Do you recall where you were, the night of Sunday, November 4th, 2001? I do … I was stuffed on a college couch with three friends. Watching one of the more epic Game 7’s in World Series history.
Yankees vs. Diamondbacks.
The Yankees were vying for their 4th straight World Series Title. Like many, I’d tired of watching them win ‘everything.’ I was pulling hard for the D’backs to dethrone the ‘Evil Empire.’
For seven innings, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens dueled to a 1–1 tie. In the top of the eighth, Alphonso Soriano stepped up, dug in and took Schilling deep, putting the Yanks on top 2–1.
Mariano Rivera, “The Sandman,” was warming in the Yankees pen. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Disgusted, I threw in the towel.
More like the pillow actually. I chucked one across the room and left.
I got back to my apartment just in time to see Luis Gonzalez’s blooper fall over the head of Derek Jeter — capping off a 9th inning rally that sent the Yankees packing in dramatic walk-off fashion.
I thought about that Game 7, as I listened to an interview with Dana Cavalea, this week. Cavalea is a former strength and conditioning coach for the Yankees. The guy who was responsible for keeping Rivera, Jeter et al., in peak performance, during their run of 12-straight playoff appearances.
Though he may not have have secured ‘the crown’ for the Yankees that night, Rivera did okay for himself. With essentially one pitch — a devastating cut-fastball — he dominated hitters for 17 years, as Yankees closer. A thirteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, Rivera retired as MLB’s career leader in saves (652) and games finished (952).
Cavalea was asked about what separates the ‘true elite,’ like Rivera, from those who just ‘have talent.’ According to him, it’s rather simple.
“At the start of the fifth inning of every game Rivera was in the same place — on my stretching table,” He explained. “If I was there even one pitch after the start of the fifth, he was screaming my name down the hallway. Take a guy like Derek Jeter. You knew that at 6:30pm before every single game, he was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich … Those players live and die by their routines man.”
He continued, “The fastest way to disrupt the psychology of high performance athletes is to interrupt their routine — even slightly. After a rain delay or a late night cross country flight, the first thing they would do is work to pull themselves back into their routine. It’s about training. They train themselves to focus only on what is most important.”
The fastest way to disrupt the psychology of high performance athletes is to interrupt their routine — even slightly. The first thing they do is work to pull themselves back into their routine.
I needed to hear that.
Maybe it’s my background as an athlete but I am indelibly a creature of habit. I thrive on routine.
Except for, this time of year, I always seem to struggle with that very thing. I’m reactive. Scrambling. Out of sorts. Like I’m stuck in the middle of a metaphorical rain delay.
Reading back through my journal entries from the past couple of “end of Mays,” it’s about as predictable as an 0–1 Mariano cutter.
School is officially out. Kids are rarin’ to go for summer activities. Work projects all seem to be converging at the same time. I’m a tad burned out from revving the engine hard, for the past five months.
It can be very easy, if not seductive, to let down. To lose focus. To start looking for ‘an easier way.’ But the answer, in fact, is the exact opposite.
What makes greatness great is the ability to quickly pull oneself out of the spin cycle. The daily routine becomes the accountability.
This was a great reminder for me that even the greatest in the world are pulled off course from time to time. But what makes greatness great is the ability to quickly pull oneself out of the spin cycle.
To get back in the box and focus on hitting singles day after day. In that way, the daily routine becomes the accountability.
We’re all looking for the magic formula but even for the likes of Rivera and Jeter, it seems that success is as vanilla as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Who am I to argue?
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