There are several components to hitting. Exceptional hand-eye coordination is necessary. Proper balance is a must. Experience, and excellent eyesight, is vital to recognizing pitches and the ball’s rotation. Just as important, if not more, is the batter’s ability to remain supremely focused while multiple facets of a play are in motion.
Nationals sluggers Adam LaRoche, 32, and Tyler Moore, 25, believe they have honed that ability by hunting. It may not make sense to the non-hunter, but bear with their thoughts for a moment. There is a natural crossover, they argue, when it comes to standing with a bow and arrow and at the plate with a wooden bat in hand. Each is a high stress situation, the margin of error is tiny, unwavering focus is required, keen eyesight and hand-eye coordination are musts.
That last trait, hand-eye coordination, can be learned, said LaRoche, who was blessed with good eyesight and has never worn glasses. But more than anything, hunting depends heavily on the person’s mental fortitude.
LaRoche can track a deer for a month, wait in a tree but in that moment when he is ready to launch an arrow, he must be utterly calm and alert. “[Deer] very rarely screw up, but when you do and have the opportunity, if you’re thinking of all the things that can go wrong, instead of step 1 through 5 what I need to do to get this shot off, crazy things happen,” said LaRoche, whose biggest offseason hobby is hunting at his ranch in Kansas.
LaRoche has learned, as he does at the plate, to calm himself down, clear his mind and zero in on a target. It’s a nerve-wracking experience, Moore said, because the opportunities are so few and because he is about to take an animal’s life.
“My heart will bounce out of my chest almost,” said Moore, a Brandon, Miss., native who started hunting with his family when he was seven years old. “You don’t have that experience all the time. You play in front of these fans every night. … When a big buck comes out, it’s twice as hard to stay under control than it is 50,000 people, in my opinion.’
“It’s being able to control the butterflies, the breathing, a lot of things,” said LaRoche, who has been bow hunting for 16 years and is on a hunting show called Buck Commander. “A lot of negative things can creep in your head. Weird, stupid stuff that wouldn’t make sense to someone that’s not a hitter. That’s why some guys will sing to themselves or whistle or hum or do something to clear your head. Because if you’re thinking about anything else, positive or negative, you’re thinking about something other than 97 [mph] that’s coming at you. That’s why a lot of guys tear up the minor leagues and can’t do it up here.”
Sounds a little like hitting, right?
“Just breathe and try to focus in,” Moore said. “You focus on the task at hand instead of the outer surrounding. Like instead of me looking at the buck’s rack, I’ll just focus on the body and say, ‘We need to execute this shot.’ It’s like when I’m coming up to the plate, I don’t need to worry about the crowds and the fans, I need to worry about the pitcher and what my plan is going up there.”