Kaleigh Schrock, the homegrown hockey player, understands better than anyone what Josh VanMeter, the homegrown baseball player, is going through.
Friends and family are in the stands. Attention is heightened. Scrutiny and criticism escalate. The homegrown kid faces challenges imported players can't imagine.
The Komets' Schrock has some advice for the TinCaps' VanMeter: Embrace the experience.
The benefits of playing in your hometown outweigh the drawbacks “100 percent,” Schrock says.
“I don't even know if I would have done this for as long with a different organization,” Schrock said. “It's a blessing for me to play in my hometown. That's my favorite part of what I do, being able to play in front of my friends and family, and it will last forever because I plan on living here when I'm done.
“Growing up, watching the Komets, that all ties into it as well. It's been a great experience.”
Schrock, 29, is a Snider High School alum in his fifth season with the Komets after four years of playing hockey (and two years of baseball, incidentally) at Neumann College. He'll be on the ice when the Komets play their final two regular-season games tonight and Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
VanMeter, 19, is a Norwell alum in his first season with the TinCaps after being drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres last June. He'll be back in front of the home fans when the TinCaps start a series Monday at Parkview Field.
There are some differences. Baseball players don't stay with the low Class A TinCaps more than a year or two or else they're out of baseball. They have to keep moving up to keep playing. But the pressures and expectations that come with playing in front of people who know you – or know your name and history – are similar.
“When you screw up, everyone knows it,” Schrock said. “But, at the same time, when they're there, they give you that little extra confidence and keep you more mentally aware of what you're doing out there. You don't take things for granted when you're playing in front of your family.
“That's the biggest thing I've learned in five years: For me, it's a lot easier to play at home because I know people are watching and I have to make sure I'm at my best.”
Schrock said he remembers vividly his first exhibition game with the Komets. Here he was, at the coliseum where he had attended so many games as a youngster. He came to watch how the pros do it when he was younger, just as VanMeter attended TinCaps (or Wizards) games as a kid.
Schrock tried to mentally prepare for that first time on the ice wearing a Komets jersey, being on the other side of the relationship of players and fans.
“I had been sitting up in the seats for so many years, I was seeing the game from the stands when I was mentally preparing,” he said. “When I got on the ice, I didn't know what to do. I had envisioned it in my head all wrong, like I was sitting up there like a 7-year-old watching it. My first game I was lost out there. It was a horrible game for me. Luckily, the next two were a lot better.”
The regular-season home opener that year was even better. It was the ice of dreams. Schrock scored the game-winning goal to beat Bloomington.
“That was surreal,” he said. “I wasn't even really expecting to make the team and I scored the game-winning goal and my family's going nuts.”
But with all the fun and excitement of having family and friends around – “They like it because I can get them tickets,” Schrock joked – there are less-enjoyable moments.
Fans heckle. Fans go on social media or blogs and offer their pointed criticism. Fans can go overboard in the stands or even when a player is out in the community. With fans, passion is guaranteed, but it's not always a positive thing.
Schrock chooses not to read the Komets fans comments on the Internet because they are beyond his control. Sometimes, he says, his family will become angry with something written online or shouted from the stands.
“I tell them, I can't control what people say,” Schrock said. “I'm the same way with the Red Sox or Indiana on TV. I scream at the guys. I can be a fan, too. Fans have a right to state their opinions. They buy the tickets. I just don't read it.”
Schrock made his decision not to follow online comments early in his Komets career.
“I remember as a rookie people were trashing Brandon Warner on the blogs and it was hard for me to read because he was one of the best teammates I ever had and he was a stand-up guy. So I chose at that point not to read it anymore.”
Schrock emphasizes that the positives of fan interaction and support far outweigh any negatives.
He encourages VanMeter to relish the chance to play in front of those who mean the most to him.
“My advice to him would be to cherish it while he can and do well so he can get up to that next level,” Schrock said. “Having your friends and family there for support is awesome. Not many people get that at the professional level.”