“The Winner’s Attitude”

When I was playing third base on my high school and college baseball teams, before every pitch, I repeated over and over: “Hit it to me.” I wanted every ball to come to me so much that, when it did, I was ready and made less and less errors to my last day on the diamond.  Then, for some twenty years, I coached boys baseball, and I urged some 300 lads to say “Hit it to me” to themselves or out loud before every pitch was thrown.  This slogan was the foundation on which we built winners almost every year I ever coached.  We didn’t fear the ball (the opportunity); we wanted it, and we constantly reminded ourselves of that fact.  A positive attitude determines success or the want of it.   In baseball, the readiness and positive attitude of our winners was capsulated in their endlessly repeated words: “Hit it to me.”  Fear of failure was eliminated by the repeated requests to be given the chance to make the play.  When we’re consumptively busy doing, we have no time to fear mistakes.  By wanting the opportunity so much, and re-affirming our desire so often, we were ready, ready to make the play, ready to succeed.  That is a Winning Attitude.

“If I had my life to live over again, I’d take more risks next time,” said N. Stair, the poet, whose words have rung in my ears since the day that I first read them.  I would “Just do it,” reach for that lofty goal that fear had earlier prevented me from trying to achieve.  I would just do it and never look back; that is, I would be without regrets.  By “doing it”, I don’t mean anything off-color; I mean doing something worthwhile, which I always define as something that will, on balance, be a plus to ourselves and to our civilization.  It really doesn’t matter what that sport or work is as much as how we do it, and how we do it is the direct result of how much we want to do it, as our desire determines our readiness and the level of our perseverance, and readiness and perseverance, in the long run, determine our rate of success.

Succeeding in life, to me, is achieving one’s positive goals, whatever they are.  “Success” may thus be so many things:  building a great business, reading anything and everything ad nauseam, teaching an eager mind, painting an ideal picture, writing a compelling book or an inspirational song, being an optimum parent, mastering self-discipline, entertaining others, being “a leader”, being the most cheerful cab driver around, or, perhaps, just helping most anyone each day as best one can – or, less energetically, simply sitting on a tree stump, emulating Rodin’s veritable Le Penseur, contemplating the great conundrums that confound us all or even just contemplating one’s navel — as long as we have done enough to be self-sufficient.

The “balls” that life throws at most of us keep us so busy, and often so off stride, that we have no time to be profound or even to consider why we are doing what we’re doing or why; we must just “Do it.”  This recalls John Lennon’s timeless reflection:

“Life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans.”

Thus, while planning is important, we must take care to spend more time doing than planning.  I wish to become “a great conductor and writer of symphonies”, and, then, thirty years later, I find myself teaching algebra or some such  (recalling the priceless film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, starring Richard Drefus), never quite knowing, “What happened?”  We commence life’s journey, full of acidic verve and determination, with fire in our eyes and conquest in our minds and within our pellucid, prismatic horizon.  Then, most of don’t do what we really wanted to do, and perhaps should have done, i.e., follow our star.  We do what we need to do to survive, and we shouldn’t fault ourselves for doing what is necessary to be self-reliant, financially and otherwise.  Necessity generally dictates our course.

In retrospect, does any of this matter?  That is to say, isn’t what we are doing, and what we did, not as important as how we did it?  And how we felt, and feel, about it?  Why, then, do we hold back?  Why are so many of us too timid to assert ourselves and do what is in our heart of hearts?  Pusillanimous to a fault, fear of inadequacy, embarrassment, failure, has so often been the culprit.  We won’t do it well; we fear; so, we don’t do it at all.  Not trying, not having the courage to take the chance, is the culprit, the Satan to be conquered.  Sometimes following our star can only be achieved by remaining single, but this price may be too great, as there are so many advantages to creating our own families.

During my above-mentioned twenty-years in the vineyard of baseball-coaching, I tried to help some 300 kids overcome this fear of failure, the same fear that I experienced when playing as a lad.  Over time, I developed a wee sermon that seemed to help quite a few of them, and it went like this:

To succeed in anything, you have to really want to do it.  You need to be excited to do it, and you need to keep reminding yourself how much you want to do it.  On point, instead of standing on the baseball field and hoping that the ball isn’t hit to you, for fear you’ll make a mistake, you need to literally pray that the ball will be hit to you, and you should do this before every pitch.  So, before every pitch, get in a crouch and start pounding your glove with your fist and repeating, over and over again, “Hit it to me; hit it to me; HIT it to me; HIT IT to me;  HIT IT TO ME…” and, when it is hit to you, you’ll pounce on it like a cat on a mouse; the ball will never have a chance; you’ll gobble it up with the avarice of a starved man; no ball will you allow to pass through you, and you’ll grow to love doing it, and, of course, you’ll become a very good fielder, the very best that you can be, and THAT is the winning attitude that gives success.

I did the same thing with hitting.  At first, I hated to bat in baseball, for fear of striking out.  To minimize that risk, I spent hundreds of hours, literally, swinging at tree leaves at various heights (chest, waist and knee), until I could hit any leaf dead-on-the-nose 99% of the time.  Then, before I stepped into the batter’s box, I would say, under my gasping breath, “Throw it to me; throw it to me; THROW IT to me; THROW IT TO ME.”  I literally couldn’t wait for a strike.  I NEVER took a fat pitch; meaning that I swung at all fat pitches (any around my belly button), and I became the best hitter on my college team one year – I, who couldn’t bat .100 in high school, batted over .400 one year in college.  Why?  Because I was good?  Hardly.  Quite the opposite.  I became good by dint of thought and relentless effort and, above all, because of my desire to do well, which I beat into my own brain and body by saying, “HIT IT TO ME; THROW IT TO ME,” until I was blue in the face.

If we want to do well, as I told my desultorily attentive baseball-pupils, we must want to do well; we must practice to do well; we must think about what we’re doing and how we do it; and, above all, we must be the boss of our minds; we must tell our minds what we want our bodies to do.  Then, over time, our bodies will respond in the manner desired.

Life is not about chance.  Francis Bacon, a great English philosopher, judge and Prime Minister, observed:

“Chance is the name of a thing that does not exist.”

Well, chance does exist, of course, and he didn’t mean that it doesn’t exist; he meant that, on balance, over the long haul, we make our own “luck”.  As goes the trite axiom, “We are the masters of our fate.”  Long term, that’s largely true.  Our lives can be no more, and little less, than we make them.  Wanting to do well (i.e., to achieve our constructive goals) is not enough; we have to want it enough to work relentlessly for it, to think rationally about it and plan, to implement the plan, and to boss our minds into making our bodies do what we need and want them to do.

So, my lads, my pubescent baseball minions, I admonished, on the field and in life, every day, we must practice, follow a rational plan, and, above all, before every play, we must say, “Hit it to me,” over and over until we really want to make the play, and then, and only then, we will make the play and achieve our illusive goals.  It worked.  Now and then, over the years, I see or hear from some of them, and there is little that gives me greater joy.  I loved them then and ever will, and hope that they still say, “Hit it to me.”