Johnson: Baseball philosophy carries lifelong weight

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

There are many instances in life where you will be given advice or a philosophy to live by. Almost always, the one giving you the words of wisdom mean nothing but the best and are trying to help get you through trying times in life.

I think there are very few that can make an argument that today’s generation of amateur athletes are as dedicated and headstrong in their commitments as were the athletes of my father’s and grandfather’s generations. It just is what it is.

In my small perspective of the world, the athletes of today just do not seem to have the fire and passion about sports as they used to.

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Back on topic, kids aren’t enthusiastic about participating in sports. They are not as devoted, and frankly, not as interested.

Obviously, I’m talking about national trends and not every athlete evolved with a sports program. We hear all the time about the benefits of playing sports. In my personal experience there were several things that I experienced and learned on and around the athletic fields that I have leaned on outside the lines.

I remember, at times, falling into the same apathetic category as the ones mentioned. I received the best advice on life from my grandfather, Chase Riddle, and in its delivered context was in no way related to our earthly being and the ways in which we could optimize our time here but was in reference to, go figure, my approach in the batter’s box.

As a stubborn, hot-headed, know-it-all high school athlete I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, mostly because he had me up at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning to swing the bat in dead winter, but with the whole hind-sight theory, I have been able to remove the noise and put into focus what he was saying.

He would always preach about a good foundation at the plate and obviously that’s a good place to start but three things he stressed the most were qualifications for success that begin from within not just physically.

Motivation. Concentration. Determination.

Now, one can easily define each of these in a baseball perspective. A hitter needs motivation to succeed, concentration to achieve, and determination to persevere.

As time passed and life decided not to hand me everything, those three nouns began to resonate more and more as I realized that it was time to grow up (many would verbalize that I need to work harder to do so).

Motivation. It all starts here. If you are not motivated to succeed, you might as well hang ‘em up. Motivation is the reason you do what you do. So what is your motivation? What is your reason for doing what you do?

It is obviously hard for a teenager (and sometimes adults) to realize why they are doing something. Like I said earlier, there’s a lot of noise in life and rational thinking sometimes goes by the wayside.

I remember trying out for the pee wee basketball team. I loved all sports and would have played rugby had my school offered it. So, I went out for basketball knowing little more than what I had learned in the driveways of my childhood (like if you tripped someone be prepared to defend yourself). Whistles and structure were foreign to me on the court. We started with dribbling drills and I had more than a difficult time weaving between cones. I noticed the backdoor of the gym was open and quietly exited the facility to join the rest of the P.E. class playing football. Football immediately became more appealing due to the lack of a dribble rule.

Looking back, I realize I just did not have the self-motivation to overcome my inadequacies and as the years went by couldn’t bring myself to sign-up feeling that I had already proven I couldn’t achieve success.

Motivation. I didn’t have it. Lesson learned.

Concentration. It’s the second step in self-fulfillment. Concentration is the ability to focus on a task and is the mental effort required to achieve desired results.

This is probably the most difficult of the three.

Remember the stubborn guy I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s 8 a.m., it’s winter and I’m hitting a hard object with another hard object with cold hands. Concentration. The mental effort. He had it. Chase Riddle had it. Wes Johnson at 16-years-old did not. I remember four things from those sessions. Motivation, concentration, determination, and it was cold. I’m sure there were some self-developed swing remedies being passed down along with a few Ted Williams, Pete Rose and Charlie Lau based sermons but I didn’t have the level of concentration needed to overcome the throbbing in my hands from the jar of the bat. Not that I didn’t absorb every word coming out of his mouth, my shortcomings came in the fact that I could not concentrate on the practical use of the information in which I was being given. Maturity? Maybe.

Concentration is what sets apart the mentally tough from the weak. I know now which category I fell.

Concentration. I didn’t have it. Lesson learned.

Determination. This comes after one has decided that what they are doing is worthwhile and they have the mental attentiveness to achieve the goals set forth.

Determination is best defined with another noun … resoluteness. Are you steadfast in your quest to become successful? At what lengths will you go make it happen?

On several occasions, my grandfather would tell me to look out at the mound after a pitcher had retired me from play and say to myself “I’ll get you next time. You got me this time but you won’t get me again.”

My self-evaluation of my determination is ongoing but thanks to the lessons from the other two I can build on what I have learned from my grandfather through determination. You have to go after what you want. If you want to reach base safely, you’ve got to make it happen. If you want to be great at something, by all means, go get it. But “you” have to go get it, not have someone hand it to you. If you want that job, go get it. The only thing holding you back is yourself. That’s what Chase Riddle was saying on that cold winter day. Have the motivation to be successful, have the concentration to achieve that success and have the determination to follow through on your goals through your own hard work.

Thankfully, I remembered those three nouns. Hopefully, someone else will too.