As the baseball season is about to begin again, I am reminded of something that the head coach said on the first day of my only week of junior college baseball. As the group of 50 players huddled together near the pitcher’s mound of the field at Los Angeles Valley College, the fall semester having just started and practice games beginning within two days, we all looked to our fearless leader for words of wisdom and inspiration. Instead, we received words of idiocy and absurdity which immediately reduced credibility in my 17 year old eyes.
I am sure that on the first day of spring training, all of the teams had meetings during which the goals and expectations were set out; and each team, without fail, had one goal in mind—winning the World Series. Maybe the players have individual goals, such as stay healthy, hit .300 or win 20 games, but baseball is a team sport and there is no higher achievement than winning the championship. The season is a long one, a marathon not a sprint, and there are going to be good days and bad days, successful weeks and slumps. But of all sports, the law of averages is most prevalent and controlling in baseball. So despite the wins or losses on any given day, if you win 2 games out of every 3, your chances of going to the playoffs increase.
Being a true student of the game and understanding that any team can beat any given team on any given day, I was expecting that the goals as set out by the coach would be reflective of this. The goal of the team should be to win the league championship. To do so, the team has to play hard every day and play as a team and not as 25 or 50 individual players only out for themselves.
Instead of this, however, the coach offered these words of inspiration: the team’s goal should be to go 42-0. Not win the championship (although going undefeated surely would result in a championship); not give 100% each and every day. Win every game you play.
When I was in high school, our coach was an ornery, burnt out man who made it known to everyone that he had many other places he would have preferred to be. However, he made sure that whenever you made a mistake, you heard about it. I remember one instance, an away game, when our pitcher was struggling so badly that the coach yelled from the bench that our pitcher shouldn’t have gotten off the bus. So you can imagine the stress with which we played the game, the concern that any error or blunder that we made would be met with verbal attacks or benching. Baseball is a game that requires relaxation—the tighter you get the more prone you are to errors and strikeouts.
The same goes with the junior college coach’s goals. One misstep, one error, one blown game in the bottom of the 9th and the team had failed in its only goal. How is a team supposed to respond to that?
Lately much has been made about the Miami Heat and their amazing win streak, up to 26 games as of this writing, only 7 off of the record set by the Lakers of 1971-1972. I remember hearing of an interview with LeBron James from last week in which a reporter asked if he would prefer to break the record for most consecutive games won or win a second championship. If my memory serves, James said he wanted the consecutive win streak. A lofty goal but if the team breaks the record but fails to win the championship, won’t the season be a failure?
The goal of every team is to win the championship and anything less than that is a failure. But the thing about a goal like that is that it requires that the full season be played. Jokes are made that on the first day of the season teams like the Royals or the Pirates or the Astros are already mathematically eliminated from contention, but that isn’t the case; every team has just as much chance of winning the championship as any other team and you have to play every game and see where the chips fall. The law of averages will dictate success or failure.
But back to my junior college coach: I am not going to say that not every game is important, in fact, they are all incredibly important. But if your goal is set based on what happens every day and every day you have a chance of failing in your goal, then you will play tight, you will stress about at-bats and you will make mistakes. Case in point: the very first game of the season, our team didn’t just lose; we got creamed. And just like that, we had failed in our goal.
I have taken this to heart when setting my own goals. The goals have to be not only specific, but also realistic. The perfect season is an anomaly. Sure it happens every now and again, but any team can be any other team on any given day, whether it be T-Ball, high school, college or the pros. Basically you need a whole lot of luck, the stars to align, and still more luck to have a perfect season. So is perfection realistic? I just don’t see how and I certainly didn’t think so at 17 years old.
Consider the professional football season; it is only 16 games, only 10% of the length of the major league baseball season. And there hasn’t been a perfect season in over 40 years.
Is perfection a realistic goal in any endeavor? I don’t see how it can be and any goal which requires perfection is a goal waiting to fail. Instead, the goal should be more forward thinking and broad-based. Requiring perfection every day simply allows for too many unexpected forces to push their way in and muck things up.
I cannot tell you how the junior college baseball season ended. After the first week I was red-shirted, told I was too young and too small, that the team had 26 year old men who had children of their own and that I simply wouldn’t get a chance to play. So by the end of the semester, I had transferred to a new school and hung up my cleats. But I can tell you this—the coach sure isn’t coaching anywhere nearby anymore…
Have a great week.