"Maybe next year" is a phrase that is often uttered within the sports world.
It centers around the idea that maybe next year, either as a team or individually, you will accomplish what you did not achieve
in the past year. You then set out to make the necessary changes that will help you or your team achieve its goal. Teams looking
to either compete, remain competitive or gain an edge will add players, get rid of players or change managers or coaches --
anything that may increase their chances for success.
With all the teams I've played for, I have yet to walk into the clubhouse
at the beginning of Spring Training and not get the feeling that the team feels as though they are capable of being successful
that season. From the players to the coaches and manager, to team officials and personnel, a new year brings on a fresh attitude
and renewed hope for everyone. Any changes that occurred during the offseason are "steps in the right direction" -- last season
is in the past and the focus is on the present and the future.
The potential life span of a professional baseball player is longer than
most other major sports, but the window of opportunity is still limited compared to most careers. Some players careers last
longer than others and for those who are still trying to make their way, it becomes essential that they make the most of every
opportunity. No one wants to be that player that looks back on certain opportunities with regrets.
I recognize that I have been fortunate to have played for thirteen years
now. I also know that I am capable of doing so much more. I know my numbers have never been reflective of my potential and
each year I strive to learn what that potential is. All of that has left me wondering what I am truly capable of. I have turned
thirty-one this past offseason, and the promise of being a 23-year-old prospect no longer exists for me, but I still possess
the drive and willingness to continue get better each season. My time frame has to be now, I no longer have the luxury of
waiting until next year to make something happen.
Last year, I made a pledge to myself to do things differently. If I wanted
to improve my game and become better, I needed to make a change. I was not yet sure what the change would be, but I was convinced
some change was in store. I have heard on a number of occasions that "you cannot repeat the same things over and over again
and expect different results." Every year I am confronted with evaluating my season and seeing how I can build or improve
upon it. I have always been willing to make adjustments and changes for the sake of improving, even if it might mean that
I may fail miserably in the process.
I started off by ordering different bats than I normally would, different
size, different weight, different model -- different everything. During the offseason I came across a 34 1/2 inch, 33 ounce
Trot Nixon (Boston Red Sox) model bat in my collection of bats that I have accumulated over the years. I immediately noticed
a difference in weight and size between the Trot Nixon model and the model I usually swing. From my very first day in the
minor leagues, I have always used a 34 inch 32 ounce bat. The model may have varied throughout the years, but the size and
weight has remained the same. In the Minor Leagues, and especially at the rookie level, there were very few models available,
so players did not have much of a selection to choose from. Anyway, despite the difference in size and weight, I liked how
it felt in my hands and began to use it during batting practice.
I then started rationalizing why it would make sense for me to swing a
heavier bat. At six feet four inches tall, I should be able to handle a heavier bat and generate some power. You hear all
the stories about the old timers swinging heavier bats, Babe Ruth swung a 35 inch, 36 ounce bat and 714 homeruns later he
is one of the most beloved figures in baseball history. They say all you have to do is get the head of the bat to the ball
and it will go. I was not hanging my hopes that this would be my key to immediate success at the plate, but it was an adjustment
worth experimenting with.
I remember swinging a much heavier bat a few years ago and having some
immediate success with it. A few line drives here and there, and suddenly I thought I was on to something. However, with time,
as I became more comfortable with the weight, the hits were becoming farther and fewer between. Whether it was the size or
weight of the bat, I don't know for sure, but after an 0 for 27 slump in the big leagues, the bat could have very well been
Today I am a different player, or at least I am supposed to be. Bigger,
stronger and smarter; smart enough to know not to make the same mistakes again. So along with switching to a heavier bat,
I started tinkering with my batting stance. You often begin to remember what worked for you in the past and then try to recreate
that same feeling. "Well, maybe if I do this, then this will happen, or maybe if I do that, then it will allow me to do this."
They say hitting is more mental than anything else.
Very few of us are blessed with the natural ability to hit. There are what
you call "pure hitters," they get out of bed hitting line drives. The rest of us have to continue to work and work and tinker
and tinker. I always feel like I'm just one adjustment away from putting it all together. It's just a matter of finding what
that one adjustment is and how many adjustments I'll have to make before then.
Anyway, it didn't take long for me to realize that swinging a heavier bat
was not the answer. In Spring Training, I was finding that I was overmatched by a good fastball and was not generating the
power I had hoped for. So much for being a smarter hitter. I continued to tinker with my batting stance into the season, trying
to find a comfort level at the plate.
Look for Part II of IV in the March issue.