To illustrate to his team the rewards of playing through frustration, Steve Mrowka can simply point to his own career.
From childhood ball games in Connecticut to spring training in a Houston Astros uniform, GW’s head coach has accrued a collection of playing experiences. It is a resume that serves him well as he takes a seat in his customary post at the far end of the Colonials dugout to lead the team through another season.
With GW’s conference record sitting at 3-6 about halfway through the season, Mrowka has been yet again confronted with some of baseball’s inevitable frustrations – hitting slumps, unlucky bounces and one-run losses. But he remains undaunted by the improvements his team needs to make.
For a coach with more than 600 career wins and nearly 20 years of coaching experience, the vexations of baseball have never outweighed his affection for the game.
“I always said that if I couldn’t play baseball, I didn’t want to be around it because it’s a frustrating game to watch, and I loved to play,” Mrowka said. “But I’m still in it, and I’m loving it.”
Mrowka is no stranger to adversity, especially challenges on the diamond.
His stature made him one of the smaller guys on any team. From his time as a little leaguer to his two years as a starting infielder for the University of North Carolina, he said he always understood his size would make his work harder, but was determined not to let that stop him from advancing through the ranks.
Mrowka relied heavily on his bunting and stealing strengths to gain attention, playing his way through junior college to a slot at North Carolina. From there, he earned roster sports in the Cape Cod and Alaska Baseball Leagues, before being drafted in the ninth round by the Boston Red Sox in 1985.
He made it to spring training with the Houston Astros before a nagging elbow injury ultimately ended his career. But he sees his fight to rise through the leagues as a teaching opportunity – one he can use to motivate the Colonials through their slumps.
“I wasn’t a big guy, and I had to work hard for a lot of things. The old cliché in baseball is that a big guy has to prove he can’t play, and a little guy has to prove he can play,” Mrowka said. “I think a lot of stuff that I went through, especially how I ended up making it to a pretty good level and doing pretty well, taught me a lot of lessons.”
Mrowka’s understanding of the game does not go unnoticed. GW’s players and assistant coaches see Mrowka as a sort of living guide to baseball – someone with the uncanny ability to not only predict exactly where a hit ball will land off an opponent’s bat, but who can also relate to emotional challenges.
His passion for the game, senior Ollie Mittag said, is contagious. Through losses, hitting slumps and losing streaks, the head coach displays a grasp of the game Mittag said inspires the whole team. Mrowka’s attitude will be invaluable to keeping the team positive and engaged as it rounds out the second half of the 2012 season, looking to jump past the initial lackluster conference start.
“I could be around the game for so many more years and not even scratch the surface of what he knows,” Mittag said. “He brings an intensity and love for the game each and every day and practice. It really rubs off on you.”
Mrowka preaches hard work and hustle. Though you can’t always control the way the ball hops, he said, the Colonials can control the level of effort they bring.
Perhaps better than anyone else on GW’s roster, Mrowka understands the frustrations of not attaining ideal results, at watching the defeats add up or the bats fail to connect.
“[Mrowka] has been encouraging the team to just play as hard as they possibly can and let the chips fall where they may,” third base coach Jake Wald said.
As GW rounds the corner into the second half of the season, it also begins a valuable 10-game home stand in April, an opportunity to capitalize on games at its familiar field. The team began that stand Tuesday, slamming George Mason for a 10-2 victory, and maintaining momentum with an 8-1 win over UMBC Wednesday.
“Each individual needs to stand up and take the responsibility,” Mrowka said. “You have to be responsible. The hitters have to hit. Just like the [Washington Nationals] need their guys to hit, everyone for us needs to do their part.”