Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How The Most Talented Prepare For Success: 3 Characteristics

I tweeted the other day to see if you guys had any questions that I could explore on the blog. This was the most interesting/challenging tweet I received...

It really got me thinking of my interactions and observations of some of the most talented players that I've had the pleasure of running into during my career. I was able to narrow the list of characteristics down to 3 main points of preparation. I'll explore each of these with an example from the most talented guys I've encountered.

1. The most talented prepare by asking questions first.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Mets pitcher, Miguel Batista. He talked to us for about 45 minutes about his journey through the major and minor leagues. The man has played for somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 major league teams for the last 17 years. He recounted his conversations with greats like Maddux, Glavine, Schilling, Johnson etc. I was intrigued most, not by the content of pitching knowledge, but at his ability to ask the important questions to the right people. Because of his willingness to learn and his humility, he was able to methodically pick the brains of multiple hall of famers, and thus improve his game dramatically. He said, "I am constantly learning that I don't know things." What a great way to live! Miguel realized that before he could prepare to be great, he needed to know what things to work on and the best way to work on them. It takes a level of humility that few leaders have these days but that should be prized by all. As the Boosterthon team teaches me every offseason, leaders are learners. That's a principle that crosses industries and cultures, and one I hope to develop all my life.

2. The most talented prepare in the same way every time regardless of context.

In college I would under prepare for tests in classes that I didn't care about. Art History, Introduction to Physics, Badminton. These classes didn't count toward my Major GPA, which is what counts toward grad school. I figured it didn't matter whether I got a B or an A...in truth it didn't. But it did have some negative effects on other studying habits. When it came to preparing for tests or presentations in classes that DID matter, I hadn't prepared myself to succeed. Because the context had changed, so did my stress level. I became anxious about how much I "should" study and whether it was gonna be enough or not. Had I prepared well in all of my classes regardless of context, I wouldn't be worried about the big tests as opposed to the small ones.

The perfect example of this in baseball is Johan Santana. I've seen him throw a handful of bullpens all in different contexts. I've seen him throw a rehab bullpen, a pre-game (minor league) bullpen, a pre-game (big league) bullpen, and a normal in-between-starts bullpen. One would think that a former Cy Young winner and perennial all star could afford to take it easy for a minor league or rehab game, but that isn't the case with Johan. If you didn't know what field he was playing on, who his audience was, or who was in the opposing line-up you would never be able to tell the difference in bullpen routines. He is an up-beat guy with a smile on his face at all times. But when he steps on that rubber to begin his bullpen there is a stoic resolve from pitch 1 to 35. I truly believe this consistency in preparation has enabled him to succeed in a plethora of different scenarios. Prepare like every meeting is a meeting with your biggest client. If you do, you'll never under deliver with the small clients and you won't stress when the big ones enter the room.

3. The most talented prepare ferociously everyday to improve their weaknesses.

Talent is one thing. Everyone has some level of talent in some area. Leaders are typically good at making the most of their talents. The most talented leaders, however, work ferociously to improve themselves in areas of weakness. It's much less fun to do things you're bad at, but unless you're comfortable with being bad at something forever, you must work hard at it.

Enter Mark Cohoon. Going into his second season of professional baseball he was already a good pitcher. His command was very good and his stuff was at least major league average. It could've been easy for him to rest on his talents, but he didn't. He realized that as a lefty he had a weapon that he didn't know how to use...the Pick Off Move. A coach told Mark that he could conceivably get 2-3 free outs per game if he could improve his pick off move. Knowing an extra inning per start could add up throughout a season, Mark decided he would work on improving his move. Everyday he would go out after practice was over and do 20-30 pick offs. It took him a maximum of 15 minutes, but his concentration and focus was ferocious. 15 minutes a day for a month and a half finally paid off. Cohoon now has one of the best pick off moves in baseball, not only giving him free outs, but effectively shutting down the opposing running game. He continues to practice his move everyday...but now he practices it as a strength.

"Good is the enemy of great" - Jim Collins

If you're content to be weak at certain things with no effort to change, "good" is as good as it gets. The most talented leaders know this and try ferociously to turn weaknesses into strengths everyday.

I hope this has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. Thanks for the great question, Chris!

What are some of the preparation characteristics you have seen in the most talented leaders in your field?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Minor League Spring Training Notes

It's been a few weeks since I've blogged and besides the SEO war I'm waging against myself, I feel bad for not keeping everybody updated on Spring Training. By everybody, I mean the thin slice of the Internet reading public that stumbles across this blog...this one goes out to you guys.

We've been weighed, measured, grouped, and fed...a lot. It kind of sounds like we're a bunch of cattle, but I can assure you we're not. Most of us are worth less per head. Thus far we have been separated into 4 groups (one for each of the full season clubs), and yours truly is in group 1 (the AAA group). At this point most of the minor league guys who started in major league camp are back with the rest of the Proletariat, meaning that the competition for jobs has truly begun. It's easy to get wrapped up in "who's going where", but the fact of the matter is that none of us has any clue.

This is a game based on performance and results will usually speak for themselves. Getting caught up in what the front office might do with players is for writers, reporters, and fans...not for us. I've seen players manage their expectations so poorly that when they inevitably get an assignment that they're not happy with it can ruin their season or worse yet, their career. Call me crazy, religious, or stupid if you want, but I am confident that God has my career figured out. He doesn't get surprised. He isn't hoping for a AAA rotation spot. In fact, the bible says He knows my needs before I have them. I'm confident that whatever results are produced on the field and whatever decisions are made off the field, my career is in His hands. My only job is to work hard, love the people around me, and trust. All of which I'm working on.

But I digress...

We've started playing games against people in different uniforms (VERY different in the case of the Marlins). We play basically two teams on a daily rotating basis. The defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the recently rebranded Miami Marlins. By the end of Spring Training I should know every player in both organizations. What they like to hit, what they don't like. Where they play. What color their hair is. What they eat for lunch. I'll be a human scouting bureau.

I've had one outing thus far: 3 innings. 5 hits (calm down, they were all singles). 0 bb. 2 K's. 1 run. As I tweeted, Mark Cohoon and Dylan Owen ruined my grading curve and bumped me down to a B with their A+ performances. Jerks. My mindset is much better this Spring than in past years. I'm taking my own advice from a previous post and focusing on controlling only what is in my power to control. It's slowing the game down and narrowing my focus on every pitch. Sounds easy in theory. I'll let you know how it plays out in the reality of game-speed situations.

On a side note, I might be used as a sports consultant for an article in one of my favorite online publications, Bearings for Men. It's a southern take on all things manly. It's boss. I'll keep you posted on it's release. In the meantime, check my day-to-day nonsense on Twitter. It gets a laugh like a quarter of the time.

Any baseball, life, or ping pong related questions? I'll answer any and all.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spring Training 2012 Update

We've been in STEP camp for a week at this point. To be clear, this is the mini camp that happens each year before the actual minor league spring training starts. Which is not to be confused with major league camp...but I digress.

Besides the endless repetitions of covering first base, fielding bunts, and picking off imaginary runners, we also get to have our offseason shortened by one week...yay.

I'm kidding. STEP camp is actually a great experience for us. We get a head start on our throwing and conditioning while getting to put in some face time with the new staff. It's a smaller group of guys which makes the one-on-one attention easier to come by. Added bonuses include meetings with "special guests" each morning. So far we've heard from pitching coordinator Ron Romanick, Catching coordinator Bob Natal, Miguel Batista, and Pitching guru Miguel Valdes. My personal favorite was the 45 minute wisdom session with Batista. He is a walking baseball encyclopedia in a 41 year old superhuman body. I found out that he is also a published author, trained tenor sax player, and he's played for 11 major league teams. Another cool experience was STEP camp dinner the other night. About 60 players and staff got together for a nice 5 course Italian dinner on the Mets' tab (I know, I thought they were low on cash too). It was a really nice time, mostly because Sandy Alderson was sitting directly across from me. We shared Calamari. We talked about baseball and Twitter. It was inspiring.

Paul DePodesta sat in on our pitching talk today and I resisted the urge to ask him about Jonah Hill playing him in Moneyball. Small victories, right?

I'm living in a condo over in the PGA village with 3 of my favorite teammates. Kai "the German" Gronauer, Mark "the Texan" Cohoon, and Cam "the New Yorker" Maron. We have established some ground rules for our place. First, we have family movie night every evening around 7:30. We are traveling the alphabet and hitting a movie from each letter. Just so you know, our TV on the ground is for cable and the one sitting on top of that one is for the movies. Didin't want you to get confused. Also, there are tons of cucarachas (spanish for vile sneaky bugs). We've bought some Raid. It's being handled.

Fist live BP was today. It went well...meaning I didn't hit anybody, give up any home runs, or get hurt. It's still early, but I threw strikes. Everybody keeps saying that's how you get people out. I'm still on the fence, though.

A note about the weather. It's been pretty close to perfect (knock on wood). No rain (knock on wood). Warm but not hot (knock on so so much wood).

Everybody on the minor league side will be here by next friday, and the games will start soon after that. Then we only have roughly 150+ games until the season's over. Oh how quickly the time flies. Ha!

This is the time of the year where every baseball player comes into camp with anticipation and a gleam in their eye. Three weeks from now is the time of year where every baseball player begs for just one meaningful game. Check back in, it's like clockwork.

I should have some more stuff to report on soon, but until then, I'll be wearing plenty of sunscreen. No need to worry.