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Book Excerpts Small Hotel Rooms Pitching: The Mental Game

Pitching a major league game in front of thousands is not as hard as one might think when it’s what you have been trained to do from the beginning. What it takes though is a lot more mental concentration and awareness than you can imagine.

On days that I felt really good after warming up I had to be real careful about over-throwing. I found out early that there is nothing worse than feeling like you can blow a pitch by a good hitter if you haven’t set him up for it. Good hitters can adjust to any speed and throwing a ball faster than normal has a tendency to straighten out the balls flight.

I might strike out the first guy and think, “OK! Now I’ll breeze.” It never worked that way. I was only good when I could retain pinpoint, narrowed down concentration of the strike zone set for the game by the plate umpire. When it’s 110 degrees in Kansas City, it isn’t easy. Or when the opposing lineup is loaded with long ball hitters, the effort needed to keep concentrating is wearing. Or when your shortstop throws a double play ball into the stands it doesn’t help either. But you can never let it waver your resolve.

It’s funny how sometimes you know you don’t have your good stuff but it makes the game more fun. The hitters know it right away and they have a tendency to get more agitated with themselves if they don’t fare well. It’s at those times a pitcher starts to get the respect from the hitters because they see he is competitive and is willing to lay it all on the line without asking out of the situation no matter what the result. I can honestly say to you that I NEVER thought about quitting or worried about numbers. It was a matter of the manager giving me the ball to start the game and it was up to him to take me out when he couldn’t stand what I was doing anymore. I never refused a start or asked out of one.

I remember a time in Fenway when I had pitched 9 innings and won and asked Higgins two days later if he wanted me to be ready if he needed an inning. He was adamant about the fact that he wanted me with 4 days rest and wouldn’t use me on a bet. I’m sitting in the dugout without a damn thing on under my uniform when, I forget who, hurts his forearm late in the game and all of a sudden Higgins is looking down the bench at me despite a bullpen full of people. He gives me this silly grin and I kid you not, I go out there with no jock and no cup and a glove I borrow. I have never felt more naked and vulnerable in my life, but silly pride put me out there and I was lucky to survive the inning as they hit line shots right at my teammates. Naturally, Higgins never said a word to me about it ever. But that was the way it was in those days. If they said pitch, you pitched because you knew there was always some guy waiting to take your place.

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