Emil DeAndreis has experienced physical pain, mental anguish and the realization that his playing career was cut short. Those experiences have turned into love, coaching, impacting young adults and writing. We spoke with DeAndreis about his experiences as a college pitcher, his battle with rheumatoid arthritis and his book, “Hard To Grip.”
The recruiting process
As student-athletes wind down their high school careers, many have their eyes on the next level. The recruitment process is a world of unknowns and the reality can be a gut punch. Some go on to play for D1 schools with large scholarships, pristine fields and premium gear. Others grind and accept offers from smaller schools. Many are crushed by the process and abandon collegiate baseball altogether.
“It can really blindside kids. It can be a kid’s first real gut punch. You see how committed they are to the game and how good they are. Kids get their hopes up and whatever challenges they haven’t faced in high school, they end up facing in the recruitment process. For me, it was pretty difficult. I just kept grinding.
In a weird way, the baseball gods honor people who stick with it and who are committed. If you send out three emails to three coaches and none of them got back to you, you still go to the gym, you still do your pull-ups and play long-toss that week. There’s been a couple of times I’ve sent an email to a coach on behalf of a kid. They get back to me and say ‘do you have any video?’ I’ll send the video and they’ll get right back to me and say that this is not someone who we are gonna pursue. It’s really hard for me to tell a kid that.
The people that go about their grind are the ones that eventually get honored. The recruitment process is a manipulative, dishonest and hurtfully honest sort of presence. In my experience, the guys that take it, the guys that are resilient and keep pushing forward are the guys with a last-minute scholarship offer.”
End of the road
As athletes progress the percentages of making it get tougher. Currently, only 7.1 percent of high school baseball players will go on to play NCAA baseball. Of those, only 2.1 percent will play for a D1 school, 2.2 percent for D2 and 2.8 for D3. The sobering reality is that of that 7.1 percent, only 10 percent of them are going to be drafted by a major league club.
“The underbelly is so complex and layered in college baseball. There are so many players that are playing those four years of baseball and that’s decidedly going to be the end of their career. It’s interesting to know that you are hitting your ceiling and you’re not going to be able to push forward. To still try and make the most out of those four years. It’s almost like you’re playing just for the thrill and the fun of the game.”
Making an impact
It would have been easy for DeAndreis to walk away from the diamond. Instead, he chose to make an impact at his alma mater, Lowell High School, one of the top academic high schools in the nation. Specifically, as the Cardinals pitching coach.
“I’m with them year-round. I think that’s important. Once you develop a relationship with these guys and you see them push, struggle, want, get what they want and work hard for it, you’re on their side. I’m in the weight room with them every week. There’s some continuity to it, which I think is important with kids. Just having a presence in their lives. Knowing that they can depend on you and that you’re going to hold them accountable for the work that they put in. I’m really upfront with them. We work hard, really, really hard.”
In sports, it’s easy to judge success by wins or losses, but coaching success is leaving an impression and making a player a better person on and off the field. Several players have attributed part of their progress to DeAndreis.
“That’s the ultimate reward to hear that. It’s a great relationship between a coach and a player that looks up to you. I would recommend anyone that has that opportunity to experience it. It’s really, really meaningful. You can see on a day-to-day basis the impact that you’re having on them not just as a baseball player, but on their character. It’s really an honor to be a role model to someone who’s aspiring to great things. It’s really important to me that I am the person to these kids that I want them to be. Someone they can trust, someone they can depend on, someone that has their best interests, who’s honest and someone that will hold them accountable and push them.”
Writing Hard To Grip
DeAndreis had the experience of the college recruiting process, playing the game and writing. However, nothing prepared him for the experiences of rheumatoid arthritis and its challenges. What many people take for granted in their day-to-day routines became difficult. All of the trials and tribulations became the inspiration behind his memoir Hard To Grip.
“As I was writing this book I was going through a master’s program for creative writing. That was helpful at exposing me to different kinds of writing that’s out there and how honest people can be in regards to their own experiences. That was encouraging. You find when people get published, the reason they get published, is that they are open with what’s going on in their mind and in their day-to-day lives. It’s reassuring.
I’ve always held myself accountable, to be honest with people. To not have different personalities, hide anything or be ashamed. I am who I am. A lot of those phases that I went through taught me some things. A lot of those phases other people went through. Reading my story in a weird way they can relate to. It makes them feel that they weren’t the only ones. College can be a crazy time for a lot of people.”
DeAndreis met Kendall, his wife, during the spring semester of his senior year at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. From supporting his writing to R.A., she became his partner in everything, striking the balance of concern with the instinct to let him be.
“She has the right balance of being concerned. What it comes down to is that she loves me and wants me to be as comfortable as I can be in any given situation. She really cares about me. All of her behavior and the way that she deals with everything stems from that. That has left her with a really good instinct of when and if I need to talk about it (R.A.). Rheumatoid arthritis is like any other inconvenience in life. If you talk about it and you’re in the open about it, there’s more understanding about it.
Every year the Arthritis Foundation has a Winter 5k to raise money. We’ve made it an annual thing to run the 5k together. We’re able to be active together. The fact that I’m able to do stuff shows her that I’m feeling ok so that she doesn’t have to be all that concerned. If it ever got to a point that I feel pain and the disease got worse, I know that she would ask and she wouldn’t push. That’s the beauty of who she is. She’s so perceptive. I hope that I’m on that same level with her.”
DeAndreis gave us his advice for those that may be struggling or are battling R.A.
“Life will always throw you a slew of rejections. You’re going to experience failure on the way, it’s important to understand that going into something. Keep pushing forward and understand it’s a learning process and learning opportunity.”
You can purchase a copy of “Hard To Grip,” here.