Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Athletics

When Yeonis Cespedes defected from Cuba in 2011, he left behind his two-year old son and the mother of his son. On February 13, 2012, he signed a 4-year $36 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, but I predicted at the time that unless Oakland figures out a way to either bring his son and his son’s mother to America, or to assure Cespedes that his son would be safe in Cuba, he wouldn’t perform up to his skill level. Think about it. How hard would it be to hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball if your mind is somewhere else…such as Cuba? Oakland never brought his son to America, and in 2014 he was traded to Boston and then traded to Detroit. But on July 31, 2015, Cespedes was acquired by the Mets. Today, his six-year old son, Yeonis, Jr., is still in Cuba, and though Cespedes hasn’t seen him in four years, he knows that, because of Obama improving relations with Cuba, that his son is safe. And that has resulted, as of today, in his leading the National League in Runs Batted In (30). Just another example of: What takes place away from the baseball diamond affects what takes place on the baseball diamond. When the time finally comes and his son arrives in America and is reunited with his father, watch for Cespedes’ numbers to climb even higher. In almost every category.


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.”

“Focusing” is a mental state where no emotional issues distract an athlete’s performance. Successful athletes are often described as focused, concentrating complete attention on the job at hand.

To achieve focusing a person must resolve emotional issues; merely exposing them isn’t enough. For small issues the process may be simple: before an event a recreational player might write down things that are supposed to be done afterward, such as bring home a gallon of milk or return a book. That way trying to remember those obligations during the event won’t subconsciously distract the player. Such distractions can even harm professional athletes.

Former St. Louis Cardinals infielder Mike Tyson (no relation) recounted a bases-loaded mound conference requested by pitcher Al Hrabosky. Hrabosky “told me he had to go somewhere after the game, and asked me if I still had the rental car. He asked if he could borrow it.”

When the divorce of Mets first basemen Keith Hernandez became final on a Monday, in his next seven at-bats he hit three home runs and drove in nine. “Maybe I should get divorced every day,” he said. “I’d be broke, but I’d be in the Hall of Fame.” Daily divorce may be unnecessary, but Hernandez obviously needed to shift his focus from marital strife to baseball. His basic skill didn’t change, but his focus changed and allowed him to reach his skill level.

When George Brett and Jamie Quirk were playing for the Kansas City Royals, a problem arose that affected both of them. By way of background, Brett and Quirk came up through the minors together and were as close as two human beings could be. Then, after they made it into the majors, Quirk married and Brett and Quirk’s new wife didn’t get along. One source told me it was probably because of Brett’s jealousy. After all those years together, Brett was now alone and Quirk had his own life with a wife. The two grew apart and had little contact. At that time, I happened to have a friend who knew Brett and I suggested that she point out to George that it is in his best interest to handle this issue, which, I believed, was affecting his performance. She conveyed my message to him and soon after, on June 5, 1988, it was reported in The Kansas City Star that Jamie Quirk drove George to the ballpark, and on that same day Brett hit two home runs, a triple and a single.

By relinquishing emotional issues that obstruct concentration, an athlete can focus on a sports event. Focused athletes are more likely to perform at their skill level. Such focusing provides an advantage over competitors who may be inherently more talented but who fail to reach their skill level because they have not come to completion with emotional issues in their lives.

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.

When Yeonis Cespedes fled Castro’s Cuba for an opportunity to play MLB is America, he was fortunate to have signed a four-year, $36 million contract as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics. When he left, 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. And according to an article in USA Today, since arriving in America, “Cespedes is batting .212 with three homers and seven RBI. He has reached base safely in nine of 10 games but also has struck out in all but one game, for an alarming 15 times in 33 at-bats.” In my opinion, this is another example of how off-field issues affect on-field performance. If I were advising the Oakland front office, I would recommend they do everything in their power to bring Cespedes’ son and the mother of his child to America ASAP.

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