Bard's resurgence rooted in mental growth with rival

September 17th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding's Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

During the Rockies’ last homestand, closed two victories over the D-backs, who didn’t score a run against him and have managed just one hit against the righty in seven innings this season. Either Bard and the Rockies have the D-backs to thank, or the D-backs have themselves to blame.

Arizona isn't the only team Bard has fared well against. With 30 saves entering Saturday, Bard has spread the misery of his heavy fastball and swing-and-miss slider -- something he hopes to continue during a two-year, $19 million contract extension that kicks in next season. But before making a comeback with the Rockies in 2020, after being out of the Majors for the better part of seven seasons because his control mysteriously escaped him, Bard worked as a player mentor/mental skills coach with D-backs Minor and Major Leaguers.

Back when it looked as if he wouldn’t find the strike zone, a job interview question with the D-backs may have helped Bard solidify the thought process that he is using on the mound today.

“They wanted to know the things I believed in, where I learned them and what did I think was important to the mental game of baseball,” Bard said. “I just spilled everything I knew. A lot of it came from different books I read, trying to help myself.”

So, let’s look at the shelves of the Daniel Bard Reading Room. It won’t allow you to measure triple digits on your fastball, but everyone can use food for the mind.

“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol S. Dweck

“Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges,” by Amy Cuddy

A series on “flow states” that includes “Gamechanger,” “The Rise of Superman” and “Stealing Fire” by Steven Kolter

Bard saw value in a book he read as a high schooler, “The Mental ABCs of Pitching” by the late H.A. Dorfman -- one of the pioneers of sports psychology. But as he struggled, he found the broader books to have more value.

“Those books set me on a path of learning,” Bard said. “When I was struggling, a lot of the sports psychology was on how to fix people like me. Nobody knows how to fix the yips. There’s not a well-documented procedure. There are things that help. I didn’t believe in sports psychology because I didn’t believe it worked. 

“Then someone introduced me to the concept of high-performance psychology, taking an average performer to elite through the tools of sports psychology.” 

One of his well-documented techniques while mentoring D-backs players was playing catch. During those sessions, players saw how electric his stuff was and encouraged him to try again. But Bard said some of the sit-downs with players he mentored improved his outlook. 

“To listen to them, talk through problems they were having or something they wanted to get better at, I loved that,” he said. “Four or five guys [in the D-backs’] clubhouse, I had at least one conversation with. I was there to help them, but inevitably I’d be really impressed with a response, like, ‘I didn’t even think of that.’ 

“A lot of the guys I was helping were already in Triple-A or had big league time. They were already elite performers, looking for that extra edge. Everybody’s different. Everybody has an impressive story to tell on a journey. Maybe they have a mindset or an outlook that took them from [Single-A] ball and now they’re knocking at the door of being a big leaguer. I can learn from that.” 

He knows those D-backs players are happy for him on a personal level. 

“But I don’t know if the guys in their front office are thrilled that I’m still pitching well -- it was cute back in 2020, a good story, but they are probably saying, ‘That’s enough.’” Bard said, smiling.