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Book Review: Shawn Green's The Way of Baseball

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Last week a got a review copy of Shawn Green's book The Way of Baseball, Finding Stillness at 95 MPH. I love baseball books and Shawn Green was a favorite of mine.

I'll admit, I am likely the least spiritual person you are ever going to meet. I'm not a big believer in Zen or any of that. But I do think there is something of value in finding something that clears the mind or finds stillness as Green talks about in the book. For me I've found that in running and playing drums. I'm not saying I was ever good at either but to get in a rhythm on the drums, my mind had to clear, I had to just let everything leave. I found the same with running. I'd get into a rhythm, my mind clears and all is good. So reading the book got me interested in doing those things again. I think I deal better with things if I have a few minutes a day where my mind goes off to do things by itself.

Anyway, Green finds this stillness by hitting balls off a tee for long periods of time. It all started with Cito calling him into his office to explain things. It was 1997, a couple of years after finishing 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1995. In 1996 he had a similar season, but still wasn't able to break through as an everyday player under Cito and Green had asked GM Gord Ash for a trade. Cito told Green that 'he had potential', but that he didn't play defense well enough for any manager to want to use him, he was too slow to steal bases and that he needed to learn to pull the ball. Green pointed out that he never had the green light to try to steal. He also felt his defense was improving (he'd win a Gold Glove in a couple of years) and that he would be better off not trying to pull everything, that he would be better using all fields.

After the meeting, frustrated, he goes off and hits balls off a tee after being told by hitting coach Willie Upshaw that he isn't allowed to take batting practice without Willie being present, so he could drive in the point of pulling everything. Being angry Shawn hits ball after ball of a tee, finds he likes doing it and finds stillness or a meditative state. He continues to hit balls off a tee, a few minutes a day, for the rest of his career.

Most of the book is about his quest to stay centered and to keep his swing together. The book is a pretty quick read, 208 pages and I just flew through it. I'll admit there was likely too much Zen stuff and too much about him being a centered, egoless athlete and not enough stuff about the people he had played with. To me, the best parts in the book were parts that deal with his friendship with Carlos Delgado, how hard Tony Fernandez worked on his swing and how generous he was in helping others and his relationship with players and coaches. The baseball stuff. I would have liked more of that. It easily could have been longer so more on that would be good. 

It was interesting to read about how much care goes into getting the swing just right, keeping it right and trying to get it back when it goes wrong. After his first season with the Dodgers, which didn't go well, he went to Japan for a series of USA vs Japan games. He and Carlos Degado were walking through a Buddhist temple and Carlos asked him "Why has your swing gotten so jumpy?"

"Home runs."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The Dodgers gave me a big contract, I need to prove I'm worth the money."

"No one's worth that much money."

Then Carlos goes on to give him suggestions about his swing. 

I also liked when talked about how different pitchers tipped their pitches. And I liked him describing what it was like to be on a hot streak. He hit 4 home runs in a game and he talked about the feeling that it didn't matter what the pitcher threw, he just knew he was going to hit it. 

Stuff I could have done without? Some of the Zen stuff was too much for me. Terms like 'shifting my awareness to my shoulder' kind of leave me cold. Being told how he was an 'egoless, centered' person (though he admits that his ego got in the way a lot) so much kind of rubbed me wrong. After being told that a number of times, it comes across as just a different way to brag. 

All in, it was a good easy read. At $27.99 Canadian, it could/should have been longer. I would have liked more about his friendships and more about playing for the Blue Jays. But I enjoyed it and it gave me a push to get back to running, so I thank Shawn for that.