It's easy to be an egotistical chest-puffer when you're an athlete.
Who's going to call you on it? Maybe your teammates, maybe your manager, but if you're playing well, or you're highly regarded in the system, you might just be able to get away with it. Even players not so highly regarded have a hard time figuring out how to treat people and follow a respectable path, and you hear about them faltering all the time.
So if no one is going to call them on their BS, there's really only themselves left to the role.
Pitcher Lenny Linsky finally got to that point. But it took a hell of a loss to shake him up and get him on the right track.
"I was told I needed to calm down, to not throw so hard," he said from Rays camp in Port Charlotte Florida. "But I was like 'No, I need to go out and throw harder.' So I did that and gave up a grand slam. After that, I was thinking I was going to blow this ball by [a guy], then I ended up hitting him and getting ejected. I get in the locker room and thought, 'What are you doing?' So I ended up serving a three-game suspension during a four-game series and hit to sit on the bench for most of it. I was super embarrassed. And I just decided to do the opposite of whatever I'd been doing. I literally just told myself, 'I'm not going to try.' So, my first time back pitching, I was pitching really well and asked the guys in the dugout what my velocity was and they just said,'Dude, you were throwing harder than ever.' I stopped huffing and puffing and realized I just had to be a pitcher."
The Tampa Bay Rays drafted Linsky in the second round in 2011 out of the University of Hawaii, and he made his professional debut with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York Penn League (Class-A Short-Season)that same year. He logged a career high 39 innings in 2013, finishing 7-5 with a 3.22 ERA, five saves, and 52 strikeouts for the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs.
Coming off of that momentum, he arrived at Spring Training this year with a singular focus.
"I want to show I've matured. My goal is to be the hardest working pitcher in camp. I can't control the uncontrollables. So I'm controlling what I can, which is how hard I work," he said.
Linsky, a native of Rancho Palos Verdes California was attending college in Hawaii when his awareness of the world around him and being a more spiritually connected person began developing. That development took time, but he considers each experience just part of his overall journey.
"Those struggles were good for me. I'm more committed, motivated and focused," he said.
For any player, Spring Training is a non-stop push to build up strength and prepare for the season ahead.
"You have to get used to being on your feet constantly. Each days gets better. I need those naps. Naps are common for guys during Spring Training! But then, you know, we get to wake up and play baseball. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Linsky's road through baseball has been one of turning more and more inward, particularly after struggling physically and mentally through 2012. He had to reassess in order to grow.
"I wasn't the same pitcher when I came back. I didn't really feel different until the last few months of last season. I learned it doesn't matter how loud you are on the mound."
The downward spiral that led to his turnaround was simply part of the process. He doesn't hold back when he recalls the guy that he used to be.
"I thought I was the coolest. I was so egotistical and selfish. I finally stepped out of self. I just thought 'How can you be like this?' I came from a great family, went to a great school, and now I get to play baseball. I felt like an a-hole. I just decided I wanted to be a better person and help others. I want to be the guy that inspires my teammates when they're down. I removed ego from my mind."
Don't get the righty reliever wrong. He's still going to pitch with the same fire and intensity. The issue was learning how to channel that energy.
"When I'm on the mound, I feel like a warrior. We can all learn from our mistakes and learn from each other."
As Spring Training heats up with games beginning shortly, Linsky is determined to be this more clear-minded, stronger person in every aspect of his life, and, of course, when he's in the game.
"I just really want to apply those principles and be conscious. It's easy to revert to old habits. I don't want to forget the experience. I want to compete and have fun and get after it, but my baseball goals are bigger than me now. I want to share my lessons and be a good teammate too."
He turned 24 earlier this week, and he celebrated with the knowledge that this new year, this new baseball season, begins with more opportunities and a deep sense of purpose.
"I've kind of found myself as a pitcher and as a person."
You can follow him on Twitter @alohalinsky34.
For more of my Rays minor league coverage read links below and check out 'Hitting The Bull' this season on Minor League Ball. I'll cover the Durham Bulls in a weekly feature there.