Baseball is hard. Yes, you can promote me from Captain Obvious to General Obvious if you like, but sometimes people forget how truly difficult it is to play this game. If the ball is just a fraction of an inch off from its intended target, that could be the difference between a lazy fly ball to left and a souvenir for the fans. It could mean strike three on the black or ball four with the bases loaded. I guess I'm taking the long way around to say that this is a game of inches.
As a current player and pitcher (albeit at a level that is world's away from a professional league), being on the wrong end of one of those situations I mentioned can take its toll on a player. Slumps are inevitable in any sport, but with baseball playing more games than any other major sport in their regular season, they can find a way of really gnawing at a player. If the pitcher in question doesn't possess the ability to forget things quickly, slumps can spiral into a lost season very easily.
I'll give you some personal anecdotal evidence. I was once on the mound pitching for my youth travel team at a tournament in Tennessee. It was your classic, double elimination style tournament where you could sometimes end up playing two or three games in a day if you dropped into the loser's bracket early. I started the first game for us and turned in a solid performance that was good enough for the win. My spirits were high and I thought I was invincible on the mound; my fastball was electric and nobody could touch my curve. As the tournament progressed, we wound up in the loser's bracket after a tough extra innings loss to one of the top teams there, no thanks to me as I threw an absolute clunker, only lasting a handful of outs. I was completely devastated and all the confidence I had after my first outing went out the window and down the street. We fought our way back through the loser's bracket and got into the Championship Game. The problem was that we had to beat the same team that beat us twice, back to back. We took the first game, but I was chosen as the starting pitcher for the final game. Back then I had no idea how to forget about the bad outings so that clunker was wedged in my mind firmly. All I could think about was the other team hitting everything I threw. Fastballs getting ripped back up the box and nearly decapitating me, curve balls hanging over the heart of the plate waiting to be picked and deposited over the scoreboard, change ups not changing a damn thing and getting creamed. It was horrible. Needless to say, all those horrible things I couldn't get out of my mind came to fruition and I was once again shelled and we were blown out, returning home with the much smaller 2nd place trophy (and we all know how much you want the biggest trophy when you're a kid.)
Standing there and staring adversity right in the eyes, I crumbled. I wasn't ready to deal with something like that at my age. As a I got older and played more and more, I was able to develop that ability to forget things immediately. My parents and teachers hated that I had acquired this trait somehow, but it was monumental in my maturing as a baseball player. Baseball is a game of failure where the best hitters still make an out 70% of the time. That is why failing, sometimes for the first time in your life, and dealing with adversity is a big step on the way to becoming the best of the best.
I promise you, there's a reason for my little story. A few weeks ago I was able to do a brief interview with White Sox pitcher Tyler Danish via Twitter. We touched on a variety of topics, but the one answer that stuck out to me was his reply to a question about what in particular helped him succeed in the 2014 campaign. I expected him to say he learned a new pitch, or his pitching coach helped him make a mechanical adjustment, something along those lines. What I was not expecting, was a comment about the mental rigors of the game.
White Sox right handed pitcher Tyler Danish. Photo by Brian Westerholt
Nick Melotte: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, Tyler. In your opinion, what helped you succeed the most this past season?
Tyler Danish: Failure. I had never failed before in the game of baseball, so going through that was huge.
Obviously, the picture above is not Danish, this was one of the many times AJ Burnett allowed a home run, but his reaction shows that he's clearly angry/disappointed in himself to allow a home run. When Danish was in his senior year of high school, he did not allow a single earned run in 94 innings with 156 strike outs, just 16 walks, and only 32 hits allowed (that's 3.06 H/9). He had a 15-1 record and Baseball America rated him as the best prep pitcher in the state of Florida. Even in his professional debut after signing, Danish only allowed four earned runs in 30 innings with just 17 hits allowed, only five walks, and 28 strike outs. He had literally dominated everyone he had faced up until the 2014 season. The failure he may be alluding to in his answer could be in regards to his first start with A+ Winston-Salem when he allowed more earned runs in five innings than he had in the 124 innings he tossed the previous year. Two starts later he didn't even make it out of the second innings, getting tagged with six earnies in 1.1 frames. It wasn't all bad for Danish though, as he eight of his next 15 starts in Winston-Salem lasted at least six innings with less than two earned runs allowed. He finished the year with a composite 2.08 ERA and 3.51 FIP across nearly 130 innings.
NM: What is your go-to video game to play?
TD: The show lol.
Some quick background on Mr. Danish should be in order for that question to make sense. Tyler was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft from Durant High School in Plant City, Florida. He spent the entire 2014 season pitching as a 19 year old. To those without kids or forgot your own teenage years, most 19 year old's love video games. The game he is referring to is MLB: The Show on the PlayStation 4 console.
NM: How would you describe your first full season in the minors?
TD: Great! I had ups and downs and learned so much!
As with any young player, the ups and downs are inevitable, but it's good to hear that he was able to learn a lot. He's going to need every bit of wisdom and knowledge his elders can pass along to him. By elders, I mean pretty much anyone since Tyler is almost guaranteed to be the youngest player on whatever team he winds up on. This past season he was able to work with White Sox pitching coordinator Curt Hasler to improve his change up to go along with his excellent sinker/slider combo.
The Chicago White Sox have not come up in either John or my lists, but I can say for a good amount of certainty that he will land somewhere in the top five. I'd like to extend another thank you to Tyler Danish for taking the time to answer a few questions for me, and you can follow him on twitter at @danish_Tyler7 .