-- I think the average MLB career now is just a few years. The quote that has always resonated with me is "We're going to be former players a lot longer than we were current players." It's a constant reminder that I need to get the most out of my body and my ability that I possibly can in the window that I have, because if I'm lucky I'll get to play 10 years.
The way that you present yourself on the mound is so tremendously important. That was one of the biggest takeaways for me as a young kid from Nolan Ryan, from Roger Clemens, from Randy Johnson. The look in their eyes that they had, whether they were a nice guy or not, they looked like they wanted to tear your head off when they took the mound. That's the way I like to be. I expect to win, I expect to beat everybody I play. It's kind of that quiet confidence that I have inside that I try to present to the opponent without getting too overboard. Because there are times when I seem composed but inside I'm losing my mind.
"ACE" is one of the acronyms I've used over the years. It stands for "Acting cures everything." You weren't promised to come to the ballpark and feel great on your start day. Basically, how can you put something on display to the opponent that gives the appearance of "OK, this guy is locked in today," whether you are or not? That's a big piece of the puzzle that I've learned how to utilize.
" GOYA" is another one: "Get off your ass." Seeing that or having that nearby or written under my hat is just a reminder that nobody cares if you're tired. Nobody cares if you're a little sore, there's work to be done. We are all going to have those times, regardless of sport, where things start to go sideways -- that's when your mental fortitude really comes into play. Can you minimize the damage? Can you get back on track before things get too out of hand?
I think the beard plays a slight factor to my presence on the mound. It's kind of part of the persona now. Everyone in Chicago embraced it, so I got to keep it. I can't ditch it now. I got rid of it in the offseason and I got some pretty intense reactions. I told them, "Don't worry, give me two weeks and it'll be back."
I was going through some difficult times at Triple-A Norfolk. I was going through failure at a high rate and questioning my ability. I questioned whether I was going to continue to play. I was in a situation where I was basically as uncomfortable on a pitching rubber as I ever have been in my entire life. A lot of it is with good intention -- coaches are trying to genuinely help players make adjustments to better themselves. But it was just something where I knew that I could be more consistent in my delivery if I just did it my way. Then when the trade happened [to the Cubs in 2013], that's when things really turned around.
When I got traded over to the Cubs, I knew that I was coming to an organization where I was going to be able to be myself. Not worry about "is this guy going to want me to do something different?" So I hit the ground running. I knew I was going to be able to go back to a delivery that I was confident I could repeat, and it's steadily gotten better over these last two years. I still think there's room to improve.
This pitch -- that's all that matters. [With the Cubs,] the focus shifted from where my foot was or where my front side was throughout my entire delivery to executing one pitch and then the next and so on. I really honed in on that thought process of getting my mechanical adjustments done on the side during my long toss two days before my start; and then on start days, execute. And that's it. Being as prepared as I possibly can be helped me to get away from the mechanical mindset and focus on the here and now.
When I was 10 or 12 years old, I threw very similar to the way that I do now. I look back at video and pictures of myself throwing from when I was a little kid. We pick up a lot of the natural movements we have when we're very young. I think the emphasis needs to be on how to repeat that movement -- whether it's a golf swing or a pitching delivery or a jump shot or the way a quarterback delivers a football. I think that release is where the emphasis needs to be -- how can we repeat this delivery on a consistent basis, pitch to pitch, throw to throw, swing to swing.
The offseason is where I really put my body to the test. I try and push the boundary as far as I can while still getting a decent amount of recovery time. The days where I really want to tax myself and replicate late-inning situations where your legs are heavy, I'll do about an hour of cardio beforehand, usually on a StairMaster. So I can replicate situations late in games, late in the season, where that nervous energy is at a heightened point and you have to control your emotions knowing your body is not completely where you need it. That's where the mental mindset comes in most.
My flexibility is probably my No. 1 asset. Three years ago, the splits was something I told myself I was going to be able to do by the end of that offseason; it took me two years to actually do it.
I don't know if I would attempt that Jean-Claude Van Damme chair split. It's a fairly compromising position. That's tremendous mobility right there. Maybe when I'm done playing I'll try that, but right now I just don't want to rip a groin off the bone.
Hamstring flexibility and hip mobility for me are the two most important factors on the field. Obviously we need to have a strong shoulder, strong scap, strong lats and a durable elbow to have longevity as a pitcher, but being durable and being mobile in the hips and flexible in the hamstrings take so much pressure and stress off of my arm. My flexibility is a huge asset.
I train with Pilates in the offseason and in-season on a daily basis. Pilates gets my body into a position where I'm activated, I'm loose and I'm ready to go as soon as I step out onto the field. It aids my warm-up process; it gets me much more ready for the day of activity than any other type of warm-up ever has. And the amount of core strength that I've built with Pilates and hamstring strength and hip mobility and mobility in my shoulders and my spine -- those are all things that directly correlate with what I have to do on the field.
I kind of brought Pilates to the Cubs. I went to Ricketts, Jed, Theo, and I told them this is our way to be innovative. In five to 10 years, every clubhouse in baseball is going to be doing this. I think at first a lot of guys were skeptical. But as time has gone by, the amount of guys that are taking part in either a morning routine of Pilates or an afternoon session is pretty high. I'd say there's been 15-20 guys that are actively using Pilates. And they are all seeing the added benefit.
I was a little fat kid. I think most of that was baby weight. But 14, 15, 16 years old is a tough time to be on the heavier side. Trying to start to talk to chicks was tough. Sophomore and junior year of high school, I started to transform. The growth spurt and the body changes happened very quickly for me. But I think that's when my wife, Brittany, started talking to me, so it worked out.
You know you get those bunches of kale at Whole Foods? There are probably 8-10 stalks of kale in there. I'd say I go through three of those a day. That might be about 3-4 lbs of kale.
I consider myself a really good racquetball player. I'm sure that I would get waxed by some actually good racquetball players, but I consider myself a pretty versatile athlete. That's one of the attributes of a really good athlete, to me, is being able to pick up another sport very quickly. Tennis is a good example. I only played 10-12 times, but I was able to be pretty damn effective, especially in doubles. I just think I like to run around a lot; I feel like I have really good reaction times.
I want to shoot an elk with a bow. Mind you, I've never hunted in my life. But I feel like if I'm ever going to hunt it's going to be with a bow. I just feel like a bow requires more skill.
We've shown that we can compete and we can get to the postseason; now we're hungry for that World Series championship. It's tough, especially when you get deep into the postseason and lose in the NLCS like we did last year to the Mets. You want to be the team that is on the field when the last out is made on the winning side. That's obviously the holy grail in the game that I play, and that's what every player strives for.
It's a tremendous opportunity, and it's almost humbling to be part of the team that reverses the curse. We all know the pressure that's been imposed by outside entities and the media, but that to us doesn't mean much. We know that we have the right group of guys to get it done, and we're ready for the challenge.
I can picture it. We were in Chicago when the Blackhawks won -- people running up and down the streets, hanging off of cars, laying on their horns, pounding beer (as they should be) -- it's incredible. And we want to give the city of Chicago that same feeling again.