Joe Masgrove succeeded by visualizing failure

Denver – Joe Masgrove was in the pool, following the instructions of his teachers, but he and his fellow neophytes were fighting. His abdomen was convulsing and his lungs were begging his brain for air. Masgrove, the prominent ace of the San Diego Padres, endured until the last moment of despair, almost to the point of sacrifice, before finally appearing on the air.

Then it went down again, this time for a longer time.

It was an underwater exercise class for athletes called Deep End Fitness, taught by a former sailor in a pool near San Diego. The aim is to help participants break down mental barriers, use breathing techniques, and overcome fears and obstacles. Athletes perform team-oriented underwater treasure hunts, walk on pool floor weights, play sunken football on all fours with synthetic hand torpedoes, and other exercises designed to cross boundaries.

For Masgrove and his teammate Mike Klevinger, who took a series of classes together during the off-season, it was another example of mental strength conditioning that has always fascinated them in professional sports – another way to improve their work on the hill. Getting into awkward situations and blowing them up.

“It’s completely different than you might expect,” Masgrove said in an interview with Coors Field earlier this month. “I came in very nervous for the first time because I had no idea what we were up to. In the first lesson you will learn a lot about yourself. It was great for me to work on something where I knew I was going to fail. ”

Small failures like these add to the great success of Masgrove, who named the mental aspect of his craft as the area that requires the most attention. Pool exercises and other techniques are now as much a part of his repertoire as his sinking and changing, Masgrove is spending his career at the age of 29, building a remarkable 2021 when he finished with an average mileage of 3.18 and the first no-hit in Padres history – which he said , Looked a bit like a “case”.

This year, as Padres’s first baseman Eric Hosmer said, Musgrove has gone to the “next level” and there seems to be nothing wrong with that. Masgrove is 8-1, with an average mileage of 2.12 and started the year with a 12-degree start (a minimum of six innings allowed with three or fewer mileages allowed) and became only the seventh pitcher since 1994 to open the season with such consistency.

This series ended on Thursday with a rough match against Philadelphia. But Musgrove’s fantastic start helped the Padres to a 44-28 start, the best in franchise history and the NL’s best wild-card spot on Thursday.

When Masgrove and Klevinger went to spring training and publicly described their underwater exploits during the winter months, they did not know that the program would lead to success. They still do not know exactly, but obviously not injured.

“It was a master class in peeling,” said Klevinger, who had just returned from surgery on Tommy John to his teammate. “He does everything.”

“It is incredible to see how he commands on the pitch when he is on a hill,” added Juriksson Profar, Padres Outfield.

A late developer, Masgrove has long sought ways to add alternative skills to his physical gifts – he stands 6 feet 5 inches and is listed at 230 pounds. When he was 15, he used Hoffling’s martial arts method called Gus Hoffling, which trained star pitchers like Steve Carlton from Philadelphia Phyllis in the 1970s, and he developed other psychological tools.

Masgrove said he often asks fellow citizens, coaches, coaches and others about his preferred technique, choosing and adding something that fits his style and approach. He can find useful mental challenges almost everywhere, including “turning off the power button” while jogging outside on hot days during the day and washing dishes.

Even as he stands by the sink and does the most mundane work, Masgrove transforms it into a challenge, forcing the mind to stay in the moment – like self-taught meditation. He tries to focus only on scrubbing and rinsing, despite the brain impulse to wander, and the ability is contagious. Even the brain of an elite pitcher can scroll to external thoughts, sometimes in the middle of a key bat.

“Like underwater training, it will not improve your stuff and will not help you in the game,” he said. “But it will help you to be better prepared and I always say that luck helps those who are prepared.”

Visualization is a key part of Musgrove’s mental conditioning repertoire, as it is for many elite athletes. But Musgrove does not reflect flawless performance and success in his mind. Some pitchers may imagine throwing the perfect pitch or lifting the championship cup.

But these mental drawings, Masgrove said, are fantastic compared to the real-time development of the sport, in which the elbows ache, the hands slip, the hills become muddy, and the opposite sticks when running home.

When Masgrove lies in bed the night before the start, he often sees small failures and obstacles that inevitably arise – stiff shoulders, mileage to the house, bases full of runners, while opposing fans whisper in his ears and sweat drips into him. eyes.

What are you going to do now, Joe? How are you going to get out of here?

When these, or similar situations arise, Masgrove has already planned them. High heart rate is expected. Panic thoughts are banished. Practical solutions are used.

“The next day I wake up and some pressure is gone because there is no more fear of the unknown,” Masgrov said. “It’s not that you’re obsessed with what could go wrong. You are just ready for anything, good or bad. ”

The bad came immediately after the Musgrove start last week in Chicago. Christopher Morel, the bullet of the Cubans, hit the wall in the fifth square of Wrigley Field by Musgrove. But Masgrove, who had started swelling and sick the night before, imagined that the next day he might feel sick again on the hill and have rocky openings.

“The first blow of the game, the explosion, the run of the house,” said Masgrove, “and I think ‘this is exactly what I expected.’

As it turned out, Musgrove was apparently fighting the Covid-19 because he tested positive the next day. In retrospect, testing before the game would have been justified, but his symptoms remained mild. And Masgrove trained his brain to fight obstacles and, as during underwater training, gave himself up to barriers.

That day in Chicago, he responded to illness and a bad start and allowed only one run out of seven innings. It was a bit of labor that required 106 pitches. But, of course, Mousgrov prepared for it.

“We saw him grab the ball when he was sick, when he was in pain, when he was not feeling well,” Hosmer said. “You look like that in your ace, and he really got stronger as our ace.”

During underwater training in the off-season, Masgrove learned that he could extend the time without breathing, from about a minute and a quarter when he first started lessons, to just four minutes before the end.

“Sometimes, the brain has to get out of the way and the body has to do its job,” he said.

As the season draws to a close, Masgrove is a candidate with Tony Gonsolini from the Dodgers to start an all-star game for the National League. Masgrove said he was sitting on a list of accomplishments that he would be honored to achieve.

“But in the end,” he said, “the big picture was healthy and still assembled at the end of the year.”

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