By DJ Ramirez |

Life thrives on competition. From a young age we’re taught to compete, to be the best, to win.

But winning isn’t supposed to be easy, and in a game like baseball, you fail more often than you succeed. The season is long and you get few breaks in between, so preparing for it takes lots of discipline.

It takes a certain kind of mentality to be successful, and there’s no better time to develop that mentality than in the offseason.

As a fan of the game, you dread the offseason. As a player, no matter how much you’d rather be on the field, you know the offseason is the time to better yourself.

Richard Cunningham, an outfielder and designated hitter for Baylor University’s baseball team, explained that the offseason is an opportunity to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

“It’s no doubt that the last pitch of the season is over and you’ve flipped a switch into training mode,” Cunningham said. “You have to get in the mindset of ‘this is an opportunity to get my body right, this is an opportunity to mature as a person, as a student and then as a ballplayer,’ and if you’re able to take that holistic mindset to the offseason, then it almost feels short. Then it becomes ‘man, I need more time. I want to adequately better myself.’”

Under the leadership of head coach Steve Rodriguez and strength and conditioning coach Josh Nelson, Cunningham and the rest of the Baylor baseball team have taken the time to grow as a team and as individuals so that their hard work outside of the ballpark translates to the field when the season begins.

This is especially true in developing the younger players. College baseball is a different kind of machine than high school baseball, and developing a winning mentality early is essential for the team to be cohesive throughout the year.

“I think if you’re going to play at this level, you were a very good high school baseball player, let’s just call it what it is, so you probably didn’t experience a lot of failure for lack of better terms,” Cunningham said. “You get here, everyone was All-State, everyone was All-Texas, whatever it might be, and it becomes very humbling very quick when, as opposed to being the best player in your high school baseball program, you’re just one of 35, 40 guys who are all really talented. So, it’s a very, very humbling experience.”

Brooks Helmer, a freshman first baseman and pitcher for Baylor, said that adjusting to college athletics requires lots of time management and “figuring out how to get your homework in and your sleep but also be ready for workouts.”

“It’s so much different,” Helmer said. “The most important thing I’ve learned is being early to everything no matter what…just knowing when to get places and not be rushed getting anywhere, just having ample time to do things.”

In the early days of baseball, the offseason didn’t require as much work. Players could go on about their lives and then return to the field a couple weeks prior to the season to begin training.

But the game has evolved. It’s more competitive now than ever before. In college ball specifically, many ball players hope that their hard work will pay off in getting them to the next level- playing for the major leagues. Others just want to enjoy the game they love for as long as they can.

The offseason may be tough and “unattractive,” but according to Cunningham it’s just as important to the game of baseball as the season opener.

“I’ll use Matt Rhules’s words that he’s made so famous over there at [Baylor] football but ‘trust the process,’ and I would even go as far as to say enjoy the process,” Cunningham said. “Trust the process and enjoy the refining moments of baseball and understand that failure is built into this game. If you think you’re going to play this game without failure, then you’re so wrong, so you have to enjoy even the moments of failure and understand that that’s what makes the game so special.”