(Busch Stadium) Barring any unforeseen circumstance, the St. Louis Cardinals will activate pitcher Brett Cecil from the disabled list before Wednesday’s game. And besides the inflammation in his right foot subsiding, Cecil returns with a new mental approach to the game as well.
“As soon as I knew I was going on the DL, I made it a point to reach out to some people and talk,” shared Cecil. “Big Carp, Waino, even Shildtzie, Mo, and stuff. Just kind of got a game plan together of what they could do to help me and what I could do to help myself.”
“The credit goes to Brett,” said Mike Shildt. “He’s willing to continually grow. I think it speaks well for him. One of the things that I think people can under-appreciate, including the athletes, is just how physically demanding this game can be–a lot of physicalness obviously with the competition, but it requires a really, really strong mental attitude to compete as well. It can be a challenge. And when things don’t go well for you, that can wear on you. How to have the tool, just like you would have the tools as Mr. Kissell would say in your tool box to compete, mentally there’s tools for that too. I applaud him very much for being aware and looking to try and improve himself. And that’s what he’s doing. It’s impressive, I’m proud of him.”
In speaking with Chris Carpenter, Cecil learned that they shared the trait of being “what if, but” guys.
“I know a spot where I can get a hitter out,” explained Cecil. “Say, it’s Rizzo. Okay, I can throw a fastball down and away to Rizzo right here and get him to groundout. My thought process would be that, but then I would have that ‘but’ if I leave it over the plate it’s going to be a homer.
“The trick was to–and it’s really hard and Carp warned me about it, told me about it. It’s really hard, even when you’re not pitching and our pitcher’s out there pitching. He’s pitching against this guy, just start from there. Go along with our pitcher and be like ‘he’s going to throw a fastball down and away, he’s going to get the fastball there, he’s going get it there, it’s going to be a groundball out, and then shut it off.
“I was doing that before I left. Did it while I was pitching in Triple-A and it’s been a nice surprise. Not to say that–it’s still the game of baseball. It’s still a game of failure, but the more positive thoughts you can have, obviously, the better.”
Besides the advice from Carpenter and others, Cecil also started reading Harvey Dorfman’s “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching”. The late sports psychologist worked with the likes of Cy Young winners Roy Halladay, Greg Maddux, and Bob Welch.
“I really like it and still reading it,” said Cecil. “He simplifies everything very well and puts everything in laymen’s terms. Not really scientific paragraphs that you have to read four times to understand, so it’s a pretty easy read for me (smiles). Just doing a lot of mental strengthening. Trying, not trying, doing, having different thought processes while I’m on the mound. Thinking better things while I’m out there.”
So is the attention on his mental approach a completely new focus for Cecil?
“I would say it’s new in that I am deliberately thinking this way as opposed to just getting it done,” said Cecil. “It could be, I’ve had all this adversity and the mental is just trickling down.”
Completely understandable on a human level–last year being the first with a new team and trying to live up to personal, team, and external expectations of signing a big contract. To not have that success it would be more alarming if Cecil didn’t have a hard time dealing with that.
“Yeah, then you’ve got other problems,” he laughed. “But yeah, it’s just a way of kind of building yourself back up. Honestly, the way I’m thinking on the mound now, the things that Harvey writes in his book–every pitcher should read it. Max Scherzer should read it, I mean guys of that elite status. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a high school pitcher or an elite Major League pitcher, I would suggest reading the book no matter who you are.
“Especially a guy like me. I’ve had such great success and now I’ve hit a real bump in the road here. I don’t think it was a last ditch effort, it was just something that obviously I needed to work on. I recognized it and I had people around here to help me with it.”
Like many teams, the Cardinals have a mental coach available for their players to utilize.
Sports psychologist Carrie Stewart works with the athletic department at SMU and also the Cardinals.
“She’s on site a few times a month and she’s available to players who are interested on the phone at any time,” said General Manager Michael Girsch.
For minor league players in the organization, the Cardinal Core program was established a few seasons ago.
“It’s not so much sports psychology, it’s a little bit more of character building, personal development,” said Girsch. “So many of our players down there are in their early 20s or late teens even. This is their first job. This is their time away from home. It’s their first time–baseball’s been fun and game up until now. Now it’s their career. Just helping guys think about things like setting goals, and having a plan.”
The program was set up by John Hartwig, but is now maintained by former Cardinals such as Ryan Ludwick, Braden Looper, Bernard Gilkey, and Orlando Palmiero.
While the Cardinals are able to provide the Core program for their minor leaguers, it is up to each individual player in the big leagues if they want to reach out to Carrie Stewart.
“She’s even gone as far as sending me an email and it’s got probably a whole chapter of a book it looks like,” shared Cecil. “It’s just what the thought process should be surrounding a pitcher when he’s on the mound, or even when he’s not on the mound or before he gets on the mound. It’s kind of cheesy stuff, but it’s really the way every pitcher should think and think about himself. Think about what he’s going to do with his next pitch. I think that’s the hardest part–once you let go of the ball, you have no control over anything. Errors happen. A center cut ball gets hit for a homer, there’s nothing you can do about it after you release it. So your thought process is on that pitch and once it’s over, you can’t do anything. It’s just the next pitch. It’s been tough.”
Interestingly enough, asking for help wasn’t the most difficult part for Cecil.
“We’re all men,” he said. “We all want to compete and we all want to take pride in doing it ourselves and having our own routine, but sometimes you need that outside help. I’m no different than anybody else. Some guys might take longer to realize it other than others–I think I’m right in between (smiles). No, it’s going good.”
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