Williams: Gifted and Talented

There was one moment in my life that set the course to where I am today.

I was in third grade, obsessed with my math book one weekend so much that I was awake all night working ahead.

In the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I was what was called “Gifted and Talented” in elementary school.

What I thought that meant when I was in elementary school was that my brain had a super power. I was able to work at my own pace in school, and in math I tore through Grade Four in one weekend.

That weekend set me so far ahead that I eventually finished with basic high school math by seventh grade, and spent eighth grade letting my peers catch up while I learned how to make web sites. Now, here I am running a site that has been heavily built on statistical analysis.

Here’s the thing about that weekend: Me, being all “Gifted and Talented”, I was able to focus for hours on a single subject until I had it figured out. I had the answers in the back of the book. I knew the problem. I had everything I learned to that point. There really was no need for a teacher when the books had all of the information and I understood that with enough time and concentration, I could unlock the book’s secrets. I spent all of my time unlocking how to get from the problem to the solution, with what the book explained. As a child, I taught myself math.

Here’s the thing about my math skills: I’m not exceptionally good at it. Basic math, sure. But I wasn’t exactly a popular kid being the math genius of the TAG-world (did everyone abbreviate Gifted and Talented as TAG or was that just a Virginia thing?) so I focused on other things after middle school. I could have continued to be amazing at math, but my brain got programmed to only seek out being good at things I enjoy learning about, and I no longer enjoyed it. Eventually, I reprogrammed my brain to focus on the tedious things, though that’s a life struggle that finds me sitting around doing bullshit trying to will myself to work like it’s pretzel day, only to get down to the wire and unload everything I’ve been working on inside my brain the entire time.

Gifted.

And talented.

These are not the words I’d use to describe my experience.

I personally think I was activated too early. I was dropped. Someone bumped a switch. Or, I was just around so many adults as a child and so few kids in my tiny town that I grew to a higher brain function early. I used that to get ahead in school.

In many ways, I was a top prospect in elementary school. I’d imagine that’s like being a top prospect in rookie ball.

I was a top prospect simply because I was slightly more advanced than everyone else. I knew how to teach myself, which made my ability to learn unlimited. I just needed to apply my “talents” and I’d remain the top of my class.

Except, I didn’t want that by middle school, or A-ball. I’ve talked to many players over the years, a lot who retired in A-ball, or quickly into their careers. In the end, they didn’t want to play baseball. It happens. We all get one life. Baseball isn’t the dream for everyone. Being the math nerd in school isn’t the dream for everyone. I feel like one of those is more favorable than the other. Like, I’m sure Quinn Priester didn’t get bullied for striking out so many hitters at a young age.

What I had was an ability. I could hyper-focus on one thing, until I knew every part of that thing and committed it to my brain. Then, it became my knowledge, able to be recalled implicitly. I can apply this to anything. I spent the last decade-plus being a walking database on Pittsburgh Pirates minor league players, which is why we’re all here right now. I can talk for hours about music that was just released in 2021, with deep lyrical analysis off the top of my head, and that’s now a side project I’m working on.

I’m sure there are baseball players who can do the same thing. In fact, I know some of them who can and have done this.

I think what I’ve been able to do best over the last decade-plus as an independent, amateur baseball scout is identify my own. I’ve been in a fortunate position to see the drive from players on the inside. I’m able to identify the Gifted and Talented who can train themselves, who have determination and a drive to be the best at their life interest, and who are constantly taking in information to further their knowledge of this interest.

But a baseball minor league system is full of players who are Gifted and Talented.

How many of them have the drive to use their gift and talent on baseball for the long-term? That’s something players can only know once they try.

How many of them will continue using their gifts and talents to the extent needed to remain ahead of the pack? There are so many things in life that can pull a person’s focus away from their biggest interest. And sometimes, burnout just happens.

How many of them will be able to access their gift and talent quicker than the competition in a game full of one-on-one battles? If everyone is Gifted and Talented, then those who can use their gifts and talents on demand are kings.

I think part of what I’ve loved about this job is that it throws the best of the best from all over the world into the same player pool, and then life sorts it all out. Often, it’s not sorted out the way we expected.

It’s heartbreaking at times seeing someone so determined, working so hard, who never makes it because life just didn’t break that way for them.

It can be frustrating at times seeing someone who has the ability to do something, but doesn’t have the personal drive to be as good as everyone wants him to be. But, we can’t expect everyone to be who we want them to be.

In the end, it’s always rewarding to see the ones who work hard, have the drive, have the goal, and finally make it to their destination.

Those are the stories that keep me coming back.

And I’ll always believe that every Gifted and Talented player has that ability, as long as they have the drive and put in the work.

It’s all about mindset.

This Week on Pirates Prospects

John Baker on Growth Mindsets and Learning Continuously, Even in the Face of Success

The Best Pirates Prospects By Age: Position Players Edition

Looking Ahead at the Pirates’ 2022 System: Greensboro Grasshoppers

Williams: Gifted and Talented

Carter Bins Knows What He’s Doing Behind the Plate

Oliver Mateo Featured Two of the Best Pitches in Low-A in 2021

Prospect Notes: Anthony Solometo, Jase Bowen, Brent Citta, Solomon Maguire

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