Fortunately, for my conscience and my desire to contribute to the team I’m playing for, I hit much better than I expected to. I believe the largest contributor to that was my new found speed. I never was a ‘slow’ kid, but I wasn’t much above average and my first step was my biggest weakness. While growing up, I played more soccer and basketball than baseball, so my body was trained for a mix of slow/fast twitch muscle fibers. Now, after 3 years of dedication to fast-twitch muscle training, things done changed. Back in June, after recovering from an LCL injury in my knee, I ran between a 6.85-6.9 second 60-yard sprint. Since then, I’ve only gotten faster and back into form. I’m confident I was running more like a 6.7-6.8 second 60 in Australia. While a 6.7 isn’t ELITE speed, it is significantly above average, even by professional standards. Much faster than my wind-aided, fastest time ever of 7.2 in high school. That’s what slow, steady, daily, focused effort will do for you.
Anyway, I was able to use my speed to lay down bunt base hits almost at will. I was 21 for 57 overall and I bet a third of those hits were from bunts. It’s crazy how speed changes the way you play. On the base paths, I had a swagger I never used to have. When you can get inside other players heads because of it, you know you have a significant tool at your disposal. In 18 games I stole 10 bases, while only getting caught once (on a bad attempt at 3rd base). Most of my big offensive games came for our 2nd team, but I even had some big hits for the 1s. The biggest of which was probably during our 2nd game back after the holiday break, in January at Malvern. They were a bottom of the ladder team, a team we should have handled easily. It looked that way until we let them score about 10 runs in the 6th and 7th innings to take a 5 run lead. I entered the game as a pinch runner in the top of the 8th and stayed in the lineup during the crucial 9th inning. We had to win this game to keep our postseason hopes alive. I was due up 7th in the inning. Long story short, I get up with 2 on, 2 outs, down by 3, the tying run. I rip a grounder down the right field line for a double and score on a base hit by the next batter. Clutch time. Tie game. It was such an emotional rush to feel so down like our season was over and then contribute a huge hit that helped turn things around in the blink of an eye. Days like those make everything worth it. We went on to win the game and barely tip toed our way into the playoffs.
One of the other most memorable events in Melbourne was when I sold Cadbury chocolate to raise money for our club. I had the idea of going down into the city and selling the chocolate at busy spots. I envisioned that if I asked people to buy them and told them why I was selling them, a least a few people would take me up on the offer. With my extreme confidence in my salesmanship, I even volunteered to sell an extra box. This was going to be 96 pieces in total (48 per box). The others guys at the club weren’t as optimistic. They didn’t think the Australian public would take too kindly to an American wannabe baseball player bothering them and asking for their money. While I was confident I would do it, I was scared as hell to actually do it. I put it off. We had over a month to turn in our money and I waited until the last week to work up the courage to head into the city with my selling face on. Finally, I went.
And I learned why I had been putting it off for so long after all. Social anxiety. I was frozen with fear at the thought of selling the chocolate to a stranger. People would think I was crazy. They would think I was stupid. They would spit in my face, call the cops, or completely ignore me, effectively making my ego feel the agony of death. All thoughts about potential negative outcomes in the future. Zero reality in the present. When I got off the train at Flinders St. station, I found the least scary person sitting by themselves waiting for the next train and went for it. I had a general script I wanted to stick to:
Hello, excuse me, how are you?
I’m selling chocolate to raise money for my baseball club in Williamstown. For only one dollar you can get a piece! Would you like to buy some???
The first person said they didn’t have any money on them, but they wished me a nice day. To my surprise, I didn’t die. Something catastrophic didn’t happen! I actually felt a weight drop off of my shoulders. I relaxed a bit. Talking to the next person would be easier! And it was. I found a nook in one of the entrance ways to the indoor area in Federation Square, a nook where I would be able to greet a lot of people, yet provide me with enough space in order to avoid being a complete nuisance to them. One person quickly turned into a 100. I sold a dozen or so pieces of chocolate. I felt incredible. The social momentum allowed me to carry even greater positivity and charisma into each subsequent interaction. Some people gave me money without even buying chocolate. I wished people well regardless of how they responded to me, letting my over the top good vibes plow through any hint of negativity in the people I approached. In total, I probably spent 4-5 hours selling chocolate, made over $100 to contribute to the club, spoke to at least a thousand people (some of those were half ass scared efforts). I was blown away with lessons learned. Like how if you walk along side someone they are infinitely more likely to give you some attention and genuinely reply to your greetings. How an intention of providing value (in the form of a sweet or a generally pleasant energy) takes you farther than you could ever imagine and allows you to find wit and eloquence by accident.
Even today, four months after those outings, I remember a few specific exchanges I had with people. One man said he didn’t want to buy some because he was trying to lose weight. My face instantly lit up and I exclaimed, “All the power to you mate, way to go! Saying no to this chocolate? I love your discipline!” Other people barely had any idea of what baseball was so I would do my best home run swing and see if that caused a light bulb to go off for them. One man was a former baseball player himself and handed me a $10 bill. I could never tell who the winners or nice people were going to be from simply looking at them. Only after engaging them did the real truth come out. Goodness, I wish I did more initially scary activities like that to violently vault me out of my inhibiting comfort zone!
While I was surprising myself with my hitting and surprising Melbourne citizens with my chocolatey good vibes, I was quietly putting in work to improve myself as a pitcher. To be continued…