Davenport’s Notebook: The Mental Side of the Game

Sophomore pitcher Matt Davenport will be keeping a weekly journal where he will document his thoughts and experiences during the baseball season. Here, in his third entry of the season, he explores the mental side of the game.

“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

Although the percentages don’t quite add up, these words by the former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra ring true. Yes baseball is a physical sport requiring feats of speed — like a diving catch in the outfield — or feats of strength — like a massive home run over the center field fence — but there is also a large mental aspect to the game that isn’t as easy to see for an observer watching the game on TV or from the stands to see. This week, our schedule turned out to be more of a mental test of our team than anything else.

Tuesday against #1 UVA, our mental weaknesses were shown in full force. Coming back from a relaxing and successful week of spring break, the first couple days of classes were full of papers or midterm exams for a lot of the guys on the team, causing a mental strain for many of us. Being able to separate things in the classroom from things on the field is a learning experience for any college athlete. Since we are such a young team, Tuesday was the first time many of us experienced that mental strain.

Looking back after the game, it is apparent that we were not truly mentally ready for the game we were about to play. Many of the guys were studying and reading on the way up to UVA, but these are things that have to get done as a student athlete. The mental preparation for a game in a scholastically-trying time has to come in pre-game activities; however, we were flat, meaning mentally slow or just overall not mentally prepared, from the very beginning. Sophomore starter Cole Shain pitched another great game, but with four errors behind him in the field, Virginia was able to score some runs. We weren’t always making smart plays like we have been all season and when we did make a play, the crew of umpires didn’t always make the right call.

Like all games, our game against UVA was a learning process. We know we can play with the best teams; we have already proven it this season. But in order to do so, we have to be mentally on top of our game, which was not the case on Tuesday.

After a performance like ours at UVA, it can be tough for a team to come back the next day. Our next day happened to be against Maryland, another ACC school, and although Maryland is not quite the caliber of team as Virginia, we still needed to come prepared or else it was going to be a tough game. We came out strong against Maryland, taking an early lead and not giving it up. It was a much better showing than the day before. It shows a lot about a team to come back strong after a weak game, especially for a young team like ours, but I feel that can be attributed to the level of maturity and experience of our seniors, juniors, and even sophomores. The guys that experienced a year like last year know the feeling of disappointment and underachievement that can come from when a team is mentally unprepared, and we have taken it upon ourselves to change that aspect of the team. So far I think it has worked pretty well.

The first two games against the University of Massachusetts in our weekend series were relatively uneventful. We were ready to play each game and took the first two pretty easily. The final game of the series, however, turned out to be something totally different. We were ready to play and confident in our Sunday whites, but when the wind is blowing out hard at Plumeri the game can take on a life of its own. We went down early 8-1 after I came in for freshman pitcher Brett Goodloe and gave up a Grand Salami, a new experience that I didn’t necessarily want to have. But it had to happen eventually.

We had every reason to give up on the game at that point, but after a run that inning and two in the fourth, we were back in that game. Then one of the strangest things anyone will ever see in a collegiate baseball game happened. Our left fielder, Stephen Arcure, was called out after a line-drive single because one side of his bat was determined to be “too flat”. Although it was a setback in an inning where we could have scored a few runs, the absurdity of the situation really didn’t faze the team; it just made us want to win more. From that point on, the game got a little heated between our two teams and there was some trash talking involved. Yet, instead of letting it distract us, we turned that emotion into a five-run sixth inning and an eight-run seventh inning thanks to a grand slam by sophomore catcher Chris Forsten. In a game where we had every reason to give in, we turned the situation around to put 17 runs on the scoreboard.

As a pitcher, I can tell you that being mentally tough and smart on the mound is more important than being able to a fastball 95 mph. Living with two hitters, sophomore first baseman Tadd Bower and Chris Forsten, I can tell you that I’ve learned hitting is just as mental as it is physical, such as understanding which pitch is coming based on the pitchers strength and your weaknesses as a hitter. Although, as a pitcher, I think the physical part plays a bigger role in hitting. Baseball is more than the physics game it seems to be. It’s the mental part is what separates the players from the great ones.

Tribe 1 – UVA 9
Tribe 5 – Maryland 2
Tribe 7 – UMass 3
Tribe 7 – UMass 4
Tribe 17 – UMass 13


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