Former MLB Players Share Stories and Advice to MCCC Baseball Team at Black History Month Event

Three former Major League Baseball players spoke at Mercer County Community College on Monday, February 20 th in a talk called “Beyond the Field: Stories of Overcoming Adversity for the Win.”  The talk was sponsored by SOAR, Student Life & Leadership and Athletics for Black History Month and members of the MCCC baseball attended the discussion.  The three former MLB players attending were Milt Thompson, Steve Jeltz and Billy Sample.


Thompson played in the Major Leagues from 1984-1996 including two stints with the Phillies (1986-88 and 1993).  He also played for the Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers and Rockies.  Thompson returned to the Phillies as a hitting coach for five seasons, including in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series.  The outfielder is one of three Phillies in franchise history to go to the World Series as a player and a coach.


Steve Jeltz played in the Major Leagues from 1983-1990 and spent six of his seven years with the Phillies.  He is one of only seven MLB players born in France.  The shortstop holds the record for most games played, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs and walks for a MLB player born in France.


Billy Sample played MLB baseball from 1978-1986.  The outfielder played for the Texas Rangers from 1978-84 and spent one season with the Yankees and one with the Braves.  Sample made the Topps All Rookie Team in 1979 and had a 19 game hitting streak during his career.  In 1983, he was 5 th in the American League in stolen bases, stealing 44 bases on 52 attempts.


After sharing their stories and answering a few questions, the three players stayed to talk with Mercer’s baseball team, sharing many tips and more.


Thompson shared some changes he has seen since his playing days.  One of the biggest changes is on the focus on the home run rather than hits.  “There’s no small ball anymore.” Both Thompson and Jeltz played with Pete Rose who still holds the MLB record for career hits, a record neither thinks will ever be broken.  In addition to how well Rose hit, both players noted how much Rose hustled, even sprinting to first base after any walks. 


All three former players talked about hustling and taking advantage of the opportunity you are presented with.  Jeltz shared about his first time playing in a college game while he was at the University of Kansas.  He entered as a pinch runner, stole second base, stole third base and then scored the game winning run.  He wanted to show his coaches he deserved more playing time by showcasing his speed when given the opportunity.


Thompson told the baseball team the importance of developing a routine and of forming friendships on the team.  He talked about arriving to a game with a plan and not being distracted by music and phones like players are today.  He also said it’s important to have at least one friend from the team that you can bounce ideas and observations off, which is also something pitchers and catchers should do with each other.  He said that when he played, players hung around for hours in the Clubhouse after games, discussing what worked and what they could do better, but today, the Clubhouse clears out quickly.


Thompson shared that baseball ran in his family as both his father and grandfather were “Barnstormers” in the Negro League, working full time during the week, then packing up and heading out on weekends to travel and play.  He played three different sports and believes players should not be doing baseball year round, that both physically and more so mentally, players need a break from the sport throughout the year.


Sample also played multiple sports in high school, including football, indoor track and baseball.  His high school team played in the Virginia State Championship vs TC Williams High School, the school featured and coached by Denzel Washington in the movie Remember the Titans.


Sample was the first Major League Baseball player from James Madison University.  He told the baseball team the importance of connecting with their professors.  Sample shared about how helpful and caring some of his college professors were, particularly in psychology, which he was studying. 


One common message all three former players had for the MCCC baseball team was to take advantage of the “golden opportunity” they are being given playing collegiate baseball.  Both Thompson and Sample shared the struggle of being sent down to the Minor Leagues after spending some time in the Major Leagues.  Not only did it hurt them financially, but mentally it was a big blow to their confidence.  Despite the setback, both players got called back up to the big leagues and discussed how you can’t get caught up feeling sorry for yourself.  Thompson said “this is a sport where the best players fail to hit the ball seven out of ten times.  It’s ok to not get a hit every time up.  Always aim for one.  Even if you’re 0 for 3 or 0 for 4 heading into a final at bat, you can still get that one hit.”


Jeltz shared about being raised by a father in the army and that he spent most of his childhood playing ball in mess halls.  He also shared how he went right from the Major Leagues to work, first as a bail bondsman and then as a construction worker.  Following his time in the Major Leagues, Sample worked as a broadcaster.  He also has written a book and produced an award-winning screenplay titled Reunion 108.


One interesting thing all three players agreed on was that Nolan Ryan was the toughest pitcher they faced.  They talked about how hard the Hall of Fame pitcher and career leader in strikeouts threw and how much Ryan disliked allowing hits and players to get on base.


The talk was filled with stories and tips and hopefully provided some motivation to the MCCC Baseball Team as they prepare to open up their season on February 25 th.  It’s not every day that you get insight from a former Major League player and the Vikings got to spend time with not just one former player, but with three.  The Black History talk was one that certainly resonated with the players and all those who attended.

MLB-Speakers.jpg (L to R) Milt Thompson, Steve Jeltz, Bill Staples (player agent) and Billy Sample  Thompson-with-Team.jpg Thompson giving out some hitting tips to the Vikings baseball team Sample-with-Team.jpg Billy Sample shrugs while talking to some MCCC baseball players Thompson-and-Player.jpg Milt Thompson with MCCC baseball player Christian Kegel