The mind is what matters

“Breathe.”

“Stay within yourself.”

“He’s not better.”

“I’m going to show you how great I am.”

These words may not mean anything to most, but to players on the College’s baseball team, they’re special.

When assistant coach Eric Woodrow came to the College last year, he brought with him the knowledge of perhaps one of the most important aspects to baseball — the mental game. With that ever-expanding knowledge, he developed a system that has changed the way the College’s players hit — writing small sayings into their helmet to help them focus.

Clear minds can help at the plate. (Lisa Nitzache / Staff Photographer)

“I wanted them to have something that whenever they’re faced with adversity, when something doesn’t go their way, they’re struggling, or whatever it is, they can look at their helmet and say, ‘OK, this is what I need to do to be successful,’” Woodrow said.

The small words of advice are chosen by the player, and they have to represent something that calms him down. Woodrow’s only stipulation is that each hitter must write at least one and no more than three things in his helmet, and it has to be something deeper than just a hitting tip.

“I didn’t want it to be mechanical, because I’m a big believer in the mental game rather than a specific way to do things,” Woodrow said. “It did not matter to me what they wrote, as long as it was between one and three things, and I wanted either a word or a short phrase. Something that they can look to in the batter’s box or in the on deck circle, they look at it and say, ‘OK, I’m getting back to the basics, I’m getting back to what I need to do to focus.’”

The approach has worked, as the same team that began the season 3-6 after their yearly spring trip to Florida is now sitting at 21-14 and 9-5 in the NJAC, good enough for third place. It was during that trip that Woodrow had to cement it to his players that the approach would work after the rocky start.

“I don’t think they bought into it (at first),” Woodrow said. “They didn’t understand it. Maybe I didn’t explain it well. It was tough going down there, you’re never going to be successful offensively that first week.”

If they didn’t get it then, then the team is certainly well-versed in Woodrow’s mental approach to the game now.

“He’s been there before, and we’ve trusted in him through everything he does in terms of the information he gives us,” senior catcher Mike Galeotafiore said of Woodrow. “We have an offensive hitting book that we read before the season. It’s our mental approaches, it’s our physical approaches. It’s all the aspects of the game that you aren’t necessarily thinking of in a normal situation at the plate. He makes us aware of that, he makes us smarter baseball players.”

Galeotafiore, who has “Be here now,” “slow breathing” and “Nana” written in his helmet, believes that Woodrow has brought a very positive influence to the team.

“He’s been nothing but supportive and encouraging, but he demands a lot of us,” Galeotafiore said. “And we certainly love that, because anyone who wants you to succeed is someone you want in your life.”

Galeotafiore’s sayings mean a lot to him, especially “Nana,” a tribute to his grandmother who passed away two months ago.

“It keeps me focused on reality, and that this game is supposed to be fun, because there’s other people that aren’t as fortunate as us,” Galeotafiore said.

However, “slow breathing” has a less deep, more literal meaning to it.

“If you ask any of the guys on the team, I’m probably the most upbeat and animated,” Galeotafiore said. “I’m always pumped, ready to go. But at the same time that kind of hurts me a lot. So when I get excited in the box, I’ll look at my helmet, and it says ‘slow breathing.’ And then I take that long, deep, controlled five seconds, in five seconds out.”

Woodrow’s teachings haven’t just been focused on writing inspirational sayings, however. He’s also brought a deeper knowledge of the game to the players.

The words on the players' helmets enable them to focus on just the bat and the ball. (Ashley Long / Photo Editor)

“I think hitting, there’s such a fine line between a hit and an out that you’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to have that right approach,” said senior first baseman Jimmy Ruzich, whose bat reads “one pitch” and “He’s not better,” “We’ve talked about it day in and day out, about thinking the count, thinking what the guy’s going to throw you instead of just going up there and saying ‘I’m going to hit it.’”

“We all know if you can get here you can swing it,” said junior right fielder Mike Murphy, whose helmet says “relax” and “Stay within yourself.” “So a lot more was put into knowing the game, understanding the approach you need to take in certain situations, and that’s helped us win these games, big games like (Friday vs. New Jersey City University) where we’re not hitting the ball, we’re just putting some bunts down, moving runners over and getting them in. That’s all we need to do.”

One of the more interesting sayings is junior second baseman Scott Kelly’s “I’m going to show you how great I am,” which is a little longer and a little more provacative than most of the helmet writings. However, that’s not how Kelly sees it.

“It makes me fearless when I go and look at it every time before I enter,” Kelly said. “Because, you know, it sounds very selfish but in a way it is, because that’s how you have to be at the plate. You have to think that no pitcher is going to beat you, and that’s what I feel like, that’s my thought process. That’s what I say to myself.”

Kelly, who is leading the team with 49 hits and is third on the team with a .340 batting average, is also a big believer in Woodrow’s approach.

“I think it definitely helps,” Kelly said. “You write something down, and it’s not too much baseball related. You don’t want to write something like that, you don’t want to think of anything mechanical when you’re up there, you just want to relax. And I think writing something in your helmet really just reminds you. Sometimes you forget, that one time where you’re struggling and you look back and you’re like ‘I’ve got to follow what I said before.’ That’s what makes this, is going up there with the same approach as what you have in your helmet.”

Junior third baseman Nick Cifelli (“breathe,” “visualize” and “positive”) believes that the idea of staying positive has helped him most.

“If I get nervous, I just take the step back, take a nice deep breath and stay positive and everything,” Cifelli said. “If you go into the batter’s box with a positive attitude you’ll probably get a positive outcome.”

A lot of what allowed Woodrow to make the impact that he has is the freedom that he was given by head coach Dean Glus.

“When Coach Woodrow came in, he didn’t change much but the approach was different,” Glus said. “And a lot of times new blood is good. (With my coaches), we talk about what I want done, my philosophy, and I let them run with it. If you ask my (players), I’ve said maybe a handful of words to them about hitting.”

Overall, the main reason that this season has worked out the way it has has been the fact that Woodrow’s approach has brought the team together, from freshmen to seniors.

“When you have guys who look up to each other and are leading others, they’re all buying into the same ideas,” Woodrow said. “I think for the most part these guys are all buying in, and when they see one guy, some of those experienced junior, senior leaders, the younger guys tend to follow.”