Ahead in the Count

3rd inning..1-0 good guys

posted by Matt Whiteside

On August 5th, 1992 I was in a hotel room in Oklahoma City, Ok.  I received THE phone call from my manager, Tommy Thompson.  He asked, “ would you like to go to Arlington Tx  tonight and pitch for the Texas Rangers?”  After making sure he was not kidding, I confirmed that I thought I would be able to make it.  The Triple A team in Oklahoma City that year was a veteran laden team, and there were several guys deserving of a call up.  One, John Barfield, found out I had been called up and came to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport.  A kind gesture for sure,  but not one all veteran big leaguers would have made like John did.  It made an impression on me.  THE CALL, could have easily gone to John who was having a fine year himself.  He showed me in that gesture what a veteran is supposed to act like in all situations.  Over the next 2 months I would see plenty of those examples displayed, as well as a few who you’d rather not emulate. 


Upon arriving at Arlington Stadium the first person I met was Joe Makko, the Home Clubbie.  The 2nd person I met was my childhood hero, now teammate, Nolan Ryan.  So many times, the hype is more than the real thing.  Not in this case!  Nolan exemplified all the things a Professional Athlete should be.  He was a tireless worker, an intense competitor, gracious in public, and a great teammate. One example, of many, was that Nolan had a routine he went through prior to each start, as most great players do.  A few weeks into my rookie campaign Nolan asked for my assistance with his routine.  I obliged of course, and proceeded to the bullpen where I held my hand out for Nolan to perform the “towel drill” for 5 minutes.  When he was finished, he lumbered off to the mound, and I retreated to the clubhouse.  The following day in Kansas City during batting practice, Nolan asked if I wanted to do the “towel drill”.  I assumed he meant hold my hand out so he could do more work.  Instead, he got down on one knee, and let me go through the drill, with his hand being MY target. After 26 years ( at that time) in the Big Leagues, Nolan was still not to good to get on a knee to help a Rookie teammate.  What an impression that made.


Toward the end of this story book year, actually coming off a long road trip in late August, Kenny Rogers asked where I was staying at home in Arlington.  I told him an extended stay.  He said, “you stay in a hotel on the road.  Get your bags, and come to my house.”  That would have been a considerate offer from a bachelor in the big leagues, but Kenny was, and is married, and had a 2 year old daughter.  Kenny and Becky assured me it was no trouble, actually insisted, and had me as a guest in their home for the last month of the season.  I can’t begin to describe how these two examples, and countless others, influenced me in what it means to be a “teammate”


Just as clear as those examples were in what to do, I was also privy to how not to do things.  As cordial, considerate, helpful and positive Nolan and Kenny were, Jose Canseco was in stark contrast.  His short comings and poor decisions are well documented, so I won’t bore you with most of them.  However, one instance clearly defined the type of guy Jose is.  We were playing the Cleveland Indians in old Cleveland

Stadium.  Kenny was pitching, and Jose was in right field.  Most of you have probably seen the high light ( low light) reel where Jose takes a fly ball off the forehead that bounces over the fence for a home run.  What no one ever hears about is that 2 hitters before that, Jose went for a fly ball down the right field line.  While he had himself positioned in foul territory, the ball fell fair by 3 feet for a double. Now the “home run ball” is a 2 run homer. 2 Earned runs for Kenny and a few laughs for Jose.  It was bad enough, the plays themselves. But, on the bus after the game back to the hotel, all Jose could do was laugh and make jokes about it.  Not an apology, or remorseful bone in his body to the pitcher/teammate who he turned 2 outs into 2 earned runs.


Now at the highest level possible, I was still being influenced by people, men, who I had “seen on TV” and looked up to.  Yes, you come in contact with all types through out the years.  Yes, you can easily be influenced in negative ways.  We all have here at one point or another. But, knowing, understanding, and filtering the people in your life, and the impact they make, develops you, and what you eventually stand for.  Surrounding yourself with positive people, and then trying to “pay it forward” if you will, helps you  appreciate and become a quality person/ teammate in life.


November 30, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

2nd Inning, 3-0, Bases Loaded, 0 Outs

posted by Matt Whiteside

The situation noted as the Title here,( should actually be the 9th inning, but it does not flow with chronological order I am attempting to follow), is basically the situation  you enter professional baseball in as a 25th round senior out of college, with a $1000 signing bonus.  A conversation that I had with Bumb Wills, my manager in Rookie Ball, in June of 1990 was and will forever be ingrained in my memeory.  I was having a very good first month to my professional career as a minor league Reliever.  Having started throughout my college career, and seeing the numbers the starters were putting up on our team, I saw no reason I should not be in a starting role.  I mentioned this to Bump, and he immediately asked what round I was drafted in, and how much money I signed for.  I told him, not knowing he was trying to make a point, and he in not so many words introduced me to the business side of the game.  With 6 pitchers drafted well ahead of me, and now in a significantly higher tax bracket than myself, they were going to be the starters due to the investment the organization had made in them.  He informed me that I would pitch out of the bullpen, and like it, until further notice.  There is nothing wrong with pitching in the bullpen, ( I did it for the next 17 years), but to get out of the Minor Leagues and into the Big Leagues you need to put up numbers, and starting is much easier to be noticed than being a middle reliever in the Minors.

Over the course of the next year and a half, a series of events happened that opened the doors to my career.  First, I had to perform well when given the opportunity.  Second, there were a series of injuries to guys in my draft class( a 9th round “closer”, and a Dominican who threw 95), that allowed me to pitch in the closing role and post numbers, that would be noticed by the organinzation. Third, I had another amazing person enter my life as my pitching coach.  Jackson Todd took me aside during the Minor League Spring Training of 1991, and said “we need to change some things quick in your mechanics so you can stay healthy, and pitch effectively over the course of a long season.”  I took to his methodical way of approaching teaching, and was a diligent practicer at, and away, from the field.  Going into the 1992 season, Jackson was being elevated to Double A and skipping the High A level.  He begged, pleaded, and probably lied to the Farm Director, Marty Scott, to take me with him.  Some how he prevailed, and we continued our quest as teacher and student until I was promoted to Triple A in late July, and then on to the Big Leagues on August 5th of 1992. 

Opportunities come in many ways, shapes and sizes.  Being relegated to the bullpen, in hind sight, was a blessing.   It afforded me the opportunity to pitch late in games that were meaningful, and compete in tough situations, while showing value to the organization. Encounters with people such as Jackson Todd happen every day to people, and kids in particular. I am not a believer in fate.  Opportunities in the game of baseball, and in the game of life, are presented often.  Some are disguised, while others are easy to detect. The saying “when the door of opportunity opens, Walk In” comes to mind.  What you do with, and how you manage these opportunities, will shape your future.  For young readers and old alike, I encourage you to not go through life with blinders on. Rather be open to change for the better, and be williing to work hard to make the most of the opportuninties that are presented to you.  NO matter how daunting the task, or small the ray of light is at the end of the tunnel.  To work hard to achieve a goal, and the feeling that comes with it, is  greater than any trophy for the accomplishment.

Til inning 3……………

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment


posted by Dan Spring


A quick post about golf (my second favorite sport)…


Check out this article at ESPN.com to read about what sportsmanship, integrity, and honoring the game is all about.




– Spring

November 19, 2008 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Dan Spring | Leave a comment

“I’ll get you another one.”

posted by John Bramlette

My friend, boss, and co-blog contributor, Brendan Sullivan told me that one of our younger Headfirst teams was developing into something special.  “Good players – very good culture” was the report I received.  So when this team was in the middle of a game as I was finishing a private lesson, I figured I’d watch an inning or two. 

It was immediately evident that our pitcher was cruising.  Like most successful pitchers, he was working quickly and throwing strikes.  With one out and a runner on first, the pitcher induced a routine ground ball right at the second baseman… who allowed the ball through his legs and into right field.  The game most have been close (I didn’t, and still don’t, know what the score was at the time) because the opposing team was energized, perhaps sensing their moment to finally get to the pitcher. 

As the other team’s voices rose, my eyes gravitated toward the pitcher to gauge his reaction.  Anyone who coaches youth sports braces for the worst when a player reacts to a teammate’s mistake: slumped shoulders, a hat or glove throw, a look at a coach to seeking validation that it “wasn’t my fault,” an F-Bomb, a verbal assault on a teammate.  What happened next in this particular case is the impetus for this post.

The pitcher, a youngster of twelve years old, calmly turned back to his second baseman, and said, “All good, bud.  I’ll get you another one.”  At no time in the six years I’ve been coaching have I been more impressed with the selflessness and maturity of a young athlete – or a team’s overall culture.  That moment epitomized all the reasons we coach and themes we try to instill: by caring about your teammates more than yourselves, you allow everyone to maximize both their enjoyment of team success and their own contributions to that end. 

Before the young man threw another pitch, I turned around to walk to my car, feeling good about how sports can build the character of young men and women.  As for this team, I had seen everything I needed to see.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | On the Field, written by John Bramlette | 1 Comment

Sayubona from South Africa

posted by Tal Alter

I am also excited to link up on a blog with such a great group of guys who care so much about providing opportunities to youth through sport that will help improve their outcomes in life. We all know from personal experience the power that sport has to capture the attention and imagination of young people, opening up a world of opportunities through potential that may not have been tapped were it not for a ball, some simple rules, a group of teammates, and a coach/mentor in whom they could trust.

I think for my first post, I should try to describe what brings me to Durban, South Africa and the work I am involved in here. Though very different from anything I’ve experience in the States, certainly in Northwest D.C., the basic premise of sports as a vehicle to teach life skills transcends culture, place, and time…

The bottom line is that being a young person in South Africa today is challenging beyond any quantifiable measure. Facing day-to-day hurdles with drugs, alcohol, early sexual activity and sexual abuse, unemployment and heading up homes that have been rendered parentless as a result of HIV and AIDS is something no child should have to face – and yet so many do here. It’s not easy to make good decisions, especially when there is a distinct lack of good role models and suitable outlets from the daily pressures children have to deal with. Through our work, PeacePlayers International (PPI – http://www.peaceplayersintl.org) is tackling these challenges head on.

The overall aim of PPI is two-fold: the first is to teach young people about HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention in an active way through specifically using the sport of basketball for social change and development. The second aim is to change perceptions and bridge the divide that exists across races and gender in post-apartheid South Africa. Although South Africa is a united country in theory; race, class and gender divides still exist and need to be addressed and worked out of society through this young generation.

PPI’s program brings together more than two thousand children from different backgrounds – Black, Colored (a distinct race group here), Indian, White… Rural, Township, and Urban. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, a shocking 25% percent of the population is infected with HIV. Despite this fact, stigma attached to the virus is so strong that people still engage in risky sexual behavior with someone they know is HIV+, then neglect to get tested to know their status, and refuse to go to the hospital to get treatment they could get FOR FREE when symptoms appear. The end result is all too obvious.

Often, young people find it awkward to approach their parents and teachers for advice on sexuality. Many of the children also come from broken or abusive homes and, as a result, lack suitable mentors to speak to them and guide them on these often sensitive issues. Subsequently, they rely on information and advice from equally confused peers, or none at all, which only aggravates the problem. So, that’s where we come in. PPI uses basketball as an alternative channel to help young people open up.

But it does not happen overnight, and that’s why basketball (sport) is so important. Our kids join our program to play basketball. When they first arrive to the basketball court, they are greeted by a young coach between the ages of 18 and 25. The coach shows an interest in them, and stays with them as long as it takes to shoot jumpers or practice cross-over dribbles. Then the kids come back for basketball, and, slowly a conversation develops. The conversation is casual – on the court, on the bus on the way to a game – but a bond is formed, as is a relationship of trust. Before too long, the kids show up as much for the continued conversation as for the basketball, and that’s when we know we can make a difference – because the child is ready to listen.

And eventually, through being mentored by role models to whom they can relate, the children who go through the program develop leadership skills, become role models in their own families and communities, and, eventually, become PPI coaches themselves. This past year, the first kids who joined our program as 10-year olds in 2001 became coaches – and no one is better equipped to serve as role models for our participants. Some more staggering statistics facing our population here in Durban… Of the 550,000 kids who will graduate high school next year, only 15% will go on to study further and work, and 85% will hit the streets with nothing to do. PPI has now trained and employed over 200 coaches.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll leave it at that for now. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at talter@peaceplayersintl.org.

Thanks for reading!

November 13, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Tal Alter | Leave a comment

First inning, 0 balls, 0 strikes, 0 outs

posted by Matt Whiteside

As a Rookie to the blogging world, this will be my first attempt/Post, I find my self sitting at a desk pondering over how this has all transpired, in what seems like a blur.  My career started as a toddler in Charleston, Mo., a one stop light town, that was not a hot bed for aspiring Big Leaguers. Like most, I dreamed of playing Professionally. My aspirations had me doing so in all 3 major sports at the time, Basketball, Football, and Baseball.  Caucasion, and vertically challenged height wise, and in the  vertical leap, all but eliminted basketball from the start, even though I was a member of 2 State Championship Teams.  In football we ran an early version of the West Coast Offense.  This was more out of necessity due to the fact tha my foot speed at QB eliminated us from running the, popular at the time, Option.  On the Baseball field I could hold my own due to a decent arm, and smart enough positioning to get outs at SS.  I managed, through countless letters and VHS videos, ( email was not available at the time, nor was You Tube) to secure a partial scholarship to the Power House baseball program, ASU…..not that one, Arkansas State! I had my choice between two schools, a JC, Three Rivers Community College and ASU.  I chose the 4 year school and off I went.  Naive to a fault, the head coach had mentioned that I would enjoy pitching there because the fences were 400 feet, and since I had not given up a Home Run on our 370 Foot fences in High School, I was ready for stardom.  Needless to say, I was humbled quickly.  While we were not a very good program, we played a decent schedule.  Schools from the SEC, Big 8 (current Big 12), and the Southwest Conference littered our schedule.  My freshman year I managed to get some innings and quickly realized some adjustments were going to need to be made to enjoy my college experience on the bump.  I took myself back home for the summer and taught myself  a slider, to go along with my High School Curve Ball.  I managed to hold my own over the course of the next four years, and found a way to get drafted in the 25th round by the Texas Rangers in 1990.  What I found on the way during that college experience was that not everyone I was exposed to as teammates was willing to sacrifice, and work for the end result that I wanted.  The end result was not to be drafted.  That was something that was a dream, but not deemed a legitimate reality.  The end result I was seeking, was the satisfaction, and peace of mind, from giving a great effort towards achieving a goal, and becoming the best baseball player/teammate possible.  Getting drafted was a by product of the sacrifices, work, and diligence it takes to accopmlish the previously stated goal.

Occasionally people ask me what I think started the process that allowed me to have a successful career.  I always have the same answer.  First, and formost is my parents.  Both are from, and still live in, my small home town in Charleston, MO.  They are what people mean when they use the phrase “salt of the earth”.  Not rich by economical standards, but insanely wealthy  with morals, standards and work ethic.  Second, was the decision to play high school basketball.  My coach was a disciplinarian, with a bad attitude.  Practices following 20 point wins without basketballs, to focus on conditioning and defense, were the norm. In general I had been surrounded by people with tremendous work ethics, who would give the shirt off their back to a stranger in need.  Mix that up bringing with a decent arm, and that is my career in a nutshell. 

I am proud to be associated with the lineup that makes up this team.  I find it interesting that each teammate here is an adult male in their 30’s or 40’s( I am the lone 40ish member here) and none of us have children, to the best of my knowledge. The one common thread that I feel each guy here shares is the desire to help others, young boys and teenagers specifically. I think I find it interesting because each of us along the way have had a coach or mentor that we can reflect on and legitimately say that person made a difference in our lives.  That is why I have agreed to join in here.  I promise I will not ramble on at this length each time out, but thanks for sticking with me on this outing.

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside | Leave a comment

Diving in Headfirst

posted by Brendan Sullivan

Why dip your toe into the blogosphere for the first time when you can dive headfirst? I can’t think of a good reason, so my first post will be shaped like a grenade, sans pin, and lobbed into the offices of one of the planet’s most influential newspapers.

Last night when I went to bed, as has been the case on each evening of my 33 years, I tossed and turned, lamenting the fact that there existed no established rating system for high school quarterbacks. No way to offically compare the up-and-coming JV passers at Quince Orchard and Seneca Valley when selecting my high school fantasy team each autumn. No way to determine who’s 3-for-7 for 43 yards was truly the better performance. Thankfully, Jeff Nelson has solved this problem today on page E1 of the Washington Post, by debuting The Washington Post High School Passer Rating. Tonight, I will rest peacefully.


Jeff describes The Post’s rating system as follows: “Like the others, it is strictly a measure of passing. It is not meant to judge overall quarterback quality, because there’s no feasible way to include rushing statistics or the glorified intangibles associated with being a quarterback: leadership, poise, penchant for last-minute heroics, etc.”

I describe The Post’s rating system as follows: total garbage.

Aside from the absurdity of creating a statistic that compares quarterbacks with no variable to account for the fact that some play against the competition of small private school leagues and others in massive public school districts, do we really need another statistic in youth and amateur sports? Another way for high school athletes and coaches to compare themselves to or rank themselves against one another while losing focus on why prep sports exist in the first place? Why bother trying to include “glorified intangibles” such as leadership, poise and penchant for heroics? Perhaps because that’s why the games are supposed to be played – to teach our young people how to compete, how to control their emotions in the heat of that competition, how to become leaders, and how to care as much about their teammates than their own success and statistics.

The two young men featured in the article, Curran Chabra of Churchill HS in Potomac, MD (outside of DC) and Mike Mooney of Wooton HS in Rockville, MD, are both having wonderful seasons (as are their teams) and deserve the recognition given them in this article. I’d just rather read about what makes those two guys tick, which coaches in their past have had the most influence on them and what their youth sports expererience has done for them off the field – instead of an article that attempts to make an amateur sport more like its professional relative by concocting a statistical comparison that ignores everything that youth sports is supposed to be about.




November 12, 2008 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Brendan Sullivan | Leave a comment

First Post…

posted by Dan Spring

As this is my first attempt at blogging, I think I’ll start out by saying how excited I am to reconnect with the guys on the roster here.  As Ted mentioned in his first blog, Brendan, Flikke, Ted, and Whitey all coached me at various points in my career and I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a dugout with Tal and Bram as coaches in year’s past.   There is little doubt that these guys (and a few others not mentioned here) are the sole reason that I am a coach today and I’m thrilled to be involved in this endeavor.

To be honest, I know very little about blogs (and even less about writting them) but will try to be a regular contributor to the conversation here and encourage feedback on my posts from anyone who knows more than me about blogging (which is probably just about everyone).   Shoot me an email at CoachSpringBlog@yahoo.com.

For the record, I live in Los Angeles and coach in Palos Verdes (an LA suburb, if such a thing actually exists) and we are technically not in Orange County (great movie by the way), although Ted is right that it’s always warm here and we’ve only lost 1 or 2 days of baseball to rain in the last 5 years.  

– Spring

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Dan Spring | Leave a comment

Throwing out the First Pitch

written by Ted Sullivan

This is the first post on the “Ahead in the Count” blog. It may also be the last post for all I know. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a fun and informative conversation led by a group of friends and former ballplayers who have spent a good portion of their adult lives coaching, teaching and mentoring young athletes.

So why are we writing a blog for parents of athletes?

We’re writing for a few reasons but one of them is not because we think we know everything there is to know about raising a child. (A laughable thought actually.) I suspect that up to this point, each of us has put up a very low number in the “Diapers Changed” statistical column and therefore has no idea what it is really like to raise a child. I sure don’t.

We’re writing, first and foremost, because our experiences as players and coaches have taught us that the athletic field can be a platform for learning some of life’s greatest lessons. This is why we coach. We’ve been lucky enough to deliver these lessons to thousands of young athletes and we hope that an open discussion of these experiences with parents and fellow coaches might be an effective way of impacting the lives of even more. Our primary objective is to help parents and coaches who want their young athletes to get the most out of their youth sports experience.

Secondly, we’re writing because we hope it will be smart for business. Nearly every regular contributor here makes his living through coaching or mentoring young people. (Full disclosure: I’m actually the one exception here, but I’ll discuss that in another post). We hope that connecting with and learning from our customers (parents and fellow coaches) will make us better at what we do every day.

And lastly, we’re writing because we hope it will be fun. Each of us shares a passion for working with young athletes and their families and enjoys exchanging stories of our experiences. However we’re scattered across the country (DC, New York, St. Louis, Oakland and SoCal) and the world (South Africa) and think a blog might be a fun way to stay in touch.

The Starting Lineup

I think it will be helpful to make a few introductions and explain how we all know each other.

Brendan outside Headfirst HQ in DC

Brendan outside Headfirst HQ in DC

Brendan Sullivan

Brendan is my older brother of two years and was my high school teammate at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. He pitched at Stanford and then in the San Diego Padres organization, including two years in Triple A. Brendan is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Headfirst Sports, the DC area’s largest youth coaching and mentoring organization. As you will see, Headfirst is the glue that binds all of the writers on this blog. Among many other accolades earned as a player and coach, Brendan was a Positive Coaching Alliance “National Coach of the Year” in 2004.

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John Bramlette

This year Brammy did what many lawyers only dream about. He walked away from a successful law career and became a full-time employee and youth coach for Headfirst — a truly gutsy and admirable career move. John now helps run the company’s college advising program (the Headfirst College Advisory Team) that offers guidance to high school student athletes with aspirations of playing at the next level. He was born and raised in New York City and played baseball at Haverford College. He is also an adjunct Professor of Law at George Washington University.

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Coach Spring in the DR

Coach Spring in the DR

Dan Spring

Born and raised in Washington DC, Springer was coached by Brendan and me during his days at St. Albans before staring as a pitcher at Brown University and in the minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers. Dan is the founder and director of Spring Training, a youth coaching organization in Orange County, California. On these cold, rainy November days, I think all of us wonder why we aren’t all in SoCal working for Dan.

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Matt Whitesidemattswhiteside

Whitey had the professional playing career that all of us envy. With over 400 big league innings, and 17 professional season, he’s clearly the veteran writer on this blog in terms of playing experience. Whitey and Brendan were teammates in Triple-A with the San Diego Padres’ in 1999 and 2000 and Matt has been a loyal friend and valuable member of the Headfirst family ever since. Matt has retired from baseball and now runs a youth coaching academy that he started in St. Louis called All-Star Performance. I think I speak for everyone on this blog when I say that Whitey has redefined the words, loyalty, dedication, work ethic and humility.

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Coach Alter in South Africa

Coach Alter in South Africa

Tal Alter

A Bethesda, Maryland native, Tal was a four-year starting shortstop at Haverford College. Upon graduating in 1998, Tal received all-Centennial Conference Honors, and was Haverford’s all-time leader in several categories including home runs. Tal’s involvement in sports did not end with his college baseball career. For two summers, Tal was a seminal staff member at SportsChallenge, a nationally recognized leadership camp for high-achieving student-athletes. In 1999, Tal coached professionally in The Hague. Upon his return to the U.S., began working for the Positive Coaching Alliance where he personally trained thousands of parents and coaches on the power of positive reinforcement and redefining what it means to “win” in youth sports. Currently, Tal works in South Africa with Peace Players International, a non-for-profit company that operates camps where the mission involves bridging cultural divides through sport. In addition to the South Africa location, Peace Players operates sites in Northern Ireland, Israel, Cyprus and Louisiana.

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Brendan (left) and I in the DR.

Brendan (left), Ted and friends in the DR.

And a bit about me…

During my career as pitcher at Duke and in the minor leagues for the Cleveland Indians I spent my off-seasons in Washington DC building Headfirst with Brendan, Springer and Flik and our friend Rob Elwood (also a founder and Executive Director of Headfirst). As mentioned above, I’m the only contributor to this blog who doesn’t currently make his living coaching or mentoring young people. Since being released by the Indians, I worked for a couple start-up companies and got my MBA from Harvard Business School. I now live in New York City and have coached in Tribeca’s Downtown Little League for the previous three seasons. I plan to get back into youth athletics full time through a start-up business I’m currently working on. More about that in another post.

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November 11, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Ted Sullivan | 2 Comments