By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Dealing with failure is one thing; dealing with success quite another.
West Virginia University, which plays a crucial three-game baseball series this weekend in Charleston against coach Randy Mazey’s former TCU team with first place at stake, has seen both sides of that story.
When the season started, the Mountaineers were picked last out of the nine-team Big 12, and it didn’t help that they were shut out in their first game, and after having lost two of three in their first conference series and being shut out by Marshall, they were 8-12.
That was the bottom, the time when they had to deal with their failure, follow the guidance the coaching staff had given them.
They split their next two games before running off an eight-game winning streak, which allowed them to believe in themselves enough that even a brief losing streak didn’t overwhelm them. They put things back together and rushed into contention in the conference, sweeping Kansas.
Pittsburgh was next, and Mazey remembers what transpired well.
“We had to flip from how to handle adversity to how to handle success. That’s a whole different ball game when you do that,” he said.
Suddenly, they were looking at being able to accomplish more than anyone had ever imagined, but the obstacles in the way were different from those they faced when they were operating in obscurity.
“You start winning, we talked to them then — I think it was before the Pitt game after we swept Kansas and put ourselves in position to do some things in this conference — we said, ‘All credit goes to you about the way you handled the adversity we talked about. You did a great job doing that. Now the trick is to handle the success you’re having,’” Mazey said.
That often can be harder than handling losing.
“I gave them four examples of programs around the country that as soon as they jumped into the top 25 or top 30 they immediately followed it up where they lost two out of three games to a bad team or that type of thing.”
What happens when a losing team becomes a winning team? What are the land mines?
Cockiness comes first, especially in this “me-first” day and age. But there is also dealing with new-found celebrity, of having people know who you are and what you do and telling you how great you are at doing it.
“If you start having success and start listening to everyone who tells you how great you are and saying you guys are wonderful ... if you get caught up in that, then that’s how you have a bad weekend and lose some games,” Mazey told his team.
“You have to continue to do what you did to put yourself in the position you are in, which is play the game from pitch to pitch without distractions and grinding out at bats and executing pitches,” he continued. “If you continue to do what you did on the way up, you have a chance to continue moving up or at least staying where you are. If you relax at all you won’t be able to do that.”
Sometimes, though, kids don’t listen. It’s nice to be a star and to be noticed on campus and to have people who ignored you before now pay attention.
You lose sight on your goals, so Mazey brought it all back into perspective with an eye-opening approach as to what he wanted.
“I told them about some other professions that if you look at you see based on those professions they can’t afford to take a day off. Imagine if a heart surgeon doesn’t give 100 percent at work or if a pilot doesn’t give his all one day. What’s the result of that?
“My main example is as a father. As a father, you don’t have the luxury to take a day off. You’re a father all the time. If you’re a winning baseball program or a championship team and put yourself in that position, you can’t take time off. Every day, every practice you have to try to get better. Every game you can’t give away an at bat; you can’t lose focus pitching to a No. 9 hitter.
“If you’ve proven to be a winner, that’s how you stay there.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.