The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph

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9781439191194: The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph
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Shawn Green’s career statistics can be found on the backs of baseball cards in shoe boxes across America: 328 home runs, 1,071 RBIs, .282 career batting average, All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger. . . . But numbers tell only part of the story.

His path to success was as grounded in philosophical study as in ballpark wisdom. Striving to find stillness within the rip-roaring scene of Major League Baseball—from screaming fans to national scandals— Green learned to approach the sport with a clear mind. In the tradition of Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops,

Green shares the secrets to remaining focused both on and off the field, shedding light on a signature approach to living by using his remarkable baseball experiences to exemplify how one can find full awareness, presence, and, ultimately, fulfillment in any endeavor. Following his development from inconsistent rookie to established All-Star to aging veteran,

The Way of Baseball illustrates the spiritual practices that enabled him to “bring stillness into the flow of life.” Requiring mastery of perspective and continual management of ego, the game of baseball afforded Green the opportunity to explore his potential as more than just a ballplayer. A treasure of practical wisdom and an intimate look at what it really means to “let go,” The Way of Baseball illuminates the creative possibilities within us all.

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About the Author:

Shawn Green’s career in Major League Baseball spanned fifteen years with four teams. He finished in the top ten of league MVP voting three times. Visit him at ShawnGreen.com.
Gordon McAlpine is the author of three acclaimed novels: Joy in Mudville, The Persistence of Memory, and Mystery Box.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

STILLNESS

As I walked from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box at Miller Park in the late afternoon of May 23, 2002, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was about to get drilled by the next pitch. It was the ninth inning and I had already amassed five hits against the Milwaukee Brewers, including three home runs—in their own ballpark. I wasn’t so much worried about the pain of taking a fastball square in the back as I was curious as to how the day would turn out. Being this deep into the zone, I felt more like a spectator than a participant, watching my actions, rather than willing them. I had never had this kind of success in a single game, nor had I ever even seen anyone else achieve such heights, so I wasn’t sure what the protocol was.

I dug my back foot into the batter’s box and went through my usual routine (I silently debated whether to take a pitch to see where the pitcher, Jose Cabrera, stood in terms of baseball etiquette). As I settled into my stance, I realized I was still too locked in to burden myself with thinking. I’d simply look for my pitch and swing hard. The first pitch crossed the plate several inches outside; nonetheless, my body felt on time, as I’d felt all day. Ball one. The next pitch was a changeup that I recognized but missed with my fiercest cut. There’d be no backing down this at-bat; I had a once in a lifetime shot at history. The 1-1 pitch was a fastball thigh-high on the inner part of the plate. My timing was perfect and an all-out swing sent my fourth and farthest home run of the day over the fence. Effortless! I was six for six with four home runs and nineteen total bases ... a Major League record.

Journeying around the bases, I relished the moment: a rare ovation from an opposing crowd and looks of amazement from the infielders as I trotted past. As I approached home plate, I made eye contact with a familiar face in the opposing dugout, Gary Matthews Sr., my former hitting coach. He gave me his characteristic military salute, for which he’d long before earned his nickname, Sarge. For two years in Toronto, he’d worked with me in batting cages across the American League, often four or more hours before game time. Now, Sarge’s salute was more than a mere acknowledgment of my record-setting performance. It was recognition for all the work I’d invested over thousands of hours.

As I shook hands with my teammates and acknowledged the standing ovation of the crowd, I reflected on the past. The fruits of my labor here at Miller Park had grown from seeds planted five years earlier, before Sarge had even been hired by my first team, the Blue Jays. In those days, a conflict created a painful rift in my game, my future, my world: a rift that I now understood had created the necessary space for these fruitful seeds to have been planted in the first place, beneath the SkyDome in Toronto.

TORONTO 1997

After two years in the big leagues, I’d already been labeled a slow starter. My hitting seemed to warm with the seasons, heating up in summer, so, along with most of the Blue Jays’ faithful, I suspected that ’97 would be no different. In May, with springtime almost over, my hitting was indeed still as frigid as the Canadian air, but I wasn’t panicked. June was on its way, July after that. Surely I’d find my stroke. This year, however, I faced a new obstacle—being benched—and my opportunities to heat up with the weather were seriously threatened.

Cito Gaston, our manager, had won two World Series and he was much loved by veteran players because of his loyalty to them, as well as his old-school attitudes. Cito viewed many younger players with suspicion. At twenty-four, I’d already accumulated sufficient credentials to be an everyday player (AAA batting title in ’94, voted among the top five American League rookies in ’95, career average in the mid .280s), but I’d never been given the chance. My rookie year with the Jays I hit .288 with 15 home runs on a last place team, yet I only got to play against right-handed pitchers. By mid-May of ’97, Cito finally won out over the front office regarding my playing time. Suddenly, my career prospects were slipping away as I was forced to sit day after day in the dugout watching all the games from the so-called best seat in the house.

After weeks of frustration, I met with general manager Gord Ash and asked him to trade me so I could play somewhere, anywhere. A week or two passed, and every day new trade rumors with my name attached floated around the league until at last Cito had to address it.

It was midafternoon at the Toronto SkyDome, four hours before a night game against the Yankees. I’d put on my uniform and was walking past Cito’s open office door when he called, “Hey, Green, come in here and have a seat. I want to talk to you.”

My heart thumped as I approached my boss’s desk and sat down.

“Look, Shawn, don’t think that I don’t like you, ’cause I do,” Cito said. “I think you have a lot of potential, but ...” He stopped, considering, maybe searching out a rationale for benching me. “You need to improve your defense. No manager is going to chance it with you the way you play in the field.”

I began to squirm in my seat. My first couple of years I’d played scared in right field because, each time I erred, I couldn’t help focusing on the irritation on Cito’s face. Still, my defense was improving (within two years I’d win the league’s Gold Glove Award, though obviously I didn’t possess this evidence for the defense at the time).

“Also, Shawn, you need to learn how to pull the ball to hit more home runs because you don’t run well enough to steal bases,” Cito continued.

“How do you know I can’t steal bases if you never give me the green light to try?” I snapped. “And as for pulling the ball, I know how to turn on the inside pitch.”

For a left-handed-batter, pulling the ball means connecting with the pitch early and hitting to right field, increasing the chance of a home run. There was nothing I liked more than pulling the ball with power, but I knew that limiting myself to being a dead-pull hitter would reduce my productivity.

Cito wasn’t having it. “You can go on your way, Shawn. The meeting’s over.”

After a few minutes, my heart rate returned to almost normal.

Cito hadn’t said anything that had taken me by surprise; still, this was the first time he’d told me point blank what he thought of me as a player. Now it was clear why I was sitting on the bench. I returned to my locker, grabbed my bat, and went to look for Garth Iorg, a minor league coach who was in town temporarily, to ask if he’d throw to me in the batting cage. When I found him he said, “Okay, but make sure you ask Willie.”

Willie Upshaw was the hitting coach and he generally marched in lockstep with the boss, Cito. I’d had enough of that regime for now. “I already looked and couldn’t find him, so let’s just head to the cage,” I lied. For the past few weeks, I’d been sneaking into the batting cage without Willie knowing. He was a good guy, but he wasn’t helping me become a better hitter.

When I’d started with the Jays in ’95, my hitting coach was Larry Hisle. He was a prince of a man who never forgot his own playing days and how hard hitting actually is. He was always encouraging to me. He’d say, “Oh, big man, if I had a swing like yours, I’d still be playing. Just keep working.” He stood up for me that year in a coach’s meeting, saying, “Why don’t we give the kid a chance to play every day, against lefties and righties? He’s doing great and we’re twenty-five games behind Boston. Let’s see what he can do. How can it possibly hurt?” But his advice was ignored and at the end of the season Hisle was replaced by Willie Upshaw.

When Willie arrived in ’96, a key component of his job was to convert John Olerud and me into power hitters, which in Willie’s eyes meant pulling the ball. Both Willie and Cito had preferred to pull the ball in their playing days, the 1970s and ’80s, when being late on a fastball was considered a knock on your manhood. So Oly and I often had to hit under Upshaw’s tutelage to work on hooking balls down the right field line.

One afternoon at SkyDome, Cito and Willie instructed Oly and me to stand extremely close to home plate when we were hitting so that every ball would feel inside and we’d have to pull the ball. Both of our performances had been subpar the first part of the season. Olerud had won the Major League batting title for the world championship team in ’93 and had chased .400 for most of that season. Now, his coaching staff was dictating that he give up twenty to forty points on his stellar batting average in hopes of hitting an extra ten home runs a year. Oly and I talked a lot about how lost we felt at the plate. It’s hard enough to get hits even when you’re not being forced to change your swing.

So, on that day in May ’97, I was anxious to get to the cage with Garth Iorg to get in some extra batting practice without overbearing instruction from Willie or Cito. Besides, I needed to take out some of the frustrations of my meeting with Cito—I needed to sweat out the pent-up energy.

As Garth and I walked down the clubhouse corridor, which was adorned with photos of the short but sweet Blue Jays’ history, we happened to pass an old photo of Willie Upshaw playing first base during his tenure with the Jays. At that moment, the door that led out of the clubhouse and into the undercarriage of the stadium swung open. It was Willie, ten years older than the photo but still in great shape.

The...

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