Originally published on my site Ol' Abner on July 26, 2017.
So, I asked. How do you deal with failure, anyway?
"You can hit a ball on the screws and it gets caught at the wall or a line drive out, like – you gonna be mad? You did all you could do and once it leaves the bat there’s nine versus one," Ryan Casteel said.
I'd never thought of it that way.
"I think you just have to be able to realize that when you did something good and you’re not rewarded – that you did something good and you go on."
I told him it seemed like he had it figured out. He laughed.
"I haven’t figured it out! I still get mad, believe me, but it makes it easier," he said.
I mentioned I’d spent some time in a college dugout this spring, and that the coaches were always telling players to "Stay up."
I wish I had someone encouraging me at my job all the time, I told him, and I laughed.
But it’s different in the minors, I’ve noticed. Sure, I might hear someone yell "Boy!" on a foul ball, but not during every at-bat, like they do in college.
"The coaches are always encouraging us but the pro level is different in a sense – there’s less, like, cheerleading going on in the dugout," Casteel. "This team is a little older so we know we have to stay up, whereas with the college guys you’re dealing with 18-21-year-olds, and in all reality, they haven’t dealt with the same adversity these older guys have dealt with."
And when he doesn’t hit the way he wants?
"I tell myself 'you just gotta compete better next at-bat,'" he said.
And there are more at-bats, after all. For now.
"We get close to 500 plate appearances a year; you’re obviously not going to compete well on every one of them. I think if you have a 'you versus the pitcher' mentality, and you’re really competitive you can get away with not having your best swing that night and still having success," he said.
After I took the photo I looked up Casteel on social media, and I noticed he’s a religious guy. Sure, I read Sports Spectrum as a kid, even though every issue featured Reggie White or David Robinson, and players talked about the emptiness winning brings. So, what does faith really mean to a professional athlete?
"It makes it easier if I go 0-4; it keeps that perspective that God’s got a plan and if it’s meant to be it’ll be," Casteel said.
I took a breath and wished I had the same ideas I used to have.
"But at the same time, that doesn’t keep me from working to achieve what I want to achieve – does that make sense? I don’t just sit back and hope things happen - I try to make things happen," Casteel said.
Okay. That I can understand.
As I mentioned, Casteel's wife – who earned a degree in human development, with minors in business and theology – works as a personal assistant during the off-season.
(I’ve done the same thing in Springfield and Seattle.)
So, Ryan focuses on training year-round, coaching a bit during the winter, too.
I have to ask.colleg
Do you ever get tired of playing baseball?
"No, I don’t. I’ve been like that forever."
He mentioned he played basketball, too, as a kid. Lately, I’ve been reading about kids specializing in sports at a young age, so I asked him what he thought.
"I recommend that kids play every sport they can play. My only regret is not playing football in high school. In all reality, I probably wouldn’t have been very good at it,” he said, and he laughed again.
"I regret not trying," he said.
It’s funny, though. I wanted to write about Casteel because I wondered how players still go on chasing dreams when it doesn't come easily.
The thing is - he tries.