Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” might be one of my least favorite songs of all time. Rivaled only by the Village People’s “Macho Man” and Britney Spears’ latest effort, “Womanizer,” it’s in my bottom 25. I know I’m offending a lot of people with that, but I guess I just never really got the whole disco thing. Though the plaid pants were pretty sweet.
Despite this, the song has become a theme for me this spring. A hurt player is a player unable to compete. Staying healthy may be the number one thing on players’ minds in the early stages of spring. Surviving becomes of utmost importance, or so the disco globe reminds me.
My first spring training, I sprinted past all the veterans in conditioning and was abruptly chided for my actions.
“Hey Rook, you don’t make a team in conditioning,” the pharaohs sagely scolded.
At the time I simply excused this adage for laziness. I was at spring training to compete. Coming from college, I competed at everything. Being number one meant you had heart; you competed to be the first person on the mound during PFPs, the first person to climb to the top of a hill in conditioning, or even the first person to finish two Chipotle burritos (I think I’m still hurting from that one).
I’m now beginning to understand the utility of pacing yourself. Game performances remain the number one evaluative tool for instructors during spring training. For this reason, ensuring that you are at peak performance when on the mound is paramount.
Veterans find little things that allow them to conserve energy and to stay healthy. Many, for example, go slightly less than 100% when they are doing an infinite number of PFPs, taking a little off of a throw and not quite sprinting to cover first base.
Of course, a fine line exists between the opposing realms of conservation and laziness. Holding back too much might place you in the latter territory, a place where no player willfully inhabits.
As veteran Matt Kinney recently put it, “An older guy jogs through PFPs and coaches look at him as being smart for not blowing it out. A younger guy does it and he looks like he’s lazy.”
Recently a guy around my age was pulled aside after a session of PFPs.
“You feeling all right?” the coach asked him.
“Yeah, feel good. Why?” the player replied.
“Well, you kind of look like you’re dogging it.”
This typifies the situation that I’m trying to avoid. Lying in the middle ground between youth and veterans, I teeter upon a narrow beam.
As a kid, I had a VHS of Michael Jordan called “Michael Jordan’s Playground” that I watched incessantly. I viewed it as one of the greatest movies of all time. Two characteristics of Jordan stuck with me long after I wore out the tape: his inimitable work ethic and competitive drive.
I’ve always believed in doing your best at everything and anything that you do. Even if I’m just giving the dog a bath, that dog is going to be clean enough to pass an army inspection by the time I’m through with it. In sports, this translates into going all out with everything. I will not be outworked and I will always compete. After all, I want to be like Mike.
I still live by this mantra today, but I’ve revised it slightly. I’m finding ways to add a little conservation into the mix. I’ve slowly learned that sometimes less is also more. In this way, I am doing my best, as I am putting myself in a position to be able to give my best.
You won’t hear me grunting as I throw my first bullpen this spring. You won’t find me far ahead of the pack as we condition. You won’t see me diving for balls during PFP. Instead, you’ll find a person ready to compete when the time comes.
Even the best find a time to pace themselves—Michael Jordan included. And in this way, I will indeed survive.