Brett Favre

November 26, 2008
   

“We’re always trying to find ways to lower interceptions and stuff. My nature, I’m aggressive. I’ll take shots, I’ll take chances; therefore, you have mistakes.” ~ Brett Favre

I’m not a huge football fan or anything, but I do enjoy watching a game here and there. By far and away my favorite player is Brett Favre. It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly…all I can say is I love to watch this guy and the way he approaches his craft. Again, I’m far from an expert on the matter, but it seems to me that football over the years has gotten more and more structured. When the QB comes off the field he generally runs over to study some photos of the defense or jumps on the cell phone to talk to the man upstairs. There’s reports and information and game plans and radios in the helmets and all of that stuff. I’m definitely not complaining or anything, I’m just saying the game today is light years from the innocence of the 1960’s. But then there’s Brett Favre. In the middle of all of the structure, here’s a guy who is improvising, elaborating, and actually having fun. And I love to watch that. But what I respect even more is his guts. You can’t elaborate and improvise and have fun without taking a huge risk because if you fail, you fail alone. It’s one thing to fail within the confines of “the game plan”, it’s quiet another thing to step out on a limb and be willing to improvise and fail as a “gunslinger”. And to see someone willing to do it in the face of today’s big money-high stake-NFL game, and under the microscope and bright lights of New York is nothing short of amazing. In an era where a quarterback is considered worthy if he “manages” a game well, Farve is an enigma. Here’s a guy who makes mistakes, is famous for making mistakes, because he understands that you can’t be great without them.

“I don’t know if I like the term ‘managing games,’ ” Favre said. “I think that’s a polite way of saying, Don’t lose it for us.”

This last game in which the Jets hammered the unbeaten Titans really brought the whole thing into focus for me. It really highlighted the difference between a quarterback managing the game (Kerry Collins) and a quarterback who was kind of making it up. Collins has obviously done a great job thus far this season with the Titans making the correct throws, following the game plan, etc. But when the Jets started slicing them up and Collins and the Titans needed to go beyond game management they couldn’t. Meanwhile the Jets offense was busy completing passes on plays that were supposed to be runs. “Busted-slash-great plays” according to Favre. He makes mistakes – sometimes really ugly ones – but he finds a way to beat you. This is the difference between good and great. The difference between a good quarterback and the MVP of the league.

My blogs touch on a lot of different subjects and you can probably tell that I like to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated fields. I’m very interested/curious in the qualities of excellence and you’ll find this to be a common thread and underlying theme uniting almost all of the posts. As far as this is concerned, one motif that keeps coming up seems to be how the great ones handle adversity and embrace risk. For example, you can’t hit home runs without being willing to strike out. You can’t make great art without risking it all and being willing to have people laugh at you (how many times do you think Louise Bourgeois has been called a crazy old lady? – see my post from a few days ago). How far out on a limb has Bob Dylan been willing to go? And in the case of Favre, you can’t make a great pass without risking the interception. Being great, being an original, means courting failure. It means getting familiar with it, understanding that it’s part of life whether you like it or not, and using it as a tool to learn from rather than an embarrassment to be avoided. In Brett Favre, or Tiger Woods, or Bourgeois, or Kelly Slater, or DeNiro, or any number of other people, we get to see  human beings brave enough to go through that process on a big stage in front of us all.

“I always felt like the quarterback’s job is to win games,” Favre said. “You can win games, you can lose games based on the way you play or your decisions. I’ve had my share of both; I’m going to go down swinging.”

As a professional athlete, I’m keenly aware of the dynamics of failure and success. I know that life at the pinnacle of one’s craft has less to do with physical talent and more to do with handling the heat. Everybody at the top can play, not everybody has it going on in between the ears. I always loved that saying, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Brett Favre is a guy who thrives in the heat, and is showing us all what it is to be a man in the middle of chaos – the big money, criticism, press, personal problems, failures, and successes. He’s a throwback, a gunslinger, a leatherhead playing NFL football in the 21st century. I love it and feel privileged to be a witness. And oh yeah, I love that he doesn’t color the gray hair.

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat.” ~ Lou Brock


 

Lakers

November 24, 2008

Went to the Laker game last night. I’ve got to say, that’s about the pinnacle of sporting events for me. First off, you’ve got the circus atmosphere of the players. I mean, what planet do these guys come from? You just don’t see human beings this size walking down the street. Being close to the court gives you a perspective of their size that you don’t get from TV. They’re REALLY tall and gangly. So you’ve got the giant body thing going on- and that’s plenty weird enough – then they start to move and cut and shoot. It’s hard to get your head around seeing 7 foot guys move with the coordination and quickness of 6 foot guys. Amazing. They make the court look like my little driveway. And if that isn’t enough entertainment, there’s the people watching at Staples Center. The whole Hollywood enchilada. You’ve got Jack right over there talking to the opposing team’s coach, there’s Beckham styling it out courtside, oops, almost spilled my drink on Andy Garcia, hey Leo loved your last flick, and don’t even get me started on the Laker girls. I could get used to going to these games on a regular basis. Oh yeah, and the Lakers are REALLY, REALLY good.

A Clear Mind

November 21, 2008

“Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”   ~    Yogi Berra

I don’t know what it is about baseball and Americans. Why is it that just about every member of our society including Dads, Moms, Grandmas, and Uncles knows how to teach the game? Maybe it’s because it’s so interwoven into our culture, maybe because we think we think we own it and invented it, I don’t know. What I do know is that it seems like every American thinks they know how to teach it. It’s not the same with football or soccer or basketball. In these sports, you generally don’t see relatives of the participant hanging on the fence yelling instructions to “get your elbow up” or “move closer to the plate” or “stride sooner”. It’s crazy the stuff I hear coming out of the mouths of people – coaches included.

Granted, baseball isn’t golf. No one is gonna shut up when you step into the box during a game. It’s definitely the responsibility of the ball player to tune out the crowd and the incessant voice in his head so that he can devote 100% of his sense capability to what’s important at that moment…his eye sight. See ball hit ball. For me, being focused or in the zone is simply devoting all of your attention on one sense – so that you can get the most out of your God given talent. In the case of the hitter, it would be your sight. See ball hit ball. If you’re in the box (and we’ve all been there) and you are trying to feel where your hands are, and you’re thinking about what pitch might come, and you’re listening to your Dad yell hitting instructions from the fence, you’re attention is fractured and your chances of actually squaring the ball are minimal. This is called being unfocused. You’ve got 20% of your attention going towards your sense of feel, maybe 20% wrapped up in your hearing sense trying to listen to Dad, and another 20% down the drain worrying about the upcoming pitch, leaving only 40% of your energy left over for what’s really important…seeing the ball. There is so much wisdom in that Yogi quote above.

“When you step into the batter’s box, have nothing on your mind except seeing the baseball.” –Pete Rose

Like I said, it’s the responsibility of the player to figure out how to shut all of the noise out. Matter of fact one’s ability to do this will, to a large extent, define how good a player one becomes. The best hitters (or pitchers, or businessmen, or mechanics, or best whatever) can do it at will. The batting box might be the ONLY sanctuary of quietude in their whole lives. For a wonderful visual example of this feeling, watch the golf movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. It’s a neat movie and has an awesome part where Harry Vardon is teeing off, looking down the fairway with all the trees and water hazards and hearing the voices in his head, and then going through the process of eliminating all of them (his personal demons) to the point where everything vanishes and all thats left is him and the pin. This is called focus. This is probably the best visual explanation of something undefinable…the zone. The director of that movie really hits the nail on the head.

So, all of that being said, if you care about the person in the batting box and you want him to actually do well – maybe you’re his Dad, or his coach, or next door neighbor -  do him a favor and SHUT UP. Baseball is hard enough already without you shouting out information, regardless of if it’s right or wrong. Geez, sometimes it’s all one can do to just get the little man in your head to quiet down for a minute!  Remember, there is a time to practice and a time to play. In practice, go ahead and teach. If you’re the player, go ahead and learn. When it comes game time though, that is time to play. It’s a couple hours to run your act out onto the field and see what happens. It’s a time to have fun, trust that what you know is enough for the day, and find your own way into the zone. And the good part is that this stuff transcends baseball and will help you be successful in any field.  If you can find your way to this elusive place, it won’t matter if you step in the bucket or not! Good luck and remember…just keep your eye on the ball.

Nobody ever said, “Work ball!” They say, “Play ball!” To me, that means having fun. – Willie Stargell

Little Guy wins MVP

November 19, 2008

First off, I want to apologize for going AWOL and not posting for the last few days. It’s not that I haven’t been working. Well, to be completely honest, I haven’t been working that hard (the surf has been pretty good and the golf course has been calling). But I have been doing some Art of Catching related work and I think you’ll be pretty pleased when it’s done. I’ve been concentrating on podcasting and am just about ready to pop one out for you. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a podcast will basically be an audio version of this blog that you can access (for free) through my website and itunes. You can either download it onto your ipod or mp3 player or just listen through your computer. There are tons of different directions I want to take these things…I’m thinking about doing a series dealing with the professional game – interviews with agents, broadcasters, clubhouse/equipment guys, traveling secretaries, players, and maybe a girlfriend or wife or mistress thrown in there. The Pro Series will hopefully give you a fun and different perspective of the baseball traveling circus and all of it’s moving parts. The series that I’m currently working on is called the Coaching Series. Basically, I’m getting on record as many great baseball (and non baseball) coaches and managers as I possibly can. The first one will be with my father, Mike Mayne, and I’ll follow with interviews from such coaching greats as Wally Kincaid (hopefully), Dennis Rogers, Dave Demerest, and George Horton, to just name a few. I’m on the trail of Mike Scioscia, and will see a number of pro guys come spring training time. I’m heading out to the big winter meetings in Vegas the beginning of next month so I’m hoping to capture some good interviews there too. Basically what I’m trying to do is build a library of baseball related information and wisdom for aspiring coaches, players, or just interested fans to access. Hang with me, I promise it will be good (I think, I hope).

So that’s that. Now let’s talk about the little guy Dustin Pedroia. Are you kidding me with this? One year removed from the Rookie of the Year award and a World Series ring, the guy wins the AL MVP hands down. Nice trophy case for a guy who probably doesn’t measure up to the 5′8″ claim in the media guide. Short people throughout the world rejoice! Randy Newman eat your heart out! Now here’s a star that everyone can relate to…didn’t he just box my groceries at Trader Joe’s? Maybe that was someone else. Geez, I could have sworn that was him. Whats the difference between this kid and the kid playing at the local junior college? Not a whole lot physically…matter of fact, there’s probably a lot of JC kids with better physical tools. Pedroia definitely gets the edge upstairs – the guy knows how to play the game, has a huge heart, and is mentally as tough as nails.

“I remember when I was growing up and I wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, all the guys I looked up to were big,” Pedroia said. “I looked up to Barry Bonds and (former San Francisco Giants first baseman) Will Clark. There was never that smaller guy I could compare myself to or try to be. If I’m doing that for one kid, that’s amazing.”

I can definitely relate to him for a number of reasons, but this quote pretty much sums it up…

“I’m not the biggest guy in the world. I don’t have that many tools,” Pedroia said on a conference call from his home in Arizona. “If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t think I’m a baseball player.”

Congratulations Dustin on the MVP, you deserve it. And thank you for playing the game hard and right…you’re a joy to watch.

 

San O

November 12, 2008

Before I get into this, let me apologize straight away for upsetting the rest of the country. What can I say, there are a lot of not so good things about living in Southern California….the weather isn’t one of them. The sunshine is why half the world lives here for cryin out loud. Anyway, I surfed the morning away today at San Onofre. To put it into perspective, San Onofre is to surfing what Wrigley Field is to baseball. As perfect a venue as there is to perform the act. Pure. Simple. Good vibes. The whole enchilada. On any given day at San O you might find yourself in the water with a 90 year old man, an elite pro, a woman, and a 6 year old. Bamboo roofed huts, people playing the ukulele, hot girls, you get the picture. If you’re from the area, this is probably where you learned to surf. Even though there’s often a healthy amount of folks in the water, there’s a relative lack of tension and a genuine feeling of good will. One interesting fact about surfing is that the Babe Ruths and Ted Williams and Ty Cobbs of the sport are still alive and many of them still frequent this spot. It’s very odd to be paddling back out after a wave and almost get run over by a surfing legend. It be like Joe Schmoe being able to pitch to Willie Mays and have him whistle a liner over his head.  After playing in the shopping mall atmosphere of most big league parks, Wrigley or Fenway or Yankee Stadium always reminded me why I was playing. Similaraly, after battling it out in the mostly over crowded waves of Orange County, San O always clears my head and gives me a fresh dose of stoke for the sport. Cheers.