Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
The other day I was blessed to eat lunch with the baseball player Steve Sax. Steve was the National League’s Rookie of the Year, an All-Star five times and won two World Championships. He played second base with a batting average over .300 in three seasons. Clearly one of Major Leagues better players during his years.
When time offered, I began asking Steve questions about his career as a professional athlete. There are many topics I learned during our lunch such as his personal feelings on the, “Steve Sax Syndrome.” I will write about this and others in later postings. For now, however, I want to address something I learned from Steve I feel relates to the opening quote.
I have attended a variety of professional sporting events where the athlete is asked to perform tasks which arguably are incomprehensible. Some examples are witnessing Jimmy Connors play John McEnroe (this dates me). I played tennis my entire youth eventually playing high school tennis; I was pretty good, but watching how hard these two men hit the ball and how fast it got across the net astounded me. I could barely get out-of-the-way of a stray ball let alone strategically return it.
I asked Steve how on earth he could possibly hit a baseball traveling around 100 hundred miles an hour covering only 60.5 feet. I had understood through some study that human reaction is incapable of reacting in the time given for the ball traveling from pitcher’s mound to home plate.
Steve said that you have .3 (three tenths) of a second to decide what it is you are doing. To put this in perspective, it is the sound of a clap of your hands. He suggested if you took the time to think about what you are doing; by the time you took your swing the catcher was throwing the ball back to the pitcher.
He could see I was speechless. My comment was, “No wonder one of our greatest athletes, Michael Jordan, could not just step in and do it.” Steve said it comes down to building up to the speed gradually; over a long period of time. He went on to say that for him, having practiced and practiced, it was as if the ball was going at a speed he could understand.
When any good player steps up to the mound they need to have their entire concentration on what the objective is. While the opposing team’s players, fans, conditions and many other things are surrounding the player; all these distractions need to be eliminated. As Steve took the plate he saw only one place in the park, a little square about 18” across. This square was in the exact position the pitcher’s hand released the ball.
He saw nothing else; described the field as a calm sea with nothing on it. As soon as the pitcher’s hand went into this box, he could see how the pitcher’s hand was releasing the ball. Each pitch delivered is released with the hand in certain positions. Steve needed to be prepared to hit the pitcher’s fastest pitch, describing that you can’t prepare for a slower pitch and speed up your swing to a fast ball, but you can prepare for the faster pitch and slow your swing down.
The two players are high tension springs loaded to fire at the same time. When the pitcher’s spring releases, at that exact moment; the batter’s spring releases too. Now what the batter is doing is deciding where to place the bat or whether to commit fully to swinging. Steve said that he could often see the ball’s stitching as it was coming. WOW, is all I could say or think!
When you look into the sky and dream on the stars high in the heavens; understand anything is possible if you only stay with it. If Albert Einstein wasn’t, by self-definition, smart, but suggested; he just stuck with it. Or if other people of great accomplishment just carry the secret of knowing it just takes time. Know in your heart those stars are not that far away; we just need to do a little traveling to reach them.