ERIN BOLEN • NEWS-LEADER • AUGUST 20, 2008
'Getting out of your own way'
Two Springfield players endorse Buddy Biancalana's training methods.
Baseball players have been looking for an edge since the first game was played in 1846.
Buddy Biancalana said he and business partner Steven Yellin have discovered the newest way to give athletes an advantage, and the St. Louis Cardinals have bought into their system.
Biancalana, a former Kansas City Royals shortstop, and Yellin are the founders of Perfect Mind, Perfect Motion Sports. They are experts in what Biancalana calls "motion science," a series of mental drills done on the field that are designed to get athletes in the so-called "zone."
"We teach by design what an athlete in any sport experiences when they're playing their best," Biancalana said Friday.
"Sports is all about motion, and motion is all about the muscles. We've been able to figure out what controls the muscles."
Biancalana, who was in Springfield last week for the Cardinals' series against San Antonio, said PMPM Sports' clients include two major league organizations, a college basketball team that was recently in the Final Four and a golfer who has won two majors.
The only team he would name is the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals employ Biancalana as a consultant, and he has worked closely with a pair of Springfield players this season.
Outfielder Daryl Jones and pitcher Adam Ottavino have signed confidentiality agreements that prevent them from discussing the specifics of Biancalana's techniques. They did talk about their sessions in broader terms.
"It's getting out of your own way," Ottavino said on Sunday. "You don't over-think the moment. You just let it happen naturally."
Ottavino first met Biancalana in late May after he missed a scheduled start to "clear his head." At the time, the first-round pick was 0-4 with an 8.78 earned run average.
"Before I met with him, I was still harping on the things from the first half and focusing on how bad it had been going," Ottavino said. "It gave me a fresh start, and I think I've taken pretty good advantage of it."
Ottavino said he talks to Biancalana weekly, and the two have met twice in person.
Since their first meeting, Ottavino has a 2-3 record and a 4.06 ERA.
St. Louis pitching coordinator Dyar Miller said Ottavino may be the Cardinals' best starter at this point in the season.
"One of the biggest things about pitching is your mental approach," Miller said on Monday. "That's the toughest part of the game because during a nine-inning game, you're only physically working about 15 minutes. But you have to be focused for every pitch. It takes a while to learn how to train your mind to focus that way."
Biancalana originally made an impression on the Cardinals after a demonstration with the Florida Instructional League team, and he worked with some of the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals during spring training.
Jones, now Springfield's leadoff hitter, was one of those players.
"It's helped a lot," Jones said before Friday's game. "I feel a lot more confident at the plate, and it just gives me something else to use every day when I come to the park."
Jones said he doesn't typically use Biancalana's techniques at the plate during a game, but he does use them during warmups, during batting practice and when he is struggling.
He was batting a career-high .326 in Palm Beach before he was called up on July 24, and he has a .294 average in Springfield through Monday's game.
Before this season, Jones had a career .221 average over four professional seasons.
Ottavino and Jones said they would recommend the program to teammates if they were interested, but Ottavino added the benefits might not be the same for everyone.
"A lot of the other pitchers have a lot of the stuff figured out already," Ottavino said. "It varies from person to person. Some people might need help with something mechanical, but with some, it might be more mental. For me, that's what it was."
Cardinals manager Pop Warner said he focuses on teaching his players physical fundamentals, but he recognizes the importance the mental game plays.
He said Ottavino has improved both mentally and mechanically since working with Biancalana, but he added that other factors have contributed to that, as well.
Ottavino said some of the improvement is due to his maturation as a pitcher, but he credits Biancalana's first visit as a turning point that enabled him to get out of his own way.
"I'm not pitching perfect yet," Ottavino said. "But I'm definitely a lot better."
Springfield's Adam Ottavino has worked closely with Buddy Biancalana and PMPM Sports. (Jerome T. Nakagawa / News-Leader)
Daryl Jones has worked closely with Buddy Biancalana and PMPM Sports (Steve J.P. Liang / News-Leader)