"Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."
Though his math was off, Yogi Berra's main message was simple and understandable: if you aren't mentally locked in, you can't hope to succeed in baseball. Physical ability is extremely important, but an unfocused athlete can only perform so well.
For AppleSox right-hander Curtis Bafus, getting properly prepared mentally is key to his gameday routine. It's also a big reason why the right-hander from VCU is the starting pitcher for the North division in the West Coast League All-Star Game.
Bafus has been a workhorse for the AppleSox this season. Through seven appearances, six starts, Bafus is 3-4 with a 2.72 ERA. His 43 strikeouts and 43 innings-pitched are both second in the West Coast League in their respective categories.
Since allowing six runs in 4.2 innings in his first start of the year on June 2, Bafus has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his six other appearances and has tossed at least six innings in all of them.
“I’m just trying to be more consistent and work hard every day," Bafus said.
Fans may only see Bafus warming up on the bullpen or shagging fly balls in batting practice, but it's what the fans don't see that is a pivotal element of his gameday pre-start rehearsal.
About two hours before first pitch, Bafus likes to find a quiet place to sit and meditate. He likes to picture success in hope that it will build a confidence that he can take onto the mound with him.
"I’ll just sit down and visualize me throwing strikes in the zone," Bafus said. "I feel like that helps a lot.”
Despite winning the West Coast League Pitcher of the Week honors for his work from July 2-8, Bafus has picked up consecutive tough-luck losses. Bafus has only allowed a combined two earned runs over 13.1 innings in his last two starts, but the Sox fell to Walla Walla, 2-0, on July 8 and again to Bellingham, 2-0, on July 14.
The most recent outing was one of Bafus's finest this season. He struck out nine in 6.1 innings and did not walk any batters in an appearance for the second time this season.
In that performance, pitching coach Riley Drongesen said that Bafus's fastball wasn't even at its peak potential. Typically, his fastball is between 89-to-91 miles per hour, but Bafus was averaging upper 80's this past Saturday.
"He used that to his advantage," Drongesen said. "Stuff-wise, not his most electric, but man, did he pitch his butt off as far as competitiveness."
The ability to still perform well even without your best stuff can be contributed back to Bafus's meditation before the game. By picturing himself succeeding and ingraining that positive outlook in his mind, Bafus feels that he can overcome whatever adversity comes his way.
"It’s very important in this sport," Bafus said, "because you’ve got to deal with a lot of failures, so overcoming that is huge.”
Meditation has worked very well for Bafus. It has provided him with the proper mindset entering starts and has translated into a successful summer. Over the last couple weeks, Bafus has reaped the rewards of his work and that will continue on Tuesday night in Port Angeles.