Each spring training the Padres schedule a meeting between the minor league pitching staff and a guest big league pitcher. Its a great opportunity for we minors guys to pick the brains of those who have made it.
I love this part of spring training because it always reminds me how lucky I am to get to do this for a living. When I call my friends back home I sometimes exaggerate and say things like "yeah, I got to talk with John Q. Bigleaguer during spring training" when actually he spoke to all of us and I sat quietly in the corner trying not to cough at the wrong time or something.
So this year, as we minors guys gathered around like kids at a campfire, I was especially excited. I knew we had just acquired Greg Maddux and I heard it rumored he was going to be speaking. He was, along with Clay Hensley. The significance of these two guys is one is a big league veteran and the other just broke into the big leagues. Together they make a good cross section of experience from us to learn from.
Seeing Clay come out as a guest speaker was a cool moment for me. Back during my first spring training, Clay had the locker next to mine. As I said it was my first spring so I was nervous. I knew some of the guys but most of them were new faces. I would try to act cool, secure, detached but I was anything but. Clay was older and had been through this all before he was calm and positive which helped me relax. I would ask him questions about things, sometimes pitching related, sometimes just silly questions about what a coach meant when he said something to me I didn't quite understand.
Clay was always cool about it. Always encouraging. We had a lot of guys in camp competing for jobs that year and Clay's attitude helped me keep things in perspective. Now he's in the bigs, and coming back to share with all of us how to keep things in perspective. Its nice to see a former minors guys make it up the the show. It reminds us all how close we really are.
Now if it had only been Clay, that would have been fine, but we also got to hear from Maddux. This was a special treat for me. I have been watching this guy pitch since I was a young thrower. I am really not ashamed to say I idolize the guy. He has hit that level of fame that few athletes ever hit, the one where then seem to create a separate genre inside the sport itself.
Maddux created the professor or baseball image. The thinking mans game. When he throws, he makes pitching look so easy. You would almost think he wills the ball where he wants it to go. Like he uses Jedi force powers, with a wave of his hand he says "you will ground out to short" and the batter obeys. It's uncanny.
The guy's name has become synonymous with pinpoint command. Lets just say if his name is in the same sentence as your pitching performance, it's probably a good thing. I could rattle off some of his career numbers but lets be honest–if your a baseball fan and you don't know who this guy, well, your probably my mom (love you mom).
I remember a cartoon from my childhood where these huge muscle-bound prison guys were out smashing rocks with sledge hammers the size of telephone poles. They were slaving away busting these huge rocks with their huge hammers, exerting everything they had. Meanwhile, there was this one guy with a regular hammer and a magnifying glass. You could tell he was smarter then the other guys. This guy had the right idea, he just went around inspecting the rocks all over until he found the sweet spot. Once he found it, he would just tap that spot on the rock with his hammer and it would miraculously crumble into a million pieces. I have always thought that is how Maddux looks at hitters.
So, Maddux spoke, and he did it with out referencing any Jedi powers or magical incantations. I was still hanging on his every word. He said he is
always prepared for his outings. He gets his sleep, his food, and his game knowledge checked off the list before a start. Once he gets his needs before the game taken care of, he can take the field with confidence he is ready. This allows him to trust himself out there. He has done what he needs to in order to feel prepared so he can relax and focus on the present.
I liked that part of his talk because it made me realize once a pitcher takes the mound there can be no regrets or uncertainties. I mean, I kind of knew this, but hearing him say it so casually really pounded it in.
His whole talk had that effect, it was more like a debunking of pitching then a lecture. Sometimes we minors guys can really make pitching out to be something more daunting then is. Someone asked him a really good question, which was, "I have heard that a pitcher needs to trust his stuff–what does that mean to you . . . like how do you know you can trust it?"
Maddux responded, "Once you let it go (your pitch) you don't worry about what happens to it." This is another example of something I kinda knew, but when he said it, so nonchalantly, it was like light struck my head and things became so clear.
I guess the underlying question was why don't we trust our stuff, not how do we. Maddux answered this concept more then the question at hand. I think Maddux was in essence saying you have to throw with out letting fearful outcomes affect what you have not yet done. Like, you can't throw pitches with the expectation of getting murdered–if you do you, can't trust any of your pitches. You have to trust your selection and yourself and let it fly.
I could be wrong about what he said completely, but that'™s what I felt he was conveying along with a lot of other amazing stuff.
To be honest, it's Greg Maddux, how can an aspiring pitcher NOT get something out of a talk with him? He could of said his secret to success was leaping off a cliff before every start and I would tried it. Maybe…
Probably. The whole thing was awesome and I will never forget that talk.