To bring everyone up to speed, in >Part One< and >Part 2< of this series (click links to read) , I summarized how I made my way into professional baseball. I also outlined 5 of the lessons I learned along the way in my journey to reach the highest level of my sport.
Now for some more…
I was asked a thought-provoking question by a reader earlier this week. Did I learn these lessons too late? My response was possibly and no. Possibly because a few of these traits I’ve acquired throughout my career probably should have come earlier in my baseball life. A pitcher’s peak is supposedly in their early 30’s, so being 26, I’m considered old in minor league baseball years.
I also answered a confident no. Why? Because each lesson I’ve learned whether through failure or success has made me a stronger, smarter, and more efficient person.
My manager this season, Doug Mientkiewicz, played for 12 seasons in the Major Leagues with 7 different organizations. Many of you know him for catching the final out at first base to win the 2004 World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Being not too far removed from the game (retired 2009), Doug immediately gained our respect for being a hard-nosed, yet easy-going grinder of a baseball player. Among the many things I learned from him, one of them was a question he asked all of us when we were hanging our heads after one particularly brutal loss. He said…
“What kind of men do you think play for a long time in the big leagues? Grown men.”
He said that a few times too us, but I understood it quite well. There are a lot of boys that play in the minors and even the majors, but to stick it out in a sport that is filled with failure and disappointment as well as ego inflating successes, it takes a special breed of athlete to stick for many years. With the way that professional baseball is structured, there are so many pipelines from different countries that produce high level talent. Because of this, if you want to stay a long time, you have to be a man. A grown man. And master the “separators.” This leads me to the 6th lesson of my series.
Lesson 6 – Make the separators bulletproof – This lesson can be applied to any profession, but in baseball talk, the playing field at the professional ranks is fairly level. Almost every pitcher can throw a ball around the zone at 90mph, everyone can catch the ball, throw the ball, and swing relatively proficiently, especially at the higher level teams. So for the two players who are nearly identical in terms of ability, what will make the big league team call one name over the other? The answer is the separators. The things that may require effort in learning, but do not take any extra talent. What are some separators in baseball?
– Being great at sacrifice bunting. Giving yourself up for the team at any time.
– Shortening up your swing to make yourself a tougher out with two strikes.
– Carrying yourself with unwavering confidence between the lines no matter what
– Throwing the ball with conviction each and every pitch
– Controlling the running game from the mound
– Developing a useful pickoff move
– Never letting conditioning levels or work ethic become questioned or doubted
These are just a few of the parts within the game that can certainly take you to the next level, but not many ever truly master them. Notice none of these items require talent, only focused effort. Everyone wants to rely on their gifts these days, but they don’t want to put effort into the non sexy parts of the game that might take them to new heights in their career. What are the separators in your craft? Will turning them into bulletproof strengths take you to the next level? Absolutely.
Lesson 7 – Get off yourself and on the team- Its easier said than done, and I wish I would have bought into this concept earlier, but concerning yourself with only yourself does not work that well. I didn’t consider worrying about my statistics and what coaches or scouts thought of me as a problem, but when you are struggling, doing those things are energy sapping and destructive. When you spend enough time around a team, its easy to pick out the players who have adopted this selfish mindset. Unfortunately they end up becoming negative influences on the rest of the team, often leading to poor results for the rest. Here are a few problems and fixes to help you quit worrying about yourself so much.
Worrying about E.R.A. – So you had a rough one last night and your earned run average bumped up a couple points. Get over yourself. Lets keep a positive outlook on the game tonight and cheer on the guys who get in the game. Keep your mind on the beauty of the game itself and away from the numbers. Walk and talk as if today might be your last game.
Swinging for the fences in the wrong situation – I still see this all the time, even in the pro’s. It’s 0-2, tie game, no outs with runners on second and third, and homeboy tries to hit it 10 miles. Strike 3. Shake my head. All you had to do was shorten up and put the ball anywhere in play, yet you struck out trying to be a hero. You’re not that good. Get the run in at any cost. Swinging out of your ass does nothing for yourself or your team in this situation.
Moping around because you are 0-4 makes you a cancer- If you aren’t tough mentally, then this is for sure you. It really blows when you have a rough day and get owned on the baseball field, but you don’t have to show it. The ultimate teammate still picks everyone else up despite his failures that day in the game. Fake it if you have to, but do not bring the other guys down if you are having a bad day. That is not a winning formula.
Lesson 8 – Quit working on your bread and butter – You have a good curveball? Awesome. Quit throwing it 100 times in practice then. It does no good in your development to continue stroking your ego by doing the things you are already great at. It takes a bit of humility to take a step back and grind through the practice sessions where you train something you suck in. All of the great athletes do it, and that is why I always refer back to this quote from the swing coach of Tiger Woods.
“Tiger respected practice. It was sort of his church, the place he made sacrifices that would lead to success. He believed in the old-school ways, putting in the work, taking a step back to take two steps forward, putting his faith in the old Ben Hogan line of digging it out of the dirt. Even when his mind wandered to places that led to swing experiments, I never once saw Tiger hit a careless shot in practice.” Hank Haney
The average athletes go through the motions. They continue to let time pass where their flaws never get addressed in full. I’ve found that the ones who make exponential progress in what seems like a short time, are the players who end up achieving great things and maximizing their ability. Unfortunately, the mind seeks comfort, so we always want to do what feels right, but history shows that is not how winners are made. They are made through painful effort and focused energy on the weak parts of their game.
Thank you again for reading my friends. I really enjoy everyone’s feedback on this series. Please share if you found this article helpful or know someone who would. Also, Show Me Strength has a bunch of cool stuff coming up for you, so stay tuned!