Sunday, January 01, 2006

Slidin' Home (Part II)


"So do you play for yourself or for your daughter?" Dr. Rakes asked Dallas bluntly.

I thought it was an innocent question at first. But thinking it through further, it was a loaded question with really no right or wrong answer on the surface. The player's reaction and the way in which he answers determines whether the answer is right or wrong.

"Who does this guy think he is?" Dallas snapped as he glared at me. "As long as I throw strikes, what's it to you or him?"

In other words, he wasn't playing for himself and was very defensive about it.

On the car ride over I had told Doc about Dallas dropping his velocity to get the strikes he needed under pressure. Doc asked me if I thought Dallas had the talent to make those pitches without dropping the velocity. Of course he did. Without a doubt. "So why do you think he drops his velocity?" He asked me rhetorically. "Because he lacks confidence. Fear is in the driver's seat."

Dammit. I was afraid he was going down that road. To me, I've always called it something more visual: "The Giant." The sum of all negative thoughts. It's that huge. We all have it to some degree or another. It's just that some are better at controlling The Giant than others. "Surely he isn't afraid Doc. Maybe he's just trying to be more deliberate with his delivery to ensure a strike," I tried to explain.

"There you go again, Cutter. The denial thing. Seems to be a recurring issue with you."

Great. Now it was all back on me. Lord knows I didn't want to get into my issues around the holidays. But just as Doc was about to press me further, the reflectors on the "Parker" mailbox nearly blinded us as they came into view from behind the big oak tree. I swerved onto the dirt driveway only to prolong our inevitable conversation. His memory was like a trap...nothing escaped and he always circled back. This time would be no exception.

Anyhow, back to Dallas. Doc quickly went to work by dialing into the goals that Dallas had set for himself. As Doc expected, they were vague and ill-defined. What surprised me was that Dallas spoke in terms of "luck," "fate," and "just getting some breaks." He even thanked his "lucky stars," on several occasions.

Doc also pointed out afterwards that he used "I have to," or "I gotta," way too many times. I had to cringe when Doc said those phrases were just nice ways of saying, "I have no control over what I'm doing. " According to the Doc, Dallas was creating an environment of pressure, tension, and resentment. I found this conclusion interesting because the last time I saw Dallas pitch, it looked as if his anger motivated him and he pitched better as a result. I mentioned this to the Doc, but my credibility with the whole denial thing looked as if I was trying to make excuses for Dallas. The Doc wasn't buying it. "If he's motivated by anger, he's going to have a miserable career and an even worse life."

Doc suggested that Dallas sit down and evaluate what he could and could not control in both his life and on the field. Dallas pretty much admitted that his mind would drift at times on the mound and he would think about those things he could not control. As soon as he determined which actions he could honestly control on the field, then Doc wanted him to structure some reasonable goals directly related to those actions. That would put Dallas back into control instead of simply playing up to other people's expectations and trying to please everyone else. Dallas would be taking sole responsibility for whatever he did or didn't do to achieve the goals. He would be more focused and in a much better position to undertake his next task-- tame The Giant.

In the end, I couldn't really tell if Dallas was buying into the Doc's suggestions but I sure was. If I had only heard those suggestions when I was getting started, things would have been different. Much different. But Dallas did give the Doc his cell phone number as we were leaving, which I thought was hopeful considering how things started. As we made our way back down the dirt driveway and onto the dark country road, Doc asked how much time I wanted him to spend on Dallas as if to say, "This kid needs a lot of work. I don't want to be wasting my time on this kid unless he has the physical tools to be great." I assured him that it would be time well spent.

Doc just shook his head and smiled. "Did you call your son for Christmas?"

I knew he would somehow come back to me. I just knew it.

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