When you pitch great it’s easy to walk into the weight room and knock out your postgame maintenance. Heck, sometimes you come into that weight room charged up and raring to do twice as much. You feel like superman, riding out the adrenaline of the game, marinating in your own awesomeness. As you pound out your reps you can’t help but think to yourself and how dedicated you are, how, someday, when ESPN does a story on you, they’ll talk extensively about your dedication to working out hard and how the masterful pitching performance was just another part of your machismo. By the time you get ice on your arm, you’re convinced you’re some sort of war hero ready to shake hands with the President.
Those days are good days, in fact, they’re what you play for and you should enjoy them. Days like those make the following day’s long run go faster, ball bucket duty more enjoyable, even charting a treat. But anybody can put in the extra work when they feel on top of the world. Anyone can go the extra mile when they feel like superman. Anyone can feel like a statistical mastermind when their last outing was a mathematical gem. It’s amazing how easy this game feels when you’re doing well.
It’s also quite amazing how tedious, heavy, and doom-filled this game looks when you stink at it. Come out of a game where in the best pitch you threw was your glove as you angrily rifled it into your locker and tell me how much you look forward to your maintenance routine? Tell me how long that run feels the next day, or how angry you get at your teammates for not lobbing those shagged BP balls close to the ball bucket? As good as pitching great feels, pitching bad feels equally terrible. It will suck the motivation right out of your soul.
One of the best pitchers I’ve every played with was Roy Halladay. His workout routines are the stuff of legend. Long, grueling regimens that make you wonder if you even scratched the definition of “wants it bad.” Roy’s had a lot more good days than bad ones on the mound, but for all the great outings he’s had it’s his bad ones that impress me the most. After a game in which he’s been knocked around, when it would be easy to say, “I’m rich, I’m in great shape, I’m a perennial all-star; I just need a break” he goes right from the field to his long, grueling regimen—no questions asked. As every pitcher knows, the heaviest weight to lift is that of a bad outing, and Roy, along with all the other things he’s mastered in baseball, is a master of lifting himself out from under failure and marching on to his next chance at success.
For most pitchers, this is the separator. Everyone has failure in this sport. In fact, it’s a sport built on failure so you should expect to have it at some point. Someone has to lose, after all, or there would be no winners. Occasionally, it’s going to be you. The best thing you do when it happens is change the way you look at failure early. Ugly numbers don’t necessarily mean you pitched badly. Write-ups in newspapers don’t a bad pitcher make. Today’s boos will become tomorrow’s cheers. You telling yourself you’re a failure on the other hand, well, that means a lot.
The game’s result is just one part of your pitching process, and not even the most important one. The recovery phase is what truly matters, especially after a bad outing. In the recovery phase you will choose to look at yourself as a success or a failure. You will decide if you should keep pushing or fold. You will choose to put your work in or bow out. Winners are made in how they recover from failure and yes, as cheesy as it sounds, you can win out over baseball even when it kicks your ass on the field if choose too.
Dirk Hayhrust is the author of The New York Times Best Seller, THE BULLPEN GOSPELS, and OUT OF MY LEAGUE. He has played professionally for the Padres, Blue Jays, and Tampa Bay Rays, including Big League time with the Padres and Jays. Read more from Dirk at www.dirkhayhurst.com or follow him on Twitter at, @TheGarfoose