Dream Deferred, Goal Accomplished

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By: Mikael Mogues

Lets get something straight, Eric Duncan was supposed to be the future of New York Yankees baseball. He was supposed to be where A-Rod was, patrolling the “hot corner” and abusing that short porch in Yankee stadium that all lefty power hitters dream of. But that…that is how it was supposed to be. We come to realize that things don’t always work out how we dreamed they would.

The former 27th pick in 2003 MLB amateur draft, now spends his days coaching for the Staten Island Yankees as a hitting coach. But let us not forget where he came from. The past 4 years, Duncan was the volunteer assistant coach for the Seton Hall Baseball team. He spent this time taking classes to earn his degree in political science.

Coach Duncan could compare apples to oranges if he wanted to persuade you into believing something, but his greatest gift was his ability to relate the game of baseball to life, as a whole.

Coach Duncan remembers calling a meeting with the infielders he worked with in the visitor’s dugout at Owen T. Carroll field. This meeting had a different feel to it. The anticipation was something all the players felt. We knew something new was coming, and we were all excited to hear it. What he told us has stuck with him and has been preaching to his minor leaguers.

“Each practice, every workout, you will set your standard above the line,” Duncan said. “This marker is something you should never be under. This is your baseline, and with each day of working to get better, that baseline goes higher. We get better by building off yesterday’s success.”

This philosophy was a visual many players needed. Many of his players relate to coach Duncan because he played such a short time ago. This was the first motto he wanted the infielders to live by, “above the line.”

“I made a promise to never forget how difficult the game is, because I didn’t particularly like the coaches who forgot how difficult the game was,” Duncan said. For this reason, among many others, he decided he wanted to coach.

Receiving his degree was something Duncan had his heart set on in high school; a full ride was waiting for him at Louisiana State University, during what was called the “Gorilla Ball” era. This was a time in LSU baseball history where it was a powerhouse program, under the tutelage of “Smoke” Laval that hit for power. Duncan fit this persona coming out of high school.

Bill Rose, an independent agent, who ended up representing Duncan after his first professional year said that “He was mature, polished, and it was a no brainer for him that he would sign out of high school. This is what any first rounder out of high school would do, that’s the way it was,” Rose said.

The opportunity was presented for him to get one step closer to his dream of reaching the big leagues. This was his ultimate dream.

***

Enter the years of what Duncan calls, “embracing the suck.” The minor league lifestyle wasn’t something Duncan was accustoming to. He was very much a homebody and never even went away to summer camp before. His first three weeks away from home were terrible. What turned it all around was the fact that his family would come visit him often. He would continue this success through the Arizona Fall league in 2006 when he was crowned MVP of the league. But his call up in the middle of 2006 season from AA to AAA came with an abrupt end to his offensive success.

This double-edged sword proved to dismantle all the success leading up to 2006. Duncan spent the next three seasons in AAA and never hit over .250. However, there was a period in 2009 when Alex Rodriguez was on the disabled list for his first of many hip injuries. It was once again, Duncan’s time to shine.

“I was watching Sunday Night Baseball and I thought, ‘If I’m going to have an opportunity, it’s going to be now,’” Duncan said. The Yankees called up Angel Berroa instead, who at the time, was the shortstop for the AAA Clippers, Duncan’s team.

The highest level of frustration in his career emerged, “What else do I need to do to reach my goal,” Duncan thought.

At that moment he realized that his dream was to play in the big leagues, but he accomplished his goal of play professional baseball, and he felt fortunate and lucky to play every day.

Through all the frustration and anger, defeat and struggle, his gratitude and humble nature allowed him to keep trying to reach his dream.

“I remember Bronson Sardinha, and seeing him play, he was one level above me,” Duncan said. He was a really good player and it dawned on me that A-rod and like 3 other guys are very good. If I play it as me against all 4 of these guys, I have no shot. To reach my full potential, you start worrying about that, it’ll eat you up,” Duncan said.

The second motto he wants his infielders to live by is to “thrive, not survive.” Learning from the minor league grind Duncan realized that you need to embrace it. If you aren’t trying to overcome it and you’re just trying to get by, it will lead to you ultimate failure. Duncan preaches to his players now that you need to surpass survival. Do more that just the minimum to make it, and to once again “Embracing the suck.” This sounds like you’re going through hell and back for what? Why suffer?

How can you love baseball after all the hardship and heartbreak it put you through? “I never stopped loving the game, but I questioned my love for it,” Duncan said. “It can be a lonely experience when you start failing and it really tests you. When you’re in a slump it ain’t east to get yourself going, I mean you look for anything. But what you need to do is continue to stick to the process.”

Now Duncan has been grinding in the minors for what is his 6th year. “Embracing the Suck” wasn’t working, but he always stuck with the process. He was all in, every day, with his love for the game instilled and visible in his habits he created in his daily routine. Duncan arrived to the field every day for a 7:00 p.m. game at 12:00 p.m. all the way through his last game.

“He was a kid who bought into his process,” Seton Hall Prep head coach, Mike Sheppard Jr. said. “He had a strength guy, a personal hitting coach, even a nutritionist. The kid left nothing up to chance. And this was all in high school!”

He stuck to this process until he hung up the cleats. Duncan was a true professional and now dreams of running a college baseball program. Realizing that it is hard to get a job with a high school education, Duncan had to reset his goal after he obtained his degree this past spring. It is now to Be the head coach of a college program and his coaching job with the Yankees is a huge set in the right direction.

Duncan is still involved, although not officially with Seton Hall baseball, as ¾ of the team he coached. “He brings a different perspective to the game,” Rob Dadona, Junior infielder said. “The pro game vs. the college game are two different games. He got a little of both and can make a hybrid for guys to understand the transition better.” Short Season A, the Staten Island Yankees, are where all the players who get drafted go once they sign. From those signees, there are plenty of players, who just finished college baseball, to help in the transition.

“If I kept playing and stuck it out another five years, and maybe get up to the bigs for a game, now I’m 33 and I have to figure out the rest of my life,” Duncan said. I walked away with the love still in tact, now knowing that he wants to be a coach.

What if A-Rod never came to the Yankees? What if Brad Penny passes his physical, gets traded to Arizona, and sends Duncan to the Dodgers, and current Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson to the Yankees? What if this dream deferred, turned to reality? What if? Anything can happen in baseball, as told by Eric Duncan’s 10-year professional career.

 

“Just because your dream deferred, doesn’t mean your goal hasn’t been accomplished.”- unknown

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