Perhaps the biggest problem with sports analysis is believing too strongly in one’s ability to understand the future. Perhaps the biggest problem with sports commentary is believing too strongly in one’s ability to understand the present. We’re always more than happy to play psychiatrist when it comes to discussing people we know and talk to every week, but then we allow this to carry over into sporting events, with completely unfamiliar people trying to navigate completely unfamiliar circumstances. We pretty much never know who a player is, and what he’s going through. That doesn’t stop people from analyzing the activity waves in his brain.
You know what I’m referring to, and it happens with every sport, in particular down the stretch and in the playoffs. Choking. Stepping up. Wilting. Clutch. So many people offer so many psychological explanations, yet, we never know whether there’s actually any truth. They’re just explanations after the fact, even though, in every competition, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. So rarely can we actually speak to the psychology of sport. We don’t know when we’re observing a certain mental state, so we can’t analyze what that means.
Which brings us to Thursday night and Mike Fiers. Let’s say that professional athletes are mentally strong — mentally stronger than most. So let’s say it would take a lot for one to be rattled. What kind of event might rattle more than anything else? I’d volunteer a high hit-by-pitch. When you throw a ball that hits someone around the head, that goes beyond competitive adversity. So given what transpired, perhaps Fiers is an actual, observable example of a player playing while rattled. These examples are exceedingly rare things.
Yet, maybe it still didn’t matter. Turns out this stuff is complicated.