Pitch perfect: Jay Hammel’s mental side

By Shane Hulsey

“Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half physical.”

Out of all his iconic Yogi-isms, the late Yogi Berra probably hit the nail squarest on the head with this one. Baseball is a mentally tiring game, and it can, and will, wear out players more mentally than physically.

Every pitcher has a different mental approach, and that’s part of what makes them unique. In the first part of this series, Quincy University sophomore reliever Jack Widhalm emphasized getting away from the game. On game days, Widhalm likes to take his mind off baseball and, essentially, not think at all about the game.

Jay Hammel, on the other hand, cannot get baseball off his mind if a game is approaching, which it almost always is at the college level and beyond.

“I’m the type of kid that sits in school all day and only focuses on the game,” he said. “It could be two days before the game, and I’m already thinking about it 24/7, thinking about how I’m gonna play, what I’m gonna do.”

Hammel, who was primarily a starter at South Newton High School in Kentland, Indiana, has worked solely out of the bullpen in his freshman campaign at QU.

He said, although technically the same position on the field, the difference between a starter and a reliever could not oppose each other more when it comes to a mental approach.

“As a starter, you know pretty far in advance when you’re going to throw, so you can plan your days accordingly working up to the start,” he said. “As a reliever, you never really know when you will throw, so in your head, you always have to be locked into the game and be ready to throw if you get the call.”

Time, score, situation.

Sports fans hear this phrase thrown around in sports like football and basketball, indicating that players and coaches have to adjust to the time left in the game, the score of the game, and the game situation.

Although not a timed sport, baseball certainly lends itself to adjusting to the the score and situation. Are you winning or losing? What inning is it? Who’s hitting? Who’s pitching? What are their tendencies? How many runners are on base? What’s the count? All are things hitters and pitchers take into account when deciding how to approach a particular moment in the game.

Hammel pointed to a couple adjustments pitchers can make on the fly if they are struggling during a game.

“Maybe [your pitches are] missing away, maybe you’re missing in, maybe you’re missing high. You can change your focal point to get that pitch where you want it to go. If your off-speed pitches aren’t working for you, maybe change up a couple grips. Once you get that off-speed working, you can get in a rhythm and things will start flowing.”

Hammel said he is hard on himself if he struggles. If he doesn’t find that rhythm and things don’t start to flow, it can take awhile for him to move on from it.

“It can take me two or three days to get over a bad outing,” he said.
“It probably sticks with me too long. ”

But time heals all wounds.

“Everyone just tells me to flush it and just move on, so I just try to do that, and eventually it goes away.”

Sure, things may not always add up.

But neither does baseball.

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