Freddy Garcia has the “Grip”. The “grip” is that dreaded feeling of having no idea where the ball is going to go when you throw it.
He is at 83-84, afraid to pitch. You can see the mechanical breakdown happen before your eyes. His mental tension creates physical tension, which creates mechanical breakdown. It is all over his face and his eyes tell all.
The “grip” is devastating. It is a career ender. Dontrelle Willis is the latest victim of this difficult to cure disease. It ends the careers of many players, at many levels, and there are plenty of examples from Mackey Sasser to now, Freddy Garcia.
Teams have placed players on the Disabled List for this problem. They label it anxiety. Players have tried medication, hypnotherapy, singing songs and visualizing something totally unrelated to throwing, yet once a player gets the “grip”, they do not ever rid themselves from its clenches.
It happens for many reasons. No matter why, the “grip” is all powerful. Something that you have taken for granted, all of your life, is now a chore, a mystery and a stressor because you have no idea why it has happened.
Why can’t I throw a baseball anymore?
When that doubt is created, a player grips the ball tighter. They begin to notice things like the runner coming up the line, the facial expressions of those they are throwing to and they worry about their release point.
All of a sudden, the timing, fluidity and transfer of energy a pitcher or thrower needs, is thrown off kilter. Feet begin to stop moving, which leads to the loss of lower body movement, momentum, direction and power.
When a thrower loses their legs, especially the feeling of using their legs, the pitcher/thrower now must use their upper body to generate power, while also trying to perform complex fine motor skills, such as pitch location and movement.
Once the upper body tries to make-up for power, fine motor skills become compromised. When taken to an extreme, the “grip” can be triggered by any single event that does cause a person to think about the consequences of not being able to throw the ball where you want to anymore.
Watching Freddy Garcia pitch against the Red Sox today in the 1st inning, I immediately saw the tell tale signs of the “grip.” Five wild pitches in his first game, significantly lower velocity, physical tension, aiming the ball and not trusting his secondary pitches are all indications that he has caught the virus.
I do not write this to speak ill of Freddy Garcia. What these and other athletes do are amazing feats that the average individual appreciates but does not truly understand.
How would your throwing change in front of 50,000 people?
Personally, I suffered from the “Grip” when I played High School Baseball. I tore my rotator cuff, tried to throw through it, couldn’t, and in compensating, I lost all confidence in throwing a baseball.
We called it Gardneritis.
I had no self-awareness at the time of what I was thinking and doing. After surgery, I studied how this happened to me, learned practical ways to deal with it and have had to continue to work at throwing correctly whenever I pick up a ball.
I have worked with several individuals who have suffered from the “Grip.” I wish I could say that everyone I have worked with has learned how to deal with it and continue to play. Some have, but most have not.
But, I do know that there are practical ways for pitchers and position players to deal with the “grip.” Ultimately, it is up to each individual to develop and enhance their attention-to-detail, focus on the “little things” and choose to work on their throwing like they were rehabbing a major physical injury.
See, the fact is that once you get it, you never truly get rid of it. Players have to learn how to re-throw. The “grip” is the mental equivalent of a torn ACL or having Tommy John surgery. One cannot just all of a sudden get over it.
Learning how to throw again takes time. It is a process that most players never pay attention to in the first place.
Who think about throwing?
So, when the “grip” happens, it becomes the first time that a person really starts to think about throwing. Negative outcomes create negative thoughts and, with no history of thinking about throwing, the only memories are the short-term ones that involve the “grip” and thoughts and feelings associated with the total loss of control.
I feel bad for Freddy Garcia. I know how stressed he is. He is trying to hide his affliction. Nobody will talk with him about it because nobody knows what to say and they do not want to think too much about their own throwing and pitching.
It is really a fine line. Throwing can be so effortless and easy. Yet, once someone loses that feeling, it can be lost forever.