Friday, October 22 2021

After a preseason training session at Eldredge Park, Orleans Firebirds manager Kelly Nicholson sat down and spoke about the group of assistant coaches who will be joining him this summer.

“We have Jay Banfield, our mental skills specialist and team building coach,” Nicholson said after taking some notes on other members of his coaching staff. “He also played in the World Series of Poker. He really is like the most interesting man in the world.

Banfield had already accomplished a lot before he and Nicholson first met for lunch a few years ago in Los Angeles, as Banfield visited his son Aidan at the University of Southern California. Originally from Somerville, Banfield headed west to earn a psychology degree from Stanford and eventually settled in San Francisco with his wife Kate and their three children.

He has worked on local, state and national political campaigns and served in legislative and executive branches of government. He’s also a lifelong baseball player who approached Nicholson with the dream of returning to his roots in Bay State while tapping into his passion for psychology and helping others.

“Yogi Berra spoke about how 90% baseball is mental and the other half is physical,” Banfield said ahead of a recent game. “The math isn’t quite right, but I think it’s directionally accurate, which makes the sport very mentally demanding. If you think about the time that most baseball players spend, it’s almost exclusively on developing their physical skills to throw, hit or throw and very little on the mental level.

“When you ask players how mental the game is, you’re going to get 50% on the low end and on the high end, guys said 80 to 90%,” Nicholson said. “And then my next question is always, ‘How much are you spending on the mind? On the low end I’ll get zero and on the high end it’s 20 to 30 percent. I didn’t go to Stanford like Jay did, but that doesn’t make sense. If you say it’s so important and you don’t coach a really important aspect of baseball, then something is wrong.

Banfield joined the Firebirds for the 2019 season after he and Nicholson both recognized the need to improve Orleans’ approach to the mental components of the game. set up a program he calls “Mind Up” to help players stay mentally sharp during what can be one of the most trying summers of their lives.

Mind Up incorporates concentration activities, visualization exercises, and breathing techniques that players can use to slow their heart rate during times of tension.

“Baseball is a very mentally draining game because you have so much downtime, so much time to think,” Banfield said. “And, as everyone is talking about, it’s a game that is based on failure and how to overcome failure and adversity is a very important part of it.”

Banfield and the Firebirds emphasize a process-oriented approach. They don’t worry about what they can’t control. After all, the teams they compete against are led by talented coaches and are also full of talented players.

“The things you can control is this terrain – run that terrain, put a cannon on that terrain and then line it up cleanly,” Banfield said. “We’re talking about it with the pitchers – you could make a perfect pitch and saw off the batter and get a broken bat, the bloop hits double. You cannot let yourself be put down because you did your job at that time. You need to be more process-oriented than results-oriented.

When it comes to their style of play, the Firebirds want to play with conviction.

“You can’t do anything halfway in baseball,” said Banfield, “you have to do it all the way.”

It was one of the messages the 2019 team received from three-time World Series champion Al Leiter when the left-handed pitcher visited Orleans and spoke to the club.

“There were a lot of things to take away, but one of them was that he said the mental aspect was so huge,” Banfield said. “He worked with Harvey Dorfman and he said to the boys, ‘Here’s a book you should read,’ The Mental Game of Baseball. ‘ Everyone should read this. And what he also talked about is that whatever you have to do has to be done with conviction. “

While Banfield certainly approaches his training with a lot of conviction, he admits that his greatest professional achievement is far from any diamond in the Cape League. Back home in San Francisco, he spent 12 years at Year Up, a nationally recognized youth and workforce development program, where he led an expansion in the Bay Area. of San Francisco and then served as Director of Innovation and Scale, as well as General Manager. for California.

“We have helped tens of thousands of young people access jobs they would not otherwise have had access to,” said Banfield, who since 2019 has worked as director of economic mobility at All Home, a new organization in the region. de la baie aimed at providing solutions to roaming in the region.

“I like to think of myself as an opportunity broker,” he continued. “That’s what I’m most proud of and I feel like I’m trying to do it a bit here too. While these guys have talent that will get them where they need to go, anything I can do to help them along the way, I will.

It is this team perspective that Nicholson admires most at Banfield.

“He is totally committed and dedicated and there is no agenda. He just wants to add value every day, ”said the manager, who spends his off-peak hours teaching at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. “As they say in Jesuit education, it gives and it doesn’t count the cost.”

Nicholson said it was a no-brainer to bring Banfield back this summer when he expressed interest in returning. For the Massachusetts native, working with Nicholson and the Firebirds has truly been a dream come true.

“I feel really blessed and grateful to have the opportunity to be here because I think it’s baseball in its purest form and to be involved in it in any form, I’m just grateful for this and i will always be grateful for [Nicholson] pulling on me, ”Banfield said. “I think that’s the essence of the role – taking pictures of people and then letting them prove themselves.”

And while the Firebirds love Banfield for everything he brings to the team’s Mind Up programs, they’re also fascinated by the fact that he played in the 2018 World Series of Poker.

“I decided this was going to be my gift for my 50se birthday, so I signed up and did it and it was a great experience, ”said Banfield, who pointed out that he had lasted longer than a few competitors who had already won in the competition, but he didn’t did not come home with money. Much like Banfield, the Coach’s memory of his World Series of Poker appearance centers on process rather than results.

“I tell the guys I didn’t want to be the first guy to be knocked out – and I wasn’t – and I wanted to make it through the first day, and I did,” Banfield said. “I had a great time and did what I wanted to do and I did it on day one which was great. I wanted to put crisps on the first day, I made it and everything else was gravy.

Email Brad Joyal at [email protected]

Recent / upcoming games for the Orleans Firebirds (7-7-2)

11 July : Yarmouth-Dennis 6, Orleans 2

July 12: Falmouth 1, Orleans 0

July 14th : Orleans to Harwich, 6:30 p.m.

July 16: Orleans at Wareham, 6:45 p.m.

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