Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 4/5/12
Baseball is a mind game, most of all. It plays Yahtzee with your skull. Think too much, and you're toast. Blow off the details, and you're on the next bus back to Burlington. You seek the happy medium, accent on the happy part. Our time, they say. Our time. "If positive thinking always worked do you think you could beat LeBron James, 1-on-1?" Bob Weinberg asks. You chuckle. He doesn't. Weinberg is a respected professor at Miami University, an expert in sports psychology, a cat who knows what makes the jock inside us all tick. We're discussing the Royals, the power of optimistic thinking, and, specifically, whether the latter means diddly poo when it comes to the former. "I don't care if you're 6-foot-5, 250 (pounds), you probably couldn't," Weinberg says of the King James scenario. "So I could have as much positive thinking in the world as I want, I probably still wouldn't be able to do it." Opening Day Opening Night, really, as the Local Nine light the torch Friday under the lights in Anaheim is here, finally, one of the most anticipated in Kansas City memory. And, other than Sal Perez's knee and Joakim Soria's elbow and (ahem) starting pitchers with ERAs that read like shoe sizes, the dispatches out of Surprise, Ariz., have been resoundingly sunny. Luis Mendoza is a magician. Lorenzo Cain can rake. Eric Hosmer keeps launching balls that bring rain. Alcides Escobar has Charmin for hands. Alex Gordon is signed for the long-term. Jeff Francoeur can't stop smiling. Our time, they say. Our time. "You need to take this belief, this talent, this promise, take the culture change and then see things (play) out on the field," Weinberg continues. "And again, it's not easy to change that losing culture, and things have to fall into place. But there are certain things you can do to at least make a little dent in it." Weinberg digs the slogan, by the way, likes the outward confidence. He says it's a start. If it was his toy to play with, after 16 losing seasons in seventeen years, he'd go a bit deeper. He'd tweak the logo. He'd paint the locker room a different shade. He'd look for a free-agent veteran to do for Kansas City baseball what Reggie White did for the Green Bay Packers. Sometimes, he noted, you need to change outside perceptions (heathen media, prospective customers) in order to get the ones inside to follow suit. "Take Scott Rolen," Weinberg says of Cincinnati's veteran third baseman. "You get Scott Rolen, he's on the back side of his career. He may or may not deliver top-notch (results) on the field, but he may be able to deliver in the dugout. You get a player like that, they come from somewhere else they don't have a losing mentality. They have a winning mentality." You pose the same question to Rick Aberman, a Minneapolis-based sports psychologist who's worked with the Twins and Vikings. He'd second Weinberg's take, then hand everybody on the roster a set of horse blinders. "In order to perform at our best, we have to stay in the present," Aberman says. "In other words, stay with doing the things that are necessary in order for me to be successful. If I'm a hoops player, (despite) the fact I missed my last three shots, I've got to keep shooting. If I'm stuck in the past, it's like I don't want the ball, and I'll give it up." Aberman says he's found two types of confidence that push athletes' buttons: Internal (I don't give a funnel cake what my Twitter feed says!) and External (Wait. They're booing? Why are they booing?). "The externals won't go away," adds Kevin Sverduk, a sports psychologist at Long Beach State. "And so your choices are, How are you going to relate to the externals? One way is to say, Well, I'll try really hard to ignore it.' The problem with that is that you're putting a lot of energy in trying to ignore something that can't be removed." When it comes rebuilding, there's no perfect answer, no single path to redemption. Does belief follow evidence? Or is it the other way around? Mike Stadler, a professor at the University of Missouri and the author of "The Psychology of Baseball: Inside the Mental Game of the Major League Player Baseball," says the Royals are right to lead with an attitude first. "When the mindset is, Well, this is a club that's rebuilding, we're not going to win this year,' players have to become the ones to motivate themselves," Stadler says. "The more things you have motivating you, the less likely you are to have lapses, a day where your head's not in it. (It's about) achieving an atmosphere where you expect to win." Stadler paused. Then he laughed. "It's the American League Central. You don't have to be THAT good, right?" Man's got a point. Our time, they say. Our time. "Just because you talk a great game," Weinberg said, "doesn't mean it's going to happen." Yeah, but we can always hope. The pieces are in place. As that noted academician Yogi Berra once said, 99 percent of this game is half mental. Ain't it? Win the head, the hearts will follow. You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com
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