Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Playing It Safe

In most sports I’m unbelievably competitive. I will give everything I can to win. I’ll take chances. I’ll push myself. I’ll trust my instincts. I’ll try as hard as I can. I’ll do all of this because I want to be the best and I want to win. That is, unless I’m playing softball or baseball. For some odd psychological reason I am always playing it safe when it comes to this sport. I never really thought about it much until after my softball team’s league game last night.

We won the game to bolster our record to 7-2, but I felt like I had lost. There were three key moments that made me realize I play this sport way too safe and that I’m afraid to take chances on the field.

The first was a play I made from the outfield. The other team had a baserunner on first and the batter hit a blooper out in my direction. After I closed on the ball and scooped it up on two bounces, I saw the runner from first making his way to third. I had an urge to gun it to the third baseman to try and throw him out, but instead I held off and hit the cutoff man at second. I might have been able to get him at third, but I was afraid of making a bad throw and potentially allowing a run in. Luckily we got out of the inning without the runner scoring.

The second two moments were baserunning instances. I was on first with no one in front of me when the batter jacked one down the left field line. I made third easily and I could have possibly made home but I held up not wanting to get gunned down at the plate, losing us a run. I’m fast enough where I think I could have made it, but I held up wanting to stay with a safe thing—sitting on third.

The next batter came up with me still standing on third, anxiously wanting to get home as the game was tied at 5 apiece, and a runner behind me on second. Our guy cracked one to the shortstop and since the ball was on my side of the field I didn’t move too far towards home like I probably should have. After eyeing me up, the throw was made to first for the out. If I would have been daring, I would have made a solid 4-5 step start towards home and then jetted at the plate to score, but instead I held back not wanting to take the chance that the shortstop would fire the ball back at third instead of to first, even though the odds of that happening were pretty low.

I eventually scored on the next play on a single, but I couldn’t help but think that I almost stranded myself there without scoring. If the next batter would have gotten out I would have kept us from getting a run.

It kind of makes me wonder, why I play it so safe in softball but not other sports? Does it say something profound about my personality type? Probably not, but I think part of the reason is that baseball was the first sport I started playing when I was young and I was always so afraid of messing up that ended up overthinking everything. Every at-bat, every time I was in the field, every time I was running the bases, it didn’t matter. I was always trying to do the right thing.

Of course you can’t always do the right thing, but back then I was looking so hard for the approval of my teammates and my coach that any error or mistake I would take very personally and often I’d let it guide my future behavior. If I screwed up a stolen base attempt I’d be less likely to take off the next time. If I got burned by a long fly over my head I’d start playing extra deep. I was always trying to overcorrect for the mistakes I made, which many times weren’t even mistakes but just the breaks in the game.

It’s crazy how that type of mentality has managed to carry over into my adult softball playing career. Sure, I don’t play this way when I’m just goofing around with friends or playing a pickup game, but as soon as you put me in a game that counts for something my brain is on overdrive trying to outsmart itself and outsmart the game itself. What’s sad is that I can’t outsmart the game and mistakes are still going to happen, but I continually let them get to me. If this isn’t an argument to prove that environment helps shape a personality, I don’t know what is.

No comments: