Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Major League Baseball

There are a number of reasons why the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in (and should win) the World Series. First and foremost they have some of the best players in major league baseball, including Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alverez, Gregory Polanco and one of baseball’s top closers in Mark Melancon. But they also have the best manager in major league baseball: Clint Hurdle. Those managers who have had adversity in their lives, as Hurdle has, have the greatest empathy for their players. Hurdle genuinely cares about his players as human beings first and then as athletic performers. And his players know it. It’s something you can’t fake. And if you combine that with his vast knowledge of baseball, plus the talented ballplayers he has on his team…you have a winning combination.

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A friend of mine who used to play baseball told me that it’s his understanding that quite a few Major League Baseball players today, those who are looking for that “edge,” are using Adderall, a drug that speeds up the brain function so that a 95 mile per hour fastball appears to come across the plate at a much slower speed. He said that if the drug had been available when he played he might have made it with a major league team. Adderall, as many know, is a drug normally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy sleep disorders.   Even though it’s been banned in Major League Baseball recent reports are that it’s use is rising as a means of improving batting performance. Unfortunately it carries with it a number of side effects including a suppressed sexual drive. So even though a player might be using it to make more money he could also be jeopardizing his relationship with his wife at home.

With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up, the media, including The New YorkTimes, are looking back at the 1998 draft when Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were the number one and number two draft choices. Peyton was drafted by the Colts, Ryan by the Chargers. The media is questioning why Ryan’s career fizzled and why Peyton’s took off. It’s easy to blame the athlete but we, the public, are almost never privy to what may have gone on behind the scenes between Ryan and his San Diego Coaches that could have caused his career to collapse.

I reside in Springfield, Missouri, where the Missouri State University’s baseball team is often visited by major league scouts. On one such occasion I noticed an African-American man who was scouting for the Atlanta Braves. Walter and I struck up a conversation and he told me he used to use his 6’ 4” frame and 230 lbs to throw 90 mile per hour fastballs. He had a certain style of pitching that had served him well throughout high school and college. After graduating, he was drafted by one of the major league baseball teams and a pitching coach was assigned to help him. Unfortunately, his new pitching coach immediately tried to change his style of throwing, which didn’t sit well with Walter. Instead of standing up to his coach he acquiesced and tried to change his style of pitching but to no avail. Soon, he was released by the team and in retrospect, he now feels it was a mistake not to speak up and attempt to change his coach’s approach to training him. This is a good example of what former major league manager Whitey Herzog once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Very often the team cuts the player when they should have gotten rid of the coach.”

I read in today’s newspaper that Noel Arguelles, who defected from the Cuban junior national team while in Canada and signed with the Kansas City Royals in 2009 for $6.9 Million, is considered a bust. Though it’s true that he’s had some shoulder problems, there’s also the possibility that he is concerned for his family that he left behind in Cuba and that these circumstances are weighing heavily on him and could be affecting his performance. This is very common among Cuban ballplayers who defect. When Yeonis Cespedes defected and joined the Oakland Athletics, he left behind his 2-year old son the mother of his son. When he won the 2013 Home Run Derby, it happened right after he had talked with his son in Cuba by phone. Any major league baseball team who signs a Cuban ballplayer who has defected, should do everything within their power to bring the player’s family to America as soon as possible. The benefits will show up immediately in the player’s performance. According to Wikipedia, “while some players who defect succeed in obtaining multi-million dollar contracts to play in MLB, many receive only minor league contracts and do not reach MLB. Players are often separated from their families, as Cuba often denies exit visas to the families of players who defected. This can lead to severed relationships, such as between Jorge Toca and the mother of his son.”

It’s been said that you can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them. Former major league baseball pitcher Curt Schilling might be a prime example. My understanding is (and I could be wrong) that when he was a player he treated others around him badly and was not well-liked by his teammates. If true, then what is happening in his personal life now would be an excellent example of the psi factor at work. The psi factor (Psycho Self-Imagery) maintains basically that “what goes around comes around” and that people who treat other people badly will eventually have to pay the piper. According to an article in USA Today: “A Rhode Island judge is allowing most of a state agency’s lawsuit against ex-major league pitcher Curt Schilling and executives at his failed video game company to move forward. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein on Wednesday issued a 99-page decision that allows the state Economic Development Corp. to sue Schilling, former 38 Studios executives, former EDC officials and others, saying they misled the agency’s board into approving a $75 million state loan guarantee for the company. The company filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving the state on the hook for more than $100 million.” If Schilling loses the lawsuit, he will probably have to file for personal bankruptcy.

Athletes who are happy and whose lives are in harmony will perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. Athletes who are unhappy (even angry) and whose lives are in disharmony will not perform anywhere near their skill levels. When athletes have strong religious beliefs, it enhances their feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) and therefore enhances their performance in their sport. Former Kansas University Olympic runner Jim Ryun is a good example. When he agreed to become a born again Christian he instantly became less angry and began running the mile in less than four minutes, consistently.

But even if an athlete has strong religious beliefs, if he or she is withholding (bottling up their feelings and emotions) they will not perform close to their skill levels. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem creating psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus and process information. So strong religious beliefs are only part of the puzzle.

Religious beliefs can also negatively affect an athlete’s performance. I once worked with a college level softball team and one day their third baseman, who was considered one of the best in their division, suddenly began throwing wildly to first base. Her coach tried to solve the problem by putting white tape in the first baseman’s mitt providing her with a target, but that didn’t work. The coach also had her throw blindfolded and had her watch past videos of herself, but neither worked. I asked the coach if I could take the player into a room and talk with her in private and the coach agreed. When we met, I asked her about her background and she told me she was reared in a very religious Christian family home environment. And after further probing, she revealed to me that she believed she was being punished by the Lord. When I asked her why she offered this explanation: “Do you remember a few days ago when I was sliding into second base and when the catcher threw the ball it hit me and bloodied my nose? And since then, I believe I’m being punished by the Lord.” When I asked her if she had told her minister about this she said she hadn’t. So I suggested that at services the coming Sunday that she meet with her minister and tell him what she had told me. She promised to do that and when Monday came, she once again began throwing perfectly to first.

When athletes have unresolved issues hovering above them like a dark cloud (example: professional athletes who are having extra-marital affairs) this will definitely affect their performance, regardless of how religious they are. It’s also interesting to note that many of the Cuban major league baseball players, when they defect and arrive in the United States, their battling averages drop. And I’m sure most of them are practicing Catholics. The reason for this drop in performance level is they are concerned about the families they left behind. When Yeonis Cespedes fled Castro’s Cuba for an opportunity to play MLB in America, he was fortunate to have signed a four-year, $36 million contract as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics. When he left Cuba, Cespedes was able to bring with him his mother, aunt and three cousins. However, his 2-year-old son, Yeonis Jr. stayed behind with his mother, who is not married to Cespedes. As of this writing, I’m not sure if Cespedes’ son and his son’s mother have joined him. If they have, and it was after last season ended, then you should see a huge jump in his performance level this season.

Everyone remembers when Roger Bannister broke the mental barrier of running a mile in less than four minutes, and once he did, others followed soon thereafter. But there are two other mental barriers to consider, one of which could be coming down in the not-too-distant future. The two barriers remaining are when a professional golfer shoots 18 birdies in 18 holes (something Ben Hogan thought was possible since he himself had shot 12 birdies in 18 holes at one time) and the other is when a major league baseball player consistently bats over .400 during a season. From my perspective, it isn’t that much of a stretch for a batter to get a hit 4 out of 10 times at bat rather than 3 out of 10 times. Major league baseball players I’ve discussed this with are adamant as to how impossible that would be to do on a consistent basis. And yet, once it’s done, I feel confidant others will start batting over .400 when they realize it’s only a mental barrier and nothing is holding them back but themselves. But getting back to the 18 birdies in 18 holes, I believe that if Tiger Woods continues to date Lindsey Vonn and in fact marries her, you will see him pull far ahead of all other golfers in tournament victories and he could well be the first to make 18 birdies in 18 holes. And once he does…


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