Learning the ups and downs in baseball is something that the outside eye may not fully appreciate during a long haul of a minor league season.
Many times, those who watch baseball from the outside only pay attention to the simplicity of the box score, in terms of win, loss, or save. But if you take a closer look, it takes performance at the highest level to be successful and consistent on a daily basis — and “performance” entails far more than executing pitches and getting outs. No matter how successful you’ve been, or how hot a streak you’re on, you’re never too far from getting tangled in the roadblock of failure.
As a college baseball player a year ago transitioning to the pros, you learn two important words: consistently consistent. In a perfect world, everyone plays every day, and has success. But that’s not reality. Reality is that there are some outings where you go three-up, three-down — the fantastic ones. Reality is that there are outings where you may have lost your focus or feel. Reality is that there are a set of games that could go either way, and if you’ve still got a uniform to wear the next day, you were just good enough to get the job done.
When playing seven days a week in professional baseball, your job as a relief pitcher is to be ready to execute as consistently as possible, at your highest level, with every opportunity. Unfortunately, like in life, outings don’t always go your way, and an important task within the game of baseball is dealing with adversity.
Believe it or not, learning to deal with adversity is the centerpiece of baseball’s magnificence.
The importance of routine in professional baseball helps to create a happy medium, as some call it, which informs how you attack each day. My routine is personal, but I aim to be able to attack each day in the same, positive way. I have learned this year, through my first full, long season of professional baseball, that you have to attack each day very simply. Go about your business each and every day with the intent that everything you do is at your highest level of performance. When you start to feel uncomfortable, or judge yourself too harshly — getting in a bad place mentally, or even physically — it’s good to fall back into a positive routine that can lead you back toward the direction of success.
There are some outings I can recall in Low-A where I would get into a groove, throwing three innings, striking out six or seven, and with every inning I threw, my arm felt stronger. Those are great days not only physically, but mentally, because they keep you locked in, with a high level of focus that you can take into your next outing.
I’ve had a few outings now in High-A, and I’ve been in a good groove. But in my fourth outing for the Dash, it was different. In the first inning I was in against Down East, it was 1-2-3. But I went back out to the mound in my second frame and got hit around a little bit: double, wild pitch, triple, two runs. Mentally, I was aware that I’d been in a great groove since my promotion. But in that second inning, I wasn’t staying true to myself.
As a reliever, you have to learn from the bad outings quickly, because you can be thrown right back into the fire in the next day. I ended up getting a few days off around the July 4th holiday, so I could step back and re-set myself.
My re-sets aren’t dramatic changes, because I always try to be even keeled, whether I’m facing the best team or the worst, a sold-out crowd or a small one. It’s an easy lesson: Always stay the same, because if you know you put the work in each and every day, and you know mentally you have trusted your ability, fun and the success begins to show.
That’s how players are able to get into streaks of success like I’m having now — four straight scoreless since that two-run outing, ERA down to 2.25 — and keep a strong roll forward!
Always forward, never back.
Lead image: Winston-Salem Dash/Twitter