Playing with low stakes


Say what you will Birdland, but the Baltimore Ravens are not the primary NFL team for which I root; I’ve been a Redskin fan my entire life. I do however pull for the purple and black when the two teams aren’t playing each other (which is most weeks), and I’ll be rooting them on loudly througuout the NFL playoffs. That aside, in watching the Redskins’ season finale on Sunday in Philadelphia the Redskins had a lot of pop in them (for about three quarters). It kind of reminded me of last September when the O’s were in a similar circumstance.

Is this coincidence or is there more than meets the eye? The fact is that teams with bad records are in that perdicament for a reason. However it could be for varying reasons. Young teams such as the Orioles and Redskins don’t have the experience to compete at top levels. However there could be personnel issues, or even age issues in that the team is too old and slow. That aside, is there a mental side to it?

When I say this, my point is that for some people it’s easier to compete when the stakes are lower.  One would like to believe that this is not the case. To believe so would mean that the athletes in question are in essence mentally weak, and I don’t believe that to be the case. Anyone that plays a sport on a professional level has mental fortitude. However I think that it’s probably human nature to be a little looser when the pressure’s off. That’s part of why the Orioles were able to carry that no tomorrow mentality into that final series with the Red Sox last year. That can also be why so many NFL players have great games in August only to choke when the bullets fly for real.

I’m trying to say this without sounding accusatory. In a perfect world every athlete would use Joe DiMaggio’s stance and play as hard as they could every game just simply because there might be someone in the stands who was seeing them play that day for the first time. The fact is that this is not a perfect world. Far from it in fact; before you try to say that it shouldn’t be that way, compare it to your own career. If your company has put you on notice that you’re being laid off in two months but they want you to stay on during the “transition,” are you going to give it your all?

Ultimately what teams like the Orioles and Redskins need to do is to channel the energy and precision that they employed when the stakes were nil and at least try to bring it into the following season. Washington Redskins’ sideline analyst Rick “Doc” Walker said that this is much easier done if you have a group of young guys that are hungry. The Orioles in fact have that element on their team. That bodes well in their favor. The current group has certainly done a lot of losing together. They now have to channel the togetherness they felt towards the end of 2011 and channel it into 2012 in order so that they can learn to win together.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

Update (2:30 PM): Speaking of low stakes, the Orioles made a trade today. The Oakland A’s sent outfielder Jai Miller to the O’s for cash considerations. Last year during September call-ups, Miller hit .250 with a HR and three RBI in seven games with the A’s. This is more a “depth in the minors” type of move, but worth mentioning at the very least. In an unrelated move, the Birds sent minor league outfielder Brandon Snyder to the Rangers, also for cash considerations.