Commentary: Addressing Odubel Herrera’s miscues head-on

I have a problem. I’m often unable to take my focus off something.

Sometimes that’s a good thing – currently I’m signed on to write a massive travel guide about the Appalachian Trail, due out in 2019. Much of my research involves getting in the car and driving to some part of the eastern portion of our country, hiking, and stopping at dozens of restaurants, hotels, shops and more. It’s only me, a folder and a notebook, and my job is to talk to people and gather as much information as necessary. For this job I’m well qualified, and for those 14 or so hours each day that I’m working, the only thing I’m doing is working. There’s no time for distraction or diversion. And so it works.

But sometimes my intense focus isn’t so good, like when I’m so focused on finishing a job that I stretch out the time necessary to pick up my daughter from day care. Sure I never get there late since I hustle to the day care center like a madman.

I like games and leisure activities, like simulating baseball seasons on computer games, but that’s another place where my focus becomes a flaw. I can get so lost in diversion that it encompasses a half day, and only a slap of cold water to the face will stop my habit. Sometimes I can simply get lost in my own mind, talking to myself as the world passes by, jobs are left unfinished and people are left unanswered.

I’ve acknowledged this problem. I’ve seen a therapist (for this and other reasons). And, thankfully, my wife is a born organizer and planner. If I forget to track my invoices because I was too busy doing something else for too long, she’s right there to ask me the tough questions to get me back on the straight road.

I can’t just fix the problem, but by acknowledging it and working on it, I hope to gradually improve.

The stakes facing me in working on this problem are great; while I’ve never even mildly affected anything, my performance impacts the amount of money I bring in (as a self-employed writer), which impacts the everyday financial wellness of my family, which impacts the everyday overall wellness of my family. Also, my work goes to editors and publishers whose job status depends on whether the content they plan is produced at a high level. It’s always in my head that other people depend on me all the time. That helps to focus me. And so, I get the work done on time. But sometimes it isn’t easy – a round of simulation baseball calls to me, or the sunny afternoon leads me to a baseball game when I should rather be resting and planning future work. Once I focus, it’s hard to remove.

Friday night in Washington, Odubel Herrera was doing his usual thing in an at bat against Max Scherzer. Putting his hand up to home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, as he always does, he was telling the umpire he wasn’t ready to hit yet. But he was in the box, and so Scherzer blazed a strike past him, right over the plate. Kellogg called Herrera out on strikes. He was miffed.

Earlier in the game, Michael Taylor hit a liner toward Herrera, who moved in, thinking he’d be able to catch the ball. He jumped – possibly realizing he came in too much – and the ball sailed past his glove. Then Herrera jogged to the fence to corral the ball. His response wasn’t fast enough to stop Taylor from sliding in safe for an inside-the-park grand slam.

It’s what we see

These two miscues paint a perfect portrait of what’s difficult to negotiate with Herrera. He’s a phenomenal baseball player, gifted in the box as demonstrated by his current 21-game hitting streak and season line of .291/.336/.468, which is almost exactly in line with his career averages. He’s also a terrific outfielder, improving immeasurably since moving to the outfield in 2015. But the miscues can be very hard to accept. Why does he think he can linger in the box? Why does he think he’s entitled? Why does he stop hustling? Why can’t he give 110 percent all the time?

As I’ve said before, these are valid criticisms, since the game has set up for us this idea that players should play by certain rules, and that players should also be playing at a high level all the time. I don’t necessarily agree with the criticisms that often, but they’re certainly valid.

I don’t know what goes on in Herrera’s head – nobody knows but him, and anyone who attempts to extract his thinking is misguided and playing a fool’s game. But I do know that I can get lost in my own head a lot; my focus has hurt me professionally and socially, and when I watch Herrera strike out while thinking he could dictate the plate, I immediately think of my focus problem. And when I watch Herrera misplay a ball and then jog to retrieve it, I think about how I can lapse when I’m focused on something else, how I curse myself that I let myself slip and then stew about it for hours.

Some would say Herrera has no excuse for these mistakes – he’s earning $1.6 million this year and plenty more in the future – but money doesn’t immediately scrub a brain clean from making miscues. And he may be a top-shelf athlete, one of the best in the world at what he does, but I’m a pretty damn good writer, and I’m pretty guilty of making mistakes.

It sucks. It really sucks to see a player hurt his team, and in baseball it’s plainly obvious when someone hurts his team. It’s a team sport but the performance is individual, and so the spotlight shines harsh on Herrera when he doesn’t run to the bag or the ball sails past him. We see it, we chide him, we wish for his dismissal to triple-A or even off the team entirely.

But that’s when we lose focus of the total picture, or to be blunt, that’s when we have anti-Herrera tunnel vision. Herrera provides far more good for this team than bad, and as long as he’s easily the most consistent, best hitter on this club, it’s hard to be right about dismissing him because of a couple mistakes.

Again, it sucks. I wonder if Herrera thinks the same thing when the game is long gone and the microphones are removed from his face. I definitely think about my problem a lot.

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