Baseball IQ: An Introduction
You’ve probably never heard of Cameron Blair. But he may help you get to the big leagues someday. That’s because a conversation I had with Cameron Blair was my inspiration for creating Baseball IQ.
Cameron was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 6th round of the 2005 draft, a scrappy middle infielder with unusual power for his size who had played at the University of Houston before transferring to Texas Tech for his junior year. I met Cameron in my first year working for the Pirates, on my first trip to Williamsport, just a few weeks after he had been drafted. As I drifted around the clubhouse and batting cage to introduce myself to new players, Cameron greeted me and made some small talk before asking me what I did for the team. When I told him that I was the mental skills coach, he broke into a knowing smile, slapped me on the back and said, “Am I glad to meet you! We’ve got to talk.”
Cameron had had plenty of experience working with sport psychology professionals and was more than comfortable venting his frustrations, discussing his fears, and providing more information than was necessary about his background and off-field life, which was filled with spontaneous trips, women, and summer jobs in resort towns in exotic locations. He was ambitious, yet unfocused and he had a difficult time staying positive when he didn’t get good results at the plate. He played hard, but he made lots of mistakes, to the chagrin of his manager, Tom Prince. Prince was a tough, disciplined long-time major league veteran who did not tolerate lapses in judgment on or off the field. I spoke with Cameron often to help him understand what he was experiencing in his first professional season.
Cameron called me one day, confused after having been chastised again by Tom Prince for making a mistake on the bases. On first base after a single, he had stopped at second on a base hit to left field, a play that was right in front of him. Prince, coaching third base as all minor league managers do, was furious at him for not making it to third on the play. The next inning while Cameron was on the bench, Gary Redus, the Pirates’ Minor League baserunning coordinator, told him that if he ever rounds second base on a ball hit to left field and the left fielder hasn’t bent over to pick up the ball yet, he should have enough time to make it to third.
I used Redus’ advice to help Cameron see that this mistake he had made led to a valuable learning moment. He now had the critical information he needed to be able to decide whether or not to go from first to third on singles to left field for the rest of his career! He hadn’t realized the significance of the lesson because he was too caught up in having his manager yell at him again.
That pep talk from Gary Redus to Cameron Blair led to a learning moment for me, too. Every Pirates minor leaguer needed to know what Gary had told Cameron. How many other great bits of information had been imparted in one-on-one conversations that could help all of our players? We needed a program that would allow us to share these learning moments throughout the organization so every player could learn from the collective experiences of his teammates and could benefit from every lesson that was imparted by the coaching staffs even if he didn’t happen to be sitting next to him in the dugout on that given night. We called this program Baseball IQ.
Baseball IQ was our strategy for helping players learn the game faster than simply by experience alone. The point was to teach them what they needed to know, to reinforce the learning they were doing on the field with question and answer sessions, with classroom discussions, and with a testing protocol that allowed us to find out what they knew and to learn in what areas they needed more teaching. We preached fastball command from our pitchers, but did they know what it meant to have fastball command? Did they know the difference between control and command? Did our hitters know that a two-strike approach should include both a physical adjustment (something like choking up on the bat) and a mental adjustment (expanding their zone from only pitches that they knew they could drive)? Did our outfielders know how deep to play when told to move into “no doubles” defense?
We learn best from experience, but maybe it doesn’t have to be our own personal experience. If you could get all the great lessons from all the great players, you might still have to have those experiences for yourself, but maybe you’d recognize the learning moments in your failures and you’d be able to adapt sooner than you would without them.
You might not have heard of Cameron Blair. You might not have heard of Bobby Kingsbury. You might not even know who Tom Prince or Gary Redus were unless you follow the game closely. But maybe something they have experienced will help you become someone people have heard of someday…
Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:
For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.