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9 Innings of Inspiration and How Baseball Taught Me Life’s Most Important Lesson

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We all could use a little more perspective and mental toughness in our lives as we have become a world largely made up of complainers, negative talk, and self centered individuals. Where has all the mental toughness gone? It’s not that I completely see the world in this negative light either, but I am trying to make a point. As you read on, I will reveal a few secrets that I learned as an athlete and entrepreneur and how my “9 Innings of Inspiration” taught me life’s most important lesson about mental toughness, conquering your fears, and living a life with perspective.

Your world is changing, attracting, and adapting to every thought and movement you make. Think about that for a second. This is not New Age spiritual talk or anything like that. Go take a Physics class and you can learn all the details about atoms and protons and you will get what I am saying here. Fact is the entire universe is made up of energy at at simplest form. This energy interacts with you as you sit here and read these words. How you process the information you are reading right here and now is changing your world as we speak and potentially others as well. Subtle energy shifts, but shifts nonetheless. Negative thoughts become negative actions. Same deal with positive ones.

I applied this simple truth about energy in my late teens and implemented it as a baseball player. I never went into a game or competition doubting my ability. Deep down, I truly believed I was the best player on the planet and I could succeed in every situation on the baseball field. I didn't need to tell others how good I was, I just went and did it. Some people need to talk themselves up and let the world know how good they are, but that wasn't me. I let me actions and efforts do the talking for me. You can't have doubts about who you are and what you are doing. If those thoughts creep in, slap yourself in the face and wake up. Don't let anyone rock your foundation and cause you to doubt your ability, EVER!

As I went from high school to college the competition got tougher as it does at every level of life we migrate to. Through hard work and determination I had turned myself into a pitching prospect, and to this day I attribute my success to one thing - mental toughness. Sure I worked hard and constantly pushed the limits of what I could do physically, but so did a lot of other guys. Your physical abilities will only take you so far. What set me apart from everyone else on my team and my competitors was my perspective and how it allowed me to become mentally tough in just about any situation that life throws at me. lifes

Now there is something I have never shared with anyone before today, and that was my secret to generating that inspiration, mental toughness, and “will” that every great athlete talks about. I called it my “9 Innings of Inspiration”. The core of the secret comes from knowing in thyself, not by believing. Believing in something is for people who are still not quite sure about what they know. Knowing is indisputable, concrete, set in stone thoughts that setup roots at the core of who you are.

Most athletes talk about God and how they owe it all to God. That may or may not be true, but the very knowing in their core that “something” external to them would help guide them through any tough situation was what allowed them to excel in tough situations. I didn't pray to God (I do believe in God, but that is a story for another day) I leaned on inspirational people (past and present) who I looked up. These people I have deep admiration for and helped give me perspective to get through tough situations. This can be applied to everyday life and I still use this concept in my own life today.

Here is how it worked for me. I started every game I pitched with writing my grandfather’s initials into the mound. I knew that no matter what I faced that day, he was going to be there right beside me. That strength I got from just that was probably enough to get me through any situation that was thrown at me in that game. I took that principle and took it to another level...

I also had written underneath the brim of my hat 9 people's initials, my “9 Innings of Inspiration”. One name to focus on for each inning I was about to pitch. The people in my hat were reminders of courage, adversity and how tough life can be. They were people who had faced real adversity and challenges and had made it through. I had to remind myself before each game as the nerves started to set in, that what I was doing was playing a kids game and at the end of the day, did the world stop if I failed? No. If I could draw even a fraction of the courage that these people had, I could make it through anything. This idea became part of my core.

Here are my 9 Innings of Inspiration:
1st Inning - Andrew Sorenson (my grandfather and WWII veteran)
2nd Inning - Mahatma Ghandi
3rd Inning - Martin Luther King Jr
4th Inning - Anonymous Friend (A true inspiration to me, but I didn’t feel right listing her name here without her permission)
5th Inning - Mother Theresa
6th Inning - Elie Wiesel
7th Inning - Dalai Lama
8th Inning - Alice McCauley (my great grandmother who lived to be 103. Talk about adversity and I never heard her complain one day in her life)
9th Inning - My parents (the hardest working people I know and without their sacrifices nothing I have done would have been possible)

Your list would probably look a lot different than mine and there are tons of other people who I deeply admire that should/could have been in my hat, but I only needed 9. My inspiration did not need to come from religious figures or a certain religion to inspire me. Great people are great people, no matter what classification people try to put them in.

I broke down the game by inning and never looked ahead until it was time to look ahead (when that inning I had just won/completed was over). I treated every pitch as if it was the most important, every batter I got out was a victory, and every inning I won without giving up a run was as if I had won a game within a game. Every inning, I would take my hat off and focus on the initials related to the inning I was in. For the upcoming inning, I was playing for that person and I had no intention of letting them down. I didn’t believe in those people, I knew in them. It’s a subtle difference but very impactful.

Dissecting the game like this took tremendous focus and mental fortitude but it’s what allowed me to lead the country in ERA, set records, and be consistent throughout my career despite some bad injuries and playing with a lot of pain. Again, I had to remind myself - who was I to complain about pain and adversity when my 9 initials in my hat had fought through so much more in life then I?

Ultimately, what I had was perspective at a young age. We all need this in our everyday lives. I listen to people around me complain all the time about being tired, or how they don't have this or that, they aren’t making enough money, and they are stressed out beyond belief. And believe me, I do the same things at times but I do at least try and catch myself and get back to having perspective. In reality, 99% of the problems we have are not that big of a deal, but they feel big when you are in the middle of dealing with it. It was the same way for me on the mound. I had to constantly remind myself that I was just playing a game. It was not life or death. Take a breath, focus, and get some perspective to make the next pitch.

Dig deep, find your inspiration and perspective and it will make a big difference in your life no matter what you are doing. Create your 9 Innings of Inspiration list today and find those people you can draw courage and "knowing" in. Post those somewhere so you can see them everyday and be reminded of life’s most important lesson.

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