PITTSBURGH -- Thinking about the past tends to be something baseball players try to do away with. They don’t want to linger on the failure or successes of a single game, as they have so many more to play over the course of a 162-game season and therefore have to focus on the task at hand.
But meditating on the future? That’s something John Nogowski does day in and day out.
The Pirates’ first baseman has meditated before every game dating back to last season as a member of the Cardinals, who visit PNC Park this week. Nogowski said it was a technique he picked up from Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter, and it’s been especially helpful in his rookie season -- one in which he’s getting near-everyday opportunities with Pittsburgh.
“They were really big on trying to make sure that you’re 100% focused when you’re on the field, because there are so many distractions,” Nogowski told MLB.com. “You’ve got family coming out of the woodwork. You’ve got all sorts of people in your first full season that you’re trying to take care of, and there are plenty of distractions.”
The meditation practice begins before Nogowski heads to the park. He spends about 20 minutes clearing his mind and preparing to put his best foot forward. Then, at some point during the hour before first pitch, he clears his mind again, but he begins to visualize specific things.
For instance, Nogowski walked through the process he underwent while preparing to face Wade Miley on Friday in Cincinnati.
“Am I in the box? OK, I see myself in the box.”
“I see him and his windup.”
“He throws cutters, so I see his cutter coming in.”
“I see his changeup coming in.”
Nogowski goes through sequences a pitcher like Miley might use against him. How might he keep Nogowski off balance? Which spots could he try to attack for the putout? Most importantly, how can Nogowski counterattack those plans?
“When you go out there, it’s crazy, man,” Nogowski said. “Sometimes I see myself hitting a line drive to left or a line drive to the gap, then that’s exactly what I see in the game. So I try to manifest a little success before I go into the game.”
It seemed like Nogowski hit everything he swung at out of the gate with the Pirates, as he batted .438 in his first 12 games while recording seven multihit efforts. However, since his last multihit game on July 20, he has hit .128 in 17 games with no multihit efforts.
However, Pirates manager Derek Shelton -- who has repeatedly said the first baseman controls the strike zone at a high level -- said he’s seen Nogowski’s approach remain the same even during the struggles. The issues are more mechanical.
“Early on, he really hit the ball hard,” Shelton said. “I think right now he's working off the ball a little bit, and that's causing him not to hit the ball as hard.”
Nogowski has been more visibly frustrated on the field while hitting into outs, but he’s not letting it affect how he approaches each at-bat. When he heads home for the night, he flushes whatever successes or struggles he had that day and spends time with his girlfriend, Ashley, who he said has been on virtually every trip the team has made this year: “That’s my break when I get away from the field, is to be with her.”
Then, when he wakes up the next morning, Nogowski begins the cycle again: Visualizing the new game, the new opponent and the new opportunity.
“[I] just try to bring it back in and make sure that my thoughts, they’re singular,” Nogowski said. “Whatever my plan is that night, to make sure that there’s nothing else going on. It’s strictly that plan.”