Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. By that measurement Smokies Coach Ben Carhart has a plethora of knowledge.
Carhart was drafted by the Cubs in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB Draft as a third baseman. The following year a guy by the name of Kris Bryant was drafted second overall at the same position. Carhart knew a change was necessary.
“They told me I’m no longer playing third base so I transitioned to catching,” Carhart said. “To this day I say that was the biggest change in my life insight on baseball.”
In Spring Training of 2016, the Cubs then-field director Tim Cousins invited Carhart for a ride in his golf cart. Once again, Carhart knew change was imminent.
“I was kind of nervous as to what they were going to say because I thought I was going to be released to be honest with you,” he said. “They were like ‘We want you to be a Cub forever and we’re going to make you a player coach. Maybe next year get your foot in the door with coaching'”
He didn’t hesitate at jumping at the opportunity, spending the next two months in Iowa learning his new role.
“Once I made the transition all my coaches kind of all brought me in and helped me out from moving on from a player to a coach,” he recalls.
Carhart spent the final months of the season back in the batters box at the request of Mark Johnson, serving in a similar capacity as a bench coach.
“As he described it the locker room was in perrill, they needed a guy to bring up the spirits,” he explains. “I was like okay I’ll come out and do whatever I can do.”
As a teammate Carhart could be a friend first, a coach second. It’s a mentality he kept in 2017 as he entered his first full year of coaching. Ironically, his first full season as a coach starting at the same place his playing career came to an end.
“My first spring training here in 2016 I lived with a kid named Chesney Young who was one of my best friends,” Carhart recalls. “I lived with him here in one of the apartments in Knoxville, showed up the next year I’m sitting in a meeting talking about him and his career and the next thirty minutes I’m outside talking to him like we’re buddies and they’re trying to pick my brain about things.”
At seasons start Young was one of 18 former teammates Carhart was now responsible for helping to develop. He knew different boundaries would need to be set, but still maintained that friend first style of coaching.
“That helps out with the other levels as well because as soon as you get their trust then anything can happen on the field,” he said.
Knowing what he’s learned behind the closed doors of coach’s meetings Carhart admits his own career may have had a different trajectory if he was privy to this information as a player. Rather than focus on the “what ifs” he tries to impart his newfound wisdom on the guys around him.
“Understand what you do well and what you need to work on. Because once those weaknesses are taken away, you’re really on the verge of being a big leaguer.”