Conviction and consistency — those are the keys to Scott Lyman’s success. And the qualities — along with natural talent and a lot of practice — that make the difference between minor and major league baseball players, according to him.
“You have to trust yourself … and your catcher.”
Scott Lyman is a thinking man’s pitcher. He’s the starter for the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Class High A team in the Marlin’s system that makes its home in Roger Dean Stadium. From his position up on the mound, he’s got a panoramic view of the field equivalent to that of a sailing ship’s captain at the wheel. He can feel the weight of his role in the drama that is America’s Pastime. He needs total focus on the things he can control and the ability to eliminate distractions.
His job demands substantial brain clout — an understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of the sport, which is what drew him to baseball in the first place. It’s a holistic view, requiring breath control and tapping into the energy within. Of course, that’s in addition to the unshakeable confidence, physical stamina, guts, field sense and the sheer brawn power it takes to curl into a wind-up and hurl a 5 ounce ball you hope is going to baffle the batter and speed to its target at 90-plus mph like a heat seeking missile.
“There’s always pressure, always fear, but you have to play through the fear. You play from pitch to pitch and it’s a good feeling when you get the guy out. There’s nothing like it,” he says with a smile that lights up his face with those memorable moments of victory,
There’s an effortlessness about Scott Lyman and the kind of charm that made conversation come easy and informative when we talked in the disheveled Media Room in the bowels of the stadium. Compact Apple computers, external hard drives, phones, walkie-talkies, boxes of Rawlings baseballs and chewy fiber bars are scattered about, the tools of journalism in a hurry.
Lyman is powerfully built, but graceful. He comes from a Bay Area baseball family and he’s played as long as he can remember. He’s smart, one of the new generation of players remaking the game. Joltin’ Joe is long gone. This is not your grandfather’s game played by the tobacco-chewing, hard drinking, hellraising players of the past.
This is scientific baseball, bordering on art.
That’s the attraction for him.
“It’s a detail-oriented game. It requires specific but separate skills: fielding, hitting and pitching.”
Drafted out of UC Davis two years ago, he’s 24 now. He goes back to school in the off-season where academics have always been his primary focus. He majors in organizational studies and is looking to graduate in December. He can expect to spend another few years with the Hammerheads (a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and, unfortunately, refers to a family of bottom feeding, not-so-dangerous sharks who’d rather eat their own than make a passing surfer an amuse bouche), before he can hope for a shot at being called up to the majors. There’s a lot of competition, even within their 25-man squad of active players, and not too many spots in the Big Show.
For a pitcher, injuries are a real concern.
I’m thinking there must be some kind of upper-age limit before the body collapses under its own weight. You might expect to see a shoulder or two lying around the diamond, but it’s the elbow that’s tricky. Still, he notes, referring to the great 288-game winner Tommy John and the breakthrough elbow surgery that bears his name and who, post-knife, went on to win half of those games, before hanging up the cleats as the oldest man in pro-ball, “Modern medicine can do great things and speed up the recovery process.”
Lyman likes the environment with the Hammerheads with its strong coaching that encourages getting better and perfecting technique. At my request, he shows me exactly how he holds the ball for a fastball pitch and a curve. Tricks of the trade I’m not going to reveal. For the mental game, there’s a sports psychologist on the staff. To further improve, in the off-season, in addition to classes at UC Davis, he sharpens his performance skills at the Sparta Training Facility that promises to make “athletes stronger, healthier and mentally tougher” using analytic software and offering training templates and even mobile apps. Sparta’s philosophy is to teach the athlete to accept the challenge.
And Lyman’s got a philosophic bent, too. “You’re going to give up hits, but you have to keep getting better. You can never say you’ve figured it out. Never be satisfied.”
Before I left the stadium, I took a long look at the quiet, empty field. In a few hours, it would be buzzing with hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and I couldn’t help thinking of that cinema cliché: If you build it they well come.
But I remember Lyman’s parting words: “You have to let the game come to you.”
Scott Lyman would be letting the game come to him. ¦