“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