I had the opportunity to attend one of the weekly Rotary Club of Alpharetta meetings a couple of weeks ago at Alpharetta Presbyterian Church. Now it could have been just because they serve the best breakfast in town, but knowing John Smoltz was the speaker made it a no-brainer.
Smoltz will forever be associated with the Atlanta Braves’ glory years. You know the drill: 14 consecutive division championships, World Series appearances, one glorious World Championship, Cy Young Award.
But the Smoltz I have gotten to know is much more than that. He is a passionate man. And by that I mean when he decides to get fixed on a project, he follows it right down to the ground.
When he spoke to the Rotarians, it was mostly on how to stay focused on your dreams and your goals. It is something he has done all his life since he was 7 years old.
“That was when my life changed,” he said.
That is when he decided he wanted to be a Major League pitcher. That is when he drew a plate and batter’s box on the wall by the kitchen door and began to pitch to it. What he did, though, was create in his mind that that he was pitching in the World Series and it was the seventh game.
“I did all the voices in my head. I was the announcer, I was in the crowd cheering, and I was the guy with the ball. I played that game over and over in my head while I pitched. By the time I got the chance to pitch in a real Game 7, I wasn’t afraid because I had practiced for that my whole life,” he said.
What he practiced was visualization, although he did not use that word. He did more than that though. He was always throwing a pitch while he did it.
There were no athletes in the Smoltz family. But they supported his quest anyway. His Italian mother told him to pursue any good goal – just have a back-up plan. Moms like back-up plans.
He did not say if he had a back-up plan. I don’t think he did. It’s not in his DNA. His next plan is to make it onto the Senior Tour. That is where golf pros go when they retire to keep making dough playing the game we mortals pay to play when we retire.
But Smoltz is serious. He has always been a scratch golfer, and despite a second career now as a sports broadcaster, he wants to be a pro golfer on the senior circuit. I understand he has always been a good golfer but to go out and play at 50-plus with the guys who have done it professionally is what they call in my favorite game – a sucker bet.
But I’m not betting against John Smoltz. I have seen his passion and his zeal too often in other areas. He and some like-minded stars in their own fields had an idea to build a Christian school in North Fulton. They had a good plan, good backing but everywhere they tried to build it, the area residents raised a ruckus.
Despite repeated OKs from the Fulton Board of Commissioners, homeowners would file lawsuits to block it. A private Christian school would “ruin” their communities. Rather than fight, they moved on.
If you ever get the chance to visit the campus of Kings Ridge Christian School, you will get the chance to see what faith and determination will do. It is a gorgeous campus with beautiful buildings, and young people K-12 are getting a great education.
John Smoltz is chairman of the board.
I watched all of those zoning battles and have followed the progress of the school. I have also seen John Smoltz get involved in other local organizations such as the Alpharetta Police Athletic League. I can’t list all his community involvement here, but he does not believe in half measures.
He does believe in preparation. When he went in to pitch in the World Series, he expected good things happen because he had prepared for it. In the case of baseball, it was that wall in his backyard. His “cathedral,” his “refuge” he called it. He would put himself in all situations and then pitch out of it.
“I’m not afraid to fail,” he said. “When it is the last inning of the seventh game of the World Series, there are not many pitchers on any Major League team who want the ball in that situation. I want the ball. I’ve already pitched in more game sevens that anyone – there in my backyard.”
“Embrace change,” he said.
As a 15-year-old he was pitching in an all-star tournament with 19-year-olds. He didn’t care. And they shellacked him – four 2-run home runs in one inning. He didn’t make excuses. He made a lesson to get better.
“If you want to satisfy your dreams, you need to get out of your comfort zone,” he said.
How many of us take even a baby step out of our comfort zones? As for Smoltz making golf’s Senior Tour? I’m giving odds he does.