Monday, March 28, 2011

A Winning Team

A Winning Team
March has two of America’s greatest sporting traditions, the collegiate basketball tournament known as March Madness and Major League Baseball spring training.
Spring training is a time where all 30 Major League baseball clubs gather in their respective cities located in Arizona and Florida. The purpose of this gathering is to put together and condition a group player that will hopefully be a championship team. I’ve been involved in 19 Major League spring trainings as a player and coach and each spring the goal is the same, the best possible 25 players are chosen for the team. In general these 25 players are usually the most talented. However, it’s been my observation and experience that talent is only one component of a championship team. Teams that depend solely on talent usually under achieve.
If putting a championship team together was as simple as picking the best talent, general managers and managers’ jobs would be easy. As there are many components that influences the choice in players, here are a few that are worthy of discussion. In addition to talent, a championship team must have:
25 role players, every player must know, understand and accept his role.
Trust, believe in the system that is in place and teammates. Believe in the process regardless of the immediate results.
Respect, champions have respect for its opponents as well as a mutual respect for each other.
Humility, willing to do whatever it takes to win. The team comes first.
Mental toughness, the ability to overcome adversity, fatigue and bruised egos.
Understanding and acceptance, player must understand that there are 25 different personalities on the team and accepting those differences makes for a harmonious clubhouse.
Acknowledge its strengths and weaknesses, acknowledging these will help you plan and prepare. Most teams plan from their strength and prepare for their weaknesses.
Controlled arrogance, championship teams have confidence in their abilities but awareness of situation that may force them to change their approach or strategy.
A championship team wins in spite of flawed coaching not because of good coaching.
Spring training is coming to an end and we are faced with the daunting task of making the final decisions as to who will be part of a winning combination. A combination that will eventually display most, if not all, of the attributes of a championship team. Let’s Go Mets!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Defining Moments

Defining Moments

During the course of a player’s career and the course of a season for a team, there will be an event, a moment that will define that player or team. As a matter of fact, most of us experience this time in life. During this period, we realize what we want to do in life and what kind of person we want to become. I call these moments defining moments.

For individual players and teams, defining moments tell them what type of players and teams they are. Both, players and teams, have two defining moments, realization and confirmation. The first moment helps them realize their abilities and desires. The second moment confirms who and what they have become. That moment can be an at bat, a pitch, a series, a season. It is these moment when a player realizes that he or she has the talent and desire to perform at the highest level. It is also during these moments that a player gets confirmation or proof that he or she belongs and have achieved what they realized what they were capable of doing.

For a team, these moments help them to realize that it has the players to compete with the elite teams in their league and the confirmation when your team has competed and defeated those elite teams. Confirmation takes more than performing, it also involves handling adversity. Players unhappy with playing time, contracts and other distractions that team can influence the performance of a team.

I’ve been asked on many occasions, when did I know I wanted or could be a professional baseball player? I did not know I wanted or could be a professional ball player until I was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodger in 1976 after two years of college. Although I chose to continued college, it was at that moment, I realized that being a professional baseball player, in the major league, was something I had the talent for and wanted to become. It wasn’t until 1982 that I received confirmation of not only belonging in the major league but also what kind of player I would have to be. It was a regular game against the St. Louis Cardinals when I scored from second base on an infield out that was my defining moment. I did it twice that very week.

As for the team, it usually takes a series or even a season. After the 85 season, we knew we were going to be different. During the spring of 86 the mood and personalities of the players suggested that we had grown, developed, ready for the challenge. We believed that we were ready to take on the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Early in the season we received confirmation by defeating this elite team with an elite manager named Whitey Herzog (The White Rat) at home and in Busch Stadium, a very difficult place to win. Because of this series, we knew we were the team to beat.

Defining moments, moments of realization, gives you hope, goals and desire to dream.
Defining moments, moments of confirmation, gives you confidence and the seal of accomplishment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unforgettable Season

Unforgettable Season
    The year began like any other year in spring training. Everyone was eager to get started. Optimism was enjoyed by all teams knowing that the reality of the season will temper this feeling, for many, at some point. This team was different in some way. The reason was not clear at the time but we all knew that something was definite different about the players. The names were the same but the shadow of failure somehow was not hovering waiting to drop what was in the past the misery of defeat. It was hard to tell if it was confidence or the players did not care because they knew what the end results would be.
    The season started and unfortunately I did not break camp with the team due to an eye injury that occurred during run down drills. As you can imagine, this was enough to drench any optimism I may have had for a productive season and maybe my career. I did survive and fully recovered from the injury. I rejoined the team in May and by that time the team was off and running, winning game after game which was a good thing and they were doing it without me. I was happy for the team but this was truly an ego buster. Common sense should have told me that I would not come in and continue being the everyday player that I was accustomed to. I became a part-time player, a role player, playing mostly against left hand pitchers. I wasn’t happy about the situation but there was nothing I could do about it other than complain, which I did.
    The season continued to roll along without a hitch. We won game after game, series after series. Some, in past years, we truly would have lost. We became the toast of New York and the envy of baseball. We had it all, pitching, power, speed and arrogance. We were the amazing Mets to some and pond scum to others. We cruised into the NLCS against the Houston Astros, a very good team. In fact, they were so good that this matchup, in my opinion, was one of the greatest series I had ever been in including the 86 World Series. We went toe to toe for five games and then came game six which ranks at the top of my list for all time great games. Through lead changes, let downs and momentum swings, many of us wanted that game just to end. Physically and emotionally neither team had much left. However, each team had its own motivation to keep fighting. The Astros wanted to dethrone the powerful and arrogant New York Mets. The Mets did not want a game seven because of a pitcher name Mike Scott. We eventually won the game but it took 16 innings. The thinking was that since we had won this series, the next series would be a piece of cake. We were wrong.
   After a dramatic game six victory in the NLCS, we entered the World Series against the Boston Red Sox at home and quickly lost the first two games. All of a sudden the old feeling that once plagued the New York Mets and its fan, found its way into our thoughts. After a bold move by the manager, David Johnson, not having practice before the next three games which was to be played in Boston, we won the first two but lost the third. The confidence returned just as quickly as it had left a few days before. We were headed back to New York for Games 6 and 7.
    The way the season started for us no one could predict that the events of game six would have such a profound effect on this seemingly unbeatable team. The Mets were down two runs going into the bottom of 9th inning facing what would be the power arms of the Red Sox bullpen. The feeling of what a waste clouded the minds of every Mets fan and player, at least of those who dare to admit it. After two outs in the 9th and no one on, things began to change. There was one hit then another then another and just that fast we became the aggressor with a level of confidence that fill every seat in the stadium. In typical 86 Mets fashion, we found a way to overcome claiming victory out of what seemed to be obvious defeat. It was on to game 7 with confidence not even a rainout could temper.
  Game 7 started as many of the Mets games had, down by a few runs early. Just like everyone had come to expect, the mighty Mets came back snatching victory from the hands of a dejected Red Sox team. Looking into their dugout, their faces said it all. The Mets did it to us again. The Mets ended an unforgettable season with a World Series victory.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Limitations and Restrictions

Overcoming Limitations and Cultural Restrictions.
         After giving it some serious thought, it became clear that writing this article is something I really want to do. I came to realize that I have always been one who questioned the usual and unusual occurrences of people lives as well as my own.
       Recently, I decided that I wanted to do something as bold as write a book. This is not all that odd, since I’ve always had this fascination for writing small articles about most anything. The only problem is that my thoughts seemed so erratic that putting them in some legible order was very difficult.  This is an attempt to record, in a readable fashion, my wondering thoughts.
       How did I get to this point in life in spite of all the restrictions and limitations confronting people like myself in the early 70’s? The social and cultural limitations were enough to cause most people to call it quits. Yet! Here I am with a family, two college degrees and a career in professional sports. Don’t misunderstand me as having a sad childhood, just noting that it was a struggle.
        I was black, poor and grew up in a culture that rejected growth. Education was stressed only to maintain an already decaying community. New ideals were not welcomed which limited new opportunities. The powers were content with the way thing were. I suppose that in many cultures there is a fear of losing control among the more influential people.
      There wasn’t much diversity when it came to career choices. The two overwhelming choices were farming and the military. Both are honest and respectable jobs but does not rank high on my, when I grow up list. As a matter of fact, the talk was,” when I graduate, I’m going into the army”, which at the time was an easy choice over being a farmer’s helper.
      Small communities are great in terms of having a close relationship with family and neighbors. The down side is that everyone thinks alike. Whatever limited thinking and imagination is constantly reinforced.
     As small communities are great for raising a family, you sometimes have to weigh this against what I consider as under minding the ideology that America is the land of opportunity. Opportunity is a byproduct of creative thinking, diversity and change.
       Most small towns, at least the one I grew up in, adopted a status quo culture. Culture is important because it give a set of social rules which everyone is expected to live by. However, “The sky is the limit”, “Be all you can be”, were only figures of speech, nothing more.
      These communities give true meaning to the term; “One Horse Town”, one school, one police, one traffic light, one culture, and one way of doing things regardless of race or religion. Communities, whether large or small that adopt a status quo culture is destined to fail. Cultures that fail to promote its’ youth and new ideals prohibits the people from rising above the social and cultural limitations. With education and determination, there is hope to succeed above the expectations of your environment.