April 30, 2016

Yesterday was a devastating day for The Marlins, when celebration of a 4 game sweep of the Dodgers in LA was cut short by the announcement that Dee Gordon—the Marlins lead-off, second base superstar who is also universally adored as a teammate and person—was suspended for 80 games due to using banned substances. When I heard the news, I finally knew why guys who get nailed for this are always apologizing to the fans; I was (am) crushed. But that’s a whole other blog.

Last night the Marlins played the Brewers, less than 24 hours after the Gordon news and an overnight flight from LA to Milwaukee. Marlins Manager Don Mattingly rested three usual starters, and it was a game you could see a team sort of petering out on if ever they were going to.

Instead, Ichiro (he has a last name, but doesn’t need one) lead off with a base hit, and stole his 500th base, and when the first ball the Brewers hit went, where else, to second base, Derek Dietrich fielded it cleanly for the out. Then Justin Bour hit not one, but two homeruns and had 5 RBIs for the game. But the night belonged to relatively new pitcher (just his 16th big league start) Adam Conley, who pitched a no-hitter into the 8th inning, when Mattingly pulled him due to the elevated pitch count. In came Jose Urena, a hero from two nights earlier, with a chance to be part of the Marlins first ever combined no-hitter.

Wouldn’t that have made a great headline? Wouldn’t that be a killer post right here?

But it didn’t happen. The no-hitter was lost in the 9th (on a hit Dee Gordon might have caught), and then the shut out too, as the inning unraveled and the Brewers scored three runs off Urena and closer A.J. Ramos. (Inspiring itself, that the Brewers were still trying to scrap out a crazy come back at this point, and, by the way, turned a triple play in the fifth inning.) I was pacing in the dark when the Fish finally at least pulled out the win.

So, the inspiration? Well, the game was enough. The team stayed strong, pulled together, lifted each other up after a rough day, and got a win, with Conley in the driver’s seat; I’d bet good money Dee Gordon was watching, and crying tears of both pride and remorse.

But the real inspiration came during Adam Conley’s post-game interview. Most of these are pretty boring, a constant recycling of canned phrases like, “I’m just glad I could help my team get the win,” “We just kept grinding,” and of course, the dreaded, “I thank God…” 

Conley didn’t say any of that. He was thoughtful and candid, and his key message was his determination to stay focused on the process of pitching. He was adamant that keeping his head down and executing one pitch, one batter at a time is how success comes.

Yeah, but what about that he’s been pitching better than his numbers (Wins, Losses, ERA, etc.) show, or what about when he’s got a potential no-hitter going? How do those things affect you? the interviewer, Jessica Blaylock, asked. Conley’s response was the same: Those are distractions. Baseball can try to trick you into worrying about those stats or thinking about a no-hitter, but only with steadfast concentration and dedication to the actual process and mechanics of pitching are those very things going to be the results and, importantly, be the results consistently.

This spoke to me as a writer. It’s hard to stay focused on the process of writing. Talk about stats and distractions. How many “friends” do you have, and how many “follows?” How many people are clicking on your website, and then actually staying and reading anything? How many comments on your blog? Sure, you published a book, is anyone buying it? Is anyone reading it? How many reviews? Do you have—wait for it—a platform?!

Adam Conley’s message translates to keep your head down and focus on the process, the bare bones mechanics of writing. Of course, there are exceptions (Tim Ferriss, The 4- Hour Work Week, for example), but more often, that’s how success—the popular blogs, the high volume social media, the stand-out platform, the fat sales—are ultimately going to come, not the other way around. Yes, you need to participate in and practice all these things as part of the job, just as pitchers need to participate in off season workouts and practice in bullpen sessions. But it’s the unrelenting devotion to and execution of the process itself within these that yields ultimate success.

Of course, I’ve already learned this lesson many times in my life, from running a marathon, to earning advanced college degrees, to the most difficult process of all—having my kids. Still, it’s a lesson that bears repeating, and I feel kind of lucky that I’ve not only re-learned it early in my new direction as a writer (thanks, in large part, to Jane Friedman and Brooke Warner), but that it works for me. Which seems odd, considering I tend to bust out of the gate and work obsessively toward the goals of any newly declared endeavor; indeed, I am constantly frustrated by not having time to write more. Yet, I genuinely love the process of this entire writing life, so I am really happy at the same time.

I’ve also found that focusing on the process takes pressure off in a way. If I already assume and accept that it will take time, a lot of it, before anyone reads my blogs or gives a crap about what I post, like, or follow on Facebook, it’s a lot easier not to stress about paltry numbers now. In the meantime, I can “just” keep my head down and focus on the process, creating things that I love and find meaningful.

Like Adam Conley, I trust that’s how success will come, whether it’s executing pitches, or stringing together words.

Let’s Go Marlins!