Staying Sharp Despite the Grind

By Charles McKenzie, April 17, 2019
Former Bomber baseball standout makes his way in the major leagues.

Editor's note: This is the third installment in a 6-part series that will also appear in the spring issue of ICView. Read Mind Games to learn how two alumni helped major league teams to World Series titles, and read Keeping Focused Amid Chaos to find out how an alumnus is helping minor league players in Latin America.

Tim Locastro ’18 had been a Bomber, a Desert Dog, a Driller, a Quake, a Lugnut and a Canadien. Like most minor league players, he didn’t care what you called him, as long as he got “the call,” the one every player dreams of. In 2017 with his season over, Locastro wasn’t exactly living in his parent’s basement, but he was painting it.

That’s when “the call” came. The Los Angeles Dodgers. Tinkering with their last roster spot before their World Series campaign, they wanted him for a two-game tryout as a “burner,” a fast, cunning base-stealer they could use off of the bench.

Locastro was headed to the majors. Painting could wait. He stepped out of his parents’ basement in Auburn, New York, and just one day later he stepped into a hostile sold-out Colorado Rockies stadium. Sent in as the Dodgers’ pinch runner in the eighth, he looked up to see 48,000 filled seats that could have easily fit all of Auburn and most of Ithaca. Ultimately, there was no chance to steal, and his two innings in left field were equally uneventful, but his first big league game was in the books.

Coors Field was still rocking the next night when Locastro was sent in again and ultimately stole his first major league base.

“It’s packed. The stadium starts shaking, and your heart starts racing, but if you start thinking about all of that, you’re prone to mistakes,” he says. “You have to calm yourself down quick and get in baseball mode, find out what your job is, and do that. You get in the zone and just sort of block it out.”

The Dodgers did not give Locastro a roster spot permanently but did send him to Arizona to work out in case they needed him before the next playoff round.

“Everybody can do well when they feel well, but to be successful here, you have to find a way every day to grind it out and put something together, to not let your failures build up.”

Tim Locastro ’18

That call never came. He watched the World Series as his Dodgers were beaten by a hungry Houston Astros squad aided by their new mental skills coach, Jesse Michel, MS ’09.

Mental skills professionals like Michel help players develop a routine and a mindset that keep them focused on the moment instead of the situation. Ideally, going up to bat at IC or in Vancouver would feel the same as going up to bat in the majors with a roster spot on the line. Ideally.

“Games just feel completely different from the minor leagues to spring training to the major leagues. But absolutely, in a perfect world, you’d like for every moment to feel the same, so you can sort of slow your heartbeat down and be calm. But we’re all human. I don’t think that’s always possible,” Locastro says.   

To unwind and to stay mentally sharp, Locastro says books get him away from baseball, but not necessarily from sports. Before he heads to the field and after games, he studies great athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant. He also reads about calming his mind and “getting in the zone,” and books like “How Champions Think,” “Relentless,” “The Mindful Athlete” and “The Champion’s Mind.” The key, he says, is being open and always looking for a mental advantage, whether it comes from books or mental skills exercises with a professional.

“I will try everything,” he said. “If you try 100 things, if even one helps your career in some way, it’s all worth it.” He says the hardest part of the mental game stems from the daily grind of playing 162 games plus two months of spring training with 10-15 days off. It’s staying focused and energized through the ups and downs.

“You can be so locked in one day, and then the next, you can feel like you’ve never picked up a bat. But you have to be ready to go again the next day, to bounce back. Everybody can do well when they feel well, but to be successful here, you have to find a way every day to grind it out and put something together, to not let your failures build up.”