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Baseball: Short Memory Friday, October 12, 2012
Baseball: Short Memory

All the best players--in any sport--have loads of talent. But talent alone isn't what makes the best players great. Talent alone is what makes a player frustrating for his team's fans. There is no better example of this than one of the pitchers who has been with my team (the Brewers) for years: Manny Parra. Parra has had moments where he looks like he could be one of the best pitchers in the league. He shows flashes of greatness and Brewers fans have grown tired of hearing how Parra has such "great stuff." That 'stuff'... that 'raw talent' has kept Parra with the Brewers for years, to the consternation of Brewers fans like me.

Great players have talent--but that doesn't mean they have more raw talent than average players. The majority of pitchers on the Brewers pitching staff don't have nearly as much talent as Parra, yet they're much better pitchers. So it's not all about 'raw talent' with the great players--it's talent combined with *mental toughness*.

I firmly believe that baseball requires more mental toughness than any other sport. Baseball players need mental toughness and they need short memories. Baseball is just like recovering from a mental illness. There are 162 games in a baseball regular season. It's long and it's a grind. It's filled with ups and downs, slumps and streaks, elation and frustration. The same exact statements can be made for recovering from a mental illness--it's a grind and a roller coaster ride.

Great baseball players are the ones who can handle the grind. When things don't go well, a great player remains calm and knows that, over time, he's going to produce like great players produce. Great players know that a slump is a slump. Every baseball player--even the best ones in the game--go through a slump at some point in the season. Great players don't panic. They stay within themselves and do what they've always done, even when they're in a slump. They have confidence, and know that setbacks will happen. That's just a part of playing 162 games.

People who manage to recover from their mental illness are the ones who have mental toughness. They just don't *hope* things will get better--they *know* things will get better. Furthermore, they don't blame others for their slumps--they know that the key to getting through a slump is holding on to their confidence. They are able to stay confident, even when things look bleak, because they know what they're capable of. They know what got them to the level they are at. Most of all, they are accountable. A great baseball player knows his success comes from himself and himself alone. A great player doesn't pray to God asking for Angels to swoop down from heaven and help them play well like in that movie 'Angels in the Outfield.' While trying to recover from a mental illness, you need to know that things might start getting better and then they might start getting a little worse... you also need to know that angels won't swoop down from heaven and make you better. The key is knowing that you can get even better than you were right before things start getting worse

It's great for a star baseball player to have a lot of other great players on his team--it helps them win and it helps them have fun. But having other great players in the lineup with them isn't what makes them the star they are. They are stars because they produce whether or not they're on a great team. This is like recovering from a mental illness--it's great to have a support system of any kind. It helps to have friends, family and a support group playing major roles in your recovery, but a support system can't convince you to let go of your self destructive habits (like how my family couldn't get me to quit smoking pot) or convince you that you're being irrational and delusional. A support system can't cure your illness any more than angels can come down from heaven and make a crappy baseball team great.

Baseball players also have to have short memories. There have been so many times where Manny Parra mowed through the first inning or two, looking completely unhittable. I remember one game where he started the game with six straight strikeouts, making great hitters look foolish at the plate. But then, in the third inning, a runner got on base and Parra went on to fall apart and give up like six runs in an inning. This happened all the time with Parra, and I'm convinced that it's because he doesn't have the mental toughness he needs. When one little thing goes wrong, he lets *everything* go wrong. He doesn't have a short memory. Anybody can feel confident and great about themselves when everything is going smoothly without much effort. But not everybody is able to continue feeling confident when everything around them starts falling apart.

In baseball, the best pitchers know how to pick up their teammates. The situation I'm going to use as an example happens all the time to pitchers--in a close game where the pitcher's team is leading by one run, with one out in the inning and a runner on first base, a pitcher will make a great pitch and the hitter will hit a ground ball right at the shortstop. 98 times out of 100, that shortstop could field the ball in his sleep and start a double play to end the inning. But every once in a while, that easy ground ball might go right under his legs. Baseball fans see this happen all the time, and it pisses us off. But I can't say I've ever seen a pitcher turn in the direction of the shortstop and start screaming at him for making the error.

Pitchers don't get furious when one of the position players makes an error. Errors are part of the game of Baseball, just like unexpected setbacks are an inevitable part of recovering from a mental illness. Great pitchers are mentally tough, just like the people who manage to pull their lives back together no matter how many setbacks they face. Great pitchers don't blame their teammates for making errors. People who manage to recover from a mental illness don't blame others for making mistakes that cause a set back in their recovery process.

Great pitchers know how to have a short memory and stay focused on the present. They know that they have no control over whether or not a shortstop makes the play or makes an error. What they do know is how to control what they can control--getting the next batter out. In the example I made above, the shortstop would have gotten the double play and the inning would be over and the team would still be up one run. But the pitcher can't get all frustrated and think "I should be out of this inning" over and over, as he pitches to the next hitter. In that example I made, the botched double play extended the inning. The runner who was on first base would now be at third and the hitter who hit the ground ball would be at first. In this situation, there is only one thing the pitcher needs to think about: "yes, this inning should be over, but we're *still* up by one run and I'm going to make the pitches I need to make and get out of this inning with a one run lead."

When you're recovering from a mental illness, you're going to make mistakes... you're going to say the wrong thing from time to time... you might have people who say the wrong thing to you. When those kinds of things happen as you're working your ass off to recover from your illness, you are still in control and you can't forget that. You need to handle the setbacks like a great pitcher handles it when a position player makes an error. No position player has ever wanted to make an error, but it happens. The pitcher knows this, goes right back to work--knowing he's capable of getting out of the inning without giving up a run. That's all he can do because that's all he can control.

While you're early in your recovery process, there's a good chance someone you know and depend on might say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But that doesn't mean they *wanted* to say the wrong thing any more than a position player wants to make an error and hurt his team. Fans love it when a pitcher can keep his cool and pick up his teammates when they let him down, and his teammates will respect him for that. The same goes for the recovery process. People in your life probably know you got dealt a bad break--something that you couldn't control--but if you get through it and hold on to your dignity instead of getting cynical, people will respect you--even if you're not back to being the person you were before the illness.

If someone ever says the wrong thing to you during your recovery process, it's up to you how you handle it. When someone says something insensitive, it's probably out of ignorance, but that doesn't mean someone is an ignorant person, so don't treat them like one. If you keep your cool... If you share a little... if you help someone understand how you're struggling with your recovery, and if you say it the right way, you'll probably find that someone will respect you more, now that they have a better idea of what you're going through. Now, if that person said something insensitive and you handled it a different way--like by yelling and ranting about how ignorant they are and how nobody could possibly understand how hard it is to deal with a mental illness, the opposite of your intention will happen.

If you lose it and yell at them in a misguided effort to get them to understand what having a mental illness is like for you, they'll only understand you less. They may have said something that ticked you off, but if you react badly, they'll now get the impression that you've changed and *you* might end up pushing them away. If you do that, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that nobody ever cared about you, when the reality could very well be that they're trying to help you by distancing themselves from you. As far as you know, they care about you, know you're struggling and don't want to make things any harder on you than they already are. Nobody wants to make you feel bad about yourself--it's just that sometimes people don't know what the right or wrong thing to say is. They just don't want to make you feel any worse. So you could actually think someone is *pushing you away from them*.when you're actually pushing *them away from you.*

If someone says something that hurts a little, you can either try talking to them or go the safer route--having a short memory and not dwelling on it so much that it deeply affects you.

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