D-backs take mind-over-matter approach

D-backs take mind-over-matter approach

PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has long been a proponent of mental toughness and how the mind can run the body rather than vice versa.

Back in his playing days, Gibson credited an offseason trip to the Pacific Institute in Seattle, which focuses on goal setting and affirmations, for helping him turn around his career.

From the time he took over as D-backs manager last July, he has focused on getting his team to be mentally strong.

It is an approach he thinks has helped the D-backs lead the Majors in come-from-behind wins in 2011 and he hopes it will pay even more dividends with Arizona down two games to none and facing elimination in the National League Division Series.

"Oh, it sure does," Gibson said when asked if his club's mental toughness can help them in their current predicament. "You just can't give in to it. There's no question you're dealing with something different if you're up two games or down two games. I think anybody knows that, so you have to fight through that. You still have the opportunity to accomplish what you set out to accomplish."

To help their players with the mental side of the game the D-backs brought in some Navy Seals during Spring Training to talk about mental toughness. As a result of that meeting the club adopted the Seals motto of DWI -- Deal With It.

In addition, the team employs mind and performance specialist, Peter Crone.

Crone is reluctant to discuss the details of his role with the team.

"There are so many people who help make this club what it is," Crone said. "I'm just a very small cog in a very big machine with a lot of very extraordinary people from the front office, [general manager] Kevin Towers, Gibby to the coaching staff and the incredible training staff."

D-backs players and management, however, cannot say enough good things about Crone.

"I've known about conversations that Peter has had with individual players, and it seems like that day or the next day, boom, there's positive results," Towers said. "So I'm a big believer in it."

So much so, in fact, that Towers said the D-backs are looking at making Crone more a part of the entire organization by having him work more with Minor Leaguers so that they will not only improve their performance, but also be more prepared when they get to the big leagues.

Outfielder Collin Cowgill was hitting .137 in his first 51 at-bats after being called up from Triple-A Reno in late July. Before an Aug. 28 game against the Padres, the 25-year-old sat down for a long talk with Crone.

That night he went 4-for-4 with a home run and wound up hitting .366 the rest of the season.

Crone's impact on Cowgill would never have been known, but Cowgill chose to give him credit during a postgame session with reporters.

"It's nice to have somebody to talk to about, 'Hey I'm feeling pressure, I'm feeling this or that' and he can kind of help you overcome those things in a way that you didn't even think about," Cowgill said. "He just gives you a different way of looking at things and frees your mind up."

Crone does not force himself on players, but rather makes himself available in the clubhouse if they want to talk. Crone credits the training staff and other players for helping lead him to speak to guys who might benefit. For instance, closer J.J. Putz encouraged second baseman Aaron Hill to sit down with Crone back at the end of August.

Hill, who hit .225 with the Blue Jays before being acquired by the D-backs in August, batted .315 in an Arizona uniform.

MVP candidate Justin Upton is one of those who can be seen regularly talking with Crone.

"He helps me deal with baseball and everyday life," Upton said. "He looks at things a lot different than a normal person does and it's huge for me because of how simple he keeps the mental side of it. It's a different perspective and it can make things a lot easier."

Even the best hitters in baseball fail seven out of 10 times at the plate, so being able to have a clear mind is important.

Crone jokes with his clients that all problems are old, because it's something they know about. Or as he put it, "no memory, no problem."

"I'm simply helping people to reconcile their past, to let it go," Crone said. "That frees them up to realize that today is a new day, a new game and this moment has never happened before. If they have a fear, for example, about striking out, then their mind is already focused on what they don't want, which is usually a reflection of what's been happening that now they're trying to avoid again. That's when you can see guys try too hard and get too tense. What I help them to understand is nothing has happened yet, deal with it if it happens, but until then, don't worry about it. And better still if they can accept the possibility of whatever their worst-case scenario might be, then they don't even have to think about it, and they become immediately free."

Third baseman Ryan Roberts, who has had a career year after not being expected to make the team out of Spring Training, has worked a lot with Crone.

"If you actually think like that and can accept that way of thinking, it's awesome," Roberts said. "I love the guy. He talks about living in the present and I think that's the main thing, taking it game to game, living in the moment and once an at-bat is over, it's over and you're focused on what's at hand right then. I think that's the main thing that I key on, because it helps you not look ahead or behind and just stay in the moment."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.