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Think it’s easy to turn off your mind when you’re playing baseball? Think again, says a former Major Leaguer (and Penn Quaker standout).


When my career was done, not too many people would say my name in the same sentence as Tony Gwynn’s. The quintessential contact hitter, Gwynn finished his Hall of Fame career with more than 3,000 hits and a mind-boggling .338 career batting average. He played so long that by the time he retired in 2002, his son (Tony Gwynn Jr.) was about to start his own big-league career. I, on the other hand, have been out of baseball for five years now, and my son still has a few hurdles to clear before he makes his Major League debut—kindergarten, for starters.

But in 1997, my second season as a Chicago Cub, I was one of the toughest players in the National League when I had no balls and two strikes on me. It was one of the only times when I would be neck and neck with Tony Gwynn in any category, but then again, no one gets a big trophy for being the toughest hitter with a two-strike count. You certainly can’t take it to arbitration.

After that 1997 season, I learned that a good way to get better as a Major League player was to pay close attention to the best. So when I came across an observation by Gwynn that concentration is the ability to be blank at a given moment, I had to stop and digest what I had just read. Blank? You mean you weren’t supposed to hear the hot-dog vendor yelling out “Ketchup or mustard?”

In the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter, being blank never seemed like much of an option. The game moved with a violently vacillating rhythm, one minute lulling you into a vacation-like relaxation as you spent innings in wait, getting full on sunflower seeds, then hearing your name called to head toward the batter’s box and a world of exploding sliders. Who flipped the switch? Once you finally put two feet into the batter’s box, the last thing that felt natural was to be blank, especially with the rounded equivalent of a 2 x 4 in your hand. The only semblance of blank was when you took a swing and realized you had missed the pitch by a country mile. You then hoped that this miss had served a purpose, setting up the pitcher by letting him think you didn’t have a plan. If, in actuality, you did have a plan, sending a warning shot that you were onto the pitcher, the spoils of the duel were in reach.

With so much at stake in a ballet of two, I knew I was going to be prepared, even preparing right up until that pitcher started his wind-up. Although blanks litter every equation ever written, most were not put there with a purpose and a goal in mind. Yet according to Gwynn, blank was not only purposeful but the key to everything that mattered.

Hearing wisdom like that from a renowned top performer in my profession put a damper on my hopes that my Ivy League engineering approach could read the mind of the pitcher, knowing what he was about to throw through pattern recognition and a top-secret series of calculations. Since my nickname in Chicago was Rocket Scientist, I figured I could live up to the hype year in and year out by baffling unsuspecting pitchers with anticipatory skills that rendered even the fastest of fastballs useless.

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FEATURE: Desperately Seeking Blank By Doug Glanville
Illustration by Rich Lillash

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