I met Tony off the field decades later at a charity function, when he chuckled with that infectious laugh of his upon hearing my recount of his success hitting off of me, then reassuring me that I wasn't the only pitcher he did that too in his career!
Tony Gwynn was the epitome of consistency; a "pros pro" who never took his success for granted. Gwynn was, in fact, one of the last of a breed of ballplayers (along with fellow HOF inductee Cal Ripken, Jr.) whose Herculean work ethic and drive to better themselves pushed them to the limits of their God given talents, while serving as sterling role models to all who observed their relentless pursuit for perfection in a game built on failure.
In his obit to the now "late" Tony Gwynn, "In a .338 Lifetime Average, Every Day Counts," the New York Times Tyler Kepner writes:
"In 1994, while on his way to the fifth of his eight National League batting crowns Gwynn spoke passionately about the attitude of the modern player.
"They just feel like stuff is supposed to happen to them," he said. "They're not going to have to work for it. And that bugs me because I know how hard I had to work to get where I got. Sometimes they sit there in amazement at why I come out (so early) every day. But I cannot let their way of thinking into my head."
Unfortunately in 2014 I see the same thing in fastpitch softball Tony saw twenty years ago in baseball; a lackluster work ethic and a growing entitlement mentality where "getting better" often means doing the bare minimum despite an increasingly ultra-competitive softball landscape, all in the quest for college scholarships.
I have had several college coaches tell me the same: that their job description does not include baby sitting or having to deal with the endless drama and emotion that many "thin-skinned" athletes bring with them to college.
- Challenge and push yourself to be better. You'll never know how good you can be unless you try.
- Have pride in your game. Take your weaknesses and work tirelessly to transform them into strengths because, as a competitor, you care deeply about how the quality of your play.
- Focus on the little things. Look for ways to get better by becoming a relentless "student of the game."
- Don't let the team or your friends dictate your effort or performance level. Be a leader and set the example; raise the bar of excellence for yourself and others.
- Never let anyone tell you "you can't" achieve any level or goal you set for yourself. In the end it's "you versus you." GO FOR IT!
When Tony Gwynn began his professional career his outfield skills were below average. But as with his hitting Gwynn worked his tail off to improve his arm strength, his footwork, and developed a quicker release on his throws. The end result of all his hard work...five Gold Gloves to go along with his eight batting titles, fifteen All Star appearances, two trips to the World Series and immortality in Cooperstown.
Closer to home the summer after my high school graduation, prior to commencing my college baseball career, I spent an hour every day taking a hundred swings in the local batting cage, working on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. My thinking was I would see better pitching in college and trying to pull everything and hit home runs against mostly mediocre high school pitching wasn't going to fly at the D1 college level. Turns out I was right and all that hard work paid off for me in college.
As summer is upon us your athlete and team has no excuse not to work hard and smart to improve their game. Like I always say, "How good do you want to be?"
Like Tony Gwynn, develop an expectancy for success and build that rock solid sports confidence that only comes as the result of countless hours of quality preparation through a work ethic forged from desire, dedication, determination and passion.
Tony Gwynn both expected and achieved monumental success in his 20 year Major League career. He did it the hard way, through relentless effort. It's the only way he and Cal Ripken, Jr. knew how to play the game.
Plant these seeds in your athlete and team as greatness is always available to the player and team willing to go after it and do whatever it takes to be their absolute best!