Jake Gronsky is a former professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals organization. After hanging up the cleats, he became a writer whose work has been featured on ESPN, FOX Sports, and other outlets.
Jake sat down with me to reflect on life in the minors, the challenges of switching career paths, and more.
How did your love for baseball develop?
I’m not sure if my love of baseball ever began or if baseball came hardcoded into my DNA.
But I believe my appreciation for the game started when I realized how tightly it bound my brother and me together. Baseball became a central hub of our family life, from going to games to training in our backyard, and inevitably my brother and I became best friends. For that, I am eternally grateful.
When did you first realize professional baseball was a real possibility?
I wasn’t a high prospect, so the draft and professional baseball were never guaranteed. But I saw it differently. I was turning pro, I was getting drafted, and I was playing for an MLB team. There were no other options.
How did you deal with the day-to-day ups and downs of being a regular in the lineup throughout college?
Playing every day is a privilege, and your mentality needs to be for the entire season, not one at-bat. This is where competitors trip themselves. We become so enamored with success NOW that we forget how to compete with patience.
It’s simple: the longer you’re in the fight, the more you are forced to adapt.
Some players thrive in these situations. Some wilt and fade away. For me, the day-to-day ups and downs meant I was still in the fight, and all I had to do was turn the fight to my strength, meaning: I needed to find a way to leverage my best skill. This might sound complex, but it’s straightforward.
If you are a power hitter, fight to get an inside fastball.
If you are a speed demon, fight to get on first base and steal three bags this game.
And if you are a line-drive hitter, fight to hit a double each game.
My mentality was simple: stay in the fight long enough to turn it in my favor.
How did you get to the pros? Walk me through the process of signing your first pro contract.
After my senior year of college, the MLB Draft came and left without my name. I went undrafted. There’s no getting around it. It punched me in the gut.
MLB teams called the night before, projecting rounds 15-25 (in their defense, that’s a nice way of saying “we’re not sure”), but no one called again. So I received an opportunity to play in the Frontier League, an independent ball league in the Midwest. I decided this was my new birthday. I wiped my career clean. Anything I achieved in the past was over and wasn’t good enough. It was time to prove myself again.
I went out and did just that. Ten days later, the St. Louis Cardinals called.
When you got to the minors, what were the biggest differences from what you saw in college ball?
Three differences in the minor leagues:
1. Consistent talent. Each person on an affiliated MiLB diamond was (at minimum) the best player on their college team. Every night you’re facing the world’s best.
2. There’s more competition within your dugout than against it. Meaning: you need to outplay the people on your team to survive.
3. Outcomes do not matter. This is a tough pill to swallow. The minor leagues are a bunch of really competitive exhibition games for the big leagues. If the Front Office thinks a prospect needs 300 at-bats this year, he’s getting 300 at-bats whether he hits .400 or .100.
How did your baseball career come to an end?
My career came to an end when they told me I couldn’t play anymore. Simple as that. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. But it was a dream come true, and I thank God each day for making me a Cardinal.
Did you have plans for life after baseball?
It sounds naïve, but tunnel-vision is a double-edged sword. To achieve something great, you must simplify your life to have 100% focus on a goal. But once it ends, you can’t see the bigger picture.
Perhaps this way of life is more predominant in sports because you only have a small window of physical capabilities—so, it’s a boom or bust situation.
Fortunately, I had a passion for writing and crafting story. That saved me in a sense. I wrote through the pains of my failure and the unknowns of my future. It soothed me. And it led to the greatest project I’ve ever completed in A Short Season.
I don’t want to be cynical about chasing a dream. If a person is willing to accept that their dream may turn out differently from how they originally imagined, they should pursue it. The caveat is also understanding that perseverance, dedication, and hard work do not inherently make you successful. They give you integrity. I’d argue that’s worth discovering.
There’s also a reality. Rent. Food. Life. Debt. It’s a privilege to chase a dream. But having a fulfilling and meaningful life has nothing to do with how well you hit a baseball.
*Promise, my last piece of unsolicited advice.
I hate when successful people say, “follow your passion.” That’s terrible advice. Passion is not a goal we blindly chase. You should bring passion with you as if it traveled in your toolbox. Find something that interests you or something you can complete.
Do that job with passion, no matter how insignificant it might feel, then burn through the industry.
Become the best.
Find your niche in that realm and get. Your. Money.
Once you have rent, food, saving, and all the joys that come with middle-class America, decide how you spend your weekends. Want to build an app? Sweet. Weekdays from 5 pm–9 pm look free. Want to write a book? Saturday and Sunday look like great writing days. You get the point.
There is nothing wrong with going “all-in” with a full-time job. I’d argue it’s more fruitful because it gives you the financial stability to take a risk. And that’s all an entrepreneur can ask for.
Tell me about the process of co-authoring your award-winning book: A Short Season.
Simply put: it was the greatest experience of my life, including playing professional baseball.
Josiah Vieria was born with Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome, a terminal childhood illness that ages the body ten years for every one year of life. Age expectancy is 8-13 years. I met Josiah when he turned 10. He passed away at age 14.
Here is the ESPN story on the extraordinary life of Josiah Viera.
Dave (Josiah’s grandfather) was and still is a mentor of mine. I met him playing in the Cardinals system and discovered he and Josiah lived less than an hour from my hometown.
So in the off-season, we met at a local coffee shop once a week and discussed life. (I say discussed, but in reality, I sat at and listened). It was like church. He told me their family’s story, his struggles, their triumphs, and poured his heart into a kid trying to figure out this post-baseball apocalypse.
He taught me that vulnerability is sequential to strength and love is sequential to healing.
At the end of our talks, he said, “You know, I never want Josiah to be forgotten.”
“You know that will never happen,” I replied.
“It can’t. From all the people Josiah’s impacted, he will never be forgotten.”
Then he said something I’ll never forget: “History is not told. It’s written. Unless the story is written, Josiah will be forgotten.”
That night we swore an oath. We were writing Josiah’s story and printing two copies: one for his family; one for me. As the writing process unfolded, so did the story. ESPN found out about it, we signed with a literary agent, it sold to a publisher, and in 2018, A Short Season was published.
What’s your approach to adversity? How have you dug deep in times of struggle where most others would quit?
Adversity is a bit too romanticized for me. Facing adversity sounds great in a tweet. It brings wildly motivational stories. It’s the perfect villain to present ourselves as a hero.
It’s taxing, heartbreaking, painful, and facing the wrong adversity pulls life from us.
But the right adversity is essential to growth.
I wish I did a better job of this in my baseball career. I had the mentality of fighting through all adversity on the micro and macro levels.
Ex: In college, I was slow. For four years, I worked on my 60-yard dash simply to be seen as “average” to MLB scouts. I dedicated two hours a day with our team trainer (who believed in me, probably more than I did), and we hit our goal at the end of four years. The ROI was worth it.
But when I got to the Cardinals, I continued training for speed (and being average in college meant I was REALLY slow in the minor leagues) until my manager asked why. I said I was slow. He said I would never be asked to steal a bag, so why waste my time? I should be spending those two hours on skills that mattered to my development.
It was revolutionary to me.
From then on, I thought about the ROI before facing a challenge.
- Wasn’t drafted. Dig in. Fight through Indy ball and get to the MiLB. ROI was definitely worth it.
- Stuck in a dead-end job, and your talents are going to waste. Update that resume and get out of there. ROI is not worth your time.
- Your dream looks too big? Might it take 20 years to build? You have the patience and skills to do it? ROI is definitely worth it. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
If you’re a fighter, choose your adversity. Then get to work.
What upcoming project(s) are you most excited about?
I’m excited about a few projects. One being another co-authorship with David Eckstein. He has an incredible story, one that every underdog should breathe as air.
The second being my debut fiction, specifically romance. I love the romance genre and a big advocate for men reading romance. This story has been in my heart for years now, and I need to bring it into the world.
Where can people find you online?
I love connecting with ballplayers and readers.
The best way to connect is email: gronsky.jake at gmail dot com and the following social:
Huge thanks to Jake Gronsky for taking to time to reflect on his journey with me. Check out his website to keep up with his latest work!
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