5 Lessons Learned from Working with the New York Yankees

During the 2000 and 2001 MLB seasons I worked with the New York Yankees as a Massage Therapist and Assistant Trainer. I traveled with the team full-time and was part of the 2000 championship team, earning a World Series Ring for my contribution to our big win! I was 26 years old when I first joined the team, the youngest staff member in all of MLB at the time. I absorbed many valuable lessons, which reinforced my father’s teachings too. I’m continuously applying these core ideas to the journey and trials of my life, long after baseball.

Develop a Personal Work Ethic – Someone is Coming for Your Spot

Come spring training, Jorge Posada never assumed his job as our starting catcher was a given. He showed up each day ready to go to war with himself to bring out his best performance. He knew that hungry young kids were showing up to spring training year after year, eager to have a shot at the big leagues and earn a spot on the roster. Even though he was already a World Champion and team leader, Jorge never rested on his laurels.  He worked his tail off and practiced with determination. I saw firsthand, that one should never take anything for granted. He was an example of “staying hungry” and a guy who always “put in the work.” Jorge was a true leader, never allowing himself to slack and be outworked for his position.  He was willing to go the extra mile, by not allowing himself to get too comfortable.  Jorge had an incredible, impeccable personal work ethic that defined him as a man. He was always willing to sacrifice comfort to get the job done.

Ice Water in Your Veins – It’s All About Controlling Your Mind

At the time, I didn’t have a daily yoga practice. I was flirting with yoga three times per week and using it more as a cross training tool to prevent injury while I trained for marathons.  Yet, to this day, Mariano Rivera remains one of the greatest yogis I have ever met, because of his capacity for “mind control.” I spent every single game day from the 2nd to the 7th innings preparing Mariano for the possibility of throwing, in case the game was on the line and our closer had to hit the mound to seal the game.  He was the Yankee I spent the most time with, and the guy I learned the most from in the Bronx.  Mariano always kept a cool head. One day asked him, “Mo, how do you do it? I mean you throw your best stuff, gas over the plate, and whack, some guy hits it outta the park and the game is now tied after we were just ahead.  How the heck do you turn around and then throw strikes again?” He looked at me, with a gaze that pierced my soul and said “Ice water in the veins bro. I clear my mind with a deep breath, and pretend like it doesn’t matter, like it’s a fresh start.  My concentration is so deep, that usually I don’t even hear the crowd of 57,000 screaming people in the stadium.” A few days later he expounded on the fact that his capacity to have ice water in his veins came from the confidence he developed over many years of unrelenting practice. He revealed that this skillful self control was developed in solitude, when no one was around. He taught me that if you put in the practice and show up daily with a disciplined attitude, you can achieve anything while conquering high pressure situations.

Attitude is Everything – And It’s Contagious

One thing that was contagious throughout the Yankees organization was a sense of pride in putting forth your best effort.  We had so many Hall of Famers in our history, the most championships in sports, and played in the house that Ruth built. Simply walking into the Yankees clubhouse meant one was aligning with greatness.  This was reflected in an overall positive attitude. Winning was our passion and we knew every single person played a vital role in the success of the organization.  There was a commitment to excellence that trickled down from Joe Torre’s office to my massage table, to the trainers office, all the way up to the GM’s office, and even down to the maintenance guys who cleaned the clubhouse. We were winners first, in our minds. Even when we were not leading the division, or during games when we were down 10 runs, or when the starting pitcher got shelled, there was always the spirit of coming back. Our guys were not quick to throw in the towel. The fascinating thing to see was how much the spirit of winning and commitment to excellence filtered down to our batboys, trainers, field maintenance guys, the announcers, and film crew. Every single person associated with the team stayed on their toes all the time. It made for an intense and competitive work environment, but one that always got the job done. Today, in my own business, as I build a team around me, I look for passionate, positive minded individuals. There is a mindset to success that must permeate the culture of an organization that has specific goals.

Going Pro is a Choice – You Need to Choose to Succeed and Follow It Up With Action

Like baseball, every profession has A ball, AA ball, AAA ball, and then the “Major Leagues”. Whether you’re a lawyer, banker, marketer, painter, or whatever it is you do, you need to learn the ropes and climb the ladder to achieve mastery.

This is one of the most remarkable ideas I stumbled upon in my youth. In addition to the Yankees, I’ve worked with an Academy Award winning filmmaker for 16 years, many Fortune 500 billionaires from the financial world, and actors in film and television. I have always coached the elite performers in our culture. There is a variable that I keep coming across, and that is most of the successful people chose to succeed. Their greatness was the furthest thing from an accident. They simply got out of their own way, found a way to stifle the voice of doubt, and put in the work by applying a single pointed focus. In Yoga we call this “eka grata” mind.  I’ve seen only a few exceptions to this rule, where an individual would ride talent alone.  These people excelled only for a few years and then fizzled out. Alcohol, sex, or drug addictions usually got the most of them. The real winners to me always had grit. They found a way to keep the voice of doubt at bay, while exercising self discipline.

A professional puts in the work, gets out of their own way by managing negative habits resourcefully, wakes up early, and always reframes obstacles as opportunities. They don’t make excuses, but rather take full responsibility for their own success. The best of the best, in my opinion made a choice to be great. I learned that every human can improve their condition to some degree by simply making the choice to take action.  If you want to be in the big leagues of your field you have to work like a pro by exercising the self discipline of a master.

There is Outer and Inner Success – You Need Both

A professional athlete wraps up their career by age 40 and the back stretch of a star’s journey starts around 33.  This can be devastating for someone who is attached to the spotlight, money, and expensive objects. I saw guys near the end of their career who did not fare well psychologically with the change that was coming. I compared them with guys who led a more balanced life, ready to embrace the transition away from the light. This aspect of the game was a window into the psychology of inner happiness. People who defined themselves by their outer success suffered greatly when they were in a slump. The guys who had healthy personal relationships and varied interests were mentally flexible in the face of challenges. Mike Mussina, a Stanford graduate, always did crosswords puzzles and read massive history books on every plane ride we shared. He was an extremely well composed guy, and a fellow who never let being a star get to his head. Being a pro athlete, seemed to be only part of a larger journey for him. In my own life, I embrace success, but have come to realize that what is making me happy today, can change tomorrow.  Developing a meditation practice has enriched my inner world and has provided an expanded the definition of self. After rubbing elbows with some of the biggest stars of our era, I made a commitment to nourish key personal relationships over time. The result is a feeling that I have a tribe of people that I’m more connected to and have developed close relationships . We have one another’s back for life’s tough times. I’ve also learned to help others who need help. I’m aware of the illusory nature of pursuing material goals alone. There must always be a balance.

Those fun filled times in my 20’s created life long memories. It was dreamy to grow up a Yankee fan and actually end up working for the team. I was helping players who only ten years previously I’d been trading their baseball cards in a high school cafeteria in upstate New York.  I learned that greatness is the result of hard work, talent, and a touch of luck. Being past the television screen, deep in the belly of the stadium, in the clubhouse with all those Hall of Famers left it’s mark. My hands are pressed together in prayer facing the sky, with a heart full of gratitude.

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