September 29th, 2016

Monday’s Good Sport column — Every strike brings you closer to the next home run


By Lethbridge Herald on June 16, 2015.

Dylan Purcell
Lethbridge Herald
sports@lethbridgeherald.com
How do you break a slump? What’s the secret technique to end a string of oh-fers and finally get a hit?
I thought about it while watching baseball this weekend, because a kid I know has been struggling.
It’s been at least five games since he’s got even a single, never mind anything resembling a base hit. It’s heartbreaking.
On the weekend, he couldn’t buy a hit.
He digs into the batters’ box, and after the first strike, you can see the doubt crawl into his head. There’s fear, too. When is it going to happen? When’s that legitimate contact going to snap off the bat and get out of the infield?
He even hit a ball hard at one point, but a highlight-reel catch left him dispirited and out at first.
This kid’s getting worried.
He walked back to the dugout after another strikeout this weekend, and I just wanted to let him know it’ll be OK.
But I didn’t.
Another kid I know is going through a slump right now.
Mitch Dornblut of the Lethbridge Bulls hasn’t had a knock since June 7, five appearances and a frightful 168 points of batting average ago. He’s 0-for-20 since then. Mitch is mad, judging by his therapeutic three-swings-and-you’re-out final at-bat on Sunday against the Edmonton Prospects. At the moment, nothing is working.
Mitch had the hardest-hit ball of the game in the Bulls 2-0 loss on Saturday, but a second baseman at full stretch robbed him.
There aren’t a lot of similarities between Mitch Dornblut and my 11-year-old son, Alex, outside of a hitting slump they share.
Mitch is a two-time Canadian College Baseball Conference champion and proud University of Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevil. He’s an exceptional defensive first baseman and a reliable bat, if only he could figure out how to get a hit.
Alex is a small, timid sixth-grader who loves baseball, if only he could figure out how to get a hit.
There’s not a lot I can do for either one of them. I have less in common with my son than I do with Mitch.
My boy takes after his mother, lacking the, let’s say, prickly arrogance of his overbearing father. Sensitive, respectful of others and often intimidated, we have little common ground as a father and son.
Dornblut’s angry frustration I can understand. His exasperated final swing on Sunday was a manic release, a plea to the baseball gods for respite. One that accompanied a few choice words for those selfsame deities, I’m sure.
For Mitch, baseball is his whole world, and one that he’s usually the master of. These Bulls players, no matter their statistics, are the best of the best. They’re one-per centers, the chosen few blessed with natural co-ordination and talent. They add desire, practice and perceived immortality to that talent and while they struggle, they also believe in themselves.
Mitch has hit home runs. He’s flipped the bat and walked off the field a champion. He’s felt that sweet spot lift a baseball over a springy infielder and into the grass. He’s been good at this game his whole life.
Mitch is one of the people you pay to watch play baseball.
For an asthmatic 11-year-old who has always been the smallest kid in his class, life is a little more out of control. That next hit that Mitch knows is coming may never arrive for a Little Leaguer who has become too anxious about failure to swing for the fences.
The two have something in common, too.
They both love baseball. They’d both enjoy the staccato pace, the friendship and the sunshine of America’s Pastime all year long if they could. One’s fear is the other’s anger, but they’re both missing the baseball as it flies across the plate.
Alex’s flyout to first base is Mitch’s hard-hit ball to second. Alex’s coaches are the best in the business, and haven’t let up encouraging him to relax and keep swinging.
Bulls coach Ryan MacDonald wants the same thing for Mitch. It’s easy to say, I guess, but looking at a .217 average that was .385 a week ago makes that hard.
So, what’s the secret to turn a slump into a streak? I know that for a 11-year-old boy, that instant smack of a bat against ball means you aren’t small, or weak, or different than anybody else. In that moment, you’re a ballplayer.
I know during that one split-second when the ball eludes your opponents and first base beckons, you’re the greatest. The dugout cheers, the pitcher swears, and the weight of the world slips right off your proud, raised shoulders.
For one second, the fear and doubt fade away for father and son. For one second, you’re Hank Aaron.
For one second, you’re just like those ballplayers you watch at Spitz Stadium
For one second, you have something in common with guys like Mitch Dornblut. Maybe you always have.

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