To following is a version of a letter written to a college pitching staff currently reading my book as part of a winter break project for their coach (The coach is a friend of mine, and former Padre teammate… Thanks for the sales boosts!)
You know, I took a lot of flack for writing The Bullpen Gospels- I mean gallons of it. I still sip from a very bitter cup as I think of all the players who told me they’d kick my ass if I penned even an innocuous word about them. Why were they so violent? Well, because I mayhap talk about something they do which they are not proud of, you know; the same stuff they can’t wait to brag to all of their teammates about as soon as it happens.
Baseball team life is a very closed circuit. What happens in it, stays in it. Or is supposed to… Like any group, it has it’s mores and norms that it considers to be THE way everyone in the group should behave. To stray from that groupthink is generally viewed as betrayal and will get you relentlessly ridiculed if not ostracized. There is an adage that says something to the effect of, those dependent on the system hate those who are not for it exposes their addiction. Wether it is addiction or not, it’s the agreed upon way to behave even if you can’t remember when you agreed.
I write books in tandem with my baseball playing now. I get paid for those books and I could never imagine a life in which I would not write in some capacity. That’s now, mind you, because a few years ago I thought what I was doing was something liken to career suicide. Why am I telling you all this? It’s because the social dynamic of a team is extremely powerful in creating your self-image- even when you take the mound.
You may have noticed that when other teammates believe in you, you tend to believe in yourself more. Or, when other teammates are pissed at you, you may say something to yourself along the lines of “F*%$ them, I’ll show them where they can stick their opinions”. Either way, it effects us. Getting along with the people you spend so much of your time with, for some reason, is never expanded on in our industry; it tends to slide down the list in comparison to production, runs, velocity, etc… but it’s none the less important. There is just no quantifiable stat to track it.
What a team believes in and it’s ability to relate those beliefs respectfully to one another is key to a team’s development. It’s also key to your personal self image as, whether we care to admit it or not, we learn a lot about who we are through the eyes of those around us. And what we learn has an impact.
A team that allows an appreciates it’s individuals in the group usually functions better than those teams who try to press everyone into molds or ideals they don’t even understand how they arrived on in the first place (a lot of team social life is unwritten judgment). Also, a team that takes itself to seriously tends to spend more time policing it’s internal functions than focusing on the game. These teams are known to have “cancer”.
Pitching is the most individualized position on the field. Knowing who you are is paramount in your success there. Or, maybe more importantly, knowing who you are NOT. Your personal opinion of yourself will fluctuate as your relationship with your team does, but there should be something about you that always grounds you- a benchmark, so to speak. I was always taught to pitch to my strengths and not my weaknesses. One of my strengths is taking the road less traveled, which means I am unafraid to experiment even if everyone on the team considers me an idiot, or, at worst, a non conformist for doing so.
What makes you, you? Are you changing it because you are afraid of causing the team grief? Is the team going to be hurt for rational reasons, or just because it has bunked rules in place to judge you? Believe it or not, not being afraid of what your teammates think of you may be a huge step in not being afraid of what happens to you when you’re on the mound, just as much so as compromising could smooth over bumpy team relations. Ask yourself, how much do the thoughts of those around me contribute to the way I think about myself, or perform? The answer might surprise you.