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“As it may be—matters. How you feel about your abilities—your academic “self-concept”—in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks. It’s a crucial element in your motivation and confidence.” Malcolm Gladwell in David & Goliath
Hey guys. Welcome to another edition of “Lessons Learned in Professional Sports.”Here are the links to the other parts of my series. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4, and part 5 are here. As I mentioned in my previous post, I tore a hamstring in spring training with the Minnesota Twins, and have been down here rehabbing it in Ft. Myers at their player development facilities. The training and rehab have been slow and tedious at times, but I’m proud to say I’m back to full health after about 8 weeks.
I’ve pitched in about 6 games at the extended spring level, and done quite well. Although not fully sharp and at full tilt, I feel strongly I can get outs anywhere in baseball. For now, I’ll be waiting on a call to fill in at one of our affiliates. I shall keep you posted.
Until then, here are a couple more lessons I’ve learned in my long, strange journey in professional baseball.
Lesson 14 – Quit giving hitters credit. It’s hard as hell to hit, and many times, even the biggest, baddest hitters are mindf***** when they step to the plate.
I really can’t believe it’s taken me so long to not care who steps in the batters box. For a long time, when a big time prospect or major league hitter would come up to the plate, I would step away from my strengths just to cater to what I “thought” were their weaknesses. Too many times I tried extra hard to throw the nastiest pitch possible instead of driving the ball down their throats like I did every other hitter.
The turning point for me was a few seasons ago with the Braves when I was chatting with a Major League outfielder who was doing some tee work and rehabbing an oblique injury. I simply asked him a question like this…
“Man you must have tore up the minor leagues. How do guys like you get there and manage to stay so long without any overwhelming tools?”
He immediately turned this question into an answer I’ll hopefully get the chance to turn into a big league opportunity. He said..”I realized early on in my career that I wasn’t going to hit home runs, hit for an insanely high average, or do anything that equals an automatic ticket to the show. I realized how overwhelming 90mph can be with a wood bat, but I also saw that I didn’t need to hit .330 like I did in college to get the big leagues. If I can go up and make myself a tough out somehow, someway, hit around .280, then teams will see the value in me. Just go watch B.P. today. Watch how many guys get out from 65 mph fastballs.”
Wow. I mean I was awestruck by his comments. We went on to talk for about an hour, and eventually came to the conclusion that many pitchers fail to get to the majors because they lose their self-worth somewhere along the way. Somewhere, we as pitchers get it in our heads that we have to be somebody different when we face good hitters. This is easy to believe when teams sign the best young amateurs in the world for tons of money every year. But, it just doesn’t mean they are better than you. They still have to square up the baseball, and hit it somewhere where 9 guys aren’t, and make it to first base. It’s hard. Major League hitters aren’t even better than batting practice fastballs sometimes! Take the credit away from them, and give it to yourself.
It brings me back to that awesome quote from Malcolm Gladwell above. If we continue to keep our outlook of ourself high, and always higher than whomever steps in the box, we can conquer the most intimidating hitters and situations with a higher success rate.
This means for all you pitchers out there, challenge everyone with your strengths. If you can throw a curve over for a strike at will, do it…alot. If you don’t throw hard, but can spot up, don’t go and try to blow it by Miguel Cabrera. Do what you do best, know that you are in charge, and you will get outs. Period.
Lesson 15 – Slow the game down when you get in trouble, but keep the pace when you are rolling.
This is one of those lessons that feels like stating the obvious, but until you’re actually out there competing your ass off trying and failing to get outs, it seems so easy to want and get the ball and get a strike as quick as possible so you can get back to the bench.
It’s inevitable that we will get our ass kicked every once in a while, but the difference between mediocre seasons, and really good ones, is the ability to limit the damage and stop the bleeding. As a great pitching coach of mine once told me in a jam when he came out for a mound visit…
“Remember, just as you pitched your way into this, you can pitch your way out of it, but you have to be a snail right now. Each pitch, make it count as one pitch closer to getting us back up to bat. Slow the game down.”
It’s so damn difficult to do, but that comment gave me ease, and I got out of it. I thought of each pitch as a chess match, where each move I made had to be and could be the right one to get me out of the jam. I did it so slow that I think the hitters got uncomfortable. When they are hitting a pitcher hard, they are like a pack of dogs, running up to the plate, getting their bone. When you keep that bone from them, they get anxious if they are going to get it or not.
Here are a few things I use to slow it down when I’m in trouble.
1.) I remind myself through positive self talk, that I am just as capable of getting out of this jam, as I was getting into it. It has to be one methodical pitch at a time though.
2.) I take 3 deep belly breaths in through my nose, and exhale long and smoothly. I try my best to get my heart rate under control. I remember there is no shot clock. I am in control of the game.
3.) I take one big, long scan of the field or stadium above the playing surface, getting my mind and vision off the task at hand for a few seconds. This relaxes me and sometime humors me, as I’ll see people who are having a good time, not caring about the game. So I think why not me. I can have a good time out here too!
Hope you enjoyed this post. If you know anyone of your friends who might enjoy this, can you share it with them? I’d like to make a positive impact on whomever I can with the things I’ve learned in my career thus far. Thank you very much!
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