Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Confidence to Play

In most areas of life, you need to have a basic skill set to be good at something. Baseball is no different. But the good thing is that most skills can be learned, practiced and developed. While we are each given a unique set of skills and interests, if we truly want to become better at a particular craft, we can. It will just take hard work, patience and discipline. 

It is one thing to learn a skill, but it can be a different experience to put it into action, especially if you are standing on a baseball diamond. And if you are lucky enough to pitch, you are on the pitching mound with every eye in the stands, on the bench and on the field watching. 

Baseball skills are specific physical tools that help you perform on the field. Confidence is the characteristic that you need to succeed. Maybe you are the best player on your team, pitch the fastest in your league or are just an average kid looking to have fun. You won’t be able to maximize your talent if you aren’t confident in your abilities. 

Confidence is knowing and believing that in the batter’s box, on the mound, in the field or in any other area of athletics, and even life, that you are not only good at what you are doing, but also prepared to perform. 

So how is confidence developed? 

Confidence is built through success, which comes from preparation. Success usually comes by developing and refining your natural abilities. Developing skills the right way will make a better player. A player that has a better skill set will have success and build confidence. 

Please don’t think that you have to be the best player on your team or in your league to have confidence in your abilities. All that is required is belief that you are good enough. It doesn’t matter what your coach, parent, teammate or opponent thinks. You have to believe in you. 

Confidence is always a work in progress because your talent is always a work in progress. The more talented you become, the more your confidence should grow. As your confidence grows, you won’t worry about what others think. You believe in yourself.

My first college coach, Lawrence Nesselrodt, told us that to be successful in baseball you have to “play arrogant and practice humility.” Have total confidence in your talent, in any situation, but keep it to yourself. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Make sure you stay on the confidence side. 

For several years, after I received my driver’s license, my dad and I would change the brakes on our family cars. I was able to practice five or six times. By the time I went away to college, I knew how to change the brakes. I have never changed the brakes on any vehicle by myself.

I may have known how, but I didn’t have the confidence to try it on my own.

Visit our complete online resource for instructional baseball videos and eBooks at www.ToTheTopPerformance.com.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Warrick Dunn

Warrick Dunn was an NFL running back. After a college career at Florida State, Warrick was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1997 season. But being an NFL running back isn't the story. Winning the 2010 Humanitarian Heisman is.

He played with the Bucs from 1997 to 2001, then jumped ship to play with the Atlanta Falcons from 2002 until 2007, missing the Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII championship in 2003. He finished his career by returning for a final season in Tampa Bay in 2008.

In his career, he ran for just under 11,000 yards and 49 touchdowns and caught another 15 TDs.

Warrick Dunn grew up in a single parent home. His mother was a police officer and worked off-duty security shifts to make extra money. When Warrick was eighteen, his mother was killed in a robbery without achieving her dream of owning a home.

After making it to the NFL, Warrick started the Homes for the Holidays which assists single parents in purchasing their own home. Later, the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation was established to provide additional services to single parents.

By the end of 2010, Warrick will have helped 100 single parents achieve home ownership. He provides down payment assistance and new furniture. More than anything, he provides hope.

Many people struggle through life and are hopeless. While most of us cannot provide new homes or furnishings, all of us can provide a smile, a word or a gesture. Too many people walk around the world in their own little world - not speaking or even making eye contact with others.

Take the time to check on a neighbor or smile at strangers in the grocery store. Learn a lesson from Warrick. Life is more than ourselves. It is about the people and the world around us. Do your part.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sal Alosi

Until last night, Sal Alosi was not a household name. And while his name still may not be, if you watched any of the NFL games from yesterday, his actions did not go unnoticed.

The New York Jets' strength and conditioning coach is in the middle of his 15 minutes of fame.

Alosi was on the sidelines as Miami Dolphins' cornerback Nolan Carroll was covering a punt (with two Jets' players already blocking him) and was forced out of bounds. Carroll was running by Alosi, when Alosi leaned his knee into Carroll's way, tripping him. Carroll was shaken up on the play, had to be attended to by Dolphins' training staff and eventually walked off on his own.

Most of us have no idea what kind of person Sal Alosi is and I am not going to use my blog as an opportunity to shout how terrible he is or call for him to be fired (though I think it may be appropriate).

One thing is for certain, Sal Alosi used extremely poor judgment. And I don't want to hear that it was an accident (Alosi admitted it wasn't) or that it was instinct (if you watch the NFL, players that cover punts are forced out of bounds and run out of bounds often). He purposely tripped Nolan Carroll.

Was it because the Jets were losing? Was it that they were playing so poorly and he was trying to get an unconventional edge?

Whatever his intentions were, I will only make two points about Sal Alosi's actions. They were unprofessional and unsportsmanlike.

No matter what level you play at (and in life in general) - little league to major league and everywhere in between - three things should be expected. You will try as hard as you can, no matter your talent. You will practice good sportsmanship. And you will act professional (even if you are not).

I'm not questioning Sal Alosi's work ethic. I can only imagine the sacrifice it takes to make it to the level he has. And it is unfortunate that most people who have seen the play will now say that his is not professional and not sportsmanlike.

Sal Alosi could be both on a day-to-day basis. But one play has changed the perception of him.

And one moment is all that it takes to change the perception of us all.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jim Marshall

For the last two years, and the last several days in particular, a lot of the sports media has been commenting on the ongoing Brett Favre saga. Brett has made 297 consecutive starts. After suffering a sprained shoulder on a tackle on the third play of this past Sunday's Minnesota game against the Buffalo Bills, his status is in question for Sunday's game.

Will Brett make consecutive start number 298 this coming Sunday against the New York Giants seems to be one of the questions of the week. But I would argue that it isn't the most impressive streak in the history of the NFL.

Punter Jeff Feagles, whose 22 year career spanned the Patriots, Eagles, Cardinals, Seahawks and Giants, played in 352 consecutive games, though he isn't at the top of my list either.

Who is? Defensive end Jim Marshall. Jim Marshall played 20 seasons from 1960 thru 1979. The 1960 season was with Cleveland and the other 19 years he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Jim Marshall played in 282 consecutive games in the NFL.

But how can I say that Marshall, who played less games than Favre, owns a more impressive streak?

I understand that Favre is a quarterback and he has been sacked 524 times over his entire 20 year career (301 total games). And while that sounds like a lot, it ends up being about 1.75 times per game. And when you factor in the number of times Brett Favre has been hit after a throw and knocked down, he may get touched 10 times a game.

I'm not trying to dismiss or disrespect or discount what Favre has done. It is amazing. Cornerbacks and linebackers hit him from behind without him seeing them coming. Defensive lineman fall and hit him below the knees. Any defensive player has looked to get a good hit on him after an interception or in a scramble for a fumble.

But Jim Marshall played defensive end for 282 straight games. Brett Favre may get hit 10 times per game. Jim Marshall was hit on every single play he played. Not only on certain plays or every other play. Every play Jim Marshall played, he was lined up across from the line of scrimmage with an offensive lineman whose sole purpose was to prevent Jim from reaching his quarterback.

And Jim Marshall played in an era where opponents were able to get away with a lot more. Hands to the face, blows to the head, diving at knees. So to think that Jim Marshall never missed a start in 20 seasons isn't remarkable. It is unbelieveable.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, December 3, 2010

Casey Peters

If I told you that Casey Peters is a collegiate success story, most of you would have no idea who I was talking about. Casey Peters is not a household name. Casey Peters is a 6'4" senior guard for the Duke Blue Devils.

He has never scored a point, has only three career rebounds and one career steal. He has played in 10 career games for a total of 16 minutes.

With numbers like that, why do I call Casey Peters a success?

Casey spent his first two years at Duke as a student manager - helping with practice and in the weight room among other things. After practice, he would work on his basketball skills and in the weight room, improving his game and body.

Similar to the story of Notre Dame football icon Dan "Rudy" Ruettinger, who walked on and eventually played for the Irish, and whose story inspired the 1993 movie, Rudy, Casey earned his way onto the Blue Devils roster as a junior. He was awarded a walk on spot for the 2009-10 season and earned a scholarship for the 2010-11 season.

Casey Peters may not be a household name and he won't be an NBA draft pick. But here's hoping that Casey Peters will get his opportunity to score a handful of points, even if it is at the end of blowout win. He already has won an NCAA championship and Duke is the early season favorite to repeat.

Casey obviously had a goal and was willing to work as hard as it took to accomplish his goal. I'm rooting for Casey and it's nice to see his hard work be rewarded.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Drew Brees

Today, Sports Illustrated named Drew Brees it's "Sportsman of the Year" for 2010. Brees had quite a year, quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints to a win in Super Bowl XLIV, the city's first championship.

New Orleans has hosted plenty of championship events - Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls and Final Fours to name a few. But the city had never had a championship of their own.

Drew Brees was an undersized quarteback who was let go by the San Diego Chargers after the 2005 season. He was only shown interest from the Miami Dolphins and the Saints. He signed with the Saints, who were unsure where they would play for the 2006 season or if they would stay long-term in New Orleans. New Orleans had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and much of the city was still in disarray.

I remember the hair stand up on my arms and getting goosebumps when the Saints ran onto the field for the home opener in 2006. The Saints weren't supposed to be very good and they soundly won over the Atlanta Falcons.

Fast forward five years, the Gulf Coast has just dealt with the largest oil spill in U.S. history and it crippled the livelihood of many, not only in New Orleans or Louisiana, but the entire Gulf region that cheers for the Saints.

If you are a sports fan, part of the allure is forgetting your reality and living vicariously through your favorite teams. Drew Brees leads the sports face of New Orleans. The happiness that Drew Brees has brought to the fans of New Orleans, the escape from reality - even for three hours a week on Sunday - is invaluable.

I'm not suggesting that real life doesn't go away. Bills still need to be paid. Lives still need to be rebuilt. But our sports figures do provide a sense of satisfaction and one can only imagine the amount of satisfaction life-long, hurricane wrecked, oil spill covered New Orleans Saints fans feel when they watch Drew Brees and the Saints play football.

Drew Brees won the 2010 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, but it's been five years in the making.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

...Mark Herzlich

If you aren't an avid college football fan, you have probably never heard of Mark Herzlich. Mark is a senior linebacker for Boston College and started all 12 games in the Eagles' seven win, five loss season. He is the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Mark Herzlich missed the 2009 season as he battled cancer and won.

In 2008, he made 110 tackles and six interceptions while leading Boston College to a 9-5 record.

I must admit, I never heard of Mark Herzlich, even as an avid college football fan, during the 2008 season. It wasn't until his story started getting out in the 2009 season that I took note. I remember Notre Dame honoring him among countless interviews and short television stories that aired on pregame shows and halftime breaks.

And while it seemed in all of those clips that Mark would fight and win, there seemed to be doubt about whether he would be able to regain the strength he would need to continue to play. All along, Mark planned on working as hard as he could to rejoin the Eagles. But the question was, is it possible.

Mark came back this year. For some, it may have been rewarding enough just to return to his team. It apparently wasn't for him. Mark recorded 60 tackles this year, which was good enough for third on the team, and four interceptions, which was good enough to tie for the second most.

And while Mark Herzlich isn't going to repeat and win the 2010 ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, he's already won something much more valuable.

A second chance and a new outlook on life.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

...Vince Young

After another meltdown, and injury, Vince Young was put on injured reserve, ending his 2010 season. But it seems like, at least as far as Titans' coach Jeff Fisher is concerned, Young was going to spend this coming Sunday on the bench regardless.

Vince Young at one time was a hot prospect out of the University of Texas. Fresh off of leading Texas to the National Championship over USC, the Tennessee Titans drafted Young to be their franchise quarterback. Many questioned how his skill set would transfer to the NFL.

Sunday, Vince Young was booed at home and then proceeded to wave his arms as if he was telling the crowd "bring it on." It seemed as though on the same play, Young was hurt and Fisher had had enough.

On his way to the locker room, Young threw his jersey and shoulder pads into the stands (though Young claims he was giving the jersey to a fan).

After the game, Young apparently said that he was upset that people are critical of him and his play.

Vince Young has been an NFL quarterback for five years. Players that reach that level were tremendous in high school and college. They have constantly heard how good they were, were hardly ever criticized and faced little adversity.

When you reach the NFL, and you are paid a lot of money to do so, you are expected to perform. You are expected to play well. There aren't a lot of people who are going to feel sorry for you because the fans didn't appreciate his play. 

True character shines through when a person faces adversity. When things aren't going your way, how do you react? Do you get nervous? Do you run away? Or do you stare your problems in the face and fix them before they get bigger?

Most problems do not simply go away without resolution. In fact, many will snowball and grow larger the longer they are around. And if they involve another person, that relationship will many times sour deeper - sometimes beyond repair.

Learn a lesson from Vince. When you face a problem, address it immediately. Doing so will stop it before it grows out of control.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, November 19, 2010

...Felix Hernandez

Felix Hernandez won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award for the league's best pitcher yesterday. And every talk show is debating whether or not he deserved it. Felix led Major League Baseball in both ERA and innings pitched. But the argument is that his record was 13-12.

The Cy Young is supposed to go the best pitcher in the league (there is one for both the American and National Leagues). It is different from the Most Valuable Player. The MVP should be awarded to the player who is most valuable to his team. If you took the winner off his team, they would not have performed nearly as well. And it always helps being in a playoff race and playing meaningful games. The MVP shouldn't necessarily play for a playoff team, but his team should be in the race until September.

I may sound like a hypocrite, but again, the Cy Young is for the best pitcher.

The difference is that a pitcher can only affect his team one out of every five games. And when you have the lowest ERA, which is one of, if not the best indicator of a pitching performance, it is difficult to argue. But people will and are.

Felix Hernandez's Seattle Mariners scored zero or one run in 10 of his starts. So if Felix Hernandez would throw a shutout or allow one run, in 10 games he would not have had a chance to win.

Another argument is that runner up David Price and third place finisher CC Sabathia played meaningful baseball games as their respective teams, Tampa Bay and the Yankees, were in a playoff race. To reach the Major League Baseball, you have to be extremely competitive. I would argue that whether your team is or isn't in a race, you are taking the mound with the same focus and competitiveness every start.

When writers vote for awards, especially the old-school, traditional guys, wins and losses tend to overshadow everything else. It is refreshing to see that they finally got this vote right.

www.tothetopperformance.com

...Greg Oden

Greg Oden was the first overall draft pick for the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA draft out of Ohio State. He was a much hyped high school player out of Indianapolis and led the Buckeyes to the 2007 NCAA Championship games, where they lost to Florida, as a freshman.

He left after one year and entered the NBA draft, where the first pick was between he and current Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. The Blazers selected Oden - they already had several players similar to Durant's model.

Yesterday, the Blazers announced that Oden will need knee surgery and will be out for the season.

He missed the entire 2007-08 season, played 61 games in 2008-09, played in 21 games in 2009-10 and hasn't played a game this year. So in four season, Greg Oden has played 82 total games.

The word "Bust" has already been thrown around and it isn't fair. A bust is someone who wasn't as talented as thought, who was lazy and didn't work hard or who didn't live up to the hype. And you can argue that Oden hasn't lived up to the hype.

But give Oden a few more years before we label him as a bust. Has Oden lived up to the number one pick? Absolutely not. Should he have been a top ten draft pick? Probably not. But that is easy to say three years after the fact when we see how things play out.

Greg Oden is 22 years old. And while he will more than likely never attain the superstar status that was once attached to him, he will come back next season and be 23 years old. Last time I checked, especially in professional sports, 23 is still young.

Is it Greg Oden's fault that his knees have broken down? No. It seems like this is all too common with players over 7 feet. Bill Walton and Yao Ming are two players that come to mind.

Before we label Greg Oden as a bust, let's see how the next four or five years play out. Hopefully, one day he will be healthy enough to play a full NBA season. He hasn't live up to the potential of three years ago, but he still has a long way to go.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

...Our Veterans

I know this is two days late, but nonetheless, I would still like to give a big thanks to all of our active and retired military personnel.

Like all of us, my life has been personally touched by the military.

My grandfather enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor. He didn't wait to be drafted. He saw the need to fight for freedom and stand up the the enemy to protect the United States. He ended up being captured and spent 22 months as a prisoner of war. I don't remember the stories he used to tell. I just remember sitting on the swing on his back porch, wide eyed and listening.

My other grandfather was in the Navy during the second World War. He was a little bit younger and celebrated his graduation of basic training with the news that the war was over. Though he never saw any combat, he is extremely proud of his service, as he should be.

I had an uncle who was in Vietnam. Like many of his generation, the war changed his life and gave him lifelong friends.

My wife has an uncle that re-enlisted after September 11, 2001 and saw a tour of active duty in Afghanistan. He was injured when his humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device. Thankfully, he was able to walk away, but not without scars.

My mom and dad away-from-home during college's son joined the Army after his junior year of high school. He is gearing up for combat duty in Afghanistan also.

It may sound like a cliche, but courage, commitment, sacrifice and honor are the first words that come to my mind when I think of our brave men and women who do and have served our country.

So to all the veterans out there. Thanks. Sorry I'm two days late. But I think we should show our appreciation everyday, not just on Veterans' Day.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, November 6, 2010

...Randy Moss and Allen Iverson

What a couple of weeks it has been for Randy Moss. He was a couple of games into the NFL season when he was abrubtly traded from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings.

This was going to be Randy's fresh start - a second chance with the team that originally drafted him out of Marshall. He was going to be united with Vikings' legendary quarterback Brett Favre and help turn the Vikings' disappointing season around.

This past week, just four games into the experiment, Randy Moss was waived by Minnesota and claimed by the Tennessee Titans.

I'm sure you know the details so I'm not going to go into the entire story. I simply want to ask this question.

Will Randy Moss end up like Allen Iverson?

Allen Iverson is one of the NBA's best players over the last 14 seasons. But a career and a lasting legacy have been tarnished over the last couple of seasons.

After playing his first 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and once leading the 76ers to the NBA finals, a dispute led to the Sixers trading him in the middle of the 2006-07 season to the Denver Nuggets. He played the entire  2007-08 season in Denver, before making waves again which resulted in the Nuggets trading him to the Detroit Pistons.

His contract was up after a fairly solid season in Detroit. And it seemed like to no one's surprise but his, there wasn't a whole lot of interest in him on the free agent market. He had played the previous three seasons with three different teams and seemed to wear out his welcome in each city rather quickly. Questions always seemed to arise about his commitment to winning and accepting his role.

At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, Allen decided to sign a one year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies made it clear - at least in the media - that they were signing Allen as a role player to come off the bench. And Allen said he was fine with that. Until three games into the season.

After the first three games, the Grizzlies released the NBA veteran, saying Allen was unwilling to accept his role.

After several weeks off, he signed for the rest of the season with his first team, the 76ers.

In the summer of 2010, Allen was again looking for someone to give him an opportunity to play. He found one. In Turkey.

It seemed as though most NBA teams finally realized that no matter what Allen said, once the season started, if he was unhappy with his role, the direction of the team, or whatever was on his mind, Allen wasn't worth having around.

And while no longer in the prime of his career, the 35-year old Iverson isn't old by professional athletics standards. He still averaged almost 14 points per game for the 76ers last season. But that is a far cry from the 25+ points per game he averaged in ten of his career seasons.

Allen Iverson isn't the player he was five years ago. And because he didn't want to accept a role an NBA team offered, he finds himself playing professional basketball in Istanbul.

When the news of his signing broke a couple of weeks ago, there was talk that Iverson was disappointed and he would accept any role given to him. He said that in Memphis and that didn't work out too well.

What's the old saying? Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice and shame on me.

I don't think any NBA executives are going to be fooled a second time. Sorry Allen. You should have been more accepting of your role.

This brings me to my comparison of Iverson and Moss.

There were questions about Randy Moss coming out of college. He was in an incident in high school that led to Notre Dame rescinding a scholarship offer.

After he made it to the NFL - and a bunch of teams stayed away from him on draft day - he famously said that he only plays when he wants to.

After seven great years with Minnesota, he wore out his welcome and was traded to the Raiders.

After two seasons in Oakland, he wore out his welcome and found himself playing with Tom Brady and the Patriots.

After three 1,000 yard seasons in New England, he started his fourth off by complaining about his contract situation after the opening game of the 2010 season. After four games into the 2010 season, he wore out his welcome and was traded to the Vikings.

After four games with the Vikings in his return, he was waived and claimed by the Titans.

Is there a pattern developing?

In the off-season, Randy Moss will be looking for a new contract. Randy Moss better hope that the final half of the 2010 season goes well in Tennessee.

He should learn a lesson from Allen Iverson and realize that you don't have to be extended an offer to play. You are not entitled to an NFL contract. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that no team will want you.

It already happened to Allen Iverson and, if Randy Moss isn't careful, it just may happen to him.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

... the 2010 San Francisco Giants

Is this the new blueprint for building a World Series champion? The San Francisco Giants compiled a bunch of position players from other teams and brought the first World Series championship to San Francisco.

Now don't confuse this with not having to spend money. Plenty of teams spend money and you have to in order to be competitive in baseball. Every once in a while a small market team - like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays - will put together a good season, but their run is usually short lived.

And other small market teams, mainly Minnesota, have been able to put an above average team on the field, but how many championships have they won?

If you want to WIN, you have to spend money and put together a team.

The Yankees typically spend a lot of money on every position every year, so we are leaving them out of this discussion. Other teams like the Pirates, Royals, Indians, Diamondbacks, Padres and Marlins don't have the kind of money - or at least don't want to spend it - you need to put together several quality pieces. They can add a piece or two or maybe even three, but not six or seven that are needed.

San Francisco's payroll was $97.8 million in 2010, which was the tenth highest (out of 30 teams).

The blueprint that I think may have been laid out is simple. Grow your own pitchers and a few position players. But assemble the majority of your lineup with second tier free agents over several seasons.

All four pitchers that started a game in the postseason were drafted by San Francisco - Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner - as was their closer, Brian Wilson. And out of the 14 position players on their postseason roster, only Buster Posey, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz are home grown talent - with only Posey being a regular starter.

The other players that comprised their roster were infielders Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe and Mike Fontenot. None of those five players played for the Giants in 2008.

Outfielder Aaron Rowan signed with San Francisco before the 2008 season. Center fielder Andres Torres signed before the 2009 season. Outfielders Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were brought in during the course of the 2010 season.

The tenth player is backup catcher Eli Whiteside, who played with the Giants in the 2009 season.

Among those ten players are some pretty solid veterans. Freddy Sanchez won a batting title. Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowan and Edgar Renteria have won World Series championships with other teams. But none of these players were the high prized free agents. No C.C. Sabathia or Mark Texieria among this group.

There are several ways for teams to win a championship. I wonder if the Giants' run will change the mind of any teams out there. Instead of throwing $100 million at one player, why not split it up among several. These 10 Giants combine to make just over $51 million of the Giants' payroll. But in today's game, I'd rather spend the money on 10 above average players than on three or four starts.

Winning takes money. But you still must be smart. Ask the Mets and the Cubs.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

...the 2010 World Series

Once again, the old saying that good pitching will beat good hitting held up as the San Francisco Giants won the 2010 World Series, beating the Texas Rangers four games to one.

The quality of the Giants' pitching hasn't been discussed because of their anonymity. Other than Tim Lincecum - and Barry Zito, who didn't make the Giants' World Series roster - the Giants' pitchers are a bunch of unknowns. Matt Cain has won a combined 27 games in the last two seasons, Jonathan Sanchez won 13 games this year and Brian Wilson led the National League in saves in 2010 and has 127 saves over the last three seasons. And among those three and Lincecum, the oldest is Wilson, who is 28. And add to those four, 21 year-old Madison Bumgarner, who I wrote about a couple of days ago after he threw eight shutout innings in game four.

The Giants' should be set up for the long run as far as their pitching is concerned.

After the Rangers scored 38 runs and had a batting average of .304 against the Yankees, that seemed to be the topic of conversation. But if you look at some of the Giants' postseason and regular season numbers, it is easy to see why they won.

In the postseason, the Giants had a 2.47 ERA. The only walked 43 guys while striking out 133. And opponents batted .196 off of them. In the regular season, they had a team ERA of 3.36. They combined to throw 17 shutouts and opponents hit .236 against them. 

In the postseason, a team's roster gets shorter, meaning teams tend to not use the tenth or eleventh guy in their bullpen. During the regular season, a team may use 12 pitchers on a regular basis - five starters and seven guys in the bullpen. But in the postseason, they tend to use 9 pitchers - four starters and five guys out of the pen. For this reason, an improvement in the Giants' statistics is reasonable.

The Rangers led the Majors in hitting as a team with a .276 average. They hit .253 against Tampa in the Divisional Series and the aforementioned .304 against the Yankees in the League Championship Series. And while a team average of .190 in the World Series is surprising, it isn't unbelievable.

And while it won't hold up all the time, the 2010 World Series shows another example of good pitching beating good hitting. And great pitching will dominate.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

...Madison Bumgarner

When I was a 21 year old kid, I had just graduated from Davis and Elkins College and was looking forward to (more hopeful of) an opportunity in professional baseball.

San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner won game four of the 2010 World Series to put the Giants one game away from their first World Series title as a San Francisco based team. Madison Bumgarner is 21 years old.

I don't know much about Madison Bumgarner's background. But from watching him pitch last night, I think it is pretty safe to assume he is confident. And he is blessed. You don't make it to Major League Baseball as a 21 year old if you aren't blessed. You have to be gifted to have the physical tools he does at that age.

But you don't have success in the Major Leagues at 21 if you aren't confident.

He pitched a great game last night, allowing three hits in eight innings and not allowing a run. He was in complete control of the entire game. The only time the Rangers really threatened to score was in the eighth inning, when they had runners on first and second base, but there were two outs.

He only walked two guys and he threw a first pitch strike to 21 of the 27 batters he faced - another sign of the confidence he has in himself and the pitches he throws.

I've said it before and I'm sure I will repeat it. The best way to be a successful pitcher is to pitch with confidence, throw strikes and attack the strike zone. Madison Bumgarner laid out the blueprint last night. Even as a 21 year-old pitching in the World Series.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, October 30, 2010

...Cliff Lee

With games three and four of the 2010 World Series shifting to Texas, the Texas Rangers find themselves down two games to none against the San Francisco Giants. Colby Lewis is scheduled to start game three tonight for Texas.

Until getting hit around in the opening game of the series, Cliff Lee had a perfect 7-0 record in the postseason.

The Rangers need to win four of the next five games to win the World Series.

If the Rangers win game three, they will still be down two games to one. If they lose game three, they are one loss away from elimination. All indications point towards Rangers' pitcher Tommy Hunter pitching game four. Hunter had a good regular season - 13 win, 4 losses, 3.73 ERA - but has struggled in two postseason starts this year - 0-1, 6.14 ERA.

Apparently Cliff Lee doesn't feel comfortable pitching on three days rest.

Through the course of a 162 game regular season, I understand wanting your full four days rest. It is a long grind and you want to stay healthy.

But if you are arguably the best postseason pitcher of the last two seasons and one of the best pitchers in the game, I don't understand how if you are Cliff Lee, you don't want to pitch.

There is a competitive fire that has to burn deep within you to be successful in athletics. It is that fire that drives you to prepare in the off season. That competitiveness leads to success on the field and pain in defeat. But competitors take the pain of defeat and use it for motivation.

How does Cliff Lee not want the ball in game four?

He is in the World Series for the second straight year and is headed toward his second straight series defeat (last year he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies that lost to the New York Yankees). I'm not sure how the competitiveness that had undoubtedly made Cliff Lee great doesn't make him walk into Rangers' manager Ron Washington's office and ask to pitch game four.

Maybe Cliff Lee feels that pitching game five is the best thing for the team. Maybe he has more faith in Tommy Hunter than most. Maybe he doesn't want to hurt himself or his chances for his big contract in the off season.

Whatever the reason, depending on how game three goes, the Rangers may be relying on Tommy Hunter to save their season. At least they will have Cliff Lee ready to go in game five. They just better hope the series gets there.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, October 29, 2010

...Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson

As a starting pitcher, when you take the mound, all you can do is try your best to give your team a chance to win. In game two of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, Matt Cain (Giants) and C.J. Wilson (Rangers) were the starting pitchers.

Game two is always a critical game. The Giants won game one. A win in game two would give them a commanding two games to none lead.

The Rangers needed a win in game two to pull the series even heading back to Texas.

Victories are the most over-rated statistic when it comes to pitching. A pitcher can give up one or two runs and lose. If a pitcher throws well enough to give his team a chance to win, he's done his job.

Both Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson did their job last night. Matt Cain through 7.2 shutout innings as the Giants won game two 9-0. The Giants take a 2-0 series lead with them to the Ballpark at Arlington for game three tomorrow.

And looking at the 9-0 score, you maybe thinking how do I claim that C.J. Wilson did his job?

C.J. Wilson pitched into the 7th inning and gave up two earned run. In baseball, especially with the Texas Rangers' offense, a 2-0 lead is easy to overcome. If you get a runner or two on base, you can tie the game or take the lead with one swing of the bat.

If you are a pitcher, don't get too caught up in wins and losses. Give you team a chance to win. If you do that, the wins will take care of themselves.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Thursday, October 28, 2010

...Jillian Michaels and The Biggest Loser

When we are not watching sports, one of our - my wife and I - favorite television shows is NBC's The Biggest Loser, which is on Tuesday nights.

The reality show's purpose is to pull obese people from across the United States and change their lives by teaching them to change their lifestyles by eating right and exercising. But the bigger change, whether most contestants know it or not when they sign up, is the mental change.

One of the trainers is Jillian Michaels. A small firecracker, she puts the contestants through their workouts. Sometimes she is nice about it. But most of the time she is not. And while it may seem like she is being mean or hateful, the reality is that most of the contestants have reached the point in their lives because they weren't mentally tough. They felt sorry for themselves, were depressed or suffered tragedies. And most turned to food for comfort.

I don't want to come across as I don't have any compassion for depressed people or those who have been touched by tragedy. I am simply saying that as a fact for the contestants.

In the latest episode, because of the game, Jillian made sure to take extra time with one of her team members, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has had her share of struggles.

In that moment, Jillian said something to Elizabeth that was extremely philosophical. When talking about her progress and Elizabeth's outlook to the future Jillian told her that she could either "survive or thrive."

You can "SURVIVE OR THRIVE."

And while it may sound good on the surface, if you think about those three words, it is a mindset that can change your life.

No matter which part or your life you are talking about - athletics, work, school, home - we all have a decision that we make. Nobody else makes it for us. We can either do what we can to barely get by or we can try to do whatever we can to make an outstanding life.

Maybe you just want to make the team. Why not be a starter? Or better yet, the star?

I just want to make Cs and Ds. Why not try for all As? If you fall short, you will still get Bs.

I want to pay my bills. Go back to school and get a specific skill you enjoy to better you situation.

No matter what our situation is - in any situation we encounter - we have two options. You can survive. Or you can thrive.

I hope you will choose to rise above everyone else. Stand out. THRIVE.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

...the Dallas Cowboys

I think it is funny if you watch any sports on television, especially over the last two days, most of the talk seems to be centered on the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys, who were many analysts pick to play in the Super Bowl, which is in their home stadium, fell again on Monday night to the New York Giants by a score of 41-35. The latest loss dropped their record to one win and five losses.

I chuckle when I hear analysts say that the Cowboys are going to win "because they have to win." Doesn't every team have to win every game. I'm sure every team is trying to win every game. But I'm not sure why anyone "has to win."

Now, I'm guessing that the intent of the comment was that the Cowboys, whose theoretical backs were against the wall, had to win to have any chance at salvaging their season. I'm assuming that there is an expectation that the Cowboys, or any team in this particular situation, would come out and play with more intensity, fire, passion or whatever word fits - some would say intelligence and discipline.

But what have the Dallas Cowboys displayed that would make anyone think that all of the sudden, because their season is on the line, they can change their mindset and play harder.

NFL players play 16 regular season games a year. If any player doesn't play with the aforementioned passion, desire and intensity, their team should replace them. Immediately.

There are a lot of cliches out there. Play each play like its your last is the one that comes to mind. Because of national media exposure, I think I have seen parts of every Cowboys game this season. And from what I see, most of their players DON'T play each play like it could be their last. But they should. They only have 10 more games in what is probably a lost season.

I don't know if there is any worse feeling in sports than playing a season out knowing that there is no hope of making the postseason. And while the Cowboys still are not mathematically eliminated, they are 1-5 for a reason. Because they aren't playing very good.

If I were a Cowboys fan, that would be the most disappointing. It is not as if they don't have a talented team. Many people picked them to win the Super Bowl because of their talent. But that talent isn't translating on the field.

Great teams are made up of great individuals that PLAY TOGETHER. The Cowboys seem to play as individuals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

...Chase Utley

In the bottom of the 1st inning, with runners on first base and third base, San Francisco Giants' catcher Buster Posey was at-bat with one out. He was looking to give the Giants an early lead against Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halliday.

In this situation, the one thing that Posey does not want to do is hit a ground ball. A ground ball at the Major League level in more than likely a double play. And with one out in the inning, the Phillies would be out of the inning with no runs allowed and no damage done.

Buster Posey hit a ground ball to Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley. It wasn't hit very hard, but hard enough that a Major League second baseman should be able to turn a double play.

No matter at what level or in which sport you are playing, coaches always preach the same thing - make sure you catch the ball first.

Because the ball wasn't hit all that hard, Giants' second baseman and base runner Freddy Sanchez did the correct thing by running back towards first base - you never want to run into an out, which would have happened.

So Utley, before the ball was secured in his glove, started to run at Sanchez. But the baseball continued to lay on the ground.

Utley would then retrieve the ball and throw it to second base for a force out. But the runner from third base had scored and given the Giants and 1-0 early lead.

Always put first things first, and in athletics, it usually means catch the ball before you make a move.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

...James Harrison

After a hard hitting past Sunday in the NFL, fines were dished out to several players who the NFL felt were head hunting. I'm not going to get into the debate about if the hits were legal or not, whether the nature of football includes violent collisions or not or any other issues that deal with preserving the "integrity" of the sport.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was one of the players who was fined. He had two separate incidents in the Sunday contest with the Cleveland Browns. The NFL issued a $75,000 fine for the hits.

Today, James Harrison threatened to retire.

Football is a violent game by nature. Injuries have happened since the inception of the game and will continue. As player get faster and stronger, more players will get injured.

The NFL will continue to adapt to make the games safer. While most fans enjoy the gladiator feel of the sport, they would all clamor if it were their team's quarterback or running back that was seriously hurt. And God forbid someone is paralyzed, which happened just this past weekend to Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand.

In the past three days, if you have been paying attention to sports discussions on television, radio and online, you have heard every opinion about the NFL, what the should do, the new policy and player safety.

But isn't that what the NFL is supposed to do? Doesn't it have a responsibility to try to protect its' players as much as possible?

If James Harrison feels that he can't play the game of football the way he needs to, then he should retire. The Steelers have a great track record of replacing linebackers like James. Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland and Joey Porter are just some of the outstanding defenders it seemed the Steelers would be foolish to cut ties with. But they were all let go at some point and replaced. And the Steelers' defense never missed a beat.

Is James Harrison trying to prove a point? Does he think that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will feel sorry for him and rescind his fine? Or is he just doing what most of today's athletes do - try to shine the spotlight on them when it shouldn't be.

Go ahead and retire James. Just remember, you are replaceable. Everyone is and the Steelers have proved it.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, October 18, 2010

...Jimmy Rollins

After not getting a hit in four at-bats in Game One of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game Two with the bases loaded.

The 2007 National League Most Valuable Player struggled with injuries this year and only hit .243 in 88 games - the worst of his career. But Jimmy is still a dangerous professional, especially when he feels slighted.

Down 3-1, with base runners on second and third, San Fransisco manager Bruce Bochy decided to intentionally walk Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth to load the bases.

Now in some scenarios, if the Giants were trying to set up a double play, I would agree with the move. But the Giants already had recorded two outs, so they were more concerned with Jayson Werth than Jimmy Rollins.

Werth hit .296 with 27 home runs in the 2010 season, but is only hitting .222 in the postseason.

Jimmy Rollins hit .297 right handed this year versus .218 left handed. At the time, Giants left handed reliever Jeremy Affelt was on the mound and Bochy wanted Rollins to hit left handed.

Rollins hit a three run double that turned a 3-1 lead into a 6-1 advantage that basically put the game out of reach.

In athletics, and life, you have to take advantage of anything you can. Whenever you feel slighted, turn that into to motivation. People told me since I was 11 years old that I wasn't very good. And I turned it into a professional career.

Jimmy Rollins turned it into a Game Two victory.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, October 16, 2010

...the top of the 8th Inning of Game One of the ALCS

In the top of the eight inning of game one of the American League Championship Series (ALCS), New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner singled, shortstop Derek Jeter doubled allowing Gardner to scored. At that point, the Texas Rangers were winning by a score of 5-2.

If you watched the game, it was really evident that the Yankees were going to make a come back and the Rangers were in trouble.

Body language can say a lot about your confidence.

Many times in life, you get what you expect. In baseball, it is no different.

The body language of the defending World Series champion Yankees said that they were expecting to come back, expecting to win and were not going to simply roll over and die and start to think about game two. The confidence of the Rangers was gone. A 5-0 lead in the game was slowly evaporating.

Once Rangers' manager Ron Washington decided to pull starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, who left with the Rangers still leading 5-2 with no outs in the top of the eight inning, you could tell - at least on television - that the Rangers were also expecting the Yankees to rally. It was almost as if they knew their lead was in trouble.

And it wasn't just the relief pitchers, though they looked like they wanted no part of being on the mound. Ron Washington, in camera shots from the dugout and as he was walking to the mound to make pitching changes, seemed as he was just hoping to be able to withstand the storm. The Rangers infielders, on those same pitching changes, looked as if they were expecting their lead to disappear.

The Yankees, who were losing 5-1 at the start of the eight inning, ended up scoring five runs in the top part of the eight inning to give them a 6-5 lead, which was also the final score. The Rangers were never able to recover.

Expect bad things to happen and they usually will. Expect good things and good things will come.


www.tothetopperformance.com

...Brett Gardner

What to commonly becomes a lazy run to first base turned into the spark the New York Yankees needed in the top of the eight inning last night to shock the Texas Rangers.

Down five to one in the top of the eight, Yankees' left fielder - and the ninth batter in their lineup - hit a ground ball to the Rangers' first baseman Jorge Cantu. If you watch Major League Baseball frequently, all to often you see the batter concede the out and simply jog to first as if the out has already been recorded. But Brett Gardner didn't.

Brett Gardner sprinted down to first base and dove head first toward the bag as Cantu was throwing the ball to Rangers' pitcher C.J. Wilson, who was covering first base because the ball was hit to the first baseman.

The umpire correctly called Gardner safe and the play jump started the Yankees. A 5-1 deficit at the start of the inning turned into a 6-5 lead by the time the Rangers came to bat in the bottom of the eight inning.

A common saying - no matter in which sport - is that you don't need talent to hustle. You don't have to be the most talented player on your team, on the field or in the league to give 100% effort on every play.

It would have been easy for Brett Gardner to take the play off, go through the motion of running down the first base line and head back to the dugout. Because he didn't, the Yankees hold a 1-0 lead in the best of seven American League Championship Series.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, October 15, 2010

...the Chilean Miners

If you want to talk about staying calm and having to keep things in perspective, it is hard to overlook the 33 rescued Chilean Miners. Stranded since August 5, they endured 69 days of being trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface in a collapsed mine.

I understand that all 33 Chilean miners will be evaluated - both physically and mentally - and some underlying problems may arise. But the fact that all were in relatively good health is remarkable. To survive the ordeal, several characteristics come to mind - characteristics that everyone needs in life to succeed.

The first is hope. Imagine sitting in your basement for 69 days without being able to see sunlight. The hope that the Chilean miners had - hope in themselves, in each other, in the rescuers - is unbelievable.

In sports, the need for mental toughness is often discussed. I would challenge anyone to tell me that what those Chilean miners are not some of the most mentally tough people in the world. Initially, the first reports said that it may be until Christmas time that they would be rescued. To have to prepare to spend five months trapped almost a half a mile below the surface is tremendous.

The final words are faith and belief. It is one thing to hope to be saved and another to prepare. But to have faith that those above the ground will do everything they can to free you, no matter what conditions are faced and at what length is awesome.

I obviously have no idea what the mental state of each miner may be. But I am certain the camaraderie that the Chilean miners have developed - along with the hope, faith, belief and toughness - will last a lifetime.

What do you think? Are there any other words that come to mind?

www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

...Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee was the star of the Texas - Tampa Bay American League Divisional Series. He won two games, pitched 16 innings and struck out 21. But more impressive that any of those statistics is the fact that he WALKED ZERO.

It should be pretty easy to figure out that when you work ahead in the count and do not allow free bases, good things will happen. A pitcher, no matter the level, is not going to throw a no hitter every time he takes the mound. The nature of the game is that the opponent will get base hits. But, by not allowing free base runners in front of those hits, you minimize the damage the hits can make.

When you get ahead in the count by throwing strikes on the first pitch and two of the first three pitches, you put the hitter in a defensive mode. He isn't as confident and is more likely to guess at what pitch is coming next. Many of the Rays' hitters on Tuesday night struck out on pitches where they looked totally clueless - a side effect of guessing.

www.tothetopperformance.com

...Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay pitched Game One of the National League Divisional Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. By now, everyone is aware that he pitched the second no-hitter in Major League Baseball playoff history. He set the tone for the series in which the Phillies swept the Reds in three games.

And it was his first career postseason start.

I've been around the game long enough to know that when the regular season ends and the postseason begins, there is usually a different feel to the game. Every pitch, play and at bat is magnified. It isn't "just another game." Depending on the scenario, if you lose, your season may be over. But the pitchers and players - no matter which sport or level - who can put the postseason pressure behind them, are those who are successful.

Transforming your situation into the "just another game" mentality is difficult, but when you can adjust your mindset and think of your postseason game as a regular season game, you will have a better chance of helping your team win.

Now, Roy didn't face a "win or go home" situation. If the Phillies had lost, they would only have been one game behind the Reds. But being up one game versus down one game can add additional pressure to a team and give you a feeling like you are backed into a corner, especially in a best of five series.

But Roy Halladay pitched the Phillies to a no-hit victory, just as he did earlier in the regular season, when he took the mound in "just another game" against the Florida Marlins.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

...the 2004 Boston Red Sox

A documentary on ESPN, titled "Four Nights in October" just aired. It focused on the 2004 Boston Red Sox and their improbable run to a World Series title and the breaking of the "Curse of the Bambino."

You often hear coaches and commentators say "play to the last out" or "play 60 minutes" or whatever the duration of the competition is. The 2004 Red Sox did that.

I remember it well as it was just after I finished my first full season of minor league baseball and I was in "baseball mode" to say the least.

To catch you up to speed, the Red Sox were down three games to none in a best of seven series in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against their biggest rival, the New York Yankees. In a must win game four, they were down by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning, with arguably the best closer in the history in the game on the mound for the Yankees, Mariano Rivera.

But the Red Sox fought back. Kevin Millar drew a walk and was replaced by Dave Roberts, who stole second. The next batter, Bill Mueller, hits a single up the middle to score Roberts and tie the game. David Ortiz eventually hit a two run home run to give the Red Sox the Game Four victory.

But it was still only one win. They were now down three games to one and the thought of coming all the way back was still considered impossible. No team in Major League Baseball history had ever won a series after being down three games to none.

I already spoiled the ending, as the Red Sox won Game Five in Boston before winning Games Six and Seven in New York. They went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and win their first World Series since they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in the early part of the 1900s.

Every commentator, writer, columnist and reporter gave Boston no chance to win the ALCS, even after they pulled out Game Four. It just goes to show you what can happen when a team doesn't listen to those on the outside and believes in themselves and their teammates.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, October 2, 2010

...Chan Ho Park

Korean born pitcher Chan Ho Park first appeared in the Majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994. Last night, pitching for the Pirates, the 16 year veteran recorded his 124th career victory against the Marlins. With the victory, he now has more career Major League wins than any other Asian-born pitcher.

I know I have already written about longevity and consistency, which are two big characteristics you must have to succeed in any endeavor in life. But Chan Ho Park also displays two other vital necessities - perseverance and passion.

In the free agent era of professional sports leagues, where the games truly are businesses, we have gotten used to teams receiving makeovers and players changing cities.

After a solid start to his career in L.A., he signed a big contract with the Texas Rangers, but struggled in his new home. He was later traded to San Diego in the fourth year of that contract and this is where the roller coaster began.

Chan Ho Park has played for seven different Major League teams - L.A., Texas, San Diego, the Mets, Philadelphia, the Yankees and Pittsburgh, with a second stop with the Dodgers mixed in.

So why does the word perseverance come to mind when I think of Chan Ho Park? Because it would have been easy to give up. Chan Ho Park undoubtedly has made a lot of money playing baseball. The five year contract he signed with the Rangers in 2002 was worth $65 million. Many players like him, rather than continuing to bounce around from team to team, bruising their ego and their legacy, decide to take the money they made, walk away and retire at a young age.

But that isn't the route Chan Ho Park followed. He has played for six teams in the last five years - including two this year, the Yankees and Pirates. He has been an average pitcher, with a record of 18 wins and 18 losses and an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.46.

I would bet that Chan Ho Park loves what he does and couldn't imagine doing anything else. If he did, he would of by now.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

...Neil Walker

When you come to the end of the baseball season - the final quarter - you are either going to be in a playoff race or out. And if you happen to be on a team that is on the outside, how you play out the final portion of the season can say a lot.

It is real easy to lose your focus and not be as concerned with the outcome of a game. Many players seem to be playing the end of the season by going through the motions because they have no hope of making the playoffs. And not just in Major League Baseball. I have seen it at all levels.

If you are a younger player, remember this piece of advice. Someone is always watching.

If you are a high school player, there may be a college coach in the crowd. If you are in a youth league, maybe there is a coach for a team at the next level up that is watching how you play. You can always catch someone's attention. It may just be for the wrong reasons.

Neil Walker plays second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you are reading this and are a high school player or younger, you weren't alive the last time the Pirates had a winning season. The Pirates, as of today have lost 101 games and won 55. They haven't been in contention for the playoffs since the first month of the season.

But I would bet that Neil understands that the management of the Pittsburgh Pirates are evaluating this year's players as they already look towards next. If Neil would have backed off and not continued to play at the level he was capable of, the Pirates may have gone into the off-season looking for a second baseman for the 2011 season.

I've been around the game long enough to know that this is happening all around the league, in both directions. Some players are committed to playing at the highest level they possibly can and will keep their positions. Others, who are looking forward to the end of the season and some time off, will find themselves replaced because a lack effort.

But I singled Neil out for a reason. If you look up his statistics from the last ten games, (via the MLB website), in which the Pirates have won seven, but also surpassed the 100 loss total, he has a batting average of .343 with two home runs, ten RBIs and has drawn eight walks.

Neil worked hard to secured his position and I'm certain he doesn't want to lose it. I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

...Pam Cunningham

I am a little bias on this post because Pam is my wife. I don't know that I have ever been more proud of her than what I was (and still am) today.

This is the third year in a row that we have signed up the the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race. The Great Race is a 10K (6.2 miles) that goes through the campuses of Pittsburgh's colleges and universities and ends up at Point State Park, which is a riverside park located where Pittsburgh's three rivers meet. We sign up in the spring as the race is typically full by mid summer. It gives us a reason to run and the accomplishment you feel at the end is pretty tough to top.

Without telling you our whole life story, we have been trying unsuccessfully for almost three years to start a family. Because of doctor's appointments and his recommendation not to run around our procedures, about two months ago she made the decision not to run. She didn't want to jeopardize the latest procedures.

Though I could tell she was disappointed, I supported her 100%. Starting a family has been her dream since she was a little girl and ours for the last three years and the risk wasn't worth it.

To our disappointment, we found out on Friday that this again wasn't our month. I could tell that she was hurt on two fronts. We were again confronted with the news that we didn't want and she wasn't even close to being in shape to run.

But last night, she made the decision that she was going to run. She was going to prove to herself that she could finish the 10K. Pam knew that it would be tough and she was undoubtedly nervous, but she was determined to run.

No matter what situation you find yourself it, when you are determined to accomplish something, you can. Putting your mind to work and believing in yourself are two of the most important actions you can perform as you travel through this journey called life.

Pam finished in one hour and ten minutes, only about four minutes slower than last year. I am proud of her accomplishment and proud of her determination.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, September 25, 2010

...the San Francisco Giants pitching staff

Yesterday, I talked about Ichiro and his consistency and longevity in Major League Baseball. If you haven't heard, there is another just as impressive streak that is also active.

The San Francisco Giants' pitchers have allowed three or fewer runs in 18 straight games. This isn't that the starter has allowed three or fewer in 18 straight. This streak is for the entire game - the starters, middle relievers, set up guys and the closer.

These are Major League hitters that the Giants are facing. They aren't facing minor leaguers every night. They are facing professional hitters that are the best in the world at what they do. And the Giants' haven't allowed more than 3 runs in almost three weeks.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau (through an ESPN article), this is the longest streak since the Chicago White Sox had a 20 game streak in 1917.
I would bet that each member of the Giants' pitching staff is putting a lot of pressure on himself not to be the person who allows the streak to end. To be a successful athlete, you have to have a little pride in what you do. Each pitcher has pride in this ongoing streak - as they should - and doesn't want to see it end.

But there also has to be a different degree of focus on what they are doing. You should never relax whenever you are competing. All it takes is a loss of focus for several seconds to change or alter the outcome of the game. But I'm sure that every Giants' pitcher is taking a little extra with him to the mound. 

There is undoubtedly a little luck that is on the Giants side and you have to get great starting pitching to even be in that position. And the Giants' rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner have been unbelievable.

As a former professional pitcher, I know there are nights when you just don't feel good, have good command or throw as hard as usual. This stable of Giants' pitchers are showing what focusing on a common goal - making the playoffs - can do for a team.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, September 24, 2010

...Ichiro

Last night in Toronto, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki got his 200th hit of the season, which is a big deal in itself. But for Ichiro, it was just another year. The 2010 baseball season is the tenth season IN A ROW that Ichiro has eclipsed the 200 hit mark.

Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader in Major League Baseball, is the only other player to have ten 200 hit seasons, but his were not consecutive.

The word that comes to mind is consistency. Consistency is one of the most important traits - at least in my eyes. If you can do something positive over and over and over, especially in sports, it leads to success. 

There are 162 regular season games in a Major League Baseball season. Ichiro has averaged over a hit a game for the last 10 years. His best total was 262 hits in the 2004 season.

Ichiro is also extremely durable. He has played in at least 157 games (again out of 162) every year he has been in the league except for last year when he played in 146.

Other impressive numbers of consistency include a batting average over .300 in all ten of his Major League seasons, scoring at least 100 runs in each of his first eight seasons and stealing at least 26 bases in every season, with his high mark being 56.

He has struck out just under 700 career times or right around 70 per season - this year's total of 84 (so far) is by far his highest. To put that in perspective, the current league strikeout king is Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who has struck out 206 times JUST THIS YEAR.

There is no question that Ichiro is a Hall of Famer. But think of what his career statistics could have been as he played his first eight seasons in Japan, where he put up just as consistent numbers as he has here in the U.S.

Consistency is a big part of anything that you do. Consistency comes from not being satisfied with what you did yesterday or your last game or last year. Stay focused on what is ahead of you and don't rely on your past performance. Ichiro doesn't.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

...the Colorado Rockies

A month ago, the Colorado Rockies were 11 games behind the first place San Diego Padres and it seemed as they would be playing out the last month of the season for pride. But this morning, the Rockies find themselves a game and a half out with 13 games remaining.

During the last couple of seasons, September has belonged to the Rockies. They seem to play their best baseball in the last month of the season. Since August 21, the Rockies have a record of 20 wins and seven losses. They have transformed into a legitimate playoff contender. But they should be thankful they play in the National League West.

It is a great thing to play with confidence in the final month of the season. But it is a dangerous train of thought to expect to play your way into a playoff race every year. Confidence in baseball is essential. But in any sport, you can't assume you can raise your play on when needed.

I wonder if the Colorado players assume that if they can stay around .500 (win half of their games) through the first four and a half months of a baseball season, they will play well enough through the end of August and September to be in the hunt. If so, this is a dangerous trend to fall into.

There is no question the Rockies are playing good baseball. When you are 20-7 in the last month, there is no arguing that point. But over the same time, the Padres have a record of 10-17. including a 10 game losing streak, and the San Francisco Giants are 15-11. Colorado has had plenty of help to creep back into the playoff race.

If you look at some other races - let's look at the Yankees, who have the best record in baseball. On August 21, the Yankees had a record of 76-47. If the Rockies and Yankees were in the same division, the Rockies would have been 12.5 games out of first place. As of today, even with the Rockies recent streak, the Yankees would hold a 7.5 game lead and there would not be any playoff conversation associated with Colorado.

I understand that that Rockies don't have to play in the American League East and I should only compare them to the teams they are in direct competition with. And that is fair. Again, I don't want to discount the fact that Colorado has been playing terrific baseball and look to be heading to the playoffs.

I just caution that if you think the way you play the first three quarters of a season doesn't matter because you can make a splash during the final stretch, your season may be over before you get there. 


www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, September 17, 2010

...Khalid Askri

Now I know Khalid Askri isn't a household name, especially in the United States, but his recent misfortune is something we all can learn from. Khalid Askri is the goalkeeper for Moroccan team FAR Rabat. He was playing in a Moroccan Domestic Cup match the other night against MAS Fes.

He was facing a penalty kick and, like so many in today's society, was more concerned about showing up his opponent and putting all the focus squarely on his shoulders. Well Mr. Askri, you have.

If you haven't seen it, he made the initial save on the penalty kick. And rather than focusing on the ball, he immediately pounded his chest to let everyone know that he had made the save. But what he didn't see what the spin that was on the ball after it hit off his hands.

The ball spun back and went into the goal. Now in soccer, the player taking the kick cannot kick the ball again if it is saved in a Shootout situation. But apparently, the ball can roll in even after the initial save.

I will never expect anyone - an eight year old or a twenty eight year old professional - to make every play in every game. There are errors in baseball, right? But there is something to be said about making sure the job is finished before celebrating and making sure everyone knows who made the save - or gave up the goal.

To watch the video, visit the link below.

www.tothetopperformance.com

http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=far%20vs%20mas&tnr=21&vid=257090847487&l=63&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts2.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D257090847487%26id%3Dbbf3faaa94bfcc7672cc5feac741889b%26bid%3DpJZrO8dy90CEKg%26bn%3DThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253dAoD1tXB6cPQ&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DAoD1tXB6cPQ&sigr=11aij3bjm&newfp=1&tit=YouTube

Thursday, September 16, 2010

...Derek Jeter

The buzz of the day has been the actions of Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter and how he was able to act his way onto first base last night against Tampa Bay.

If you didn't see it, in the top of seventh inning, Jeter squared to bunt. The pitch was inside and he pulled his bat back. The pitch hit off the knob of the bat and Jeter immediately acted as though the pitch hit him and he was awarded first base. The next batter was Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson who hit a two run home run that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead at the time.

I'm looking at this from two conflicting sides. As a former minor league pitcher, that part of me doesn't like the base being awarded. But as a coach, I struggle with giving up a base late in a tight game. Another thing is that I have seen plenty of wrong calls the other way - umpires ruling a batter being hit as a foul ball.

There are wrong calls at every base on any given night. Runners that are safe are called out. Pitches that are strikes are called balls. One of the great things about baseball is the adversity that you fight through on any given night.

I'm not going to go so far and call it cheating as many others have. The umpire awarded Jeter the base and I don't think anyone expects any player to turn a free base down. What I have a problem with is the way he reacted. Was it necessary to throw your bat down, bend over and wait for the trainer to arrive? Acting as though the ball hit you and putting on a show to make the umpire believe it is a little overboard for me.

If the umpire makes a bad call so be it. But you don't have to make a fool of the umpire.

I'd like to think that Karma works itself out in any situation. In the bottom of the seventh, Rays DH Dan Johnson hit a two run home run to give the Rays a 4-3 lead. The bullpen held the Yankees scoreless and preserved the win to put Tampa Bay back into first place.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

...Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson

As the start of the NFL season has come and gone, there are undoubtedly many headlines depending on who is your favorite team.

But a sad reality is the situation of New England guard Logan Mankins and San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Both Mankins and Jackson have refused to sign one year offers of just over $3.25 million, though the Chargers cut Jackson's offer significantly - just under $600,000 - when he didn't show up to training camp.

Both are seeking longer contracts with more significant money.

I understand the argument that NFL contracts are not guaranteed - if a player signs a five year, $50 million contract and is released after year two, he does not receive the remaining value of his contract. Because of that, I don't fault a player who tries to rework a deal in the off-season - especially when you feel you are a valuable part of the team. Mankins is a two time Pro Bowler and Jackson is arguably the Chargers' best receiver.

I realize that the typical football player's career is shorter than most other sports and there is a chance of a career threatening injury on every play. Without getting into specifics, I know that there are implications of the collective bargaining agreement that have also contributed to the situation. 

The cliche "professional sports is a business" is true. But the games aren't going to stop because a player or two are unhappy with their contract.

Maybe it is because I only played minor league baseball and would have done anything to play at the highest level, but I don't understand how a player can simply sit out and watch his team play. Players are supposed to play and should take pride in the fact they are professionals and are getting paid a lot of money to do so.
 

Without Mankins, who apparently had a deal that fell apart because he was asked to apologize for comments he made about the Patriots' owner, New England rolled over Cincinnati. They gained 118 yards rushing and they didn't allow a quarterback sack.

Without Vincent Jackson, the Chargers fell to the Chiefs, 21-14. San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns. And while it looked like the Chargers could have used Vincent Jackson, other players - Legedu Naanee in particular - were ready to step in and take his place.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, September 13, 2010

...Denard Robinson

If you are a fan of college football, you have undoubtedly heard of Michigan's sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. After the second week of the season, Denard has already been discussed as the early front runner for college football's most recognizable individual honor - the Heisman Trophy.

Through two games, Denard has thrown for 430 yards, ran for 455 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. He has also displayed his leadership qualities, as he led Michigan on the game winning drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against Notre Dame.

Pretty good for a kid who started zero games a freshman with another freshman starting ahead of him.

Denard has shown his athleticism - much of which is God-given. But something that is understated is his perseverance.

In the situation Denard found himself in after the 2009 season - zero starts and competing with another true freshman - many people probably would not have faulted Denard if he would have left the Michigan program and transferred to another school where he felt could play.

However, rather than giving in, he decided to stick it out, work hard and compete for the same job he lost last summer - starting quarterback at the University of Michigan.

Along the way of your athletic career, people will tell you that you aren't good enough. Rather than believing them, work hard to prove them wrong and enjoy the competition along the way. Denard does.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Sunday, September 12, 2010

...Trevor Hoffman

Late last week, Trevor Hoffman became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record 600 saves. After making a name for himself as one of the best closers in baseball with the San Diego Padres, like many players toward the end of their career, Trevor moved on after a long stint with his signature team and took his trademark change up to the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2009 season.

After recording 37 saves in 2009, Trevor struggled at the beginning of the 2010 season and Brewers manager Ken Macha decided to turn to rookie John Axford to close out games.

All too common in today's world is the talk of veteran players being "disrespected" in situations like this where a 27 year old rookie steps in. Many times a very public feud ensues, the true personality of a player shines through and a legacy is potentially tarnished. 

Trevor Hoffman didn't take this route. In a true professional manner, he accepted the role that was given to him and tried to do it to the best of his ability to help his team win. But more than that, he turned his attention to helping his replacement succeed. In an Associated Press article, John Axford says, "In all honesty, he's meant everything to my development. He carries about his business perfectly. He's been the best mentor for me."

Learn a lesson from Trevor Hoffman. Accept whatever role you are asked to play and do it to the best of your ability. And don't act like you are too good or busy to help a teammate out.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

...the San Diego Padres

If you have been following baseball this year, one of many stories has been the upstart seasons of the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres. Most commentators, analysts and casual fans have been waiting for one of them, if not both teams, to fall off and be taken over by the Cardinals and Giants, respectively.

And the Padres have almost been caught.

They finally broke through with their first win in 11 tries and in the last two weeks the Giants have climbed within a single game of the Padres lead.

For all the young players out there, this is a good opportunity to learn from the Padres and see how they respond. Not in the sense of "don't lose 10 games in a row." Losing streaks will happen. But it is how you deal with your problems that show you, and others, what you are made of.

Some people will start to believe what others think. They will start to agree that they are not good enough or they don't deserve to be there or they are playing above their potential. I've played with and coached players whose performance, at the first hint of criticism, starts to rapidly decline.

The excitement that Heath Bell showed after recording the final out last night against the Dodgers tells me that the Padres feel a huge relief off their back. It also told me that the Padres are not going to fold under the pressure of the last three weeks of the season. I'm not predicting that they will hold on to their lead. But the Giants aren't going to run away with the division.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Thursday, September 2, 2010

...K-Love

Yesterday, while listening to national Christian radio station K-Love, morning hosts Lisa and Eric were talking about a subway driver that was able to save the life of a woman because he was paying attention and wasn't distracted by his cell phone as many of us today have become.

And Lisa said something powerful that translates into the world of sports. She said that there are two kinds of pain in world - the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.

I am not, and will never, suggesting that in order for a young athlete to become better at his sport, one has to practice all day, every day. I think that it is very important for kids to lead well rounded lives and experience many things. But if you want to be truly great at something - athletics, instruments, dance, theater - you have to stay disciplined with your practice.

It may be tough to walk away from the television or computer for 30 minutes a day. It may feel "painful." But the success you can achieve through disciplined practice will be worth it. There is no greater feeling than knowing you were able to put everything you had into a competition. While winning is always a better experience, if you can walk away after a loss knowing you competed to the best of your ability, that is all you can ask of yourself.

There is nothing quite like regret in this world. Many people carry around the burden and sorrow of regret. Missed opportunities and the inability to redo some of life's moments can tear a person down. The disappointment of regret can lead to a a feeling of failure and the pain of regret is real.

Though it is difficult to lead a disciplined life, it is better than living with the regret of what could have been.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, August 30, 2010

... the Japanese Little League team

First off, I have to congratulate the Japanese Little League World Series team for capturing the World Series crown. They were a talented group that played well.

This post is not meant as a shot at the Japanese team, but did you notice when, at a crucial point in the game, the runner at second was telling the hitter where the catcher was setting up. I understand that the runner may be trying to be a good teammate, as I discussed in my previous post. But there is a line of sportsmanship, fair play and competition that was crossed.

The beauty of baseball is that it is a team game, but at the same time, is a series of individual battles. In this case, it was pitcher versus hitter. But the hitter was getting help from the Japanese runner at second base. 

Do you ever why you do not see players at the Major League level doing the same actions? Well the answer is simple. If a runner is caught giving away signs, this typically results in someone getting hit with a pitch.

I am not going to discuss if it is appropriate for a pitcher to ever intentionally throw at a batter. But I think that you can learn what poor sportsmanship is through the Japanese player.

By the way, the batter made an out. This goes to show that even when the hitter knows where the pitch is being thrown, hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult things to do in sports.



www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

... Albert Haynesworth

I don't know a lot of details about the Albert Haynesworth situation that is and has been unfolding for the last month. But it does seem like Mr. Haynesworth was glad to accept his paycheck, but doesn't want to work for it.

Maybe it is because I only played minor league baseball and never made it to the majors, but I don't understand the mentality of entitlement. I don't know if it is just me, but it seems like conversations about the "contract year" and "he already got paid" are becoming more frequent and it's sad. Is it simply good fortune that some players have their best seasons when they are in the last year of a contract and are heading to free agency? Do some players take it easy or down a notch or two after they were paid?

Don't you owe it to your fans and teammates to give 100%? What about yourself? I will never understand someone not taking pride in what they do.  If I was on a team with someone like Mr. Haynesworth, how can I trust him?

One of the biggest compliments I think you can receive is for someone to say that you were a good teammate. You don't have to be a great friend to be a good teammate. Being a good teammate means that you are willing to do whatever you possibly can to help your team win. And unfortunately, there seems to be fewer and fewer athletes that are willing to be good teammates.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

... the Little League World Series

My wife and I went to Williamsport, PA this past weekend to watch the some of the opening games of the Little League World Series and the experience was incredible. If you have never been there, regardless if you are a baseball fan, it is an atmosphere you have to experience.

One of my essentials in life is to have fun. And to see the joy that those kids play baseball with was a breath of fresh air. Even in an international competition, from the stands, you can see how fun it is for these twelve and thirteen year old athletes.

I'm not suggesting that winning and losing doesn't or shouldn't matter to the teams, but you could tell how excited the players were to be a part of the Little League World Series.

No matter what you do in life, find a couple of hours to watch the Little League World Series this week, see the excitement on their faces and try to go about your day in the same way.

www.tothetopperformance.com