The most important thing that happened last Wednesday may not have been that Noah Syndergaard hit a home run or pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Those were fantastic individually and even better collectively, but the thing more likely to have an impact on Syndergaard was the standing ovation he received when Terry Collins removed him from the game after he got the first out of the eighth inning.
“He deserved to hear that,” Collins said after the game.
Syndergaard, who will pitch against the Padres in San Diego tonight, was rather modest when talking about it afterward, describing the moment as “awesome” but it’s something that may linger for him for a long time.
Often fans think of players as robots, but there is an emotional response that goes with their line of work. When they’re going well, everything feels good. When they’re going bad, everything feels awful. Players are trained not to get too high or too low emotionally, but there’s value in embracing a moment like this.
“When a manager does something like that deliberately, especially like what Terry Collins and Jeff Banister (the Rangers manager, who did something similar later that week) have done, it’s more than just a confidence boost from hearing the fans,” said Geoff Miller, a mental skills coach who has worked for four major-league teams over the last 11 years.
“There’s a feeling of trust, loyalty and support that is generated, not just by the player it happened to, but every man on the roster appreciates their manager giving them a moment like that, where they can get validated for what they’ve done.”
Added Ray Karesky, who does similar work to Miller for the Arizona Diamondbacks: ”In our culture, standing ovations are an acknowledgement of something really special, very positive and not given for normal or even good performances. For a young player, you want him to feel that excitement and reinforce the effort and development.
“(Fans often) don’t grasp the human side of it. When they see something negative, they’re very judgmental. They don’t have much compassion.”
I wanted to learn more about the impact of such a moment, so I checked with three former players currently working at ESPN as baseball analysts.
Former Athletics and Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder noted that he didn’t remember his first few standing ovations, mainly because he got hooked in mid-inning after putting runners on base. He remembered being disappointed rather than being satisfied.
“That would make a difference,” Karesky said, regarding whether the manager pulled his pitcher with men on base or after a successful situation like what Syndergaard had.
But both Eduardo Perez and Doug Glanville remembered their ovations like they were yesterday.
“You can’t explain it,” said Perez, who took a curtain call after hitting a home run in his first major-league game. “You can just feel it. A great feeling.”
Glanville had to wait awhile for his first big-deal standing ovation. It came in 1999 when he reached the 200-hit mark and fans called him out of the dugout to congratulate him on being the first Phillies player with 200 hits since Pete Rose in 1979.
“It’s the ultimate fan validation,” Glanville said. “It’s incredible when the fans get the power of a moment like that. After all the trials and tribulations of that season, they realized the significance and it all came together.
“That was savvy of Collins to do that. It connects you with the fans. You’re going to have moments where you’re terrible. It’s great to capture a moment where you are celebrating. It happened for me 16 years ago and it stayed with me for sure.”