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Mudville: May 28, 2024 8:45 am PDT

Chad Hermansen

"You could always look back and say, 'If I knew then what I know now.'”

If you pull up any draft results in any of the four major sports, you’ll find lots of puzzling picks. It’s not just the Trail Blazers taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan either. There are plenty of top 10 draft picks who never sniff the highest level and others who maybe get a taste, but don’t live up to the hope that caused a franchise to invest so much in one young player.

And yet, there are just as many examples of guys drafted in the later rounds who rise up and exceed expectations. Despite the millions of dollars spent, extensive technology, tryouts, projections, and interviews, drafts remain an inexact science at best. Sometimes they seem like they’re no more exact than throwing darts blindfolded.

Chad Hermansen was the 10th overall pick in a 1995 draft that included Roy Halladay, Darrin Erstad, Kerry Wood, Todd Helton, and Carlos Beltran, among others. He may not have had the career those guys did, but neither did Jaime Jones, Mike Drumright, or Andy Yount, all guys drafted in the top 15 that year who never made it to the majors.

Hermansen played parts of six seasons in the majors after a highly productive minor league career; and after working as a scout with the Angels, he now is a Mental Performance Coach and founder of Mental Edge Training, a company that provides support to young athletes and parents.

At BallNine, we’re always seeking both baseball and personal stories and this week, we’re in for an honest reflection on a baseball career that may not have turned out the way people expected, but one that is still giving back to the sport in a very positive way.

So, please join us as we go Spitballin’ with Chad Hermansen.

Thanks for joining us Mr. Hermansen! I usually start these off going back to your childhood, so what was baseball like for you as a kid?

The first 11 years of my life I grew up in Salt Lake City and played in Draper Little League in Utah. I was born in 1977 and I started paying attention to Major League Baseball in the early 80s. I loved guys like Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, and Ryne Sandberg. If you grew up around that time, the Braves and Cubs were always on TV – so you followed all those guys. My first weekend in AAA I got to meet Ryne Sandberg because he was still working with the Cubs. When I was a prospect with the Pirates, they said I could be a Ryne Sandberg-type guy with 20 homers and 20 steals, but that didn’t quite work out. All I did as a kid was watch baseball. I coach a lot of kids now, and it’s rare today that you find kids spending enough time watching it.

Looking at the 1995 MLB Draft, there were some huge names. You were the 10th overall pick among those guys. Was there a time when it really sank in that you were that highly regarded?

My freshman and sophomore year, I was an outfielder, and then our shortstop graduated. Our Head Coach, Rodger Fairless, who is a legend in Nevada baseball, told me I was going to be his shortstop. I hadn’t played [shortstop] since Little League, but of course I said, “Yes sir!” By the end of my junior year, I went to the Area Code Games and played really well. I established myself as the top shortstop in the country. The college offers all started coming in that summer and into the fall. All the scouts and agents kept showing up and I was like, “Wow, this is happening pretty quickly.” I was so young at just 17, but felt like I could handle it. Scott Boras was courting me to represent me and one day, he and Greg Maddux were in my house talking to me. That was pretty surreal. But at the time I was 17 and a little cocky, so I thought, “Of course Greg Maddux should be in my house!”

Chad Hermansen of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats against the St. Louis Cardinals during a game at Busch Stadium on June 2, 2002 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pirates beat the Cardinals 5-2. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

Looking at your minor league career, you averaged 26 home runs, 83 RBIs and 18 steals over four years in about 120 games a season. That’s some huge production. Could you summarize your minor league experience for us?

I was really still learning to play shortstop and struggling quite a bit at the position. I threw the ball hard, but it went all over the place. My wife still makes fun of me, saying that I’m not the most flexible guy; and that came into play in my back and shoulder areas where shortstops have to throw from different angles. I was an over-the-top, chuck-it guy, which worked way better in the outfield. They kept me at short because sometimes I would make this crazy athletic play, but then I’d struggle on a routine ground ball. After a couple of years of growing, it was really killing me mentally. I didn’t really understand the mental health side of things as an 18 or 19 year old, but I wasn’t enjoying it. All the while though, I was really producing on the offensive side. I hit a lot of home runs and doubles while stealing bases. Because I hit so well, I progressed rapidly through the minors. I hit 28 homers as a 20-year-old in AAA and made my Major League debut at 21.

In the majors, you only played the outfield. When did you begin that transition from short to the outfield?

About two months into my AA season, I went to my manager and said that I thought we tried everything, even though I didn’t get any kind of mental coaching as far as my throwing issues. I told my manager that I wasn’t going to enjoy this anymore and asked if I could go to the outfield. That helped me out a lot.

“I felt terrible about not becoming the player people said I would. I knew about Sports Psychology back then, but I always had that thought that there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t a mess, so why would I need a psychologist?”

By Opening Day in 2000, you were the starting centerfielder for the Pirates after playing 19 games as a call-up the year before. Where was your mindset, to start your career at such an important position?

I had that taste of the big leagues in 1999, got my first hit and home run and all that stuff out of the way. It’s so funny, I was playing the highest level of the game, but still was unsure of my ability. I hate bringing this up, but it’s a part of my story. My second day in the big leagues, my hitting coach wanted to change my approach and swing path. At 21, I was like, “OK. Yes sir, whatever it takes if this isn’t good enough.” It was very frustrating because he had told me the opposite thing before my second year in AAA and I had my best year ever by following his advice. Now he was telling me the opposite. I was very confused and the conversations never continued. It was just, “Figure it out, dude.”

So to start 2000, I really was just going on athleticism. I made the team and was the starting centerfielder. Within the first month, I was struggling and hitting .180. I’d occasionally have a couple of good games and think I was getting it, but then I’d go right back to struggling. My confidence was down, I wasn’t believing in myself and didn’t feel like I was getting help to pick myself up. Now, every team has mental coaches to help with stuff like that. I was 22 years old, playing at the highest level and it was a big-time struggle. I was always wondering if I was even good enough to be there.

You mentioned moments when you did feel like you were getting it. Do you have any specific times that you remember that made you feel like that?

There were always games where I’d go 2-4 and had good at bats. Maybe threw a runner out on the bases or made a great catch in the gap. When I had those games I’m sure the manager or front office looked at me and said, “See, it’s in there with him. He has the ability.” But the big thing on the Major League level is doing it consistently. If you look at any baseball roster, even today, you see those guys who have all the talent in the world, but for whatever reason, it’s not consistent. That was certainly me. I can imagine the frustration of the front office people and managers who make those decisions.

Chad Hermansen #3 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Spring Training at the McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida. (Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport)

Are you able to enlighten our readers as to your mindset as you were trying to find that consistency as a young Major Leaguer?

As the coaches were trying to figure it out, I was trying to figure it out too. The hard part is that when you’re an inconsistent young player, it’s easier for the manager to say, “Well, we have that tough righty today, so let’s get a lefty in there and give Chad a break today.” Maybe the night before I had a great game or felt great, then all of a sudden I’m not playing the next day. It’s hard to get momentum, but that’s sports. It’s all about production. You could always look back and say, “If I knew then what I know now.” People point out to me that I struggled as a Major Leaguer from the ages of 21-25 and that’s a time when most kids are still getting out of college or are in AA. My window was just that four-year period when I was pretty young. They’d send me to AAA to go work on things. I was constantly trying to figure myself out and make some adjustments to my swing, but what trumps everything is what’s going on inside your head.

You said a couple of times that they didn’t have the mental support back then that they do now, which is absolutely true. Were there any baseball people who did try to offer that support to you, whether it was a manager, coach, or even a veteran player?

When I was 22 as a rookie, John Vander Wal was really helpful. He was like, “Hey dude, you gotta believe in yourself!” He would give me motivational talks. Look at someone like Mike Trout. He had Torii Hunter who was an established Big Leaguer who helped him. You hear other guys say they had people who took them under their wing, took them to lunch, talked baseball, talked the mental game and even just talked about life. My closest teammates were Craig Wilson and Jack Wilson and they were young like me. There were no veterans in Pittsburgh when I was there to share their experience. Maybe that’s a reason the Pirates struggle, they didn’t have those veteran leaders. But still, you have to wrap that all in a bubble and bring it back to yourself. You have to ask yourself how you can take the bull by the horns –  because ultimately, your performance falls on you.

Center fielder Chad Hermansen #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws the ball in during a against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois on May 23, 2002. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Hearing your responses and background, it’s no surprise you’re doing work now as a Mental Skills Coach. Could you talk about what you’re doing with Mental Edge Coaching?

Being a top prospect who was supposed to be all these things to an organization who wasn’t; that hurts. It was very painful to not live up to expectations. Dealing with the mental and emotional aspect of that was difficult. There was blame and there was the shame of it. I felt terrible about not becoming the player people said I would. I knew about Sports Psychology back then, but I always had that thought that there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t a mess, so why would I need a psychologist? At the same time though, I kind of was a mess! My career was done at 30 and I had a goal to play until I was 40, so that didn’t happen. I was upset when my career ended and mad that I didn’t become the player people said I could be. It was a lot of baggage to carry. I’m 45 now and still working through that.

After my playing career, I became a scout for the Angels. During that time, I would get parents who would call me and say, “My son is struggling with this, I know you struggled with it too, is there any way you could help?” I always would take the time to talk to them and it started to happen quite a bit. That led to me thinking that if players do lessons on the side, why can’t I help them with the mental part of things? I was helping kids and seeing results, so I took it a step further and got certified. My wife realized that I was still bothered about my career and suggested this podcast that taught a self-coaching model that helps work through all that. I would listen when I was on the road scouting and it was making total sense to me. I got certified to become a life coach and turned that into a life coach for athletes and I created my own Mental Edge Company. It started as a side thing, but it’s now full-time.

What are some of the things you do in practice with young players?

A parent will hire me to work with their kid and a lot of things we deal with are lack of confidence, not believing in themselves, and high anxiety. We work through those things and teach them different models for being aware of what’s happening. We get them to understand that this is on them. It’s their thoughts that are creating all of this. A lot of times we think we’re victims of circumstance; I certainly did. It’s a six-month window, but we talk for about five or six weeks in a row to get the athlete feeling good and we teach them some tools. They can always come back to me. I’ve been coaching a lot of parents through it too because we’re all human and need that sometimes. When players are dealing with anxiety, a lot of that is coming from what’s happening at the game and what’s happening at home.

Pinch Hitter Chad Hermansen #3 of the Chicago Cubs readies at the plate against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning of the game on August 30, 2002 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

That’s a great point about the parents. A lot of times they just think they’re helping or giving advice, but that’s not always the way a kid sees it.

I have had a lot of people tell me to create a video course or program that could help parents. I’m a parent; I have four kids, and we want to have influence on them. We want them to grow and learn, but we have to allow them to work through their craft, whatever that may be. We have to allow them to do that rather than fix everything for them. But then I see my kid in pain and I don’t want to see that. Parents have that instinct, but there’s also a time to get out of the way. If a kid needs to talk to someone, maybe he needs a coach.

You’ve also been doing some great stuff on YouTube with video interviews of former athletes and professionals in other walks of life. You’ve had guys like Greg Maddux, Eric Gagne, Jacque Jones and so many other really interesting folks. Can you tell our readers about that?

I was a scout with the Angels during Covid, I got furloughed. I was just hanging out at home and already had this Mental Edge Training business and always thought about incorporating a podcast. I put a list together of the players I knew who had interesting stories. I wanted to have conversations about the mental part of the game which, as men, we aren’t always willing to do with our issues or adversity. It’s storytelling, and these guys get to share how they overcame obstacles, setbacks, and doubts to reach the highest level. The idea behind it is to create opportunities for athletes to hear these stories. Maybe something can click with them where they can say to themselves, “Wow, I’m a high school junior going through that and Aaron Rowand went through that too?” It’s about opening up and hearing stories and personally, about building trust [so] that when [the parents] hire me to work with their kid, they can do the research and watch these videos to see what I am all about, too.

That’s really great and very much needed. This has been really unique and insightful. Thanks for your honesty and sharing your story! My last question for you is just trying to summarize and reflect on things. You have talked about disappointment, but you have actually reached the pinnacle and done something so few people get to do: that is play Major League Baseball for a number of years. If you wrapped it all up, what are your reflections on your baseball life?

For the longest time, I never wanted anything in my house related to my baseball career. Some guys have shrines with all their memorabilia in their man cave and I never wanted that. The main reason behind that was because I wasn’t proud that I got to the big leagues. I figured I was supposed to get there as a top 10 pick. I had shame about what happened to my career. My wife had even taken a couple of my jerseys and had them framed for Christmas. I was shameful when I should have been proud. I had about a season’s worth of at-bats spread out over six seasons. That’s a mess of a career. When I thought like that, it would make me feel crappy.

Becoming a life coach allowed me to work on myself too. I opened up to the idea that I needed to work on these things because the shame is overshadowing the fact that I played in the big leagues for four different teams and was really good. It just didn’t click consistently. Those are some deep emotions I have worked through the past 20 years and I finally have got there. There’s still some hurt, but it’s not as deep and heavy. I have had a shift in mindset and am now grateful about my whole experience. Things happen for a reason. My wife would jokingly say, “Maybe you sucked in the big leagues for a reason!” Doing what I do now, I’m able to relate to everybody because of those experiences. I can relate to a 10-year-old who is struggling or a college or minor leaguer who struggles. It took me a whole lot for that to sink in, but it’s so true. I let go of the excuses and shame and I show up better as a person.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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