CHICAGO -- How does a 70-year-old professor of kinesiology help a 20-something Major League outfielder deal with a batting slump? Ken Ravizza found a way. He kept his message simple and to the point."There was a time when he actually jumped on my back," Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said of
CHICAGO -- How does a 70-year-old professor of kinesiology help a 20-something Major League outfielder deal with a batting slump? Ken Ravizza found a way. He kept his message simple and to the point.
"There was a time when he actually jumped on my back," Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said of Ravizza. "He's like, 'Now, try to hit like this.' It put it in perspective. If you don't let things go, they'll pile up."
Ravizza passed away on July 8, and a celebration of his life will be held on Sunday in southern California. It will be a tough day for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who worked with Ravizza for more than 30 years, beginning with their days together in the Angels' organization. Ravizza led the Cubs' mental skills department.
"He was an innovator in this game," Schwarber said. "No one knew what the mental side of baseball was [before Ravizza]. It was always part of the game, but no one knew how to teach it or how to get the best out of the players' mental side. That's where Ken came in."
When Schwarber was sent down to the Minor Leagues last season, Ravizza was the one who helped him put things in perspective.
"He was the outlet for you on how you were feeling on a daily basis at the field or at home," Schwarber said. "He'd give you things to practice every day to put yourself in a better place.
"I loved Ken," Schwarber said. "He was a guy who would come in the clubhouse and always put a big smile on your face. He walks in and he's kind of a goofy guy -- [he'd say,] 'Hey, man, how's it going, man? You're looking good, man.' I could be feeling like crap and he'd tell me I was doing great. Those are the things that we're going to miss about him."
Ravizza always had a smile on his face and he would look someone directly in the eye during conversations. Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who knew Ravizza from his days as Maddon's bench coach with the Rays and Cubs, writes "K.R". on his cap in memory of the sports psychologist.
Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery met Ravizza when he was with Tampa Bay. Both were from southern California and connected immediately.
"When I came here, especially in the playoffs in '16, I remember working with him almost every day," Montgomery said. "It gave me a sense of calm and after I got done talking to him, I came out of there feeling like a million bucks. It was like, 'I want to take the ball.'"
Montgomery still uses Ravizza's lessons.
"I think the beautiful thing was that he never was trying to force certain things," Montgomery said. "He basically gave you suggestions and his thoughts more than, 'Hey, do it like this.' For me, he helped build my self-confidence. He would always tell me, 'Make a good pitch, not a great pitch. You're not that [bad] where you have to make a great pitch every time. Just make good pitches.'
"I still hear that a lot and I take that a lot," Montgomery said.
The left-hander began the season in the Cubs' bullpen and moved into the rotation when Yu Darvish was injured. Montgomery had made it clear he wanted to start.
"When I was frustrated about the role I was in, I'd talk to him about it, and I could air out everything I wanted to and he would always have a response that just made me think, 'Man, why am I even worried about all of this? Why don't you just go out there and perfect your craft?'" Montgomery said. "It was funny, because he'd say, 'Do you hear yourself talking?' I'd say, 'You're right, Ken. I'm worried about when I'm pitching as opposed to how I'm pitching.'
"I definitely miss him," Montgomery said. "I feel there's that void. You can't fill that. No one can replace him."
Many big league players credit Ravizza for helping their careers.
"I'm sure he's up above right now, probably just living the dream because he doesn't have to deal with our crap anymore," Schwarber said. "We thank him every day. He was such a great human and a great teacher."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.