As a young music student, I noticed that many classical musicians followed the game of baseball with a fiery intent. In 1986, my oboe teacher talked incessantly about the Mets, saying that he picked them to win the World Series, which indeed they did that year. What caught my attention was the way his eyes glazed over as he spoke about a mind-boggling statistic or an unbelievable performance by Dwight Gooden; it was as if he was in a trance. His passion for the game intrigued me, and I started watching baseball.
Growing up in Idaho, there was no Major League Baseball team in sight, but the Atlanta Braves’ games were broadcast via cable on TBS. My siblings and I watched the games every day over the summer. My younger brother and I learned the intricacies of the game from our oldest sister, who inexplicably could have been a color commentator at age 12.
The phenomenon of musicians following baseball with such intent continued to fascinate me. After I graduated from Oberlin, I went to Arizona State University to study with Martin Schuring, who was also an avid baseball fan. Once after a marathon Saturday lesson, we had dinner and started watching a Diamondbacks game. It finally dawned on me to ask why so many musicians follow the sport. His answer was quick and simple: “Well, you see, the two are related: music and baseball. Baseball is performance at the highest level.” It all suddenly made sense. As a performer of classical music, I was accustomed to playing for no more than 2000 people and enjoyed the benefit of a quiet audience. A major league pitcher on the contrary, has to throw a baseball 60 feet 6 inches to a target the size of a dinner plate at 90 mph in front of 40,000 people under bright lights with countless loud distractions. A pitcher has to focus through all of that and execute his craft unperturbed.
After this discussion with Martin, I started watching for the days when a pitcher would throw a gem. The next day, I would read game stories to hear what the winning pitcher said about what led to his success. I found that the responses were often the same: “I try to do the same thing I do every day that I pitch,” or “I did my regular warm-ups and long tosses, and things felt good when I was warming up in the bullpen.” It seemed that consistency and routine were the keys for these pitchers. I decided to approach my instrument with that same mentality and realized the importance of doing scales, arpeggios and etudes. I finally understood that these routines would carry over into my performance and developed a discipline that I had never before truly embraced. The result was that my playing took off.
The following are a few life lessons I have gleaned from my study of music and baseball.
• When you think you have the hang of something, don’t get too full of yourself, lest you be humbled.
• Be able to make adjustments because life can turn on a dime.
• Accuracy first, then speed. Better to be slow and right than fast and wrong.
• If you practice something, two things will happen: you will get better at it, and it will get easier.
• Focus and concentration is not to be underestimated or undervalued.
• Whatever you put in, you will get back.
• Life, baseball, or music is some about talent, but also about access and opportunity. It you have an opportunity, seize it and work harder than ever or it is back to the minors.
• Never assume that you have completed something until it is over. No lead is too big to come back from.
• The daily grind is one of the most beautiful things in life. Sure, it is great to perform at Carnegie Hall, but if you live for only that moment, you will be miserable for most of your life. Enjoy the little things: nailing the Flight of the Bumblebee, turning an eloquent phrase, or simply the beauty and art of a daily practice. More often than not, the process is more precious than the result.
Play ball! Or Bach. It is your choice.