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The Battle Against Myself

July 18th, 2018
By Karl Blum
You all can probably remember a teammate like me.

A guy who shined in intra-squads and all of his bullpen sessions but for some reason could never consistently put it together when it mattered.

I would lie in bed at night and just visualize myself throwing strikes. I couldn’t wait for the next chance to get back on the mound and redeem myself. Sometimes I would. Other times I would be back in my dorm room at night, once again disappointed with the day’s results.

There were some really, really bad moments on a college baseball field for me, but I do a pretty decent job of filing those memories far away in my head. Instead, looking back on 5 years of college baseball, I’ll choose to highlight one of the many positive parts of my experience.

I spent my entire career trying to eliminate the frustration, anger, nerves, and fear that existed in me on that mound. I tried all types of methods that I had found online or from my coaches and peers. Guided breathing and meditation was one thing that I had picked up from Chris Pollard, my former head coach. While this practice has definitely been a helpful influence in my life and something that I have appreciated, I can all but add it to the list of things that I could not master enough to really help me on the field.

For some reason, everything that I had been trying to do to calm myself down had just felt like a fraud. The positive self-talk felt like BS that I was spoon-feeding myself in order to hide how I was truly feeling. The breathing and meditation felt like I was trying to trick my body into thinking that I wasn’t about to go into battle. In the end, I knew what was really going on and I was anxious.

It was not until my senior year on the mound at the University of North Carolina that something finally made some sense to me. If you go and look at my stats, you will see that I have had a pretty rough go at college baseball except for my senior season at Duke. Mixed into years of 17.40 ERA’s and 11.1 walks per nine innings pitched was a 3.18 ERA and an opponent batting average of .147 in 2017. By that senior season, I think I had been too fed up to really care about my future in baseball anymore. I just wanted to win games with my best friends and that helped cool my nerves.

In the last series of that season we were playing at Carolina on Friday night. JB Bukauskas was starting against us and Boshamer Stadium was filled to the brim under their bright white lights. “Go To Hell Duke” chants reminded me of the history that these two schools shared together. We were starting Ryan Day, a right-hander from Southern California that was good for 6 solid innings every time he took the bump. I sat back in the dugout next to one of my best friends and four-year roommate, James Ziemba, ready to soak up one of the best atmospheres that college baseball had to offer. At least until one of us would be needed a couple of hours from first pitch.

We jumped out to an early lead and Day was looking sharp through the first few frames. I walked back towards the clubhouse to take a leak in between innings doubting that the bullpen would be needed anytime soon. On my way somebody grabbed my shoulder and told me to get to the bullpen – I was in. It was Coach Pollard. I’m in? It’s the 3rd and Day is cruising? Apparently his elbow was a little sore and the coaching staff didn’t want to take any chances right before we headed to the ACC Tournament. I grabbed a catcher and sprinted off to the pen.

I’m not exactly sure why it happened, but I was relapsing. Maybe it was the sea of Carolina Blue. Maybe it was the Tar Heel lineup that was outhitting everyone in the country. Maybe it was the element of surprise that really caught me off guard. I’m not sure, but all that mattered was that I was freaking out again. I had only a couple of minutes to get hot and enter the game. I fired fastballs over the catcher’s head and into the bullpen screen. I bounced sliders 10 feet in front of home plate. Then the inning ended and it was time for me to protect our lead with nothing but jelly for legs and a heart that was about to burst through my chest.

I tried all the weapons in my arsenal. A couple of deep breaths and some visualization mixed with some positive self-talk on my jog to the mound. It didn’t matter. I knew that I was probably screwed. I whizzed four 92 MPH fastballs off the backstop to start the inning. Here we go again. Send somebody else to the pen and tell him to get hot fast. I got the ball back from our catcher and looked up at the Carolina fans. Then I looked at Mike Fox staring back at me in the 3rd base coach’s box. For some reason it hit me. Just embrace it. For the first time in my life on a baseball field, I took my energy out of fighting my anxiousness and just admitted to myself that yes, I am nervous right now and that is ok. Rather than arguing with myself about the best way to not be nervous, I just said, “so what? I’m a little scared.” For some reason, those words freed me. What an opportunity I was in the middle of.

That outing at North Carolina ended up being one of the best out of my 66 college appearances. More than it being one of my most successful outings on paper, it was the most important for me moving forward in life.

As we all on Business and Baseball will agree, the lessons we learn on the diamond don’t have a boundary on them. They are not confined to one arena. This past month I took the train into Manhattan for my first ever real-world job interview. They weren’t going to ask me about my command or my velocity, they wouldn’t care that I am a student of the game, and they knew a lot of things that I did not. Yet somehow I had to make that train ride worth my time and impress these people. “So what? I’m a little scared.”

To connect with Karl on LinkedIn, click here.

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