As a baseball player I always struggled with the curveball. It’s the reason I never made it past ‘A’ ball. Luckily for me, I was blessed with the ability to throw a baseball otherwise I probably would have never made it to professional ball, but that’s beside the point.
This one crucial aspect of struggling with hitting a curveball defined my career, along with some injuries, but the real reason I didn’t progress in my professional career was due to my hitting ability. Now, if all a pitcher threw was straight and hard, I probably would have been a Major League catcher and my life would be dramatically different.
While in the batter’s box though, my main underlying fear was looking weak, being overpowered, and ultimately not being seen in a “good light” by fans, coaches and peers. So I was always geared up for the fastball. In a nut shell I was over-reactive.
As most good hitters will tell you, success is due to a state of relaxation and confidence where the body can appropriately respond to the stimuli processed by the brain as the ball is approaching the hitting zone. Any excess tension will ‘lock up’ a hitter and make it difficult to effectively swing with a high rotational velocity, and at the same time cause the hitter to ‘jump’ at the ball to compensate for the lower swing velocity. Thus, any pitch with movement or slower speed would be more difficult to hit squarely or even at all.
The art of hitting offspeed, such as a curveball, is waiting to start your swing later. It’s just a split second in reality and hard to see with the naked eye, but to a hitter it feels much longer. However, sometimes a hitter is so anxious to hit that they start their swing too early and swing before the ball enters the hitting zone. This was me. Anxiety driven by a fear of looking bad, which in my mind would mean I wouldn’t be accepted.
My sophomore year in college was by far my most productive and best year as a hitter. I hit .417 with 7 home runs and 68 RBI in a 72 game season. I didn’t struggle with the curveball that year. I was confident and relaxed as a hitter. I knew I could handle any pitch. I was focused and aware, and I received what the pitcher provided me to hit.
In contrast, my senior year was my worst as a hitter. I started the season on an 0-for-18 quip. I wasn’t playing poorly, in fact I was hitting the ball hard just right at people, and my defense was as good as it had ever been. But then the anxiety crept back in driven by my thoughts:
“My teammates must think I’m bringing them down.”
“I hope they don’t think less of me.”
“If I could just get a few hits I’ll make them see I’m good enough.”
So I started pressing and jumping at the ball because I needed to get a hit. The day I got benched I was hitting with 0 balls and 2 strikes count and the pitcher tried to sneak a fastball inside on me. I turned on it and ripped it about 40 feet foul. Immediately I heard my coach yell, “NO!” He could see the problem I couldn’t see. He knew that if I was in the right frame of mind I probably would have hit the ball over the shortstop’s head or at worse got beat by the pitch and jam it into the first base dugout. He knew I was over-reacting and not waiting enough to be prepared to hit the offspeed. I was 0-for-34 after that at-bat. I finished my senior campaign 3-for-54, an .056 avg.
Being confident, relaxed, and self-aware will allow a hitter to wait on the curve. When relaxed and aware a hitter can focus on what the pitcher is delivering. They can “listen” to what the pitcher is telling them. When they receive that information they can process it and respond according to what they “hear” (or see in this respect).
So to is it with communication and being successful in relationships as I’m recently learning. I’m often geared up and jumping at the chance to offer my thoughts, or “wisdom”, or advice. When what I really should do is wait, listen, and receive so I can respond appropriately which may mean not talking at all.
My desire to offer something stems from the same fear I had as a hitter. A fear of not being liked and accepted. I felt I had to make people like me, so I had to say just the right thing or give them the perfect advice so they could fix themselves. Then I’d be worthy of the relationship because I had earned it.
So, I need to sit back and wait. Most people will not even notice because it’s not visible to the human eye, but to me it will feel like an eternity… just like waiting on the curve. I’ll need to improve my self-awareness and be confident in who I am. Then I can relax. I’ll be able to receive… to truly listen and respond rather than react.