Certain people can naturally give life to those around them. It’s impossible not to gravitate towards them. To listen to them. To find out how the light inside of them burns so brightly.
Collin Radack is one of those people.
From his confidence mixed with humility to his innate decency as a human being, each time I’m fortunate enough to sit down with Collin, I leave a better person. I hope you do, too.
Our next guest for our 10 P.M Conversations: Collin Radack. He’s a former player, current Division 1 college baseball coach, and a person whom I respect dearly. My challenge for everyone reading (myself included): drop one aspect of Collin’s interview that struck you, and tell us why. Then, let’s be like Collin this week and bring light to those around us.
- Current assistant coach at Richmond University
- Former St. Louis Cardinal. Retired in 2016
- Highest Team/Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)
- Drafted: 2014 20th round, Pick 615
- Highest draft pick out of Hendrix College (DIII) in school history
- Texan. Appeared on an episode of Intentional Talk for getting tackled by the pitcher after a wild pitch (I never thought I’d write those words in my life)
When I look back on my college career what sticks out to me isn’t all the baseball, it’s the friendships and the people’s lives I’ve been able to impact. That’s what stands out to me.
How does that compare to your pro career? It is the same?
It’s different, man. It’s different.
You know, I was a big shot in Division III. We’d roll up to play a team, and everyone knew who you are. Then you go into pro ball and, in a way, you’re kind of a nobody. You know what I mean?
I was the definition of a nobody! I totally get it.
We were nobody’s man! And [college and professional] are just two different worlds.
You mentioned before you enjoyed the friendships and connections and building people up in college. Was this a challenge in pro ball?
You know, it was. I guess it’s natural, but when you’re not “the guy” it’s easy to struggle with confidence and even believing you can have an impact on someone else’s life. When you’re the superstar, it’s easy to think people look up to you, but when you’re just a normal guy you can lose that. I think that was a big character build for me—believing, “hey just because I’m not the guy, the best player on the team, the player in the Cardinals organization, doesn’t mean I can’t have an impact on someone else’s life.”
And that was the big change for me. I went four years being the guy to going to pro ball where I was just another guy.
Well we see that in everyday life, too. We fall into thinking in order to have an impact on people we have to be a quote on quote “influencer” or have some sort of fame.
Yea, I will say the biggest thing pro ball did for me—I can relate to the freshman or sophomore not playing at all and struggling in the situation he’s in. I couldn’t relate to that in college. I started my first game as a freshman and played every game since then, and had a lot of success. In pro ball, I started off not playing and, a lot of time, wouldn’t play for four or five games in a row, then look at my numbers and they’re not as good as other players on the team. I think being able to look at the guy and share a little bit of what I went through and understand what he is going through—it was huge for me because it’s an identity issue. A lot of the time we base our identity off how we are performing or the position we are in, and that’s just a false identity. All of that can be taken away from you like that.
True identity, I believe, is rooted in our relationship with God, and it’s also how we view ourselves and our own self-worth. I always have to come back to that as a coach. I can’t view my players as if they’re the starter or the best player on the team, I need to see them as people. I need to see them as more than just a baseball player. I have to view myself as a coach more than just if our guys don’t score a lot of runs, will I look at myself in the mirror and say, “man I’m a bad coach?”
…It comes down to what is your motivation? (In reference to players struggling at the college level) Is it to be the superstar or to be the best you can every day regardless of the circumstance? And realize, too, that they’re a big part of this team whether they play or not.
Yea, on paper…that sounds great. But, one of the hardest things, especially in sports, is A) empathy, being able to relate to those struggling in their circumstances and B) Perspective. It’s like explaining to a minor league player, “even if you make the big leagues, at some point in your life, you won’t be a baseball player anymore.” So how do you help players through that? Because I don’t even know how to deal with it sometimes.
And that’s a really good question. I started doing all of our hitting last year and before I started anything, I wanted to have an answer for that exact question. You’re right, you can say all of that stuff, but if you can’t put it to action, it doesn’t mean anything.
What we did—we had 18 hitters. I knew 6 or 7 guys would be playing every day. They’ll be the starters. I’m going to have to coach them a lot. They’re going to feel loved, they are going to feel like a big part of the team because they are on the field every day performing. Then we’ll have another group of about 8-13 guys, who will be numbers 8-13, playing a little bit, I’ll be working with them a lot—mostly younger guys—who know they will be going in. And then you have numbers 14-18 who aren’t going to play ever. At all. And a lot of those guys are older, who may have had a tough career, maybe seniors who haven’t played at all and just in my experience in college baseball, those are the guys that are usually super salty.
And they bring others down with them.
That’s the AAA player who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues and now forever in the minor leagues and is a toxic player in the system.
For sure. And I’ve seen it in every year of baseball, especially in college baseball where the game is really team-oriented. So every day I think about those 14-18 guys. How can we add value? How can we give them a purpose that is important? I find time to work with them one on one. Find something they did to make the team better, on or off the field, I can share. They need to know they are not a ghost. They make an impact, and we need them.
So when is it time to end a toxic relationship and cut a player?
Fortunately, I’m not the head coach so I don’t need to make decisions like that!
Well, in your opinion, who are the players who get cut?
I think it would take a lot, to be honest with you. I think 99% of kids get who get salty and bring down the team, it’s not necessarily their fault, but a leadership problem.
A lot of coaches don’t want to admit that.
I’m a real big believer in the SEAL quote: there are no bad teams, just bad leaders. So, there’s no bad players that bring the team down, just bad leaders that don’t believe in them. I really believe if you have every guy on the team who feels loved, who feels heard, who feels valued, who feels as if their role—whether big or small—matters, who feels he has an impact on the team’s success—they will bring the team up.
I tell our team every year, the guys 14-18 are going to be everything for our success. Either they will be in the locker room talking crap, or they will be pushing the guys forward.
What will they say at your funeral?
You speak a lot about finding a purpose for someone that might get lost. They may not be lost now but might lose their way. How does it correlate to life after baseball?
It’s everything. When you’re not in the role you want to be in, how are you going to react to that? Are you going to make excuses? Are you going to blame people? Or are you going to put your head down and work and love the people around you? Or are you going to be so consumed with your own life, you don’t give a crap about others?
It goes back to what you said about being able to impact the guys even if you aren’t ‘the guy’.
So true. Listen, at your funeral, no one is going to be talking about how good you were at baseball. Here’s a story that really changed my life:
My junior year I played on a summer ball team and I met a—now good friend—Taylor. He played at Palm Beach Atlantic University. His coach was a Hall of Famer. The man passed away while Taylor was still in college, only 50-60 years old. It was horrible. All the players went to his funeral and big leaguer after big leaguer came to the funeral to share about this man, guys they watched on TV, and not one of them talked about baseball.
Every one of them talked about his life as a man, as a husband, as a father, and how he inspired them to live a better life. Taylor was really emotional about that because he was his coach and they were close, but I just remember hearing that as a junior in college who has dreams of playing major league baseball and thinking, “Wow, we put so much worth into a game, that at the end of the day, isn’t that big of a deal.”
*Note: The Hall of Fame baseball player and head coach of Palm Beach Atlantic University was the late Gary Carter (1954-2012).
When did that lesson settle in with you?
I think I was always aware of it, 1 Peter 1:24-25, “All people are like grass. Their greatness is like the flowers. The grass dries up and the flowers fall off. But the Word of the Lord will last forever. That Word is the Good News which was preached to you. (NLV)” So basically, our glory and ourselves will fade. Everything we’ve accomplished will fade, but our relationship with God will last forever.
But it didn’t really settle with me until pro ball when I had to deal with failure.
I remember thinking, I might not be good enough. Like in AA, when I’m in the lineup with Carson Kelly, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, and Luke Voit—seeing these guys thinking, “I’m just not as good as these guys.”
That’s when you have that realization, how much self-worth have I put into my performance?
And if I have put my worth in my performance, I’m a failure right now. I’ve fallen short because someone is better than me. But that’s not the case at all. Just because someone is a little bit better at hitting a baseball than I am…that doesn’t make me less than them.
Absolutely not. But that’s a very hard perspective to have in the moment. It’s one of the reasons I think I gravitated towards you.
I appreciate you saying that, but on the outside, people can always say that to me like “Yea, you handled that really well,” but in reality, I really didn’t. It’s why I retired early. I just got tired of dealing with it. I’m a performance addict. I have a job where every day my performance is on display. So I’m like, why do I keep fighting this battle?
How has that impacted your coaching career now?
It’s impacted it a lot because I still deal with it. You can ask my wife when I come home on Sunday after a series, I’m in a much better mood if we win, so I can still see it manifesting itself.
Yea, but isn’t that human nature?
But if you’re a competitor, you’re always going to want to be the best. So how do you balance the two?
Yea, that’s the tough part. Because again, it’s because we care. As a competitor, you’re upset because you care. So how do you care and not let it define who you are? Maybe that’s just life and experience and going through it all. I don’t know.
Are you still figuring that out now?
Oh my gosh, yea. I think that’s the beautiful part of it. I look at where I’m at now and say, “man, I have so much more to go,” but when I look at last year I say, “man, I’ve come so far.”
That’s the journey. That’s what we need to get caught up in.