Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Millar's Musings: Maintain Perspective

Kevin Millar, one of the most affable players in the league, kept a regular diary in Spring Training for MLB.com and expects to maintain his unfiltered communication throughout the season. Millar recently sat down to discuss how notoriously slow starters such as himself keep their perspective and soldier on into the thick of the regular season.

The thing that separates the Major League player from your collegiate guys or the ones that are still in the Minor Leagues is how we deal with struggles and deal with getting out on a daily basis. If you get 500 at-bats in a season and you get out 350 times, you need to deal with failure 350 times. That could be a lineout, a robbed home run or a strikeout.

You could've watched video, and you may have hit a rocket right back up the middle. But the bottom line is you've gotten out and you have to deal with it. You can only be patted on the butt so many times.

I truly believe that this game is 70 percent mental. We all can throw and we all can hit at this level. What separates the great players from the common players is the mental side of it and the ability to not deviate from your plan on a daily basis.

Personally, when I go through struggles, I know there are more eyes on me. I know the younger guys are watching me to see how I handle myself, so I try to play even harder. I try to run harder to first base on ground balls.

I try to run harder on popups, because I think it looks 10 times worse when a guy is struggling and he starts to dog it. When a guy's struggling and giving you 100 percent, you can't really say anything.

But sometimes, all that extra effort even works against you. You can try too hard, and then it snowballs on you. You're trying harder, then you look up at the scoreboard and you've gotten two hits in a week. Guys go through struggles where they haven't hit a home run in 100 at-bats, but they're trying to hit five home runs in one game.

I snapped in high school. I threw stuff. I used to tear my helmet and my batting gloves off. But when I got to the big league level, I used to watch teammates of mine, like Jim Eisenreich and Gary Sheffield, handle themselves like professionals. When they struck out, the batting gloves came off and the helmet went back in the box. They never threw anything.

And then you separate yourself, as a young player, and decide who you want to be like. 'I don't want to be like this guy, who's pouting and throwing his helmet once a game. I want to be like Derek Jeter. I want to be like the guys that look classy when they play this game.' And then you try to make sure you're not showing emotion when you struggle.

It's a challenge and it's a yearly battle, but you get better at it. I'm better at it this year than I was in 2007, and I was better at it then than I was in 2006. You get smarter and you get more experienced. You know that things are going to turn around. There's no panic button and the flip side of this is having a manager that makes it easier on you.

Dave Trembley's done a great job of understanding that April is just the first month of a six-month season. He understands that April's not a fun month on the East Coast anyway. You can count on three fingers how many games we've played in 80 degrees, and Dave Trembley's done a great job of showing confidence in players through their struggles.

That means a lot to a player, and so does the reaction of your peers. Your teammates are always watching you. They know what's going on and you understand that you can't fool them. So you try to be the same guy when you go 4-for-4 that you are when you go 0-for-4. You pat somebody on the butt when you've had a bad game and they've had a good game.

But it's totally normal to be upset when you're struggling -- even if your team's playing well. Everybody in this league can have a bad game and win and still feel disappointed in themselves. And that's part of the deal. When your team wins during your struggles, it can really mask it. But when your team loses and you're struggling, it magnifies it.

And that's when the snowball becomes an avalanche. Now you're a big part of why your team is losing. We all know that about this game. You have to go through struggles and you have to go through failures. You have to go through gut-wrenching bad times, and as bad as they make you feel, they're great for you. They make you tougher.

It doesn't make sense. It's not fun. But I know that I'm a stronger player because of it. And when you find your comfort zone, you work that much harder to stay right there. You don't want to go back into that valley.

Some guys, when they leave this field, they're done. I'm a baseball junky. When I get home, it's Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter or any game I can catch. I have the Major League package, so I'll go home and watch the end of the East Coast games and the beginning of the West Coast games. I enjoy that. It's like an escape from your situation.

I've seen a lot of growing up around here. There are some younger guys that still throw their stuff and pout, but it's a process. It's like a religion. It's baby steps, and you live and you learn every day to clean up some of the "poor me" attitude. You just keep fighting, and overall, this club has really handled itself great through its struggles.

We haven't really caught fire as a group, offensively. Luke Scott was the one hitter who was doing more than people thought he was going to do, but realistically, Ramon Hernandez, Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts and myself aren't really doing what we can. But we've won because guys have stayed together and haven't let the negative bring any of us down.

We can be a little more touchy. Players get a little sensitive when there's an article written about them and they're going bad, especially when there's nothing written about them when they're going good. But I've always said as a player, 'If I'm 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position and someone writes it, then I should get some hits with runners in scoring position.'

Numbers are what they are. They have to be printed -- good and bad. And as a big boy, I'm fully accountable. But I'm a big fan of understanding that it's called an average for a reason. When a guy hits .150 in April and .350 in May, it all becomes an average. Sometimes, we can all get so giddy based on early stats.

Just because a guy hits 15 home runs in the first half doesn't mean he's going to hit 30 for the year. And that's the nature of what we do. As a fan, we want the big fancy numbers and we want them early. But we put too much emphasis on it, because we play six months and 162 games. And so far, we've only played one month and 30-something games.


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