When I was in college, I knew this guy named . . . well, let's call him "Little Napoleon," because he was short and had one of those Napoleonic complexes. Also, "Little Napoleon" is far more preferable to what my ladyfriend at the time called him: Spawn of Satan.
Li'l Nap was actually a heck of a guy; in most circumstances, one would not even suspect his mephistophlian origins. But he was hyper-competitive, an attitudinal demon in the field or on the court. He was part of a common circle of friends, so we squared off many times, none of which I enjoyed in the least. At those times, I had to will myself to recall that he was a tremendously courteous and generous person in other contexts.
But, in the sporting context, the guy was the pits. Take basketball---I hated being guarded by him, because I'm not the retaliatory type. And I considered it, did I ever. On the perimeter, he would try to trip you. In the post, he would punch you in the ribs; previously, I thought only girls hit that hard. A lot of the time, this junk worked---he'd really get on your nerves.
If Li'l Nap had a weakness, though, it was that the guy was at least a parsec away from sanity out there. This shortcoming would invariably set off a chain of events that would leave him an emotional wreck in the fullness of time: a) he'd be caught going too far; b) someone would say, "Hey, [Nap], that isn't cool"; c) he'd try to play the game legimately; d) things wouldn't go as well; e) he'd start pressing; and f) it was Embarrassment City, Population: Him.
Essentially, he would begin pressing, trying to do too much, attempting to legitimize himself after being called on dirty play, and he'd end up looking a little foolish. He would then grouse, and it would be no fun for any of us.
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Ryan Church has had a rough month or two, and it was getting to him. Prior to today's two-homer vindication, he was pressing:
You and I aren't major league baseball players, but we can nevertheless perfectly relate, and I am sure of that. At work, I sometimes face deadlines that loom and threaten to paralyze. If I start pressing---if I get anxious and try forge ahead at a pace faster than I should---I become lost in myself, lost in the enormity of the project before me, intimidated by the stack of projects staring straight ahead at me. It is when I relax, when I organize, when I reduce the task to the nuts-and-bolts, the issues to be solved, and solved in a logical order---then, and only then, am I able to proceed. What is more, surprisingly or not, it is at this point that I press ahead at a more efficient rate than I would have had even my previous harried approach been successful.
There is a baseball corollary, at least in a sense. I recall watching an episode of The Baseball Bunch when I was a kid wherein Andre Dawson explained to The Bunch the secret to his success as a young star of the Montreal Expos: "Keep it loose, and take a steady, relaxed swing. You'll hit the ball farther than if you tightened up and tried to murder the ball."
Okay, that was paraphrased a bit---and I'm pretty sure he didn't use the word "murder" in front of the impressionable boys and girls. But you get the drift.
It was a simple lesson, a Little League lesson, one that is most likely naive in the context of a big leaguer's swing, but there's an undeniable kernel of truth to it: relax, keep your bearings, be smart of about it, hold to your fundamentals, and let your talent take care of the result.
A different story is presented in the MLB.com account than the explanation contained in the Post recap (linked and quoted above), but in essence, it is a different side of the same coin:
"When pitchers would throw the ball, I didn't pick it up until it crossed the plate. You can't get like that. It's one of those things where you see it out of the hands and that's when you get locked in and stop hitting pitches that are balls."
Often, players who press are not receptive to advice from those paid to instruct. (We will, of course, overlook the fact that Jim Bowden was giving a big league player hitting advice . . .) Maybe Church did this during spring training; no matter how nonsensical his demotion appeared, there must have been something that instigated it (other than Brandon Watson's hot spring). To the team's credit, the instruction continued---and, to Church's credit, he received it.
And now . . . Church is back? Well, who really knows? But, for one game at least, Ryan Church was a tremendous assets to the Nats. He clearly offers much more than Brandon Watson: much more power, obviously (Watson is the very absence of power), but also superior ability to manufacture runs. The Nats are a better team with Church on the field.
He doesn't solve all of this team's problems---and there are many. But he more than likely solves one.
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The Post article begins in a somewhat fascinating manner:
On one level, there was "no evidence" indeed; Church was scuffling and, quite apparently, pressing. On another level, though, there was "no evidence" Church's slump would continue. By this, I mean that "spring training" (fifty-five at-bats) plus "the minors" (twenty-three) plus the "first seven at-bats" (seven, obviously) formed nary a predictive basis of future performance.
They constituted all of eighty-five at-bats---outside the aegis of Voros' Law, but not dramatically so, and in this case, compiled somewhat sporadically and in varying contexts.
The long and short of it is that Church is not a weak hitter. Barring some sort of injury or a complete breakdown, he was not going to continue hitting weakly. It was only a matter of time until he showed signs of life. Lucky for us he did so quite spectacularly today.