I have to admit during Spring Training I have trouble writing about baseball. Part of it is that I am satisfied that baseball is happening but it isn’t an important or all that interesting brand of baseball. I don’t care that much about position battles for the bottom of the roster spots and I already wrote about who I think will win those roles. Not much can happen in Spring Training that will change my opinion on that. Spring Training lacks the speculation the off-season brings and the importance of the regular season. Spring Training is something that happens, but to try and write meaning into it is a useless effort.
That brings me to the point of this blog post. The other day I was watching the Nats game and FP was talking up all the competitors for the utility infielder role. All of them were gritty with heart and did the little things and reminded FP of FP. As pitchers and catchers were reporting about a month ago I started a quest of my own that I wrote about on my personal blog. I am attempting to get into the fourth best shape of my life and while doing this I’ve become frustrated with my own work ethic. When my body starts to fail I allow it. In other words I lack heart. That is what heart is to me. It is the moment where the body wants to quit but the mind won’t let it. This is common in certain sports like boxing, MMA, track, marathon, wrestling, and weightlifting, but baseball announcers want so bad to make it a part of baseball they’ve changed the definition.
My idea of heart is when a runner finishes a marathon and the body gives out or a fighter standing in the middle of the ring with the gloves on the end of their arms feeling like bowling balls but they are still giving it max effort. That is heart. Baseball doesn’t have many activities during a game that will cause the body to want to quit. Batters don’t have to sprint to first base do 100 push-ups and then military crawl to second. They have to run to first faster than a baseball they have hit into the outfield can be thrown to the base. Most of the time this doesn’t even require a full sprint of the 90 feet it takes to first and a professional athlete should easily be able to sprint 90 feet and recover by the time the next batter has completed their at bat.
Sprinting all the way around the bases is difficult and hitting triples could require heart, but again baseball players for the most part don’t attempt to take a base unless it is near certain they will be safe. Baseball is a sport based around outs. There is no reward for playing with more heart. In fact if a player were to sprint so hard that their body gave out when they got to third they wouldn’t be able to make it home and score a run for their team. Playing with too much heart can have a negative impact on the team. The idea of heart as it pertains to other sports runs counter to what baseball is.
There is a place for the typical definition of heart in baseball but it most of the time isn’t seen in an individual game. The game that played out in For Love of the Game was an excellent display of heart by Billy Chapel. He left ever bit of himself on that mound and ended his career with a perfect game, but that is a movie and most managers, pitching coaches, and GMs wouldn’t let a pitcher through his arm off. You can see some heart from starting pitchers in a game, but that is going to be rare as most of the time the manager is going to go to the bullpen at any sign of tiredness from a pitcher. So that leaves one place for heart to be displayed in baseball.
The regular 162 game season is a marathon and not a sprint and that makes it the perfect place to see heart, but it won’t happen until late in the season. When players have been going out every day and playing baseball. They are going to be tired, their bodies are going to be worn out and worn down, and in a part of their minds they are going to want nothing more than to go home and rest. That is where they have to exhort their heart. Where their minds have to shut out the bodies desire to quit and finish out the season, and often times that means finishing out the post-season and winning a World Series.
Making the playoffs is all that is important in baseball because it isn’t the best team that wins but the team that gets hot. Heart isn’t easy to measure in baseball. It only exists at the very end of the season, and talent will always be more important than heart. Rocky showed more heart than Apollo Creed and he lost because Creed was simply more talented, faster, and stronger. Creed was better than Rocky in every measurable way. Rocky gave it all he had and left everything in that ring, but he still came up short. In the playoffs there are no Rockys. Every team made it there because they earned it over a 162 game season and when teams are that close in talent there has to be a separator and the team that can shut out the bodies failings are going to have an advantage.
Heart is a visible characteristic in many sports. In baseball it isn’t. It is pure guesswork that can turn into narrative. It may exist. Logic says it does exist. Professional athletes get to that point because they lack the mental make up to tell the body to shut the fuck up when it wants to quit. They can train harder, run faster, and lift longer than the average person because they have the part of the mind that can push through the wall and give effort when the body cries for them to quit. It is past that wall where the real work begins. Everyone in baseball, all sports, can train that way, but there are some that just have more of it, and when it comes to baseball we’ll never know who they are.