The World Series is the biggest stage for America’s pastime. The 2016 Series featured two teams that had not won a title in a combined 176 years.
Three former University of Richmond baseball student-athletes were able to experience the World Series first-hand. Former Spider Baseball standouts Sean Casey and Mark Budzinski were both drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1995. Casey is now a TV analyst for MLB Network and covered the World Series while Budzinski just finished his third successful season as a manger in the Indians’ minor league system.
One Spider witnessed the Chicago Cubs’ historic 108-year drought come to a dramatic end with a Game 7 extra innings victory over the Indians.
Bobby Basham started working for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, and currently serves as the Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. His role oversees everything that goes into the Cubs’ Player Development System, which includes eight MiLB teams, roughly 200 players, the coaches and the staff that work to help them reach the Major Leagues.
“The focus areas I lead are sports science and pitching analytics,” Basham said. “We are trying to be on the forefront of technology and use every resource available for our players to reach their potential.”
The wide majority of Cubs’ fans have been known for the sayings of ‘this is our year’ or ‘there’s always next year.’ Year-after-year with no pennant to raise, the Cubs had been coined the ‘Lovable Losers.’ Inside the Cubs organization, the player development mantra has been “When It Happens.” It happened in 2016.
“Everything we’ve done for the past several years was focused around our players being ready for that moment,” Basham said. “One of the players we are most proud of as a department was Albert Almore coming in to pinch run for Schwarber in the 10th inning and advancing to second on a fly ball to center. For a rookie, in Game 7 of the World Series, to embrace the moment and make, what seems like a small play, but had a tremendous effect on the history of the franchise was special. You really have to prepare for that moment or you will miss it.”
For Basham there was also another level of excitement that surrounded the World Series and the Curse of the Billy Goat coming to an end.
“On a personal side, I can’t explain the range of emotions that all of us went through during the World Series. Being down 3-1, getting the series back to Cleveland, going from a comfortable lead in Game 7 to the Rajai Davis’ home run, to closing it out, celebrating on the field and being in the locker room seeing the champagne flow was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.
The excitement didn’t stop with the champagne in the locker room, the celebration continued back in the office.
“We had flown back from Cleveland after the game and got in early in the morning,” Basham said. “Everyone trickled into the office early afternoon and we watched the replay of the game and started to celebrate again, and ended up in the bleachers snacking on some roasted goat. After the pure euphoria subsided, I think we all felt a sense of relief, accomplishment, and emotional exhaustion. However, five days after we won, free agency began and we all had to bear down and get back to work.”
Basham enjoyed his own successful playing career at the University of Richmond. His first two years as a Spider he was on a football scholarship but also played baseball in the spring. His junior year he focused just on baseball, it paid off because later that year he was drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Reds. After being drafted, Basham finished out his senior year just being a normal Richmond student.
“I experienced the full gamut of the student-athlete experience,” he said. “I don’t think I realized until that last year what a time commitment you are making as a student-athlete. Keeping that schedule is certainly more representative of the working world. In baseball, we refer to it as the grind. Showing up every day, often not feeling 100 percent, and putting forth your best effort is something that you learn in order to be a successful student-athlete at UR. Those lessons certainly helped me adjust to my time as a minor league player and my first years in the front office when I was pulling 80-100 hours a week.”
Basham has certainly had his success both on the diamond in the professional world. Away from the diamond, if Basham has learned anything about the secret to success it is that goals are important.
“You should set them, reflect on them, and strive to achieve them,” Basham said. “However the hardest thing for me personally, and I’ve found the this to be arguably the most important thing, is to stay present in the moment and focused on the task at hand, no matter how small. Not every job, idea, or project is going to be a home run but you can’t let that affect your effort level. As an athlete, it helps to treat every work day as a game. If you win most days, you are going to be successful and the larger things will take care of themselves. In general, you have to be on your side, pick a field you think you are interested in and work hard. Come up for air every once in a while to reflect on the bigger career picture but the main driver of your success will be the effort you put in on a daily basis.”