I’m a strong believer that the mental/psychological part of baseball plays a bigger part in the game than people acknowledge. Granted, positive thinking isn’t going to make people throw 95 miles an hour. But being able to struggle through adversity, shake it off and regroup, and ultimately persevere is crucial. So I was fascinated by this year’s Chicago Cubs-Cleveland Indians World Series, because there were several examples of how the mental part of the game affected the action on the field. And Cubs’ phenom Anthony Rizzo caught on camera in Game 7 telling teammate David Ross how he was an “emotional wreck” was just the beginning of seeing the human side of baseball.
Don’t forget that the Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win it all. According to reports, Rizzo is a big Rocky fan, and played the movie for his teammates, played the music from it, and quoted parts of it.
Then there was Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s ridiculous decision to bring closer Aroldis Chapman into Game 6 in the seventh inning — with Chicago having a five-run lead! This, after Chapman had pitched eight outs and thrown 42 pitches — the longest outing of his career — in Game 5. Maddon did the right thing in that game. After all, the Cubs had a one-run lead that they needed to hang onto, with no room for error. If they had lost Game 5, the Indians would have won the series.
But Squawker Jon and I both thought it was a huge mistake to pitch Chapman in Game 6, regardless of the day off in between the two games. (So did Alex Rodriguez, who is doing an excellent job in his new career as a broadcaster; he said that night that Cleveland also “won” by getting Maddon to use Chapman there for 20 pitches, and noted that Chapman preferred to pitch just the ninth inning.) So we weren’t the least bit surprised when Chapman gave up three runs in the eighth inning of Game 7, tying the game for Cleveland.
Chapman was so upset he was crying in the dugout, a surprise for somebody so outwardly stoic. But Maddon had set him up to fail, and I’m convinced that the Cubs’ curse, and the tortured 108-year history behind it, made him overmanage and overreact. If the Cubs had lost, Maddon’s rep would be as bad as Grady Little, if not worse. I was in a bar in Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal watching this Game 7 action unfold, and people in the bar were saying just that.
But then the bleeding stopped, and the rain started. And in a fortuitous event, the Cubs were able to take a breath, regroup, and get their heads back in the game. Jason Heyward, who has been a big disappointment on the field this year (I should know — I had him on my fantasy team!) gave the speech of his life in the team’s weight room as the Cubs waited out the rain.
The Chicago Tribune described the scene (emphasis added):
Heyward saw the shattered expressions on the faces of some of his teammates and, though normally soft-spoken, initiated an impromptu team meeting right then and there.
He was, in his words, “heated” and “venting.” He challenged teammates: “Where’s that fire we’ve had all year?” But then he told them he loved them. He called them his brothers.
“Fight for your brothers!” Heyward shouted.
[Addison] Russell and rookie Willson Contreras both admitted later, when the champagne-soaked clubhouse had turned into the center of the partying universe, that they’d cried listening to Heyward’s words and while trying to express their own feelings to teammates in the ensuing minutes before play resumed.
“He looked at us and told us we were all winners,” Contreras said. “He said, ‘I’m so proud of you guys. We’re not giving up. We’re playing Game 7 and we’re going to win it.’ It was amazing. A bunch of us were crying.”….
“I don’t need to take any credit for anything,” [Heyward] said. “I just love them so much that, win or lose, I would hate to see them not be themselves.”
David Ross also gave details of the meeting, according to Cubhq.com:
“He spoke up and said this is about your teammates,” Ross said. “He just said, `We’re the best team in baseball for a reason. Continue to play our game, support one another. These are your brothers here, fight for your brothers, lift them up, continue to stay positive. We’ve been doing this all year so continue to be us.’
Rizzo later described the rain delay as being the best one of all time. And if it weren’t for having those 17 minutes to regroup, who knows if the Cubs would have come back to win? I personally think they would have lost.
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I wish I had gotten to see more of this World Series, although Squawker Jon and I did rewatch the end of Game 7 last night. But I’ve been so busy training for the New York City Marathon that a lot of things, including baseball and Squawking, have taken a back seat to the race.
As most of you know, I’ve lost over 80 pounds since I took up running a little over three years ago. And I’ve been gearing up for the marathon since February, with my hardcore training starting at the end of May, when my running coach and I mapped out every single run I would need to do until Sunday, October 16, the apex of that training.
In that time, I ran over 40 miles a week at the peak of my highest mileage, and hit 20 miles or more four separate times. Everything was going really well, and I was achieving goals I didn’t think I ever could. On the 16th, I was supposed to run 23 miles, the longest I would run until the marathon, but it was not to be.
I was doing a training run with my running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, but since I’m much slower than everybody else, I was essentially by myself. At any rate, for a variety of reasons (I’ll save the details for “Subway Squawkers: The Movie”!), it just wasn’t my day, right from when I started running. Long story short, I fell and face-planted on the sidewalk, not long after I hit Mile 13. (The Staten Island Advance wrote about it here in an article about my journey.) And I ended up having to be taken to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a nose contusion, busted teeth, and a sprained ankle. It turns out that my teeth got the worst of it, and will need extensive dental work.
After the fall, I really was at a low point both physically (I was in a lot of pain) and mentally (I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to handle the challenge of the marathon.) Anyhow, I went through some rough times, but things are better now, and I’m ready for tomorrow’s race.
There were a lot of things that made me feel better — the support of family and friends and co-workers, running 18 miles a week after the fall with no repercussions — and convinced me that I needed to keep on going. I also used things like Rocky (Rizzo, you’re not the only one inspired by that!) and Creed to inspire me. And frankly, hearing that even pro athletes, like the Cubs, can have their own doubts made me feel better, in a way. The fact that they looked into the abyss, were freaked out, but Heyward’s speech made them hit the reset button was oddly comforting to me this week.
In a few hours, I’m running the marathon. My coach keeps on telling me to keep my composure, and not go too fast. While attending marathon-related events, I’ve cried a lot of tears this week — of excitement, of happiness, of nervousness — and all of the emotions seem overwhelming at times. But in addition to relying on my faith, I’m going to remember all the sports stories I know of athletes achieving in the face of adversity. A-Rod keeping on keeping on. Willis Reed in Game 7. Joe Namath’s guarantee. Bucky Dent in 1978. Heck, even Curt Schilling and the bloody sock.
Later this day, I will have run 26.2 miles and be wearing my first marathon medal. Wish me luck!