It’s hard to steal a base, hit a 95-mph fastball and get out of a bases-loaded jam when your brain is screaming at you.
Don’t screw up!
You better not blow it!
The team is depending on you!
The Diamondbacks weren’t saddled with those negative thoughts last year. The kids played as if they were at the neighborhood ballpark and their biggest worry was what flavor Slurpee to get after the game.
But then they won 90 games and advanced to the National League championship series and all of a sudden they were the darlings of baseball and everybody was watching them.
Some players — and teams — can handle those expectations.
The Diamondbacks didn’t, and that’s why they are where they are right now, tied with the Dodgers for first place in the NL Worst after an 8-7 loss in 11 innings Friday.
Much of went wrong for Arizona the first half of the season can be attributed in part to the players putting too much pressure on themselves and then being paralyzed by the thought that they might fail.
Center fielder Chris Young is a perfect example.
Last year, Young stole 27 bases in becoming the first player in history to have at least 30 homers and 25 stolen bases his rookie season.
This year, Young has just five steals in a paltry seven attempts.
“There’s no reason for it,” Young said.
Sure there is.
It’s the difference between standing over a 3-foot par putt at the local muni and having the putt to win the U.S. Open.
It’s why the Diamondbacks had such a carefree and casual attitude when they went 20-8 in April, and why they’ve been tighter than a corset the last two months.
They went from playing to win to playing not to lose. And all tentativeness will get you is a losing streak.
A prime example: Young singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. But he dropped anchor at first and Alex Romero’s single could only advance him to third base, where he was stranded.
“I’ve talked to him (Young) a couple of times about just being himself and just playing,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He gets his bravado and confidence from being on the bases and causing some havoc. He hasn’t allowed himself to do that.”
Young isn’t the only Diamondback to fall prey to indecision. The entire team could use a little of Charles Barkley’s “I-couldn’t-give-a-flip” attitude.
“More than anything we have to go out there and play with reckless abandon,” Melvin said. “We can’t worry about the failure part of it. I think sometimes we got into the mode where we were afraid to do something wrong out there and it showed up defensively and on the base paths.
“I think the guys just have to go out there and play with their hair on fire the last (67) games. We have to try to have fun and let our talent level take over.”
The pressure the Diamondbacks put on themselves also was evident in their at-bats. Those strikeouts and swings at pitches they couldn’t hit with a broom?
It wasn’t good enough to do what they did last year.
They had to be better.
“Everybody wanted to be the guy that got us out of the slump,” Melvin said. “They wanted to be the guy who hit the three-run homer and put the rest of the team on his shoulders. But we’re not that type of team.”
It won’t be easy for the Diamondbacks to rediscover their mojo. They’re in the middle of a pennant race. And unlike last year, failure won’t be understood or accepted.
But somehow, some way, they have to ignore the negative thoughts careening around inside their heads.
They have to be bold, they have to be aggressive and if it doesn’t work out, so what.
There’s always tomorrow.