Monday, June 1, 2009

Pressure and Perfectionism

First things first, a HUGE Thank You to Nick Blackburn and everyone who played on Sunday for giving us our first and only win on the East Coast so far. It was a big relief to finally get one in the win column.

And secondly, this weekend series gave me some ideas for how to make these roadtrips more bearable. First, we just keep a mic on Kevin Slowey all the time, every game. And second, Denard Span's mom travels with the team and gets plenty of camera time during every game. I love her. If we just did those 2 things, I think that the losing would be less noticeable.

But on to my main point, or at least a very close approximation to a main point...

I found Francisco Liriano's post-game quotes on Saturday to be oddly disturbing.

"Every time I give up a base hit, get men on base, everything changes. I don't know what to do. I don't know what pitch to throw. Just sometimes I get a little confused."

Wow. On the positive side...thanks for sharing. That's uncharacteristically personal and vulnerable, and the first time in a long time I've heard Liriano sound even remotely self-aware of his own humanity. And it's pretty honest. I'd rather he admit what the problem is, than hide it behind false bravado.

But...on the other hand...if what he's saying is true, that's a pretty big problem.

Working in the mental health field for longer than I care to remember, I can't help but play armchair psychiatrist when I hear something like that.

Sounds to me like a bad case of perfectionism gone sour. When things are going smoothly, the perfectionist is fine. Confident. Composed. But when something goes wrong, they aren't just disappointed or upset by it, which is a normal reaction. It's a lot more debilitating than that. They have a hard time functioning at all. And it takes a lot of effort to work through those issues and understand that things won't always be perfect, and you can't just give-up or melt down at the first sign of trouble.

And the reality is that Liriano isn't going to strike everybody out anymore. He's going to give up hits. He's going to have baserunners to deal with. He's going to give up some runs. That's the game.  And this isn't 2006 anymore. Things have changed, and he needs to adapt. He can't expect perfection from himself, and the fans can't expect perfection of him either. Sometimes it's better to settle for "Pretty darn good." And maybe, when things get sketchy, and you get confused, trust someone else. That's what we're paying Mauer and Redmond for. They happen to pretty darn good at their jobs too.

So...how to fix the problem. I've heard lots of people suggesting some time in AAA as the solution.  I'm not sure that would help fix the root of the problem. We already know he can be dominant in AAA. So, he goes down and breezes past opponing line-ups, and comes back up convinced he invincable again, until he gives up some hits and some runs, and he melts down, and we're right back to where we started. 

Rick Anderson made the right call by sending him back out for the 4th inning on Saturday.That's a good start to dealing with the issue. Yup...things were bad. Runs were scored. But the world didn't end, and there were still pitches to be thrown. And if the team doesn't already have Liriano working with a good sports psychiatrist, that should be looked into, ASAP. They were maybe just words of frustration, but if his post-game quotes didn't raise enough red-flags with team officials to get him some help dealing with issue, they're doing a disservice to the kid and his well-being as an athlete and a person. Some professional sports-related counseling can help an athlete tap into that perfectionism to use it for good (think of those great "It's all riding on me" kind of clutch performances, while controlling the negative self-defeating side-effects.  

And speaking of massive amounts of pressure on young athletes...how about that Matt Wieters? I was excited for his call-up, and I watched his first major league at-bat, with the rest of baseball-America. But the hype really made me cringe a little. I heard a lot of comments about how he is going to single-handedly turn the Baltimore franchise around. That's a pretty heavy burden to put on some really young shoulders. When it comes right down to it, he's just a kid with a bat, facing regular-season major league pitching for the first time. That'd be hard enough, even without the knowledge that messing it up would be simultaneously disappointing every single baseball fan in the world who happened to be near a TV or computer at the time. That'd take nerves of steel, man. You can't really blame him for going 0-4. (As many of us Twins fans were commenting on that night...Mauer's debut in '04 went quite a bit better at 2 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs...but who's counting?) But he settled down during the rest of the weekend and did much better. Good luck to him. Except when he comes to the Metrodome, obviously.

7 comments:

Katie said...

Kevin mic'd during road games is a must, right along with Denard's mom. She is too cute for words.

After reading your post, I agree, perhaps AAA isn't the best thing for Frankie right now. While everyone may be getting down on him, perhaps he needs to stay here and be reminded he can pitch with the best of them.

I don't think it's fair to Matt either to have all that pressure on him. That's an insane amount of pressure to put on a 23 year old that's coming into his first game in the Major's. I know everyone is saying he's the next Joe Mauer, and he might just be, but let him get used to his surroundings and then let's see what he can do.

Robynn said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVED Denard's mom!

And I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on Franky.

BTW-Might I suggest writing in Span for the All-Star game?

Heidi said...

Maybe Cisco, Joe, and Red need to get together and do some trust falls and other team building activities so Cisco learns to trust. As a former camp counselor, I will volunteer to coordinate these activities.

Katie said...

Such a good idea Heidi!

I'm also picturing Mauer and Redmond shouting encouragement as Liriano attempts a bootcamp-like obstacle course.

...there is a semi-successful feel-good Disney motion picture in there somewhere....

Cait said...

Perhaps a few weeks of being a relief pitcher? You know how utterly excited we all get when Shaggy or Jose or whoever comes into a crappy situation (i.e. loads of base runners with good hitters coming up, etc.) and pulls us out of it? Maybe giving 'Cisco some opportunities to see that we trust him in those situations and think he's still totally awesome enough to pull off those situations would make it easier to deal with when he's made those situations himself.

And not to point too many fingers but he could certainly use some frakin' run support already too, you know? Over his 11 games we've had a total of 39 runs (that's a 3.5 run average for those of you playing at home) and in the 9 games in which he didn't get the win it's a total of 25 runs (2.7 average). I mean certainly there's give and take there, but a little run support does the body good...

Either way, I still think Cisco's the poo. I hope he gets over this hump soon. He's still got sick pitches to work with; he can still be totally awesome and I want that for him (and us).

Heidi said...

There is a semi successful Disney movie in this somewhere! I'm picturing the training sequence from Mulan with "I'll Make a Man Out of You" being sung by Joe and Red.

Anonymous said...

I want to sit next to Denard's Mom on any given road game... AND I've already been writing Span in on my All Star ballots.

Your comments on Frankie are right on, too. Well said.

--tammy