It’s been a long time since we’ve had a baseball player on here. I’m really excited to bring you a new special guest, Terrmel Sledge. The guy was a Major Leaguer with the Montreal Expos. Some of you young ones might not even know who they were but there used to be a Major League team in Montreal. They became the Washington Nationals. Sledge, he plays for the Nationals as well, in fact hitting the first homerun ever by a Nationals player. Then he moved on to San Diego, played with the Padres before going over to Japan and playing five seasons overseas. In fact, we were teammates with the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Terrmel was a great teammate. He was a great person to talk to; not only the mindset, the mentality, the approach type of stuff. I learned a lot from him. I remember him being just a pivotal person in my own life where I was going through a huge transition coming out of the Major Leagues, going to Japan. My personal life, I was finding out that Lincoln, my oldest son, he was on his way. Terrmel was just someone who was a great person, a great man, to teach the life lessons as well.
I learned so much from Terrmel when I was over there in Japan. It’s been great to be reacquainted with him. One of the true gifts about this interview with Terrmel is, he’s someone that understands what he did and what he does now to be his very best. He’s able to explain it and articulate. Sledge, his big thing was the switch. I’m so excited to ask him questions on this. When he talked about it back in the day, I didn’t really understand it as well as I do now, because I teach state management. When I get these young athletes, I teach them how to enter their peak state. That’s what the switch was for him, “I’m going to get into this emotional state where I just know that I’m going to get the job done.” You don’t always get the job done when you’re in that special place, but I tell you what, if you don’t get in that state first, the chances of you getting the results you want is just about nil. It’s not going to happen.
I like to listen to Terrmel. I bring guys like this that can explain stuff that I understand but they articulate it and describe it in a different way. It’s such a gift for me because next time I go into a workshop or into a speaking engagement and the audience I have there have new ways to be able to relate the special peak state that I like to teach, and a different way to share it, to explain it, and to help more people. This was an exciting interview for me. I know it’s going to be valuable for you. Tune in, turn it up, listen in to Terrmel talk about stuff on getting his mind prepared for the games, what he does on deck, great ideas what he does when he’s on deck, and stuff he specifically does in the batter’s box. As always, I try to supplement with some bigger issues and stuff when it comes to life as well. Terrmel, he flipped that switch himself and he was all over those questions. Great man, great hitter, great father and family man. I couldn’t be more tickled to have him on the show. Without any further ado, I will call him up to the plate now. We will see you on the other side.
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Retired MLB Outfielder and Professional Hitting Coach Terrmel Sledge
Today, we have a very special guest, a former teammate of mine all the way back to the Japan days as well. We have Terrmel Sledge, former Major Leaguer, now the Double-A hitting coach in the Dodgers Organization. Terrmel, welcome to the show. I appreciate you being on.
Thank you for having me.
I’m really excited to have you on because I look back to when we were teammates, I know the mental game, the mindset stuff was very important to you. I know it still is. I’ve got so many questions I’m eager to ask you. Are you ready to dive in?
Let’s do it.
The first thing that was on my mind to ask you was, can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and maybe some of the influences, people that you may have modeled, athletes, baseball players? Maybe if you took a small part of their games, how you did that, incorporated to being the player that you were?
I grew up in the distant era, you would say the old school era. My parents were full-time working. My dad was in the military. My mom worked a full 9 to 5 job. I was the youngest of five kids. My older siblings taught me in my childhood, which I don’t know if that necessarily was a good thing. My parents weren’t really around. I relied heavily on my neighborhood. Thank goodness I had good neighborhood friends, all from different races. My neighborhood friends taught me a lot growing up, because in Ford, baseball, basketball, we played as a team with the ball and we’d gather up together and we’ll be communed.
I’ll be honest with you, probably my oldest sisters’ boyfriend. I didn’t have any male role models around. It was all girls. I was the youngest boy. He was into baseball. He wasn’t the perfect guy but he was my first male role model. He was wonderful. He got me into baseball. I didn’t grow up poor in a sense, but it wasn’t middle class either. I was surrounded by gangs. If it wasn’t for him, if it wasn’t for baseball, I don’t know if I would be here right now. I had other sisters’ boyfriends which they weren’t athletes. They were older gang members. Luckily, I had more of the influence hanging with this gentleman. I started liking baseball and basketball. I just remember watching on TV, it clicked in my head, “I love basketball. I want to be a basketball player” In my gut I knew I was better at baseball. I started watching the game on TV and just emulate people’s stances. I fell in love with the game. The only reason I fell in love with the game was because he was around.
You talk about emulating the stances, anybody in particular?
Darryl Strawberry, he was my guy, New York. I used to love watching the games. I emulated his stance. I liked the guys who were different, like Aaron Davis. Of course I grew up in LA so I did the whole Dodgers lineup, starting from Brett Butler, to Sosa, and all those guys, Alfredo Griffin, all through the lineup. That’s what I did. Darryl Strawberry was my guy. I remember I had a poster that I loved, it was on my wall. I don’t know if they still have posters, kids these days. I had a poster where Darryl Strawberry, he was standing in a strawberry patch, literally standing in a strawberry patch. I loved it and rode around my bike like the baseball cards. It was how I first started to love the game.
I used to have the one where it was actually Jerry Rice. He was jumping over the Candlestick Park. “Jerry be nimble, Jerry be quick.” It’s funny because one of my routines for getting ready for the podcast is I go on this walk. There’s this park nearby and I go on this walk and I’m thinking about some of the questions I had in mind or I’m just thinking about things in the past. It’s so funny that you mentioned a different era, because we being very similar ages, I do feel like there was a different era that we grew up. I think about the kids now, some of the questions that I get from parents or coaches. A lot of people talk about this cage swing and not being able to take cage swings into the game and stuff like that. I find it funny because so many kids today, they have a great opportunity to get lessons all the time and how people take extra BP. When we grew up, there weren’t those opportunities to practice. When we practiced, it was with a ball in the street. It was about competing all the time. Those were our practices, when we’re actually in there competing. I don’t ever think back then that there was an issue of what a cage swing was.
I figured out, every era thinks that the era before them was easier, regardless. One of my managers was in the Big Leagues, Frank Robinson. He’s a hall of famer, with 500 homeruns. We used to get in conversations. I was pretty open with him. I honestly thought that his era was easier. This man had 500 homeruns. He’s a hall of famer, dealt with racism. But in my head, in my self-awareness, I thought it was easier. The era before, you’re absolutely right. I believe they don’t feel competition at all. When you’re in the competitive mindset, the emotional state, it cleans up a whole lot of mechanics. They may get a sense that they’re forgetting the fun of baseball, like everything is becoming so technology-based, they’re forgetting the fun.
We grew up in an era where we do all the cage swings, our back foot, front leg, knee, our hips in the cage, whatever, but once we get in between the white lines, everything’s thrown out the window. We’re going to trust our abilities, all the work we did, and pray that it’s going to transit over. That was the fun part about it. In our era, you’re looking in the other competitors’ eyes. That’s what made it so much fun about baseball, is the individual had to create that emotional state themselves. It’s a little easier in basketball and football because contact right away, gets you in that emotional state and puts you on a different world, a different planet. That’s what we’re all looking for in this life, we have cage swings. They think it’s going to be something mechanical that’s going to fix somebody, maybe not realizing that it’s the emotional state that’s going to fix them. It’s a fine line.
You just have to become a hybrid in this era if you’re talking to individuals who are younger than you. In your era, you have to become hybrid. You have to keep the old school and also embrace theirs as well. They have maybe a lot more to deal with, like social media and stuff, and you can’t put your phone down. When we were kids, we had pagers. I remember the rich guys in BMW’s had the big brick phones. You have to embrace it, you’ve got to be a hybrid. The older era, we’re looking at the younger era and the patterns, you would say they were soft. You have to work within their generation.
You talked about emotional state. That’s huge belief of mine. It’s something I’ve learned especially these last couple of years. In fact, one of my original businesses, I called it Peak State, always putting ourselves in that peak state that like you said, it cleans up a lot of mechanics. The strategy is not as important when you get yourself in the right emotional state. I remember when we were in Japan, you always talked about the switch. I know you played for several more years after our time in Japan was done, but was that something that you still call it the switch to this day? Tell us a little bit more about the switch.
The definition of the switch is the actual knowing. The switch, not being a player anymore, it’s the confidence though. It’s this present state in that very moment that you’re in. You know you’re the best. You know you’re a god. It’s not an external result that’s going to get you off. I did have the switch earlier in my younger career life. Before I stepped in the box, I knew I already won. No one could beat me. I didn’t realize those were my thoughts that I was controlling. The more and more I started playing it and the higher levels I got, the more pressures of outside people, the external pressures, the more and more I lost the switch not knowingly how I did that. My thoughts changed, my thoughts became more external. It wasn’t embodied in me. It wasn’t about me. I lost the glow. It was more like being the victim. “This person’s doing this to me. It’s not my fault.” I wasn’t mature enough. Now, I’m getting more mature to understand that I let that happen. It was my fault. I became the victim.
The hardest thing maybe for me was learning to be 100% responsible in everything that’s happening to me. I wasn’t brought up that way, but now that’s what I’m trying to teach my kids, to be 100% responsible. You’re walking across a street, a car comes by and splashes you with a puddle, you have a choice right there to say, “Stupid car.” to the person in the car or you say, “It was my fault for standing right next to this puddle. I know cars are going to be driving here. Me getting wet, it’s my fault.” Like I said, that wasn’t part of my childhood, but I’m trying to teach my next generation to think that way.
What point in your life, was it just something that evolved through maturity? Was there a specific instance where you’re like, “This is my fault. I have to take responsibility for this.”
When you get older and you find yourself looking around and you’re like, “Holy crap. I have everything in my life. I have money.” You start searching for external things to replace your happiness. Then you keep going and you realize you keep going in circles finding things. “Once I get married or once I have kids or once I get a dog or once I get my dream home,” and you keep going and going. You wonder why that cycle hasn’t been broken. Most of us, I would say 98% of the world, has the embedded belief of ‘not good enough.’ That’s the way this world is brought up. That’s what capitalism is, media, or whatever you want to call it. We have that belief of ‘we’re not good enough.’
If you’re able to get it, you’ll understand that ‘not good enough,’ that’s your thoughts about yourself, when you look in the mirror, who you are, that was my switch when I was younger. I don’t know where it came from when I grew up. I believed when a bat was in my hand, I was god and no one could beat me. For me to lose that, I knew that was my fault. I lost those thoughts. It wasn’t anyone else’s. I started to catch on saying, “Holy crap. I have more control over than what I thought I had control over.” Those were my thoughts. My thoughts about myself started leaning towards ‘not good enough.’ That’s how I realized I was searching for. I wasn’t searching for the external things. I was searching for me to be good enough by looking in the mirror. That was what I was searching for. My dad’s generation, I could see my father played out the way he’s living his 65 years; he would never know it. He never caught this. I hope my generation after me will be able to identify this fear a lot better.
It reminds me of a movie about Bruce Lee. They made a movie about his life and stopping your own demons. I feel the same way as a father. I know there have been things that have been patterns or cycles in my family line that there’s been things that I was like, “I’m weeding this out. It stops here. I’m done with it. I’m definitely not passing this on to my own children.” You definitely have my admiration on that. Long Beach State is where you went to college. You went from Long Beach State to the professional ranks. You were drafted originally by Seattle?
Going from college to the pros, what was that transition like for you? What advice would you give other people that are about to enter in that transition as well?
That was a big transition. I was one of the top college guys, but going to the professional level, getting paid, it was a big difference. I’ve seen guys from other countries going to baseball behind home plate over the batter’s eye. I was 22 years old and one of the top house pitchers was sixteen. He was Australian. He’s actually sixteen and I was looking and I was like, “I’m competing with guys who are six years younger than me. Holy crap. I’m never going to make it to the Big Leagues.”
My biggest advice would be don’t worry about what other people’s doing. If you stay within yourself, you stay within your bubble, if you’re the best you can possibly be and be the best for yourself, play the game for yourself, why else would you be out there? You’re going to play for other people. You can’t control if other guys are more talented than you or not. You do have control of how much and how hard you can outwork that other person. That was a big belief of mine. You’re not going to outwork me. You may be taller, bigger, or stronger, but I’ll bet my life that you will not outwork me. Trust me. That’s what built my confidence. I knew while you were sleeping, I was working.
Basically, I fell in love with the work more than the actual game. I loved the work. I was more confident in the game because I loved the blood, sweat, and tears. I loved knowing when you’re sleeping that I was working. I was always not one step ahead of you, I was always ten steps ahead of you. I would say that would be my biggest advice, is stay within your own world.
Talking about the mental side of hitting, when did the at bat start for you?
Once I get to the field, I’m preparing. I love competitions, I love war, I love going at it. It was all about the competition. By the time I went to the field, I didn’t know it but I would make sure I was in the correct mental state of competition, what I was going to do, the specific things to getting better. It wasn’t about results and hitting homeruns. I visualize the man on the curve, the man on second, face loaded. There’s always visualizing me being in the game, like competition. During the game, the same thing, just preparation, being on the line. I had my headphones on getting into my mental state. My most important at-bat was on the on deck circle. I realized while every other guy’s getting four at bats a game, I’m getting eight. I wasn’t there getting loose. I wasn’t there looking in the stands, looking at the girls. I was locked in and on deck. That was my at bat. I was timing him like I was taking that bat. That was the only way I was ready to hit the first pitch. That was the most important. I tell my players now, the most important thing a hitter could do is take their at bat on the on deck circle.
Instead of four at-bats, I’m getting eight by being on deck, playing that at bat like it’s my own. Now we get into batter’s box, did you have one approach, this is my approach to every at bat no matter what? Or did it depend on who’s pitching, what style of pitchers they are, righty, leftie? Is there one solid approach you had or were there multiple?
For me, it’s pretty much universal on a vague level. What I would do, what would work all the way through Little League, all the way to the highest level. Number one is, you can’t cover the whole plate. I learned it at a young age. The one ball, the one action baseball, the inside part of the plate, that plate does not exist. If you’re on the inside, for righty and leftie, that one ball inside does not exist. I didn’t realize that. I’ve done it for years and years and decades. I understood at a young age that the ball is going underneath our hands, when a hitter is subconsciously thinking, “We’re done, we’re finished.” Basically you’re hitting two strikes if you’re trying to cover the whole plate. You’re not a real hitter if you’re looking for ball out middle, out over the plate and getting an inside fastball and you react to it.
If you ever want to check their stats, there’s one out of twenty times that happens. We look for ball out middle out and we react in and it’s a double homerun. We think we could do it every time. That’s where the stubbornness of ours made us good. But you can’t cover the whole plate. When you’re struggling, you cut the plate in half. These guys aren’t going to show a little white baseball coming at you at ninety plus miles per hour. For you think that you’re not getting in, you can cover the whole plate, very few men on this Earth could actually do that. I wasn’t one of them.
Be able to look for one pitch. Be ready for the fastball. If you’re hard on yourself, you’re believed to be a foul ball and you’re late. If you follow fastballs back, you get one of two things. Either you’re late or your swing is messed up. I learned that at a very young age too. My best analogy is I’m talking to someone, “Fastball, change up, curveball, slider, whatever.” I’m going to say, “From now on, every pitcher only has two pitches: a fast ball and off-speed. Make sure you’re on time for one of them, point blank.”
The worst thing a hitter could do is have the feeling of sitting in between. Sitting in between means you’re late on a fastball and early in off-speed. This just seems Little League as well, but a hitter could learn to be on the fast ball 100%, 98% is not good enough, not the “what if.” 1% or 2%, what if the off-speed pitch comes, then we’re done. 100% on the fast lane and you’re not lying to yourself. If the hitter’s not lying to himself, you could make it a long way as a hitter. You need the mechanics and all that, but this approach right here, you need this to pace the best pitchers in the world.
Now that you shifted into being a professional coach, what have you learned from coaching and teaching basically?
Probably one of the biggest things is you’ve got to be patient. It’s not about baseball. It’s not about sports. It’s about
teaching these young men about life. I could put you and me in the same shoes. It wasn’t the baseball. It wasn’t the money. It was just teaching the knowledge, my life. Just educating your mind and just knowledge. Don’t go off of hearsay, off of what other people tell you, “That sandwich place is horrible over there.” You think in your head, “He’s probably right,” versus, “I’m going to go find out on my own.” That’s the biggest thing with coaches. Everyone’s not going to make it to the Big Leagues.
A receiver for the Green Bay Packers, one of the reporters asked him, “If you don’t win the Super Bowl, is that going be, you think, your life?” He smirked and he was like, “My parents didn’t teach me that way, but if winning the Super Bowl is going to be the ultimate pinnacle of my life then I got problems.” I totally agree with that. Coaching is just giving them something that maybe they could take one thing, and if it’s within baseball or out of baseball, that one thing, then you did your job.
When things weren’t going well, you’ve had a couple of games where you’re not getting the results, you’re not getting the type of contact that you want, what was your go-to strategy to slow yourself down and get back to center, just get yourself back in rhythm? Was there any go-to thoughts or strategies or techniques that you went to?
Deep breaths. You can control your thoughts more. That was probably number one. Number two is eye contact with your opponent. Eye contact is easier as a hitter but you can do it on defense by making it an individual challenge. Say you’re playing third base and the hitter’s out, you make it between you and him versus in a whole, that got me locked in a lot more. Hitting wise is direct eye contact.
You played five seasons in Japan. Was there anything though that you really respected or admired or maybe even adopted and put in your own game from the Japanese way?
They stayed within themselves. They stuck with the process. It wasn’t so much panic. They had the routine and they really believed in their work ethic. Their way was the right way. It wasn’t like, “We’ve seen it before, working at Starbucks or McDonald’s.” It was a cool thing over there. Their coach wasn’t like, “More, more, and more.” It was like, “This is what I’m doing and I’m going to do my best to enjoy this right now,” versus more, more, and more. I grasped their work ethic. That doesn’t necessarily say it’s right or wrong, but it’s their belief that I did admire, the way they went about their things.
I’ve had clients, I could think of one right off the top of my mind, and he’s had some issues with injuries. He missed nine months and then he goes. A couple of months later, he has Tommy John, he’s out for six years and a half. I know you’re someone who’s had some pretty nasty injuries and got the injury bug quite a bit over your career. I’m just curious about what were your coping strategies over the years of just how you dealt with it?
I didn’t have any coping strategies. It was my way of my mind telling my body, “You need to relax. You need to have fun.” If I look back now, if I was back then, there’s no way I could’ve seen that. Now I’m like a third person looking in, my injuries were upon myself. I was very stressful in my head the older I got, the less fun it became. I believe my injuries were created by myself, by my mental state. It became my angry state versus the fun, competitive state. By that time, I was so angry. It created injuries upon myself. I had zero coping strategies but I never thought it was my fault. I said, “Why me? Poor me.” It was never my fault. If I would change anything, I would say, “It is my fault. Something is going on in my body and I’m causing it.” It has to be starting from my thoughts.
How would you use that time? Were there things that you would mentally prepare yourself for coming back off the disable list or something like that?
I was doing everything that I knew possibly to get back on the field with the training staff. Of course, I couldn’t push it. I would make sure I was doing a proper physical rehab to get back on the field. I pulled my hamstring off my butt bone coincidentally in Dodger Stadium. Back then, doing that, my career should have been over. There was no way. I detached my hamstring from my butt bone. It’s the worst feeling in the world. It never crossed my mind that I would never play again. I look back and a lot of people are always questioning and are like, “I’m sorry. I can’t believe you did that.” Like my career was over. Not one bit of doubt ever popped in my head that I wasn’t going to play again. It’s another injury, I’ll come back. I didn’t have that. There’s no possible way. I should be playing again and running again.
You mentioned visualization a little bit earlier, what kind of things did you try to see yourself doing when you visualize?
I would pick out my best games; more the feeling, the emotion. Two or three homerun games and I would make sure that I would feel it that I could see the crowd noise, me running to the outfield, a big crowd. I love to visualize even after no-hit days. I used to go home and close my eyes and take five minutes, start putting the work in. I did my best and made them good. Just always reinforcing the positive. That’s what visualization does. If you could see it internally, it’s going to happen externally.
I remember my early, early days with the Rangers and listening to Alex Rodriguez come and talk to the Minor League Camp or something. There were a few stories that I actually do share about him talking with us. One I remember him saying though was sometimes after strikeouts or bad at-bated at-bats, he would sit on the bench and see himself hitting a double and be like, “I can go celebrate, I hit a double.” Changing how he saw things, changing the state that he was in by just imagining that his at-bat actually went the way that he wanted it to and going from there. One other question I wanted to ask is, when you visualize, do you see everything out of your own eyes or do you watch yourself like it’s on TV or a little bit of both?
A little bit of both, probably more third person. I’d see myself from afar, me looking down, like a bird’s eye.
Here’s a little bit of a deeper question. What has been the big lesson that you’ve learned from baseball that’s really helped you in life?
Dealing with adversity and dealing with embedded fears of perfectionism. Adversity’s going to swallow you up. I didn’t understand until a very older age, but how can you get better if you don’t fail? I grew up always thinking that I had to not fail, I had to be perfect. I spent most of my life like that but not realizing “Crap. How do I get better if I don’t fail, if I don’t make mistakes? If I don’t fail then I can’t get better, then I might as well be a bear, just hibernate, be in the woods, and do the same crap every single day of my year.” That’s not what freaking freewill is for humans. I figured I’m not a bear. That’s the toughest part about it. Why was failure so hard when you just keep going until you get what you want? Eventually you’re going to get it. If you keep focusing on it, keep working hard, eventually you’re
going to get it.
I ask my younger self, what was the whole point of being so hard on myself failing? It’s probably more of getting the acceptance of people versus who are you living your life for. The biggest point is all the pressure you’re going to get, all the accolades, I did have a choice to stay within my head in the sense that I could control what’s going on outside of me like the way I wanted to. We only have one life to live and you’re not going to live forever, but wondered why I would wake up and think I would live forever versus, “This is my life, what do I want today? Why am I living for other people and their approval?”
One of the things I really admire about you is how you are as a father. I’m sure that idea about dealing with failure and adversity is something that you want to pass on that knowledge and experience with your children as well. Is there something else that’s really important? Kids, they’re going to soak up whatever they find important. But is there something that you could cut out and just upload it and make sure that they knew it and that they had it? Is there anything else that comes to your mind that you would really like to pass on to them?
That they know their mommy and daddy love them for just being not perfect. One thing, you don’t have to be perfect. I’m just trying to teach you to be a better man here. I’m trying to teach my daughter to grow up as a strong woman. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but having the time to explain it, “I love you.” I do that because what I felt I missed in my childhood, what hindered me and what could have helped me, and I’m trying to give it to my kids. “I love you.” They’re on the iPad or something, “I love you. Look at me, I love you for who you are.” That’s probably the biggest thing. Do good. You don’t need trophies or anything like that “No, son, daughter, I love you regardless. I don’t care about the trophies. I don’t care about what you do. I don’t even care if you play sports. I just want you to be happy.” The only way I feel they could be happy is to know they’re unconditionally loved.
What’s interesting is you talked in the very beginning about not being enough. We all struggle with that sometimes. Not only being not enough but if we have a fear of not being enough, that means we’re not going to be loved. When you talk about passing it on to your children, I think that’s beautiful. That’s amazing. That’s something that one of my highest things I want to teach on and pass on to my own children as well. I’ve got nothing but respect and admiration for you, Terrmel. I appreciate how you were as a teammate to me back in the day. I really appreciate you taking the time now to be on this show and to do this interview.
I appreciate it. I had a lot of fun.
Everyone else that’s listening, I appreciate you guys taking the time. Until next time, go ahead, live full force.
Terrmel Sledge is a retired Major League Baseball player. He played the outfield for the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres and in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and the Yokohama BayStars. He is currently the hitting coach for the Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League (Double A Affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers).