“This is the playoffs. This is real! I don’t want to be the next Bill Buckner. If I screw up they are going to play it OVER AND OVER AND OVER!”
I was overwhelmed with fear, self-doubt, and anxiety after game 162. You see, this is the first time I was going to the playoffs in the major leagues. I watched a lot of baseball, and I have seen the Bill Buckner play 100’s of times. And, the ironic thing is, Bill Buckner was an excellent defensive player. I was searching for help to calm my nerves.
Well, lucky I had Paul Molitor, who was a World Series MVP for the team I grew up watching, the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Molly, were you nervous when you played in the World Series?” I asked.
“Yes, I was” Molly answered.
This answer blew my mind. The World Series MVP, a future Hall of Famer got nervous?
“You did?” I asked in amazement. “What did you do to calm yourself?”
“I prayed. You see a lot of guys will play their whole career and never get to the playoffs, and even less, play in a World Series. This is a special time, with special memories. I prayed that I would have the peace in my mind and in my heart to enjoy the moment,” Molly calmly responded.
So that was my prayer. I want to be able to enjoy the experience because I didn’t know if I would ever get back to the playoffs.
I got to the park early, and I remember the crispness in the Oakland air. The air had the feel of a cool fall morning. I was a little nervous walking into the ballpark, but when I got to the clubhouse, I felt like I was at home. A bunch of the boys were already there. Torii Hunter was chilling in front of his locker with Double J (Jacque Jones). I thought, “We might have a chance here.”
Side story from Terry Ryan, the Twins general manager at the time:
“We had a little excitement before the game as Radke(starting pitcher), Hocking, Guzy, Rivas, myself and team President Dave St. Peter decided for the first and last time of our life, to listen to Big O (David Ortiz) on how to get to Oakland Coliseum.” Figuring out the Bart, Oakland’s subway, wasn’t easy. Terry said, he realized something was wrong about 35 minutes into the trip.
“Hell, we are on our way to Sacramento, and our starting pitcher is on this train,” Terry said. The guys rolled in three hours later than normal, which was about one hour before game time.
It got REAL at game time. I was feeling good. I had peace, and I wasn’t nervous.
Double J lead off the game with a ground ball to second one out.
Guzy (Christian Guzman) hit a ground ball to first base, and he beat Hudson to the bag.
One out, man on first, and I am up.
Hudson has a nasty changeup with great movement. If he throws a ball in the zone, it will dive out, and I tend to chase those suckers all the time. I am thinking to myself, “Get the ball up, get the ball up, get the ball up.”
He throws me the first pitch, which was a fastball. Ball. The next pitch, he throws another fastball inside that I drive to right field. I am thinking, “Go…GO…. GOOOO.”
Jeremy Dye makes a great over the shoulder catch.
I thought to myself, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I’m out.
Big O ends up striking out to end the inning. Now it is our turn to play defense.
We had the best defense in the MLB that year. We lead in almost every defensive category. Baseball Tonight had a segment called Web Gems, and during the year, they ended up doing a special segment almost every week called Twin Gems. We could catch it better than anybody in the league.
Batter 1: Ray Durham. Strikeout
Batter 2: Hatterburg. Walk
I thought to myself, “Walk? Radke never walks anybody. What the heck!”
Batter 3: Tejada. Double play ball, but Guzy’s throw pulls Rivas off the bag.
All I can think about is, “Guzy doesn’t make mistakes like that, what the heck is going on?”
Batter 4: Chavez. Base hit to right field. Cuddy picks up the ball and throws it home. The throw is up the line, and AJ flat out misses it. The ball deflects off his glove into the A’s dugout. Error. Score Tejada. 2-0 with a runner on second. One out. The fans are going crazy!
“Ahhh. OK, what is going on? AJ is a gamer, that doesn’t happen!” Man, I don’t want to be the next guy to screw up. Focus, Corey. Ground ball to me, Let’s go, Jeremy, hit a ground ball to me. Ground ball to me, ground ball to me,” I tell myself.
Batter 5: Dye. Ground ball to Koskie. Check the runner, go to first. Two outs!
“Phew, I made the play,” I sigh with relief.
Batter 6: Justice. Bloop base hit to center field, which scores Chavez. 3-0
Batter 7: Ellis. Strikeout. Third out.
When we came into the dugout, I don’t remember much. It is a blur. But, I remember Gardy making a joke about us. Something like, “About time you guys got back here.”
We scored in the top of the second with a couple of doubles by T (Torii) and Cuddy.
“Ok, we are still in this game!” I am thinking. “Time to go play some defense!”
Batter 8: T- Long. Fly out to Cuddy.
Batter 9: Hernadez. Strikeout.
Two out and now top of the order.
Batter 1: Durham. Double.
Batter 2: Hatteburg. Infield fly on the first base side. Mint, Radke, AJ and I watch it fall between us. Run scores: 4-1 and two outs.
This ball got in my head. As I look at the tape now, I had no chance. That was not my ball. But at the time, I spiraled. I remember thinking, “Should I have caught that ball? Did they think I was going to catch that ball. I screwed that play up. I should have caught that ball”
Going into the next batter, I was still thinking about the play.
Batter 3: Tejada. Ground ball to me.
I dropped to my knees to block the ball (goalie instinct), threw the ball low to Dougie, and he didn’t pick it. Error Koskie. Runners on first and third. Two outs.
I remember watching the big screen in embarrassment, “What the heck was that? Why in the world would I do that? I look like a little leaguer. Dougie, why didn’t you pick that? That is an easy pick for you. This is not Dougie’s fault. If I had made a good throw, he wouldn’t have had to pick.”
Batter 4: Chavez. Base hit. 5-1 the A’s.
“Argh, I suck. That is such an easy play. What the heck was I thinking?”
Batter 5: Dye. High fly ball to the same spot that we let that ball drop earlier.
“I am not letting this ball drop,” I say to myself.
I came charging in, and wham, I ran into Radke. This worked out because Dougie caught the ball, and if I didn’t run into Radke, I would have ran Doug over.
I came into the dugout, and Gardy was laughing.
Top of the third inning.
Guzy led off with a single up the middle.
I came up with Guzy on first. I worked the count to 2-0. Here is where I got crazy though. In our pre-game meeting, Molly, who was the advanced scout for the series, told us that over the last month in a 2-0 count Hudson has thrown a change-up 98 percent of the time. Throughout the year, he has thrown his changeup 4 percent of the time in a 2-0 count. “Should I sit on a changeup? Do I listen to Molly or the analytics? What if he throws a fastball right down the middle, and I take it because I am sitting changeup? What should I look for?
Hudson threw over to first, and Hernadez setup inside.
“They must think I am really stupid if I am going to fall for that one,” I think.
This was when I went all in on sitting on the changeup. “Look up for it up, look for it up, look for it up,” I say.
We ended up coming back and winning this game, and eventually, winning the series. This was the most fun I have had playing baseball.
What I learned:
– The power of prayer. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
– “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. Have you ever seen lions hunt an African buffalo? When an African buffalo herd travels, the smaller, younger and weaker buffalo stay in the middle, and the stronger males lead and form the protective outer ring of the herd. The lion attacks and tries to pull the smaller, younger and weaker buffalo out of the center of the herd. For it knows that alone these buffalo are no match for the lion. The same can be applied to us. We all have moments of weakness, and we need to be in the center of the herd. In times of weakness, the lion tries to pull us from the strength of the herd. Alone the lion will devour us. As I was struggling with my fear of failure negative self-talk kept me from talking to my teammates about my fears. “What will they think of me?”, “The will think I am a loser.” When I finally reached out to someone who had wisdom, his answer blew me away. A world series MVP had the same fears as me going into the playoffs! I was not alone in my battle!
How I applied my lesson to business ownership:
When I opened my business’, I struggled with running them. I made sure to surround myself with wise people, and I searched out wisdom in books. This helped run a successful business. There is no such thing as a “self-made”……….. If you don’t have the right team around you, have nothing. I wasn’t going to allow fear and insecurity to isolate me from the truth.
The lesson for my youth sports coaching:
Leading up to this moment, I had approximately 118,000 ground balls that year. Our team had close to a million ground balls between us. You saw what happen, we were TERRIBLE! I don’t expect a youth or high school player to make every play when the best in the world can’t make every play.
Gardy yelling at us wouldn’t have helped us magically play better. We were trying, and the last thing we wanted to do was not make the plays. This is why I don’t yell at young athletes playing sports. IT DOESN’T HELP THEM PLAY BETTER, IT JUST MAKES ME LOOK LIKE A LUNATIC!