By Jimmy Reed
‘It’s just another game.’
That’s the classic response any ballplayer gives when asked about pitching or playing in the postseason. Sure, it is just another game, but the feelings and implications are much heavier than he is usually willing to admit.
An anxious stomachache in the morning. No appetite. Feeling sluggish throughout the day, waiting for your one moment later that night. Mentally exhausted before you even step on the mound.
You think about all the possibilities. You can’t help but let some negative thoughts float through your mind. “What if I don’t make it out of the first inning? What if I suck?” You think about your teammates and coaches, and how you don’t want to let them down. You think about how you don’t want to let down your school, city, and fans after they’ve supported you throughout the season.
The best way to underperform is to put too much stock into those thoughts. As an athlete, if you’re constantly filling your head with negativity, you’ll rarely get the results you want. If you want to have success when it matters most, you have to accept that you’re going to have negative thoughts, trust in your preparation and what got you there in the first place, and just play.
I learned this first hand playing in the ACC as a freshman at Maryland. I remember going into games knowing I was going to give up runs. I had absolutely no confidence in my ability. How could I possibly get anybody out on a consistent basis if I didn’t believe I could do it? Whether it’s in the middle of February during the first month of the college season or in June playing in Omaha, trusting your preparation and ability is the only thing that matters.
I never pitched in a postseason game at Maryland. I’m totally jealous of the groups that came after me who went to two Super Regionals and were a win away from Omaha. But I have pitched in postseason games and regular season games that had postseason implications during my time in professional baseball.
I’ve had success and I’ve been crushed.
You can’t help but let some negative thoughts float through your mind. “What if I don’t make it out of the first inning? What if I suck?” You think about your teammates and coaches, and how you don’t want to let them down. You think about how you don’t want to let down your school, city, and fans after they’ve supported you throughout the season.
The times that I had success I was bought into my plan of attack and 100-percent convinced I was going to dominate. And I did.
In my first professional season in 2013, I started the final game of the New York-Penn League Championship Series. I went into the game with the mindset that I was never going to pick up a baseball again. I remember warming up in the bullpen telling myself to leave everything out on the field. My pitches were crisper than they had been that whole summer. We eventually lost that game by one run but I had pitched well enough for our team to win. Regardless, there was no way a negative thought was going to effect my game.
Conversely, the times I was crushed I went into the game with some lingering doubt and a bloodbath of epic proportions ensued.
When I’ve failed in big situations it’s never been about how many fans were in the stadium. Or about how well the other team had been playing. Those factors—which sometimes get talked up—get drowned out in the fog of a highly competitive situation. It was about my own ability. I didn’t think I could execute a certain pitch in a certain situation and when I tried it got smoked for an extra base hit. Then, when I didn’t execute that pitch, it rolled over to the next at-bat. Slowly piling up until I was done for.
My last start of 2015 in Double-A Springfield is a perfect example. I started the second to last game of the regular season, a game if we won would most likely put us in the postseason. I gave up 6 runs in 1.2 innings, we lost, and we missed the postseason by a half a game. I let my negative thoughts get the best of me and I didn’t execute any of my pitches because I was scared they were going to get pummeled, which they did. My negative thoughts got the best of me.
Having success, whether its in the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, or the World Series is totally dependent on confidence. You’re there for a reason, now just live in the moment and play.
Jimmy Reed is a former Maryland Terrapins pitcher. The left-hander was drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and is now in his third season in the Cardinals’ organization.