By Ryan Schuler
Like any other young boy growing up in the United States, Bryan Haar dreamed of playing in the big leagues.
He saw the lucrative million-dollar contracts and the chance to play his favorite sport everyday, but did not understand why he was constantly told he would likely never make it to the pros.
“As a kid, people always told me the odds were terrible,” Haar said.
But Haar continued to work everyday, earning a full athletic scholarship to the University of San Diego before he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 34th-round pick of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft.
Yet even now in the minor leagues, Haar is reminded of the difficulty of making it to the majors.
“Even in pro ball, they tell you the odds are terrible,” he said. “It has motivated me to work harder and try to be a part of the small percentage that makes it to the big leagues.”
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college athletics, the chances of becoming a professional athlete are less than 1 percent.
“Obviously, you have to have talent, speed and size to even get a look,” said Bill Dickens, a San Diego sports writer who has covered the likes of NBA legend Bill Walton and pro baseball players Barry Zito and Brian Giles.
Factors involved in becoming a professional athlete
Though physical ability is very important to become a professional athlete, it alone will not get you to the pros. Many factors that go into whether an aspiring athlete makes it to the professional ranks.
— Injuries: Injuries often keep athletes from reaching their dream. Whether it is little league or college football, athletes have very little chance of making it to the pros if they sustain a significant injury. The most common injuries range from tendon or ligament damage, such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or a history of concussions.
— Time: The amount of time an athlete trains per day, whether during the season or in the off season, is also a huge factor, as training dramatically increases with each level of competition.
Beck Wheeler is a pitcher for the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league team in the farm system of the New York Mets. Wheeler said practice time increases at every level because the level of competition increases.
“In high school, I’d say I practiced an average of 10 to 15 hours a week,” Wheeler said. “In college, probably 25 to 30 hours a week and now in the pros, more than 45 hours a week.”
These long hours of practice and training mean sacrifice.
“I missed a lot of family events and spring breaks with friends and summers, but ultimately the sacrifice was worth the experience and opportunity,” said Craig da Luz, who played in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system and is now head baseball coach of St. Augustine High School. “Would I have liked to be at all those events? Sure, but since I couldn’t, I made sure I was working harder than ever to make sure they knew the sacrifices would be worth it.”
— Private instruction: Hiring a private coach and playing year-round are other ways aspiring athletes gain a competitive edge in hopes of being drafted or securing a college scholarship.
These private coaches range from hitting and pitching in baseball to kicking and throwing in football. A session with a private coach can start as little as $50 per hour and rise to as much as $200 per hour, an amount many parents may not be willing or able to pay.
Sander Hermann, a private basketball instructor in Southern California, believes private training is essential to becoming a professional athlete.
— Scouting and projection: Scouts and head coaches also play a big role in whether or not an athlete eventually becomes a professional. The athlete must fit what the scout is looking for, especially when it comes to potential.
“There are always tons of deserving players who don’t get drafted, but some of the main reasons are potential and projectability,” Wheeler said. “All scouts are looking for players with raw skills and baseball knowledge, who project to play in the major leagues someday.”
Da Luz also mentioned the business side of professional sports, which also can hurt an aspiring athlete’s chances.
“Contract options also come into play and general managers have the team’s best interest at heart, but also the owner’s wallet to consider,” da Luz said. “So sometimes a road block to the big leagues becomes a business maneuver and not so much a baseball skill set issue. In other words, players are not promoted to avoid salary arbitration, time served salary issues, etc.”
— Desire and work ethic: Desire and work ethic are also factors in whether an athlete makes it to the highest level. Athletes hoping to make it to the pros must be self-motivated and have the desire to make it from a very young age. A little luck helps too.
Taylor Ahearn is a high school baseball player at St. Augustine High School in San Diego, Calif. Ahearn has played on the varsity team since he was a freshman and is currently being recruited by college programs. Though playing college baseball is a goal of Ahearn’s, he knows he still has a lot of work to do to become a pro baseball player.
“Hard work and determination set you above those that are just gifted athletes,” da Luz said. “I saw a lot of gifted athletes fall by the wayside. It’s a grind and you have to have a specific mindset and inner drive. Nobody is watching you in the offseason. You either prepare yourself or you don’t.”