By BOB PARASILITI
11:43 PM EDT, September 16, 2012
In a sense, every athlete has to measure up to play sports.
Just about every game seems to be defined by inches, feet, yards, meters and/or miles in one way or another.
Even individual events — like in track and field, swimming and auto racing — distance themselves by certain lengths of a measuring tape.
Many a competition have been won or lost by some of the smallest of increments. That’s why we have games of inches.
Sometimes it takes even less than that.
But no matter the outcome, every single sporting event is really decided by about half a foot.
That’s the six inches from a player’s left ear to his right.
Sports stories are written and legends are made from the glory of physical feats. Few are remembered for the mentality or thought process it took to achieve them, though.
Here’s some food for thought. How do some teams go from good to bad, and vice versa, and do it in the course of a day, in certain games and the course of a season?
In the words of the late Tug McGraw, “Ya gotta believe.”
And believe it or not, he might have been right.
After all, that became the catchphrase for the 1973 New York Mets in an amazing run to the National League pennant, despite compiling an 82-79 record.
The power of mind over matter becomes a driving force — both for better or for worse.
For example, consider the Baltimore Orioles. Here’s a team that hasn’t finished above .500 or third place since 1997, the last time they won the American League East.
Yet, Baltimore is not only chasing a playoff berth, it is challenging to win the division.
That’s a 24-game turnaround from this point in 2011 on a team that would be considered nondescript by most standards, but the Orioles are hooked on a feeling and high on believing.
How strong is the power of positive thinking? The Orioles have been outscored by 24 runs this season, the lowest output of any of the 12 teams in first or second place in Major League Baseball.
On the other side of the coin is Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down last Saturday.
The Nationals’ idea of ending their No. 1 starter’s season after 160 to 180 innings to save his surgically repaired right elbow was a controversial lightning rod since the team is in first place and carrying the best record in baseball.
Strasburg struggled in his last three starts and is now done after 159 1/3 innings. Yet, baseball people say he’s fine and should continue pitching. Medical people say caution should be taken.
In the midst of it all, Washington manager Davey Johnson offered an alternate stance.
“My job is to do what’s best for the player. And this is what’s best,” said Johnson. “... I’m a firm believer that this game’s 90 to 95 percent mental and he’s only human. ... I think we would be risking more by sending him out.”
Pitchers try to throw with the same motion every pitch. If a player’s mind is not in the game, they start playing defensively and lose mechanics. Mental lapses cause as many injures as overuse.
And finally, consider the South Hagerstown football team. The Rebels won their first two games with resounding victories over lesser teams before knocking off Boonsboro on Friday in the biggest test to date.
But South is doing it for all the right reasons.
The Rebels have shown an understanding and a discipline to task that had been missing at South over the years.
After their win over Francis Scott Key, coach Toby Peer told his team that he realized that some of the players didn’t reach their personal goals.
“You will get other chances to do that,” he said. “Right now, it’s all about doing what you can for the team.”
Without a flinch or a pout, the Rebels responded in unison, “Yes, sir.”
Psychology in sports comes from a warfare mentality. It’s a matter of unity and harmony in the locker rooms and players having each other’s backs. The team that plays together, stays together.
And when they win, it doesn’t matter what has been said or what odds were stacked against them.
Yogi Berra once said “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
The funny thing is he was 100 percent right.
It’s amazing how a little mental gymnastics can be the birthplace of intestinal fortitude.
The difference between winning and losing usually comes down to athletes willing to go the extra mile and believing they can do it.
That’s what sports stories and legends are made of.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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