Time Out: June 12, 2013

“Ninety percent of baseball is mental. The other half is physical,” said Yogi Berra.
Baseball’s great philosopher, Yogi Berra was on to something with his famous quote addressing this critical components of baseball. Thinking forward, anticipating, and considering multiple options are all some of the intangibles making baseball the “grand old game.”

Old might be the operational word in that introduction. The dizzying speeds of our technological world and the spontaneous feedback that technology provides makes the slow paced, think forward style of baseball feel almost obsolete. That’s especially the case when you consider Yogi’s mental dimensions when playing the game.

Evidence of slippage on the mental side is everywhere. Coaching high school baseball, one quickly learns how little the modern player knows and understands about the game. High school players bring very little “Velcro,” (connective tissue allowing new learning to adhere with previous experiences) to the baseball diamond. Simply stated: “In these here Catskills, there aren’t many kids playing the grand old game.”

Not what it used to be
But, the mental slippage is more and more apparent at every level of play. There are many facets to the mental side of baseball. A player’s knowledge, thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions can all play a role. In this case I’m only referring to a player’s knowledge of the game and ability to turn that knowledge into positive results through focused attention.

Note the New York Mets sad 20-inning loss Saturday to the Marlins. In the 13th inning, Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy, a pretty savvy baseball guy, reached third base with only one out. Almost every Met fan was hoping Marlon Bryd could at least deliver a deep enough fly ball where Murphy might tag up at third and score the winning run.

Bingo! Byrd drove a fairly deep fly ball down the right field line that would require Marlins’ right fielder Marcell Ozuna to catch the ball on the run, twist his body around and somehow throw out Murphy at home plate. That’s exactly what Ozuna did.

Lost in the moment was the fact that when Byrd’s bat hit the ball, Murphy ran toward home plate. When he realized Ozuma would catch the ball, Murphy put on the brakes and backtracked towards third. He had just arrived with his momentum still going toward leftfield when Ozuma caught the ball. Making matters worse, Murphy choose to try to plow over the Marlins’ catcher rather than slide as he neared home plate.

Surprising mental lapses
Watching B-Met games in Binghamton, I’m often surprised at the mental lapses that take place. Many occur on the base paths. This spring a runner on second was caught at third on a ground ball hit in front of him to the shortstop. That’s a no-no. I’ve watched a runner, unaware there were two outs, stop at second to see if a Texas Leaguer would be caught and then fail to score when the ball scampered past a diving outfielder. One of the more amusing mental miscues came when the on-deck batter lost track of the count and, thinking his teammate had struck out, arrived at home plate putting two batters in the batters’ box at the same time.

Professional baseball players, guys paid to play the game, who struggle to turn baseball know-how into baseball results is cause for an extra dose of patience for youth coaches trying to help novice baseball players struggling to master the mental side of the game. And, the demanding mental aspect of baseball is another reason why more kids would profit by playing the grand old game.