By Anthony Cirillo
The year 2003 was the summer I was 12-years old, the biggest year for all Little Leaguers, where you are able to compete for a chance to make it to the Little League World Series. My Freehold Township Little League team had just won the New Jersey state championship, one step away from achieving our dream. Now up to this point, the teams we played, well, they were your typical Little League teams. Some big hitters, some hard throwers, but when it came to the hard throwing pitchers, the one thing going for me as a hitter was, it was all fastballs. Once you adjusted to the velocity of the pitch, the only thing you had to worry about was squaring it up and putting enough backspin on it to let it fly as far as possible.
When you get to the regional tournament in Little League baseball or at any level of baseball, these teams are no longer average; they are the cream of the crop. They do things better and maybe differently than the teams you faced in the games leading up to this moment.
Our first game in the regional tournament was against Washington D.C., a small area that is not historically known to be a Little League powerhouse in the Mid-Atlantic region. I was the lead-off hitter, who was coming off a pretty solid state championship tournament, maybe a little too arrogant. But I was 12 years old. What do you expect?
I remember clear as day staring at the pitcher waiting for the first pitch of our tournament. He was a little heavy with a flat brim cap and his glove was covering his whole face except for his eyes (kind of like Andy Pettitte for you Yankee Fans). As was my usual habit, I took the first pitch of the game. This particular pitch was an average fastball but one right down the middle of the plate for strike one. As I mentally prepared to see another one of those straight meaty fastballs, the unthinkable happens, the ball moves and curves like I have never seen before. It was the first ever, well thrown, curveball I have faced in my life.
When I saw this, I froze, like a deer in headlights. Hoping he didn’t throw this again, I geared up for the fastball and took maybe the most un-athletic swing of my life (college teammates don’t comment your sarcastic remarks; keep them to yourself) as I whiffed and struck out to start the game on, you guessed it, another curveball.
My frustration grew throughout the game as I would continue to see that pitch over and over, but little did I know, this moment was teaching me the first of many life lessons the game of baseball would teach me.
In life, things don’t always go your way. Whether that be in business, in relationships or even in the political landscape that we live in today. The one thing that baseball taught me was you always have to adapt. I was at the mercy of whatever that pitcher threw at me that game, I could not control what he did or the effects that pitch would have on me, but what I could control was how I was going to adjust to be successful given this situation. I know sometimes things get tough in life, but if you don’t adapt, you can’t win. If you don’t adapt, you’ll never reach your full potential. Learning to adapt is probably the biggest and greatest life lesson that the game of baseball has taught me.
There are so many things in this world that we cannot control, but if we just sit back and complain about it, we will already be multiple steps behind the people who are doing something to make the best of the situation. Through change and “curveballs” come even greater opportunities,. You just need to find the opportunity and make the best of it.
After a tough day at the plate against D.C., I worked extremely hard in practice that next morning, working on my timing of the curveball. Swing, after swing, after swing, until my hands blistered. That next game in my first at bat, I saw another curveball (the scouting report must have been out) but this time I took that pitch and drove it into the gap in left field.
I didn’t realize during that very frustrating first game, but now as I look back and think about it, that pitcher was already providing me with the momentum to make great things happen. In baseball, a curveball already has backspin from the hitter’s perspective and as a hitter you are trying to also provide backspin as this allows the ball to fly further through the air (the main thing I took away from physics class, thanks Mr. Begley). So when I originally saw this situation, I was staring at an obstacle I have never seen before that caused a minor setback. When in reality the pitcher was putting me in an even greater spot to succeed as that curveball was already working in my direction. All I needed to do was find that opportunity and hit it out of the park.
So whenever life throws you a curve ball, find that “backspin” and use that momentum to make yourself even greater than you are today.