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An ageless wonder

Published April 18. 2012 05:01PM

Usually when we see former professional athletes in their AARP years, they are doing commercials for men's health, ala Joe Theismann and Joe Montana.

By the age of 50, those who played baseball on any level are thinking more about fading into the sunset by playing slow pitch softball or attending major league fantasy camps.

They can only dream what it's like to stare down a major league hitter.

Last night, Colorado Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who grew up in Bucks County, set a new bar for longevity, becoming the the oldest pitcher to win a major league game. At 49 years and 150 days, Moyer surpassed coal region legend Jack Quinn, who grew up near Mahanoy City.

Ironically, Tuesday was the 66th anniversary of Quinn's death in 1946 at the age of 62. He lived only 13 years after playing in his final game at the age of 50 on July 7, 1933.

What's most remarkable is that 234 of Moyer's 268 major league wins have come after the age of 30. His winning percentage during that time is better than .600, which is great for a major league pitcher of any age.

So how is it that Jamie Moyer is able to consistently baffle major league hitters that are half his age?

Mental toughness is crucial, especially in baseball.

Dr. Alan Goldberg is a sports psychologist who works with baseball players at all levels, helping them use their head to play to their potential. Mental toughness in baseball starts with how a player is able to handle failure and Goldberg says you can't be good in this game without the ability to quickly bounce back from errors, miscues, lousy calls from the umpires and strikeouts.

The old Yogism (a Yogi Berra line) that "baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical" does carry weight. Those players who have trouble letting go of their failures and carry them over to games are candidates to play below their potential.

Another psychologist said that on any given day a minor leaguer has the skills and talent to play ball in the majors. But the reason he's still in the minors is because he lacks the mental skills to consistently perform under the kind of pressure found in the big leagues.

Moyer has never been a power pitcher, just an athlete with incredible perseverance and one who has mastered his craft by changing speeds and constantly moving the ball around the plate.

Last night's 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres, in which he surrendered just six hits and two unearned runs over seven innings, was Moyer's career in microcosm. The crafty lefthander typically kept the Padres hitters off balance all night by mixing his pitches, including a 78-mph fastball, an anomaly in the majors where pitchers are consistently clocked in the 90s with speed guns.

Moyer's ability to master his craft and also deal with the mental aspect of the game have been a formula for success.

It's why so many of his contemporaries, now part of the AARP generation, marvel at how he's been able to take his profession to a new level, still excelling in playing the game of our youth.

By Jim Zbick

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