“Don’t change your approach. Don’t change your character. This stuff happens to everyone, it’s part of the game.” He said it like he’d seen it happen a thousand times before. Probably not that many, but he’d been playing long enough to know failure’s cold bite, the way it goes down like bad medicine, and the danger of having an adverse reaction to it.
“When you act beat, hopeless, scared- your team believes you. You believe you. Throw it away now, don’t let it linger.” He continued.
I used to carry my bad outings with me off the field. I carried the scowl around for days. My teammates became weary of me ambushing them with selfish rants about my failures, my luck, myself. What were they going to say, anyway? They had their own lives to worry about. They wanted me to succeed so they didn’t have to hear me whine, just as much as they wanted me to succeed to help them win. I was a cancer, a cloud of negative emotion looking for someone to pour on. I let my team know I was beat, and when I took the mound, they took cover. Another lesson learned the hard way.
“Handling failure is a fine art,” he continued. “It’s priceless. It’s one thing you can do well and be loved by everyone for. It takes a ton of strength and a commitment, and shows a great deal of character. Trouble is, like anything else, you have to practice at it to get good.”
Isn’t that the truth. You would think after a lifetime of ball, failing would be easier to bear. I still want to toss water coolers when I blow the lead. I don’t, but I want to. The emotion is in me, but the control is there now, tempered by seasons of ups and downs. Instead, and with much effort, I walk into the dugout, place my glove down like a tea cup and try to breath. I Try to find perspective. Sometimes it comes quickly; sometimes I do a lot of breathing.
“Some people never recover from those moments. They talk so bad to themselves afterwards they never come back. They throw out a whole career of hard work believing the negative stuff they pump into their own head. Can you believe that?”
I can, actually. Anything can happen in this game, even long, dark stretches of defeat—the kind that makes you wonder if you can ever be successful again. It makes you afraid, like everything you do will go bad. You find yourself thinking about the past when you should be focusing on the present and hoping for the future. Instead, one bad outing becomes Two. Two becomes Three. Soon failure is all you know. I dominates your mind, and you begin to believe it.
“It’s important to look at things individually. It’s a long season and this game is built around a consistent approach. One bad day doesn’t break you unless you let it. It’s hard when your mad, I know, but stop and tell yourself your alright. Think positive. Be hungry for the next chance to prove yourself. After all, it’s just baseball.”
It is just baseball, but it’s also your life’s ambition. Each setback seems monumental and hard to dissect when your brain is full of frustration. But the best players know setbacks are part of it. They have short memories for defeat and sharp eyes for the positive. They pick themselves up with record speed and are back on track for the success they believe in. They are the one’s teams rally around. They do not change, they do not crumble. This is just a game, but it’s a game built on failures, weathered failures. Can I weather this?
“Alright Dirk, it’s time to quit talking to yourself, get up and be strong. Your going to pitch again. You have to be positive— it’s all you can be. You did a lot of good things today, and you still have good things left to do. You can handle this.”
I finish my conversation with myself, crush the water cup in my hand and toss it across the already littered dugout floor. I stand and walk to the fence, and lean over it, coat on, glove off.
It’s our turn to hit. Even though I don’t want to cheer just yet, I’ll clap instead. I have a team to support, we have lead to get back.