There was no where to go to make friends, either. I was barely sleeping six hours per night. I was spending 12+ hours buried in front of a computer. I was going through energy drinks on a daily basis. I hated my garage workouts. I wasn’t eating well. I lost over 15 pounds. There was nothing I could do to get away from Eugene’s garage – outside of an occasional hike. And I hate hiking. I’d rather play basketball, which was impossible because all the rims in Orange County had been taken down (don’t get me started).
To put it simply: The path I was on wasn’t sustainable. I was burning myself out. I didn’t realize this until Memorial Day weekend. When I saw all my friends back home were getting together and having fun with their family and friends, I realized I had none over here. After a typical late night at Eugene’s, I got back to my apartment and broke down. I was willing to do anything to make this situation work, but I was running myself into the ground.
Fast forward five months.
It was late October. Eugene, myself, and his family had just returned from a month long trip. We had camped out all across the country in their new trailer. Mixed in between the driving was coaching stops in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia. I finally had a chance to meet some pretty cool coaches in person, of those including Fred Corral, Ryan McMillan, and Tommy Pharr. The experience – as a whole – was eye-opening. I had done a lot of camping growing up as an Eagle Scout. I hadn’t spent a day in a trailer – let alone a month with a family of four. It was different, but we made it work. Somehow…
We arrived into town just before our annual Bridge the Gap conference. We did the event virtually for the first time ever. Thursday, we tested our set up. Friday was showtime. I got into town Wednesday. After going to sleep Thursday evening, something seemed a hair off. I didn’t sleep well. I had chills all night, never really getting comfortable. I woke up feeling even worse. We went to set up for the event early Friday morning, but I did not feel like myself. I couldn’t put my coffee down. I had trouble relaxing. Physically I was there, but mentally I was somewhere else. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was feeling symptoms of COVID-19. Later that day, I learned I had come into close contact with someone who tested positive. When the event concluded that evening, I went and got a test around 10:30 PM at a local urgent care. After an hour of waiting, they confirmed what I intuitively knew.
The weekend itself was already stressful. Thousands of dollars were on the line for us to put on a good show. 48 hours ago, we didn’t even have a venue for Bridge. We had a three man team in person (Will was remote): Eugene, myself, and Scott Munroe – our technical producer. Going down a man wasn’t ideal. I felt horrendous, but I decided to see what a good night of sleep would do. I woke up Saturday feeling a lot better, but still not great. I said to hell with it. I went in and helped out with the show as best as I could. I mean at that point, we already knew Eugene had battled COVID-19. Scott would later test positive for it. We all just kind of recognized that we were shit out of luck. Might as well go on with the show. The best part? We absolutely crushed it. We did the best we had ever done before – thanks to the remote format. Every single person running the show had COVID-19.
And then it gets even better.
I was driving Scott to LAX Monday morning after we had wrapped up the event. I was feeling much better. After dropping him off, I returned southbound on I-405. I was about halfway into my trip when I got a text from Caroline. She asked how close I was to the fires. Before panicking, I texted my landlord. At that point, she had basically become my California mom. She also had experience with fires in the past, so I wouldn’t get worried until she did. When I asked her where the fires were, she responded a few miles. She told me she would let me know if she evacuated – which raised some concern. And then I drove through Irvine. I’ll never, ever forget what I saw.
As I got closer to the airport, I saw a thick cloud of black smoke in the horizon. As it got bigger and bigger, I got a knot in my stomach. Orange County was on fire. Over the past few hours, the fire had worked its way from Silverado Canyon – just a few miles from my apartment – crossed the 241, the toll road I took to work every day, and was working its way south down the 133 – the other road I took to work every day (LOL). Wind gusts were anywhere from 50-85 mph. The air smelled like a campfire, except this wasn’t your friendly campfire smell. Ash and smoked filled the air. Cops had detoured traffic and completely shut down the 241. I had never experienced a fire before to that point in my life. It’s one of those things you don’t really handle well the first time through. (little did I know I’d have to evacuate my apartment two months later – the day before my birthday – at 3 AM because of another one).
Electricity had been cut to my apartment prior to my arrival from the airport. The fire was eating up real estate closer and closer to the apartment, which was up in the mountains. It’s a beautiful location, but a horrible one to be in when things start to burn. One hour later, I got the text from my landlord: She was leaving. I didn’t even blink. I gathered everything I thought was valuable – maybe over-doing it – and left for Eugene’s house. Little did I know, his spot was actually worse than mine. The fire was working its way into Irvine, so we didn’t take any chances. We shortly left in the trailer for San Clemente, leaving a cloud smoke in the rearview mirror as we fled down I-5 S. Oh, and don’t forget. We all had COVID-19. 2020 was pretty rough. That experience was a different kind of rough.
Little did I know, it had all been preparing me for what I had deal with in 2021. It ended up being the toughest year of my life.
Over the course of a five month span, I saw the relationship with the woman I thought I was going to marry fall apart – after she had moved her life across to country to live with me. Eugene moved his family to East Tennessee, with plans to eventually move the business. I was left behind with my co-worker Will to handle the shop. Day by day, I started to accrue a level of professional frustration I had never experienced before. The person that brought me out here was no longer here with me. I lost the one person who could get my mind off of work. With my mind constantly on work, I started to loathe it.
The passion and excitement from an incredible summer started to fade. I felt disconnected from our company. I was uncertain about my future. Once set on joining Eugene in Tennessee, I realized my future with the company wouldn’t go so far. When I told Eugene the level of professional frustration I had been experiencing, I didn’t have an appetite for 48 hours. It was the most difficult phone call I’ve ever had in my life. Not too long ago, I thought I had the next five years of my life mapped out. One by one, everything blew up in my face. My dream situation had become a living nightmare.
Two weeks later, I boarded my flight to return home for Thanksgiving. I had a lot of my mind, so I decided to pull out a pen and paper. I wrote the following below:
“Be present this week. Control your thoughts. Don’t give things headspace that don’t deserve them. You have control over what you dedicate your time and energy to. You cannot and must not relinquish control.
The past 2 to 3 months have been difficult. You’ve gone through a ton of shit. It’s been difficult to manage. However, you have an incredible support system at home. Your family is your rock. They will guide you when times get tough. Be thankful for these people. Not everyone has this luxury.
The next 5 to 6 months are going to challenge you on a level you’ve never experienced before. The fine print of chasing your dreams will never appear bigger. You must not back down from this challenge. You have everything you will ever need. Take a leap of faith, get inside the arena, and fight like hell. Your career depends on it.
What you are doing is anything but common. It is uncommon. The standard you set for yourself will always be higher than everyone else. This is a privilege. At this time, it’s going to be really difficult. You’re going to be mad, frustrated, and want to quit. Don’t. Run your own race. Bet on yourself. This is your calling. Don’t ever let someone else tell you what you’re worth.
You are 100% responsible for how you handle this transition. It’s your life. It’s not anyone else’s. You are going to make it happen. Other people will help open doors. You have to fucking walk through the door and own it.
Because of the lessons you’re learned over the past two years, you are going to make an incredible mentor to those who once stood in your shoes. I am proud of how far you’ve come. There is much work to be done. Continue to challenge and rethink everything you’ve thought you knew. You’re only hurting your future if you don’t.
You were built for this, you can do this. Let God take the wheel and steer you in the direction in which you were meant to go. It won’t happen on your time, but it will happen in time.
You have none to waste.”
I sure as hell knew what I was getting myself into, but I had no idea just how hard it was going to be.
This Friday, I will be starting the next chapter of my life in Lakeland, FL at the Florida Baseball ARMory. As I reflect on my time in Southern California, I’m very proud of what we accomplished as a company. Back when I met Eugene at the 2020 ABCA in Nashville, I knew in my heart this was the place I needed to be. I had no idea where it would take me two years later, but I did know this: If I was willing to embrace the fine print of chasing my dreams, I would have the character and fortitude to sustain them. It’s been far from easy, but I never asked for easy. The men and women who leave their mark on the world don’t go through easy. They look the ugly lead bullets right in the eye. You don’t learn how to do this until you’re face to face with them.
While this article was dedicated to the tough stuff, I had a lot of fun here. I grew in ways that will forever change the trajectory of my career. I could have lost my job when I came out here, like millions of Americans who were impacted by the global pandemic. I never missed a paycheck. That speaks volumes to the kind of person Eugene is. He was nothing but supportive during a time when it was tough to be supportive. If it wasn’t for his efforts, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
Just as I predicted, the past five to six months have been the hardest experience I’ve ever had to go through – personally and professionally. I doubted myself and my future in this game. I spent a lot of time soul searching. The fine print of my dreams never appeared bigger, but I never backed down. I put all the chips in and doubled down on myself. I didn’t count on anyone else to create my next opportunity. I was either going to make it happen or fail with my best punch. When doors weren’t opening, I let go and let God. When doors started to open, I put one foot in front of the next. My family was there for me every step of the way.
It’s not often you have one, let alone two people, you can call on your worst day. I have three: My mom, dad, and brother. Sometimes, it was to vent. Other times, it was to stress test an idea. Most of the time, it was because I just needed someone to talk to. We might not all be under the same roof anymore, but we’ve never been more connected. If the past six months have taught me anything, I know I don’t need anyone else in my corner. We’ve got each other.
I contemplated making this public, but I felt I had a responsibility to share this. On the front page of my blog, you can read the following disclaimer:
“Disclaimer: This blog is not filled with feel good stories and cliches. Everything in here is real. If you’re afraid to tackle the messy realities that run most coaches away from this profession, save yourself the time and go somewhere else. You won’t like what I have to say.
I didn’t want to be afraid to write about the things I said I was going to write about. This is who I am. This is what I went through. I lived in one of the most beautiful parts of the United States, yet I never felt more alone. I guess I’ve realized the problems never go away. There’s always going to be fine print when chasing your dreams. The goal shouldn’t be to alleviate the pain. It should be to find what’s worth suffering for. Considering what I’ve had to go through over the past two years, I know I’ll be able to handle whatever life throws at me – and I guess that’s the biggest message I wanted to share.
If you’re young, uncertain, and at a fork in your career, believe this: I know how you feel.
You might feel like you can’t do it, but trust me. You can. Don’t blame a lack of luck. Make your own. Take complete responsibility for your career. Don’t rely on anyone else to create opportunities for you. Create your own by investing into your work and your relationships. If you show up, follow up, and put forth your best effort day in and day out, someone is going to notice. You just have to put yourself out there. You’ll never feel ready to start. Do it anyways.
If you remember anything from my story, remember this: Never stop betting on yourself. Life is going to continue to throw you curveballs. People you trust will let you down. The best version of yourself won’t always show up. Your best efforts won’t always be rewarded. Confidence in yourself and your abilities will fluctuate more than ever. You will have to sacrifice more than you thought. Your heart will be broken. The obstacles will be more numerous than you expected. That voice in your head won’t always be saying the right things. It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started or 10 years into it. These things will never change. What will change, hopefully, is your perspective on them. This isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something you learn over time. When you learn how to make time your ally, you learn how to leverage compound interest to your advantage. Your efforts won’t compound in one day. They need time to grow.
Invest yours accordingly.
California – thank you for two unforgettable years.
I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I know I’m a lot better off than when I first arrived. The people I’ve met, experiences I’ve been a part of, and memories I’ve made will last a lifetime. I’ve had the privilege to work with a wide range of athletes from different abilities, backgrounds, and experiences. From the 10 year olds to the future draft picks, I’ve loved every second. You guys were the reason that kept me coming back to work when I felt like I couldn’t. You guys helped me get through my break up. You guys created the moments that get me fired up to show up to work every day. You’ve learned some from me, but I’ve learned much more from you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. I won’t be here in person, but I’ll always be a text or a phone call away. For all the things that will change in my career, that will never change.
I will miss the weather, Mexican food, and Southern California beaches, but above all else I’m going to miss the people the most. I’m going to miss the phone calls late at night to talk through swings. I’m going to miss being a part of signing days and spending late nights at the shop until 2 AM. I’m going to miss watching college football games on the weekends, pick up basketball, reviewing school research papers, talking through colleges, futures, and getting in the lab every day with some of my best friends. You don’t realize how important your role is until you have a 19 year old kid crying on your shoulder because he feels like you’re the only person he can trust in his life right now. That’s real. There aren’t too many professions where you’re privileged to have that kind of influence on a young man. I don’t take it lightly.
I don’t know what this next chapter holds, but I do know this: I have one of the greatest jobs on the planet. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The people I’ve met, relationships I’ve built, and memories I’ve created through this beautiful game have left a mark that cannot and will not ever be replaced. I couldn’t be more thankful for that. For all the moments that make you challenge every reason why you got started, you have many more that remind you of why you’ll never look back – seeing an eleven year old break down in tears after coaching him for the last time, getting a handwritten note from a fourteen year old who says you’ve changed his life for the better, watching a young man fight for and earn a starting spot on a high school team that’s ranked top five in the state of California. You didn’t do it for them, but you were there with them every step of the way. That goes a long way.
To the people who made an east coast kid feel at home out west – thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I’ll never forget what we did here together, and I’ll always be here for you.
Until next time –