Matt Halliday is better than you.
Of course he is, you say, it’s because he’s gifted. He makes hitting a ball moving at 95 mph look easy. He has to be better than me. I could never do that.
You’re right, you can’t. But remember, hitting is a very specific skill. I’ll bet you could beat him at chess, Jeopardy or pretty much anything else you can think of. Except for the one thing that he’s been constantly practicing since he was a kid, he’s just average.
But he IS different from us. Better. His brain has been wired, over hours, months and years of practice, to be wonderfully efficient at hitting a baseball.
The “gift” that he possesses is persistence.
Make the Right Comparison
So throw away that comparison between you and the major leaguer because it’s obvious that he hits way better than you do.
Consider Derrick Fitzgerald.
Derrick is a six-foot, right-hander who plays for Peoria, a Single A team in the Chicago Cubs organization. Currently, his batting average is .136, according to FanGraphs. He has 12 hits for 88 at bats. Today, that makes him the worst hitter in professional baseball.
He is a far better hitter than you.
If Derrick showed up as a ringer for your Wednesday night softball league he would smack every single pitch farther than you’ve ever seen a ball hit. He’s that good.
But Derrick is looking up at thousands of players in the league. He might be looking at Matt Halliday the way you are looking at him: gifted, a natural.
Just How Good Are the Pros?
If we could graph the hitting ability of anyone who’s ever played baseball well, we’d see two groupings of data. The first group is low on the graph and that’s you. You hit OK, you go 2-for-4 against that guy from Joe’s Bar and Grill, you score a run or two, knock a few runs in ourselves; you’re pretty good.
High above you on that same graph are the data for the pros. Derrick Fitzgerald is at the bottom of that group. (And I’m not picking on Derrick. The guy plays professional baseball. He’s one of only 6,500 people in the United States being paid to play baseball. That’s awesome.)
My point is that once you consider just the pros, there’s a big distribution in hitting skill. So there’s something different about Matt Halliday’s brain from Derrick Fitzgerald’s.
How Are The Pros Different?
Is it genetics? Genetics play a small part. When you’re young, your environment turns on certain genes that may help you perform a certain skill.
It’s the persistent practice, however, that grows a genetic chance, a “gift” if you like, into a world-class skill. That skill has to be honed by practice, with great coaching and an unbelievable tolerance for failure and frustration. Imagine the hours of batting practice, every day, twelve months a year.
At first, the ball is pitched nice and easy. That natural, gifted hitter grooves his swing and he feels unbeatable. Then, the pitch gets faster he spends the next week fouling the ball off. He screams and rages and wants to quit. He starts to connect and hitting becomes easy again. Again, the ball comes in faster and faster and the screaming begins again. This isn’t fun, like amusement park fun. This is work.
Over time, the neural path in the hitter’s brain becomes a six-lane highway. The best hitters have had the best coaches, endured the most frustration, faced the toughest pitches and put in the most hours.
Derrick Fitzgerald drives this highway at 100 mph. He’s an amazing hitter.
Matt Halliday drives this highway at 500 mph.
Is Matt more gifted than Derrick? That’s difficult to measure. But he’s worked harder.