Being smaller than other guys, Eric Cruz played baseball both passionately and aggressively in fear of losing his place on the team. Today, Cruz makes sure his athletes play relaxed and without the fear of being replaced.
Growing up in South Florida, Cruz played baseball religiously from the age of 8 until the age of 23. This is Cruz’s fourth year at NSU as the infield coach and recruiting coordinator.
“I played some rec ball like basketball and football, but baseball was always my love. From my father and mother to my brothers, it was always the game. It was a point of pride, for my Puerto Rican family,” said Cruz.
Cruz went on to play at Valencia Community College and Florida International University. He coached 13 years of high school baseball, eight of which were spent at Flannigan High School, where he lead the team to win three state titles and a national championship.
Cruz decided to become a coach when he was recruited to play for FIU. Although he was undecided about his major, his coach knew that Cruz was destined to become a baseball coach.
“I started to coach right after college. It seemed like it was fit for me, and he saw it in me early on, when I didn’t know what I was going to do myself. He basically picked my major and my profession,” said Cruz.
Cruz likes to look at his relationship with the baseball team as if they’re his younger brothers.
Cruz said, “I kind of take it as a big brother kind of thing, but the older I get, I become more like a father figure, which I’m not really too keen on becoming.”
When it comes to coaching, Cruz is neither a screamer. He is quietly intense when it comes to the game.
“When the guys make mistakes, it’s more of a reflection on me than on them. Their mistakes mean that I failed them as a coach and that I need to work harder with them,” he said.
Cruz doesn’t believe that negative feedback can enhance performance. He sticks to being positive, which is contrary to his time as a baseball player.
“I think you catch more bees with honey than you do with anything else. I don’t want them to fight. I want them to play relaxed,” said Cruz.
In addition to positive feedback, Cruz relies on a lot of one-on-one communication with his players.
By effectively motivating the players, Cruz’s motivation is getting to coach his favorite sport for a living.
“I get to wake up every morning, put a pair of shorts and a shirt on, go talk baseball and then go to the field and hang out with really good athletes,” he said. “I can’t wait to wake up each morning and go to work — that’s how much I love my job.”
Motivation also comes to Cruz from home. His wife is the most important person in his life and his number one supporter.
“If my infielders aren’t doing so great, she’s always the first one to text me immediately after the game to tell me that I need to work harder,” he said.
Everyone is a little bit different when it comes to their coaching style. According to Cruz, coaching should be easy, natural and fun.” One should coach in the same temperament that he is in every day.
“I wouldn’t say someone is teaching something wrong or coaching wrong if the results are in their favor,” said Cruz. “Everyone is different and whatever works, works.”
Baseball is easy for the talented, but being a coach is definitely not the same as playing the game.
“The biggest proof of this is talented players who cannot coach the game because playing had been so natural and easy for them. It wasn’t easy for me,” said Cruz.
From Cruz’s perspective, being the athlete is far more pleasurable than being the coach. If he could trade with them, he would do it in a second without hesitation.
“I’d love to go back to a time in my life where it doesn’t hurt to walk and go up the stairs. I want the energy that lasts all day and all night,” said Cruz. “When they don’t show me effort, I tell them that this game will be taken away from them very soon. They can have my car payment, my mortgage payment, and cut my lawn, and I would live in a dorm room and play baseball.”
The balance of Cruz’s coaching career is perfect as it can be for him. NSU is the right place for him, and if he could change anything about his past, he would’ve loved to come here sooner. He hopes to remain at NSU for 10 to 15 more years.
“I made lifelong friends, and I’ve only been here for 4 years,” said Cruz.
Cruz’s reward really comes from hearing people praise the team as whole.
“When people complement the team, that means I’m doing a really good job,” he said. “I think that I have the greatest occupation; I’m a baseball coach.”
Photo Credit: COURTESY OF M. CALLAHAN