One thing I love about springtime is when a baseball player reports to spring training and someone declares that the player is in “the best shape of his life.”
I don’t remember how old I was when I first noticed that specific phrase or sentiment being expressed, but over the years, more people have noticed that each spring, somebody somewhere
shows up in what is declared or insinuated to be the #BestShapeOfHisLife. There have even been articles and a Twitter account
dedicated to tracking and analyzing
instances in which the “best shape of his life” is mentioned or cited in one form or another.
It’s not the most common baseball cliché, though if you’ve spent early springs fervently waiting for even the most minor of baseball-like activities, you may recall that sentiment. The general gist of it is, every year, there are always players either declared or self-declared to be in such great shape, perhaps even the best shape of their lives, that surely it would mean they were ready to have an excellent season because it would translate to long-term success.
It’s a little more complex than that, of course. Baseball, and life, always is. Sure it helps to be your best, physically, mentally, emotionally, any and every way you can be. But it has to be something sustainable, something real. It’s similar to how you can lose weight initially on a starvation diet of 800 calories per day. You “get yourself in shape,” only for that shape to change if the way you go about it isn’t necessarily the best approach for you personally.
Success often involves a cycle of preparing yourself to succeed, establishing an approach to your craft with the intention of succeeding, executing your approach to the best of your ability, and adjusting your approach, as precisely as necessary, to stay as sharp as you can as the tides of success rise and fall.
It’s a lot easier said than done. What is the best way to prepare for success? What is the best approach for me, or you, or anyone? Knowing that part goes a long way. More often than not, the quick fix isn’t the most sustainable one.
When I think about being my best, I’m not looking for a quick fix. I’m not interested in a miracle cure, a “get fit fast” scheme for my mind, body, etc. I want long-term sustainable success. My father has often said, “you can either do it fast, or you can do it right.” You have to put the work in to do it right. That applies to baseball, it applies to wellness, and it applies to life as well.
I’ve been thinking about “the best shape of [his] life” and wanting to take this time indoors to get into the best shape of my life. Seriously and sustainably. That means I can’t fake it. It won’t be a quick fix. I want it done right, not fast.
It has to involve hard work and dedication, and any approach I take has to be one that is legitimately serving my long-term personal health and wellness.
I think that sometimes we take wellness for granted. It’s something I want to expand upon in a future newsletter because I initially tried to fit those thoughts into this one and it just ran too long. So expect more on this soon.
But the concept of “wellness” is not something we actively think about often; until we’re suddenly forced to. Living in one of the most unique times in history has certainly made me think more about it than I would otherwise.
For me, the pursuit of wellness and well-being is not about the pursuit of perfection or a state of blissful happiness at all times, nor is it an obsessive attempt to avoid all potential pitfalls that can adversely affect us either.
It’s more about controlling what we can control, putting ourselves in as good a position to succeed as we can, in every way that we can. Each of us has our own unique experiences, but I think that pursuing a level of wellness and well-being that satisfies your personal standards is a great place to start.
I work best when I’m multitasking, so Tuesday, while I was sorting out some thoughts for this newsletter and the next few, I was also listening to podcasts as well as watching a replay of ESPN’s broadcast of a KBO baseball game.
The KBO League (Korea Baseball Organization) is the major professional baseball league in Korea, and quite possibly the most major professional sports league currently operating in the world right now, which is why ESPN is broadcasting its games live, one game per day from the 10-team league. Even with a half-a-day time difference, American baseball fans are ready.
The NC Dinos’ Opening Day victory over the Samsung Lions, broadcasted in English with Karl Ravech and Eduardo Pérez calling it remotely during the wee hours of the morning on the east coast, was the first live baseball game of 2020 seen on this side of the globe. And while the Dinos didn’t celebrate with the vigorous flurry of high fives, hugs, and handshakes of a normal win, there were still players celebrating a well-earned victory in a baseball game. There was even a brief rain delay before first pitch! It felt warm and familiar.
These games are happening, here in May of 2020, because in places like Korea, they have put in the hard, diligent work necessary to enable their country to return to some degree of normalcy. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fast. But it’s a hell of a lot faster than over here because when you do it right, you usually don’t need a do-over. The complex detailed approaches that went into all that? It’s over my head and above my paygrade. Nevertheless, I’m glad they have smart people helping them collectively prepare and execute the approaches that have worked for them so far. So here’s to Korea. I wish them the best of luck, and hopefully, they can set a good example for us to follow.
As I was thinking about good processes and good approaches, I found myself thinking about how there are a lot of lessons about life that you can learn through the prism of baseball. More lessons than I can count, quite frankly.
Sometimes, the universe lets you know that you’re not alone because on the latest edition of The PosCast with Joe Posnanski, a podcast I recommended previously
, Joe and his guests discussed, naturally, baseball’s life lessons.
Joe’s friend Ellen Adair, an actor and baseball fan, was co-hosting this week in place of Michael Schur, and they were joined by Keith Law, a baseball writer and former team executive who has a new book about baseball out now.
In classic PosCast format, Joe, Ellen, and Keith went back and forth with one another drafting their favorite life lessons that they’ve learned from baseball.
They limited themselves to three official selections apiece, which didn’t stop them from rattling off some other baseball life lessons that fell short, such as, “if you’re successful 80% of the time, you can steal, otherwise please do not,” and “there’s no reason to bat in the bottom of the 9th if you’ve already won,” and most importantly, “always put your ice cream in a helmet when you can.”
Each of them picked some solid life lessons.
Ellen spoke about something she learned from baseball that’s helped her on set: “a team with defined roles, where everyone gets a turn in the spotlight, is the most fun,” because in a theatrical production or on a film set, when everyone knows their specific role and does their job when it’s their turn to step up to the plate, everyone can contribute in a well-earned team success.
Joe chimed in with the observation that “most of us in life have ‘warning track power,’ and we should swing accordingly,” which is to say, you don’t have to be a home run hitter to help the team win. Stay within yourself.
One of Joe’s picks for a favorite baseball life lesson was, “when someone yells ‘I got it,’ it’s best to let them get it,” which is usually true, but as they pointed out, it’s a little harder to do when it comes to the check at the end of a meal.
Keith chose an ode to his loathing of using the sacrifice bunt strategically during a baseball game, “you only have 27 outs, don’t give them away.” This is because they’re the scarcest and therefore most valuable resource available.
The finite nature of outs makes them precious, which is a pretty good metaphor for life if you ask me. Don’t give away outs, or any finite resource.
Another life lesson was to “always work on your craft,” and to always self-evaluate, whether it’s baseball or acting or anything else. When you study yourself, you can learn lessons from viewing yourself from a different perspective. It’s amazing what you might see on video. Use it to get better.
My favorite life lesson that they discussed, one of Joe’s picks that I found to be particularly profound, was that critics may look only at your batting average, and they won’t notice the walks. It’s a lesson about appreciating the little things that we all do, that others may overlook and underappreciate.
The people who matter in your life will always see your on-base percentage. They’ll appreciate the subtler things that don’t always fit on the back of a proverbial baseball card but all add up to the complete package that makes you who you are. Don’t let others dismiss you, especially if you’re someone who knows how to take a walk when life doesn’t give you a pitch to hit.
The whole podcast is worth a listen, as most episodes of the PosCast are. Joe fired off some undrafted other baseball life lessons towards the end, such as, “one bite of cotton candy is enough after a certain age,” and that you should “always try to take advantage of the 3-1 pitches in your life.”
When the count is in your favor, grip it and rip it. Don’t apologize for getting yourself into a good hitter’s count. Stay in the moment and take advantage.
In baseball, you learn from a very young age that failure is not the end result, but a learning tool. You don’t fail a few times, and then pack it in and go home. You fail, and fail, and fail some more, and the best players tend to be the ones who have the mental resilience to learn from their failure and bounce back.
You can’t succeed in baseball long-term without learning how to bounce back from failure. Even Mike Trout batted .220 with more strikeouts than hits in his first 40 big league games in 2011 (as a 19-year-old). Time is undefeated, and even in a sport that counts outs instead of minutes and seconds, stick around long enough and you will fail in due time. The great ones always make the necessary adjustments to find success again. But batting .300 means failing to get a hit seven out of every 10 at-bats. Failure is baseball’s kindling.