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The transformative power of boredom

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

After bouncing out of the minor leagues in the US, Eric Thames found himself playing in a second-tier professional league in South Korea. Not knowing the language and with few other Americans on the team, Thames spent a lot of time by himself, bored. Applying himself, he started working on his approach to the game, his swing, and his patience.

He began to remedy the poor habits, the swinging-at-everything approach that had exiled him to the minors in 2013 and then the second-best pro league in Asia in 2014. With language still a barrier to working with his Dinos coaches and teammates, Thames arrived at his improved process alone. He began a practice of visualization, of imagining a pitch of a certain type, in a certain location, approaching home plate. He would balance a tablet on a counter or tabletop in his apartment and watch video of pitches, trying to decide whether to swing or lay off of them in real time with bat in hand.

“I kind of like swallowed my pride and said ‘Hey, I really want to get on base,’” Thames said.

He employed the same visualization practice behind the batting cage while teammates took swings. And he does the same practice now in the on-deck circle of major-league games, in his hotel on the road, or in pre-game cage work.

The breakout happened in 2015, his second season in South Korea. He walked (103) more than he struck out (91) and posted a .497 on-base mark and 1.288 OPS. He smashed 47 home runs.

His hard work continues to pay off. This year, Thames is back in the US, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues. He leads the NL in home runs, is 5th in OBP, 4th in OBPS, and 7th in walks. (thx, avi)

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