If North Dallas baseball Coach Steven De La Cerda ever gives up coaching, he could probably become a successful life coach.
De La Cerda, now in his fifth season as head coach at ND, looks after his players and motivates them to become better athletes as well as students.
“Probably the reason I think I’ve had great kids in the program that never had discipline issues — we had zero kids that failed this last six weeks — is because we’re ingraining a culture in them that failure is not an option,” he said recently.
One of De La Cerda’s goals is to teach his players how to overcome adversity on the baseball field.
“You’re going to encounter some bad stuff,” De La Cerda tells his players. “You’ll have bad teachers, your parents might not be able to pay their light bill. You might have to work to help pay bills and things like that. But what you do to respond to that will dictate what type of man you’ll be. And that’s kinda what we’re preaching since I’ve been here.”
With only one senior, De La Cerda has a fairly young team and the Bulldogs are responding with success on the field. North Dallas is 3-1-0 and will play Royse City at 5:45 p.m. Thursday in first game in the Lake Highlands tournament.
This year’s team motto — “Play the ball where the monkey drops it” — fits the message that De La Cerda is conveying. In his words, De La Cerda tells the story behind the motto:
“We have a motto this year, and it’s “Play the ball where the monkey drops it.” And that’s from a theme years ago, where a monkey would take the ball that was on the fairway and would move it to the rough, and the golfers would be upset about it. And then they tried to build a wall to keep the monkeys off, and the monkeys would come back, and they got the balls again and would move it. And so the golfers were getting upset.
“They tried to get a cage, and they tried to keep the monkeys from getting the ball again. And they’re saying, ‘We’re hitting a good shot and the monkeys are taking the ball and moving it somewhere else.’ Finally, they started killing the monkeys. ‘We can’t have this.’ So what happens is, they thought they got rid of the monkeys. They were hitting the balls in the fairway, and the monkeys would still come after three different tries to get rid of them, and move the ball.
“So they finally realized, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to play the ball where the monkey drops it because there’s some shots we hit into the rough, and the monkey will pick it up and put it in the fairway. And sometimes that monkey will grab that ball in the fairway and move it to the rough.
“By now, you can’t control the monkey any more than you can control a bad hop, a strikeout or a bad call by an umpire. So our theme this year is having them understand — just play the ball where the monkey drops it. You have to learn to overcome adversity. For every bad hop you get, you’re going to get a good hop. For every bad strikeout you get, you’re going to get a solid hit. Overcome the adversity and having the mindset where you can’t control the monkey, but you can control how you play the ball from it.
“That’s our theme this year, and getting to understand that we’re a much better team than we were last year. but if our mental toughness isn’t where it needs to be, it doesn’t matter about what the Xs and Os are. So that’s what we’ve been preaching since the end of last season.
“Baseball is a game of failures. The reason why hall-of-famers bat .300 but they strike out or pop out or grounded out seven other times. That’s a game of failures. So what are you going to do to bounce back?
“The thing about it is we’ll have a couple of kids play college ball, but amost every kid is either going to go to college or work, or be a husband or be a father. If they can’t learn how to overcome adversity in a game atmosphere, they’re sure as hell not going to learn it when the real world hits them.
“So my job is not to just be a baseball coach. Probably the reason I think I’ve had great kids in the program that never had discipline issues — we had zero kids that failed this last six weeks — is because we’re ingraining a culture in them that failure is not an option. You’re going to encounter some bad stuff. Your parents might not be able to pay their light bill. You might have to work to help pay bills and things like that. But what you do to respond to that will dictate what type of man you’ll be. And that’s kinda what we’re preaching since I’ve been here.
“And I hope the kids that leave me and come back, “Coach, I get what you’re saying.’ … That’s kinda my main goal. In the process, if we win baseball games, that’s great. But they need to learn how to be a man and self-reliant. Self-reliant — that’s really important.”