Most people who really know me know that I am a fairly passionate person when it comes to the game of baseball. My passion is only rivaled by my competitiveness. In some ways this has been a great thing for me. In others it has been my undoing.
The Fall of my freshman year in college was a defining moment in my development as a player. Just a week into the Fall season I had already unseated two Junior catchers and was awarded the starting job, had the trust of the pitching staff and was excited to begin my college career.
A few games into the Fall season, I realized that my at-bats were completely polarizing. Either I hit a shot to the gap or I popped the ball up to the first baseman. There was no in between. Now I'd like to tell you that I was humble even in defeat, but that just wasn't my personality. If I crushed the ball, I was pumping my fist, screaming at the top of my lungs "LET'S GO!!!" to my teammates. And though I hate to admit it, if I popped it up, I was screaming a less than appropriate four-letter word as I sprinted up the first baseline.
After one of those such at-bats in the third week of the Fall season, my pitching coach pulled me aside and asked if he could have a word with me. I told him that I had to get suited up to get behind the plate. He said that I wasn't going anywhere until I heard what he had to say.
He asked me if I'd ever been sailing or on a boat of some sort. My grandfather was a fisherman and owned a fishing boat that I pretty much grew up on, so I replied "sure". He told me that he basically lived his entire life on a boat as well and asked me if I knew what the phrase "Even Keel" meant. I said of course I did and he looked at me in utter shock. "Do you really now? I don't think you have the slightest clue what I am talking about," he said.
He told me that the game of baseball (or softball) was a lot like sailing. The water is going to push you around all day long. You are not going to be able to prevent it from happening. But as long as you're able to keep an even keel, the boat will sail in the direction you want it to.
He told me that the game of baseball is going to crush me from time to time. But that fact needs to be expected. There will be ups and downs, highs and lows, and the only thing that we can do to ensure we are the best teammate to those around us is to ensure that we keep the boat sailing straight ahead. You can't let one at-bat, one stolen-base against, one passed-ball push you so far in one direction that you can't make it back. Likewise, you can't let one home run, one caught stealing, or one perfect block make you unrealistic in your expectations of the next pitch. Because the moment that failure arises, the fall will be even greater. He told me that emotion is a great thing, and that we shouldn't be happy about failure, that we should use it to drive us to work harder the next time. But the moment we let one situation affect our ability to lead on the next pitch, we have let all of our teammates down.
Catchers, you have to play this game with an even keel. You owe it to your your teammates to ensure that your head is in the right place the very next pitch. Whether what just occurred was good or bad, you must be able to get back to even. That doesn't mean don't celebrate when you succeed, or don't show discontent with your failure. Just make sure that neither occurrence pulls you too far in either direction, because when it does, you won't be able to steer the ship straight.
This past week the Toronto Blue Jays mental coach Steve Springer (www.qualityatbats.com) presented at A.B. Athletics here in New Hampshire. I've known Steve for a while now, but had never actually heard him speak live. On a side note here, go get his CD. Steve's approach to the mental side of hitting and the game will be a life-changer for you. One of the best quotes of the evening was this: "The game of baseball (and softball) is the most self-esteem crushing sports there is."
I can honestly say that phrase blew me away. We forget that the majority of time in this game, we will be failures. The game sets us up to fail every single day. Catchers, the game is hard enough as it is. You cannot let your emotions get the best of you. Play the game with an "even keel" and you will be a much better teammate and leader for it.
Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!