A Slump Is a Slump

I know that my viewpoint may differ than that of the majority of the Phaithful, but I feel for Raul Ibanez. I know Raul and I’m sure he feels as bad as anyone about his monumental slump. Hitting looks relatively easy watching a 50-inch HD television and I can tell you from personal experience that nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s easy to make the obvious call and point to his age, which could be the culprit. Or we could take a look at the fact that he’s in a “slump.”

“Slumps” happen to baseball players of all ages and pedigrees. Any big leaguer will agree that “slumps” are an inevitable, enigmatic and inexplicable part of the game.

All players that have donned a big league uniform have suffered a prolonged slump at some point in their career. Now, prolonged is quantified differently depending on the caliber of the hitter. Sir Albert (Pujols) may scuffle through a 1-for-13 where as a Relaford may post a 4-for-48. It’s all relative.

You may be able to pinpoint when it started but you have no idea why or how. To the player, it starts off as a few line outs and maybe a couple of 0’fers. Next thing you know, ESPN is telling everyone that you’re in a slump that you may or may not even been aware of. Holy smokes, you are in a full-fledged “slump!” At this point you’ll talk to anyone about your swing (dad, teammate, hitting coach, girlfriend, grounds crew, whoever)!

Every hitless at bat deepens the burden and drives each player towards downtown Slumpville. It’s a mental abyss of sorts that is not a safe place for players. The incessant failure is tough to shrug off and can create the most destructive negative thoughts. This is where and how the slump is prolonged. Doubt creeps in ever so furtively and robs you of your confidence in your ability to play.

Big leaguers are proficient at failing. That’s what makes them so good at what they do. I tell you what, try to go to work and get the job done three out of 10 times, you’d be on the bench next to the Gatorade cooler. Mental toughness is a definite prerequisite of a big league ballplayer.

As far as Mr. Ibanez is concerned, I feel for him. I know my viewpoint probably clashes with the majority of the Phaithful, but so be it. I’ve been in his shoes, literally. I stood in a raucous Veterans Stadium on deck circle only to be booed unmercifully by the Phaithful before the announcer could even utter the first syllable of my name. I almost got to the point where I was going to have Terry Francona make a call to the press box and have them not even announce my name when it was my turn to hit. It was that unnerving and somewhat debilitating.

This is not a good feeling. It definitely doesn’t help to have “your” fans wear you out every time they see a piece of your jersey. Going into the season, Raul told me that he felt the best he’s ever felt. Those are big words for a 39-year-old ballplayer, but I know how hard he works and how serious he takes nutrition. This slump is baffling to me…

Is Raul done? Or is this a situation that’s all too familiar where we see an athlete, like a boxer, seemingly get old in one fight? I don’t think he’s finished, but he’s running out of time. He’s only a hit away from breaking the slump.

I’m pulling for Raul, you should too!

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