By Sweeny Murti
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Tony Gwynn spoke to me only once. It was 24 years ago, and I have never forgotten the words, or their meaning in the life of an elite baseball player.
On May 8, 1990 I covered my very first Major League Baseball game as a member of the media. On assignment with The Radio Pennsylvania Network, I was shadowing my good friend John Wilsbach, as we took in a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh between the Pirates and the San Diego Padres.
Not quite 20 years old, my still-teenage mind was a bit in awe of the players that were on the field that night. Some of the rising stars in the game like Roberto Alomar, Benito Santiago, and Barry Bonds. Former All-Star greats Fred Lynn and Garry Templeton. And the preeminent hitter in the NL in 1990, Tony Gwynn.
The Pirates were on their way to the first of three straight NL East division titles that night as they blew out the Padres 10-2. After the game I entered a big league clubhouse for the first time and participated in interviews with winning pitcher Walt Terrell, and Pirates infielders Jay Bell and Sid Bream.
As we finished gathering our postgame sound, I stepped into the hallway and watched as the Padres made their way to the waiting team bus on a getaway night. Gwynn, who had just gone 0-for-4, was striding towards me in what looked to me at the time like a million-dollar suit.
I had to say something. I was supposed to be a reporter that night, but I was also a fan. This guy was one of the best in the game and he was walking right in my direction. What do you say that keeps your cover as a professional, yet satisfies the little boy in you that is seeing your baseball card collection come to life?
My mind went straight to the 0-for-4 I just witnessed, a couple of which were hard-hit liners that were caught for outs. What do you say to a guy whose team was just pummeled and he didn’t even get a single hit?
“Ya hit ‘em hard today, Tony,” I blurted out, in what I still believe was a fairly professional manner considering the circumstances.
“Tomorrow’s another day,” Gwynn said with a little shake of his head, and continued along to get onto the bus, and then onto the plane, and then on to the next game.
And it was that simple. Didn’t get a hit today, didn’t win today, you come back and try again tomorrow.
I’ve now covered the Yankees for 14 years, which means I have seen another great hitter up close every day for 14 years. Derek Jeter embodies that “tomorrow’s another day” philosophy that Gwynn threw my way that night in Pittsburgh. The goal is to try to take four quality at-bats and hit the ball hard, like Gwynn did that night. He happened to go 0-for-4.
Do you know how many times I’ve heard Jeter say over the years that he simply wants to “feel good at the plate” and take “quality at-bats” and if he does that the “results will be there” in the end?
This is what drives the great hitters–the idea that they know how to prepare, how to put in the work, and how to execute their plan at the plate. And if they do that, they might still go 0-for-4. In fact, they will make outs almost seven times out of every 10 at-bats. But chances are that a 3-for-5 awaits you, as it did for Gwynn one night after I saw him in 1990.
Being a great hitter is about the focus that goes into each at-bat and the patience that gets you through a six-month season, allowing your talent to get to the next level.
And whether you’re talking about 26-year-old Jeter who was a career .322 hitter, or even now as an almost-40-year-old Jeter struggles to keep his average over .270, he believes in the same ideal–that he has the ability to take hard work and talent to the plate four times every night, and as long as he feels good the results will follow.
Didn’t get a hit today? Guess what: tomorrow’s another day.
Tony Gwynn taught me that my first night on the job. May he rest in peace.
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