This morning was tough.
I woke up “late” (at 5:15 am) and got to open water swim just as everyone completed their warm ups. I knew it was a mistake, but instead of taking time to get loose, I jumped right into the drills and started the day ahead of myself with short breath and a tingling of swim anxiety. After 3 drills, I felt tired, almost to the point of exhaustion, and decided to cut the morning swim short. I drove home, sat on the on the porch in absolutely perfect weather, and got introspective.
The thought that kept crossing my mind was, why do I keep going back?
I’ve played sports my entire life, but baseball was my first love. I was on a lot of good teams and that won a lot of games. But none of them where what what I would call great. I can hear the jokes already, but I didn’t truly learn what it takes to win until after college when I started playing softball.
I started in the beer league with the big fish/small pond attitude. We gathered our baseball buddies and thought we were the best thing since sliced bread as we carved our way through other small town teams made up of guys that used to be in band or the chess club.
This was all really good for our ego, but we didn’t always win. Our shiny brand of cockiness was often exploited by older teams. We had a ton of baseball talent, but didn’t know the first thing about winning.
One day the coach from our local traveling team, a grizzly 50-year-old bar owner with a big gap in his teeth, asked me and my brother if we’d want to play with them in St. Louis the following weekend. I didn’t know much about his team because they were always playing out of town and banned from our rinky dink league. After a few beers I told him, “What the hell.”
Next thing I know, I’m in a car headed to St. Louis with no idea what to expect. There were nearly 80 teams in the tournament and each had to qualify by winning a previous tournament or accumulating enough points in others. These guys we’re big, strong, and athletic . . . and I was a little intimidated.
I’d played against one of the teams in various tournaments with my bar league squad and they mopped our clocks. I told my new coach I thought they were pretty good, and I’ll never forget his answer, “Who, those guys? They’re a bunch of pussies. You’d be the best player on that team . . . by far.”
As it turned out we played that team in our second round and found ourselves down by SEVEN runs in coming up to bat in the bottom of the first inning. They put on a hitting clinic and as I jogged back to the bench, I thought our tournament was over. But coach had a different perspective.
I was used to a bunch of guys bitching about screwed up plays and screaming at each other to “Go hit the f*cking ball!”
The demeanor of my new team was 100% different.
Coach started making jokes about the other team being a bunch of sissies and how they were about to see how a real team swings the bat. My bar league team would have crumbled at that thought of coming back from seven runs down, but I sensed something very different about the culture that surrounded me.
I sat quietly on the bench and wondered how everyone could be so calm.
Our lead off hitter rolled a single up the middle. The second hitter followed with a line drive to right field. Our third hitter doubled and the clean up man hit a home run. It was now 7-4. The hit parade continued through the order until me and my brother stroked back to back singles in the last two places of the line up to knock in the 7th and 8th runs. We still had no outs.
The lead off man started it again with an infield single and by the time we went back to the field we’d put up 15 runs to lead 15-7. I cannot express the impact this had on my mindset.
We went on to score something like 30 runs in that game and held the other team to their original 7. I’d seen it in spurts, but my new team had something none of my previous teams really had. An unwavering confidence that was contagious.
We won the next four games before losing a close game, and were eventually eliminated, but took 5th place in the tournament out of 80 teams. My confidence shot through the roof and literally changed me as an athlete.
I played with that team for four more years and we won countless tournaments, including a clean sweep one year in the state of Indiana where we went 23-0. Our grizzly coach eventually bought a tour bus and we played in Louisville, Detroit, Minneapolis, Ohio, even Florida. More times than not we landed in the top 5. The only time we struggled was when there was palpable burnout.
So, as I sat there on my porch looking at the trees this morning I thought about my poor swim and what it really meant in the big scope of Ironman training. I showed up, made the effort, but couldn’t finish and felt guilty about walking away.
Aside from the softball story I just told, the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned from baseball is how to come back from failure. The batter’s box can be a humbling place. Even in my best seasons I made outs 60% of the time and that really teaches you how to look forward.
Today’s swim was just a bad at bat in a long season. Now it’s my job to stay focused and make sure I’m ready when I step in the batter’s box with bases loaded and two outs in the ninth on September 8th.