What It Takes

What It Takes

Pitching Like A Cy Young Award-Winner

By Callie Oettinger | Published: August 2, 2013

Before you read this post, watch the video below (and then stick with me as I circle back around to why it is being shared).

Early in my career I was rooted to the mound, on the throwing end of the pitch.

Some appreciated the pitches and replied with thanks when I followed-up, while others said the constant faxes (back in the day…), calls and e-mails were annoying, unwanted distractions.

Why so grouchy? I thought after one reporter reprimanded me for calling him at 4 PM on a Friday. He wanted to know what I was thinking—leaving me stunned and stumbling through an apology, as my wit stalled in the quick, snappy reply department.

Fifteen-some years later . . . I get it . . .

While I’m still pitching, a few projects have positioned me behind the plate, with pitchers aiming in my direction—and I understand the grouchiness…

Here’s the deal: Everyone has a pitch—and their pitch is the best, the greatest, the biggest, the most important ever. At least that’s what they tell you . . . But what they show you . . .

It’s easy to spot the Cy Young Award winners from the future washouts. But those washouts… They leave you thinking all publicists—or anyone doing PR period—are idiots, which in turn brings out the grouch.

The washouts are on the mound because it is a job, not because they 100% want to be there. They leave the catcher scrambling, diving for wild throws—throws that could cause a missed run for the team.

Yes, even though the catcher and the pitcher work with different organizations, if you take a big picture view, they are on the same team. They need each other.  Some catchers might tell you otherwise, but without the pitchers… It would be a hell of a lot harder for them to play the game.

The thing about washouts is that they’re awful when it comes to follow-up. So if you’re the catcher, you don’t have to deal with the same one for very long. After that first e-mail or phone call message, you won’t hear back from them. Why? They lack passion for the pitch. It’s a job, not something in which they’re invested.

Now to those Cy Young award winners…

These guys are masters at more than one type of pitch—and they pay attention to the catcher’s signals. If they disagree with the catcher and decide to shrug off a signal, they have enough credibility built up with the catcher to make it work, so that even the catcher is on board in the end.

How do they get there?

Some are born with it—then there’s the practice, paying attention, and passion.

Let’s start with the born with it and practice bit. It doesn’t matter how talented you are—born pitcher or not. There’s always more to learn. Practice. Experiment.

Onto the paying attention portion: You’ve got to know what’s going on around you, with an eye on the catcher. He has to recognize you as something other than a hack. You don’t want to be that outfielder who misses a hit in the seventh, after six straight innings of nothing going his way. You can’t fall asleep. Eyes wide open!

Now for that passion: You aren’t going to throw strikes if you don’t have passion. If you can’t get behind what you pitch 100%, you’ll come up short, throw a ball, or hit the guy at bat—and you’ll piss off the catcher. You’ve got to be invested.

There’s one other piece: Persistence. I used to joke to clients that I’d keep going until I get a yes or a restraining order. My attitude about going whole hog hasn’t changed, but the how of it has evolved. I spend more time watching the catcher’s signals. Patience and Persistence are best mates on this one. Takes time.

Here’s an example:

If you’re a frequent reader of this site, you know it doesn’t feature book or film or any other type of reviews or profiles. Every now and then, Steve or Shawn or I will see something we like, which touches upon something we’ve been thinking about, and we’ll incorporate it into our columns.

A few weeks ago, I saw a Kickstarter campaign update that mentioned The War of Art. I contacted Derick Tsai, who was at the helm of the campaign, to thank him for sharing the book—and offered to send him books if he wanted them for the campaign.

Derick replied, saying he’d love copies of the book but couldn’t use them in the Kickstarter campaign.

That was fine. My intention wasn’t to pitch him on including Steve’s books, to try to promote The War of Art via their Kickstarter campaign, but just to send them along as a thank you. It was a nice thing he did, sharing Steve’s work, and his project caught my eye. More specific, the following piece on his Kickstarter page caught my eye AND made me pause:

The genesis of this project actually started with some pretty bad news. In 2010 my good friend and colleague Francis Tsai was diagnosed with ALS, which is a degenerative neuralmuscular disease that eventually leads to paralysis.

At the time of his diagnosis he was really hitting his stride in the industry. Francis had published two popular concept art instructional books, been featured in various art annuals and landed huge clients such as Marvel and Warner Brothers Films. I thought it was such an unfair and cruel twist of fate that something like this happened to him.

Luckily, Francis is one of the most resilient and resourceful people I know because what he did next was one of the most inspirational things I had ever seen. When he lost the use of his hands, he began to paint with his toe on an iPad. When he lost the use of his feet, he began to create using eye tracking technology from Tobii. It was amazing, he had used an impossible situation to completely reinvent the way he created art and in the process made some of the best work of his career.

Watch the video, too: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magnusrex/time-2-re-invent

After exchanging addresses, he asked me about featuring RE:INVENT on Steve’s site. Francis’ story was in my head and I was thinking about how to share it, but when I received Derick’s inquiry about featuring it, I shut down… I fell back into my “we don’t do that and you should know that” mindframe, prompted by past experiences with washouts. I wanted Derick to just let things happen. Give me a minute. But… I knew I would have done the same thing if I was in his position. After all, you DO have to ask. But, it’s HOW you ask. He didn’t ask for a review or a feature profile of Francis. From reading the site, he knew we included books and film mentions from time to time and ended his pitch there.

I replied to him, reminding him we don’t do planned reviews or profiles. If it happens, it happens…

Then there were a few e-mail exchanges, and delays—I went out of town twice, for a week each time. He asked if I’d received the book. I confirmed that the box had arrived, but I was between trips and hadn’t opened it.

He followed up…

I got caught wading through post-vacation mail.

He went to Comic Con, with the books I sent him in tow.

And he gave them out. And he took pictures. And he sent me the pictures—and a reply from one of the individuals to whom he’d given a book.

RE:INVENT, The War of Art and Turning Pro go to Comic Con with Derick Tsai. Image credit: Derick Tsai.

And I went to a Red Sox/Orioles game and thought about pitching from a different perspective.

And then the pitching and Derick came together here.

In his case, it was his follow-through, beyond that initial pitch, that grabbed me.

He followed up—not with additional pitches, but with information that was interesting—and pics that put a smile on my face. And, I admired his passion. He’s not giving up. And, instead of hitting me with one pitch after another, which he could have, he shared a little at a time, gave me room to look through things, and put a smile on my face.

I’m guessing he wasn’t aiming at being an amazing pitcher when we started e-mailing, but that’s what he did. A little nudging mixed with updates and info. that was relevant, interesting and genuine—and which, end of day, spoke right to what is shared on this site every week. I don’t have the words to describe how inspired I was by watching Francis work—other than to say he made me pause, long and hard, and think about what we each have the capacity to accomplish.

Thanks, Derick! (For the pitch and for introducing me to Francis Tsai’s work and story.)

Posted in What It Takes

8 Responses to “Pitching Like A Cy Young Award-Winner”

  1. August 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Good piece, Callie! I know you’ll keep those balls coming fast and hard.

  2. Basilis
    August 3, 2013 at 1:02 am

    If it happens, it happens. Passion!!

  3. August 3, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Wow, I’m on Steven Pressfield’s blog!
    (Big Asian, top right hand corner)

    Steven, huge, huge fan of your work. I’ve recommended your books to dozens of friends and coaching clients. So incredible how you deliver the truth of things in its most unfiltered, direct format.

    Thanks for sharing your art with the world.

    Respect.

  4. August 3, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I try to teach my daughters, “Never, ever, ever give up.” But I need to add to the lesson that dogged effort is a quiet commitment, that passion and fun play a part. If that can be taught. Thank you, Callie.

  5. Paul C
    August 3, 2013 at 7:45 am

    I think every question in life has been asked and received an answer on a ball park somewhere. Probably why Nate Silver left the NY Times to return to sports. Callie, former Tiger pitching great Mickey Lolich gave an interview awhile back and explained what you, Shawn, and Steve have been writing these last couple weeks. He warned about the danger of pitching to the radar gun and doesn’t like the obsession with counting pitches. The radar gun became popular about the same time as genre writing. The great ones become stronger as the game goes on, or the story, which you can’t do if obsessed with artificial measurements. Lolich threw more complete games in a season than entire pitching rosters do today.

  6. August 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for the mention Callie! Long time reader, this is a thrill. Love you’re writing, please keep it up! The game needs you!

    • August 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Of course I meant “love YOUR writing.” Haha…

  7. October 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing both your insight into the biz and Francis Tsai’s work. Amazing indeed!