BY STEVE KRAH
Jeff Mercer once walked in the same shoes as the young men participating in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
Representing Franklin Community, Mercer traveled to Jasper in 2004 and went 0-for-2 at the plate with a strikeout and a groundout to the shortstop. He pitched twice and gave runs in both innings. He completed his innings by using the fake-to-third and throw-to-first move to twice pick off runners.
Mercer went on to become an All-American and conference player of the year at Wright State University and was later a head coach at WSU at 29.
“One weekend is not going to make your career,” said Mercer. The Indiana University head coach was the keynote speaker at the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, June 21 at Hanover College.
The Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year in his first season leading the Hoosiers let those assembled know about why he came back to his home state.
“This place raised me,” said Mercer, who turns 34 on July 29. “You learn to love a place that loves you so much and invests in you so much.
“I wanted to coach in Indiana. It wasn’t about IU. It wasn’t about the university. It was about the people.”
Mercer encouraged the all-stars to be appreciative of the support they’ve received on their journey and the effort put into the festivities in Madison, Ind. Games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23.
“I hope you say thanks and I hope you mean it,” said Mercer. “I hope you take a moment to give back because they’ve given so much to you.”
Mercer said the all-stars represent their families, coaches, community and state, just like he does.
“Make sure that your represent this place and these people that love you the way they deserve to be represented,” said Mercer.
The coach said society desperately needs men in leadership roles.
Mercer shared some guiding principles he’s learned along the way. He uses these with his IU players on a daily basis.
“I’ve made a life out of trying to help young men become men,” said Mercer. “They learn baseball along the way.
“As you move into the next part of your life, who you are is going to become so much more important than what you are. We’re not just a collection of tools. We’re not just big, fast and strong, but It’s the people we are.”
Mercer said he does his best to communicate these things that often have nothing to do with baseball.
“It has to do with who we are and the decisions we make,” said Mercer.
Mercer emphasized the importance of work.
“You can have anything in life if you’re willing to do the work.” said Mercer. “The problem is we don’t understand what a level of investment is.
“What are you willing to give to have what you want?”
Once success is achieved, it’s key to remember how you go there.
Mercer has been putting in 12 to 15 hours a day since his days as a graduate assistant.
“If you don’t, somebody else who wants what you go will take it away from you,” said Mercer. “We have to grow and push our limits. But we can not stop working.
“Work must become the currency of your lifestyle. Not regret. Regret is a terrible lifestyle.
“It’s a terrible thing to look back and say, ‘what if?’”
“What’s valuable to you? What’s valuable to me in my personal life at Indiana is work. I respect work. Talent is God-given. You can’t control that.”
In his climb up the coaching ladder, Mercer decided he would be the best he could at ordering sandwiches and washing laundry.
It’s all about the decisions that are made.
“Do we make good decisions everyday?,” said Mercer. “If we’re able to take responsibility for the decisions that we make and we’re to live with integrity and it’s the work that we put in, we’re going to have an opportunity to continue to have success.”
There is also standard to live by.
Mercer told the teenagers in front of him that it will be easy as they enter the next phase of their lives to get away from the people that hold them accountable.
“I’m OK with making decisions that the people who raised me wouldn’t be OK with me making,” said Mercer. “There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing. There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.
“Live with integrity and honesty and surround yourself with people who are doing the same.”
People become a product of your environment.
“In my line of work, I have difficult conversations with players and coaches all the time,” said Mercer. They’re not fun.”
Those talks revolve around two pieces — the person and the player.
“If I’m completely honest, somebody may not like me in that moment,” said Mercer. “But they’ll respect me in the long run.”
Mercer encouraged everyone, including the all-stars, to value the process over the outcome.
“Every complex problem can be reverse-engineered to its most basic process and reassembled slowly, excelling at each phase,” said Mercer. “You can break it down and have success piece by piece.
“You’ve got to find a way at becoming world class at solving basic problems without becoming emotionally attached to the outcome.”
Mercer is in charge of IU’s hitters and lets them know that the outcome is uncontrollable.
On Friday, they made get into a good hitter’s count, make solid contact and find the gap for three hits including two doubles and two runs batted in. They are seen as a hero.
On Saturday, they take the same approach and the center fielder makes three diving catches to take away hits.
“Now I’m a bum and can’t play?,” said Mercer. “I control what I can control and that’s it. It’s the hardest thing to communicate to young people. Your best is your best. The outcome in your life is uncontrollable.
“Stop being obsessed with winning and be obsessed with the details.”
Understand the difference between complicated and difficult is key.
“Complicated is something that’s hard to grasp at first, but if you invest time into it and break it into manageable pieces, you can understand it rather easily,” said Mercer. “Are you willing to invest the time and energy to solve a complicated problem?”
If something is difficult, it will be hard no matter how process-based a person may be. It’s difficult to hit a 97 mph fastball.
Mercer said it is important to go through life and baseball with an unwavering strength of conviction.
“You have to have a belief in your process of work,” said Mercer. “If you invest yourself completely in the process, you have confidence in what you’ve done.
“You control your life. Your life doesn’t control you.
“I do the best that I can do everyday. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can and I’m as organized as I can (be). That’s all I can do. I don’t have any more to give.
“The adversity of your life will drive you and you should embrace it.”
All-star players and coaches were presented with certificates. Players got souvenirs from MDS Baseball Bats.
Jeffersonville’s Blayden McMahel was recognized for winning the home run derby held earlier in the day. He topped Warsaw’s Liam Patton in the finals.
Andrean’s Michael Doolin, not in attendance, was named 2019 IHSBCA Player of the Year.
Jeff Mercer, head baseball coach at Indiana University, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series banquet at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Indiana University Photo)