Vai's View: Vai's View: When finding 'the zone' is a full-time job

Published: Friday, June 29 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

In January, Justin and Melissa moved to San Antonio, Texas, because Justin had gotten a contract with the military to train soldiers and Army personnel at Fort Sam Houston. He works with snipers on enhancing their performance, interrogators on mental skills and the rank-and-file on remaining cool under pressure in difficult situations.

He works with military families on helping their soldier assimilate when they return from war and the men and women in uniform with post-traumatic syndrome. The U.S. military sent him to Turkey and Germany to work with their personnel. It was also why he was in Philadelphia for the week.

As we sat in the press box watching the Phillies and Pirates, I was fascinated with what Justin Su'a taught me about mental toughness. He told me pitchers will throw a steady stream of fastballs through the order before mixing in breaking balls, so no one can get a bead on them. And when they throw curves or sliders, the first one or two won't have the bite or the break they'll have in the later innings because they don't want hitters to see the best stuff early.

Sure enough. Pirates starter James McDonald, a journeyman, threw 12 straight fastballs in the mid-90s to the first two batters before Utley came to bat. Utley received a standing ovation as he was introduced and Justin turned to me and said, "the pitcher is nervous and his first pitch will tell us a lot about his state of mind. If he's confident, he'll throw a first-pitch fastball for a strike to get ahead and to challenge Utley."

McDonald's first pitch was a curve that catcher Michael McKenry had to jump up to snatch before it flew into the backstop. Justin winked at me and said, "He's rattled."

On a 2-2 count, McDonald threw another curve that Utley turned on and hit into the right-field seats. The crowd roared and though we weren't supposed to in the press box, we fist bumped.

Justin smiled and said, "James McDonald is why I'm employed."

To help people find "The Zone."

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