Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Josh Greene
Even with all the Arizona Diamondbacks’ regular-season success in 2011, manager Kirk Gibson is the first to admit his team isn’t close to where it wants to be.
That may seem like a contradiction for a ballclub that’s in the midst of their first National League Division Series appearance since 2007, but considering this student of personal motivation and visual goal-setting has long valued the power of positive reinforcement to envision all possibilities, there is always room for improvement. Always.
In his first full season at the helm for the D-backs, many believe Gibson’s been the single driving force behind the team’s 2011 standings surge. Of course, the manager would be the first to admit they’re wrong.
“This has nothing to do with me,” Gibson said. “It has everything to do with us. That’s the reality of the way it is. Have I done my part? So far, sure. Have we done our part? So far, we’re in pretty good shape, but you can’t get too excited with where we are. You can’t rest for a second on your accomplishments. Until the season’s over, you take what’s given to you. We get back to the way we approach the game every day with the way we drive and the way we compete. At the end of the year, we’ll accept it. We won’t put our heads down and stop competing. It may turn out bad, and we may not reach our goal, but it’s not because we lacked determination or perseverance. We won’t stop competing.
“I’m not saying I don’t do my part. It’s disrespectful for me to not acknowledge every single person who’s had a part in this, from (Executive Vice President and GM) Kevin Towers and (Managing General Partner) Ken Kendrick, to the guys in the Fire League, to the scouts, to the training staff. I can make the case our strength and training staff is our MVP. I’ve been on teams and with organizations where people drive the credit. I had no problem with that. Give it to them, but that’s not what I’m here for. That won’t help us win or help us try and reach our goal. A ‘we and us’ atmosphere here is better to achieve our goals.”
If the concept of “team first” sounds familiar, it should. Anyone who played under the incomparable Sparky Anderson could attest to that. For Gibson and D-backs bench coach Alan Trammell, the notion of playing for the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t only second nature, it was seemingly mandatory during their days in Detroit. It’s also carried over now into the Sedona Red.
“The players here deserve the credit, but what Gibby’s done is change the cul- ture,” Trammell said. “He always wants to talk about the team. That was from Sparky. It’s team first. Personal accomplishments are secondary. If you’re good as a team, it’s incredible what personal accomplishments will happen. We were taught from arguably the best.”
With seven postseason home runs in 21 career playoff games, including three very memorable longballs in World Series play, Gibson was no stranger to playing big as the stakes became bigger. That, too, can in part be credited to his first Big League coach, who preached a surprisingly more laid-back mindset come playoff time.
“That’s what Sparky brainwashed us into believing,” the D-backs manager said, “and we did believe it. For a season, you’re preparing for 162 games and then all the off-days for travel. It’s a long haul. When you get to the playoffs, it is three, five or seven games. You’re preparing for a much shorter time. And it’s the playoffs. Just think about the emotion and how fun it is. Look at the atmosphere. That was the way he explained it to us. When you get to the World Series, look at how many people want to get there. Look at how lucky you are, how fortunate. It’s all in how you approach it. He taught us that way. He was very smart, so when we got there, we were relaxed.”
The word “relaxed” probably isn’t the first you’d associate with a gutsy ex-outfielder who, more often than not, had the reputation of willing himself to win. Of course, those early years in the game were anything but easy. After a 1983 season that featured a fair share of blow-ups with the Tigers organization and their fans, Gibson did a lot of soul searching with life-changing results.
“At the end of the year,” he said, “I sat down and said, ‘It’s you, Kirk.’ I wanted to understand why, so I went to The Pacific Institute, and we started talking about how the mind operates and how it controls you in a bad way and how it can control you in a good way. I learned how to set goals through affirmation. I’ve utilized that ever since.
“You’re up with runners on second and third, and you strike out. You can walk back to the dugout, beating yourself up, thinking ‘You stink, Kirk. You let your team down.’ You can fill yourself with negative self talk or you can say real easy, ‘That’s not like you. You usually perform better in those situations.’ Walk away and visualize a time when you succeeded. Now when I come up the next time, in what scenario am I best prepared to succeed? When you beat yourself up, you set yourself up to fail. If you just say that’s not like me and you visualize yourself succeeding in that situation, you’re ready. I believe in it.”
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