Tampa Bay Sports Day

Head Games

One of the easiest things to do in the world is quit.  Not doing well in school?  Just quit.  Having a tough go in your marriage?  Quit.  You’ve thrown a thousand curveballs that never curve?  So quit.  Giving up today is easy if you don’t think about what you could have done if you’d kept going.

Make sense?

Life can be hard.  Baseball can be really hard.  Succeeding in baseball can be even harder.  and when you fail, you want to quit.  That’s human nature.  But… That’s where people differ.  The strong keep going; they keep trying.  The rest quit.  What’s the difference between the two groups?  Mental toughness.

Put yourself in this situation: Bottom of the ninth.  You’ve gotten two quick outs as a closer.  You’re nursing a one-run lead in a very big game.  You walk the #8 hitter on 10 pitches.  A pinch hitter comes up and smashes a first-pitch two-run home run to win the game.  You have failed.  Add to that 35,000 people saw you fail in person.  Add to that the hundreds of thousands who saw you fail on TV back in your home city.  Then throw in the media who are going to write about your failure and talk about your failure and then, at your locker, ask you about your failure.

Do you quit?  Do you run?

There are guys who hide from what happened.  They’ll go into the deep recesses of a locker room and not come out until the throng is gone.  They will feel the weight of failure, the burden of stress, the personal disappointment and it will take time for them to recover.

It is those with mental toughness, those with their heads turned on straight, who can overcome this short-term failure and understand exactly what it was: a short-term failure.  If they can understand immediately that the next night they’ll have a chance to win and make up for this night, they’ll be winning the Quitting Game.

Look back at the same example.  Remember the #8 hitter who walked on 10 pitches?  Think about his head.  He’s a #8 hitter, so that means he’s no Babe Ruth.  If he’s hitting .250, he automatically has to live with the fact that 3 out of 4 times he walks back to the bench holding his bat in his hands and holding his pride down in his chest.  This guy could have been the end of the game.  He could have gone up and let the closer beat him on 3 pitches.  But if you have a 10-pitch at bat, you’ve got two personalities battling each other.  You’ve got two guys desperate not to fail; desperate to win.  You’ve got an underdog #8 hitter who does not give up on himself, his abilities or his team.  As mentally tough as the closer needed to be in that spot, the #8 hitter had to have equal mental strength.

The pinch hitter?  He’s sat on the bench for roughly three hours watching.  He’s cold.  Sure, he’s stretched out in the hallway behind the dugout, maybe taken some hacks in the cage, but he hasn’t been playing the game at all.  He’s been a third wheel, a spectator.  Now he’s asked to insert himself and succeed.  He’s got one chance that night to not fail.  Generally, he does.  Pinch hitting is hard.  Some guys can do it and some can’t.  This guy did.  How?  His head was in the game.  And he never gave up on himself.

Former 15-year MLB catcher Brent Mayne makes a few comments about mental toughness in his most recent blog entry, Man, This Weather Sucks. Check it out.  You learn a different perspective about the mental game as it pertains to playing in weather that blows, figuratively and literally.  Brent’s main (get the pun?) lesson? “Complaining about the conditions isn’t going to help your cause. Matter of fact, it’ll take you out of the game before it ever starts. Why waste energy on a fight you’re not going to win?”

There are two fights a player can win, the game on the field and the game in their heads.  If you can beat the fear of failure and never give up on yourself, quitting won’t even become an option.  It’ll be something those other guys do.  And it’ll be the reason why you win.

Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of.  Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Cassidy Dover.  You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball.  Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Rollie Fingers, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne and MLB Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.  You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.