Buddy Biancalana brings zone training to D.C.
Twenty-five years ago this week, Buddy Biancalana became famous. The starting shortstop for the Kansas City Royals, Biancalana -- a career .194 hitter at the time, who had more errors than RBI in the 1985 season -- hit .278 in the '85 World Series. He didn't make an error, drove in the winning run in Game 5, had the second-best OBP on his team (behind only George Brett), was regularly heralded by David Letterman (who'd been running a weeks-long Biancalana gag) and was lauded in headlines like this one, from the San Diego Union-Tribune: "Biancalana outdoes himself in bid for Series MVP."
"'Pitching and Buddy Biancalana!" Brett said in the victorious clubhouse, when asked why the Royals had won.
So that was kind of weird.
"I felt I couldn't do anything wrong," Biancalana told me this week, a quarter-century after he helped the Royals win that World Series. "It was the best baseball I had ever played. And then, 18 months later, I was out of the Major Leagues. I had no idea how to repeat it."
Biancalana said he tried to emerge from his post-Series baseball struggles in the typical way: by working on his mechanics again and again, trying to find the correct and repeatable motions. It didn't work. He said he didn't worry about his brain, because "there was just not much knowledge about the mind-body connection." He struggled with back injuries, and soon retired without ever recapturing the feeling he had in the '85 Series.
"It was very frustrating," he said. "There are a lot of athletes that have these experiences. They feel incredible freedom, and then the next day it's gone."
Which is why Biancalana's latest act involves helping other athletes -- amateur and professional -- capture that feeling. Based out of Reston, Biancalana and his business partner -- former collegiate tennis star Steven Yellin -- coach athletes on how to "quiet their minds" and let their bodies take over. They just released a book -- The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes -- and are teaching their system to members at local clubs including Congressional and Washington Golf and Country Club.
He recently gave a tutorial to John Lyberger, the director of golf at Congressional, and "a light bulb went on right away," Lyberger told me.
"He doesn't teach mechanics; he teaches that mind-body connection, which is what I feel is that missing link in golf," Lyberger said. "When people get bogged down in mistakes, the conscious thoughts get in the way. He teaches you how to play in the subconscious, where you perform at your highest effective level."
Never having been a World Series hero myself, I have limited experience with playing anything in the subconscious. The nearest thing I could come up with was my days of playing late-night billiards, where it seemed that my mind-body connection won a lot more games after my mouth-bottle connection had completed a few fermented gulps.
Now, Biancalana stressed that he is not recommending drunk athletic training, but he said it's sort of a similar idea:
"After you've practiced something numerous times, the pre-frontal cortex is no longer needed," he said. "The problems occur when it wants to get involved, wants to act as a security blanket."
Biancalana said he and Yellen have worked with neuroscientists and monitored EEG tests, have tried their methods with musicians and athletes of varying levels. But the one thing I still wondered was why Biancalana -- whose "batting average resembles the value of an Italian lira," according to a Post story published 25 years ago -- had that one month in the zone.
The former shortstop said he still doesn't know. He remembered sitting at his stall before Game 1 of the World Series, waiting to be called out to the dugout.
"All of the sudden, this wave of fear almost bowled me over," he told me, "like 'Oh my, this is a big deal.' It was the first time in my life I really identified fear and just sat with it. It became a great ally of mine in the World Series. I got on the other side of it, and it really freed me up to play as well as I can play. That's really the only explanation I can come up with for why it happened to me."
Posted by: Barno1 | October 12, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | October 13, 2010 4:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: fitzge | October 14, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: RetiredCoach | October 14, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse