Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.
I had the opportunity to sit down recently with a baseball player named Kyle Johnson. Kyle graduated from my high school four years ago and went on to play at Washington State. As a senior, Kyle led the Pac-12 in stolen bases, and was a key player for the Cougars at the plate and in the outfield. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 25th round of the 2012 MLB draft. I have the utmost respect for Kyle, and I know with all of my heart that he is going to be extremely successful in his professional career. Before he left town for training, he sat down to talk with me about college and the big things that he learned throughout his career. There was so much sensational information that he shared with me that is going to be huge for my college career, but that is also extremely useful now.
The first thing he started with was having a good approach. Baseball and softball are very mentally demanding games, and it’s easy to get caught in a mental slump. You can be on at the plate, tearing it up going 4 for 5 consistently. But eventually you don’t have a good day, then another, then another and you’re caught in a jam. You’re overthinking every swing, and when you step into the box you are uncomfortable and worried about not producing. You start changing your approach and start overanalyzing and dig a ditch deeper and deeper with every at-bat. This is so common, and it is very hard to find a solution. Kyle gave me some great insight into how he dealt with this in college, and it all comes back to having a strong approach.
Every time you get in the box, it should be the same. Your approach is consistent and you are going through the same routine. For example, when I prepare for an at-bat I take three steps away from the box and scan the outfield. I look to see where they are set up and where I should look to drive the ball. Next I take two steps in and take one swing. I then hold my bat up and look at my left batting glove, where I have written a personal saying. Next I take a deep breath, and step in with my back foot, then my front foot tapping the plate twice. I move my bat over the plate a couple times, bat loose in my fingers, and come set. Every time. Having consistency in how you get in the box and how you breathe keeps you focused and relaxed. When you are going through your routine every single time with solid focus, you feel comfortable, as if you have been here a thousand times before.
With every pitch you receive you have to make the decision to swing or not. Clearly when you get a hit, your at-bat is over. But when you do not get a hit (or an out), you must step out and immediately let go of any negative part of the last pitch. You can’t go into the next pitch thinking “man I should have swung at that,” because before you know it the next ball is by you. Staying calm throughout an at-bat and staying consistent in your approach is so huge and something that all elite hitters do.
The second thing he told me was, “When my life outside of baseball is in order, my baseball is in order.” Things like being organized in school, keeping good relationships with your friends and family, or even eating right. These are all parts of your “other” life, and when everything else is going good, you bring no outside stress or emotion to the game. Kyle's example to me was that he woke up and made his bed every morning. It was a sign of respect and organization for his home life, and when that one thing was in order, it helped him keep other things in order. When you can go into a practice or a game with nothing else but playing on your mind, you are setting yourself up for success.
These may seem like two small and idiotic things to worry about. To some they may be, but I view these pieces of advice like golden tickets to success. As an athlete you must set yourself up to be successful at every turn, whether it is when you are stepping in the box or cleaning your bedroom. Your mind must always think “I want to be successful,” and you must make a constant effort in every aspect of your life to make it happen.
Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on three crucial innings – here.