At the heart of it, baseball is about a single battle.
Pitcher vs Batter.
Each pitch is a battle. Each at-bat is a war, comprised of a series of smaller battles.
The pitcher attacks. The batter defends, and tries to counter the attack. The defense behind the pitcher tries to defend against that attack and counter with their own next inning.
We can compare teams.
We can compare starting pitchers.
We can look at season results, or any other sample size.
This game is all about that small moment where a pitcher is on the mound, a batter is at the plate, and everyone is waiting to see what the pitcher will throw, and how the batter will instantly react.
I don’t know what is more impressive: Being able to throw a 100 MPH fastball, or having the ability to hit that fastball with a stick, sometimes.
This week on First Pitch, I’m going to look at the headspace involved with each action, in the only way I know how.
Fuquay Vinyl Playlist
Oh everyone believes
From emptiness to everything
Oh everyone believes
And no one’s going quietly
We’re never gonna win the world
We’re never gonna stop the war
We’re never gonna beat this
If belief is what we’re fighting for
First Pitch continues below…
Writing vs Interviews
I was in St. Pete this weekend, covering the Pirates against the Rays. While there, I caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while, including Robby Incmikoski. Every time I see Robby, he asks me what the big story is in the clubhouse. This week, the first story stems from my conversation with Robby.
Nine years ago, while I was covering the Pirates against the Marlins, Robby put me on the Pirates pre-game show to discuss prospects. It was my first time on television. While catching up with Robby this weekend, I mentioned how that TV appearance drove my social anxiety insane.
Anytime you hear me — whether it’s the rare TV appearance, the radio appearances I no longer have time for, or the independent podcasts that I will always make time for — I’m dealing with massive social anxiety.
Robby was surprised by that, pointing out how I have no problem writing articles that go out to so many people. To me, writing is different. I thought about that difference for a day, and ultimately, ended up relating it to baseball.
Writing, to me, is the same process a pitcher goes through.
An interview — whether radio, TV, or one-on-one — is similar to what a batter experiences.
I can write, but like most pitchers, I can’t hit.
Because it’s a completely different mindset.
Pitcher: Planning and the Element of Surprise
None of you woke up today expecting this article.
None of you know what I’m going to write about this week, up until I deliver the article.
I could tip you off.
I could tell you that this week I’m planning features on Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, Jack Suwinski, Bligh Madris, Cal Mitchell, Cam Vieaux, Diego Castillo, JT Brubaker, Zach Thompson, Yerry De Los Santos, and a column to tie a lot of it together.
You are now prepared for every pitch I will make this week.
You might even have an idea of what kind of action you’ll see from some of those articles. You probably can guess I’m writing about Mitch Keller’s new sinker.
You might even think that, since you’ve seen a similar pitch from other writers, that you would be more prepared for that article, and maybe don’t need to spend as much time thinking about that as some of the other “pitches” I’ll deliver this week.
I wouldn’t be a good writer if you knew every detail of what is coming from me before I published the story.
Just like a pitcher wouldn’t be good if the batter knew every detail of what pitch was being delivered.
Ultimately, neither that pitcher, nor myself as a predictable writer, would make it in the big leagues.
Our biggest advantage is planning, and the element of surprise.
Batter: Reacting and Relying on Knowledge
Objectively, I have been a poor verbal communicator in my life.
It’s not for a lack of knowledge. It’s not even for a lack of recall from that knowledge.
It’s more that my brain operates like a Role Play Game, where any question leads to multiple potential responses that I need to choose from.
I have far more experience writing than talking. An early stutter, a speech impediment when I say the letter “S”, and a “children should be seen and not heard” mentality left me essentially socially retarded.
I say that last word in the honest sense of the word. I can write like a professional, but I’m 38-years-old, operating with verbal social skills that are half my age.
You probably know my writing “voice.” It’s probably indescribable, because you are right now just reading words, and your brain is adding everything else around those words. My hope is that the “voice” I am projecting out here matches what is received, and I believe that has been accomplished over the years.
My actual “voice” is different. And it’s never more obvious than in interviews.
In an interview, I don’t know what is coming.
I can’t prepare a response. And if I did have time to prepare, I definitely wouldn’t be able to execute that response verbally, in the moment, in the same way I practiced.
In an interview, I’m reacting, much like a batter reacts to a pitch.
Call it mental batting practice.
I don’t know what’s coming in that scenario. I just need to rely on my reaction speed, but more importantly, I need to trust my knowledge, avoid thinking, and just go with my reaction.
I’ll say now that most of what I’ve written in this section is dated.
I’ve spent the last few years actively trying to build those verbal skills. My theory is that I should have learned this as a child, and now I’m faced with the task of completely changing my established personality as an adult. So, I put myself in a child-like state often, by smoking weed which removed the social anxiety to talk with other people.
I spent enough time “practicing” the last few years that two things have happened:
- I’m now used to being more verbally confident, since I’ve basically been taking batting practice for years.
- I can no longer get “high” on weed. In theory, I could smoke a joint and give the best performance of my life, like Snoop Dogg. In reality, I lack his in-game practice. But my mindset is now consistent, whether I’m smoking an ounce a week, or taking one of my annual 2-3 month breaks.
You learn who your people are in this process. Once you decide that you are going to use your voice in real life, and express your honest opinions, you find out who was there for you, and who was only there because you didn’t really say much in the first place.
The most important thing I’ve learned is not thinking.
I’m a great writer because everything you read started as a thought, was expanded upon by more thought, was written out in a way that you could understand it, and then edited to ensure that the original thought is reflected in the final work. When I write this way, you get my best articles. That’s largely the idea of the article drops, to ensure that my writing process is identical each time.
You know, like repeating a delivery.
I was always bad verbally because I tried to “do too much.”
I was thinking too much.
When I’d get a question, I had the same initial thought as I do with writing.
I would then think about the response.
What I found was that I wasn’t really thinking about what to say, but how to say it. That initial thought was what I was going to say. The thinking was me editing.
I’ve spent years editing my thoughts, but very little time providing unedited thoughts. The irony is that I’ve spent years offering a mix of highly produced articles, and articles where I woke up one morning and spent 20 minutes writing the first thousand words that come to mind.
When I’m thinking about a verbal response, it’s like a curveball is coming and I can see it, but don’t know how to work my body to hit the pitch. It’s not impossible. Other people can do it. I just haven’t figured out how to make my body do the same thing.
My approach now is to take that initial thought, and then say what came to mind next, adjusting my tone and cadence in the moment.
Rap music has helped the most in that regard. Writing is all about the words, but talking can often be more about tone and cadence. R.A.P. Music is my religion.
Ultimately, it all comes down to trust and mindset.
I’m a great writer because of the excessive thinking I do for every article. But, I trust that initial thought to proceed with the following article.
When I’m answering questions, or talking verbally, I have to actively shut off the fear of “swinging and missing” with my response. I have to shut off my brain that excessively thinks about five other things while I’m talking to someone, and tap into that singular mindset focus that I know how to get to in “practice.” I have to trust that initial thought, and then talk.
Just like a raw athlete, I knew it was time to get back in the game when I stopped swinging and missing at batting practice fastballs so often — so to speak. I also have some really great Day One friends who have essentially been great batting practice pitchers.
And just like a hitter with a career strikeout rate north of 30%, I’m not really sure when I can get away from actively, repeatedly, and excessively shutting off that fear of striking out.
I just know I’m very likely to swing and miss if I’ve got that possibility on my mind.
To me, that’s the paradox every batter faces.
If you try to make something happen, it probably won’t happen because you’re trying to force it to happen.
If you try to avoid something, you will probably run into the thing you’re trying to avoid, just by bringing that thought into existence.
The only thing you can do is react.
Everything after that is merely a byproduct of your natural reactions.
It’s just difficult to get human beings to trust their natural reactions while making split-second decisions.
And that’s what makes MLB batters, MLB batters.
**Speaking of a player who is good at both pitching and batting, Bubba Chandler is off to a great start on both sides of the ball. As a pitcher, he has thrown eight shutout innings in four appearances, giving up three hits, six walks, and 13 strikeouts. As a hitter, he’s gone 4-for-14 with two homers, a triple, and three walks for a 1.269 OPS.
**You’ve got to think that Ji-hwan Bae will be one of the next prospects called up from Indianapolis. Bae has not slowed down at the plate, and now has a .312/.377/.492 line in 274 plate appearances. That includes seven home runs, one shy of his career high, which was set in 2021. The Pirates have a hole at second base in the majors. That will probably be filled by Kevin Newman when he returns. The advantage Bae has is his versatility. He’s played second, third, and short this year, along with left and center field. The Pirates have a lot of young outfielders, and have Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz at third and short. There might be a way for the Pirates to get him a full workload as a utility player now. It might be better for them to wait to bring him up until the team finishes their evaluation of Newman. I would give Newman a month to build some trade value, before giving Bae a shot.
**I like that Matt Gorski hasn’t seen much of a drop off from his hot start in Greensboro. After his sixth homer in Altoona on Sunday, Gorski is hitting for a .288/.368/.538 line in 118 plate appearances at the new level. His triple-slash line is almost identical to his time in Greensboro, only with more realistic power numbers.
**Dariel Lopez is one of the most talented hitters in A-ball for the Pirates. He’s also one of the youngest players at his level. Lopez started off slow with a .470 OPS, but picked up the pace in May with an .869 OPS and five homers. In the last two weeks, he has a 1.058 OPS and five homers. Lopez doesn’t walk much, and will need to work on his plate patience. For now, it’s good to see his raw power translating to the field.
**The top five pitchers in the Pirates farm system by swinging strike rate, minimum 20 innings, according to Baseball-Reference:
- Cristian Charle – 24 IP, 18%
- Carlos Jimenez – 41.1 IP, 17%
- Ricky DeVito – 33.1 IP, 16%
- Luis Peralta – 24.2 IP, 16%
- Noe Toribio – 40.1 IP, 16%
Weekly Pirates Quiz
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
I had a lot of discussions this weekend about the mindset of MLB players. I’m really looking forward to finishing those articles today and getting the first batch released for Tuesday’s article drop. Check back tomorrow morning for the start of the Pirates coverage from this weekend.