(BaseballStL) -- The St. Louis Cardinals are not in the World Series because they have the will to win.
The will to win is a fabricated cliché designed to evoke the image of an unbending will, a force greater than destiny that is able to overcome any and all obstacles.
But every major league baseball player has the will to win or he wouldn’t be there. Every single player on both the Cardinals and the Red Sox has fought to separate himself from dozens of other standouts in high school, college, rookie ball and the entire minor league system, just to get to the majors.
The will to win is not a factor. It fact, it should be disregarded and never spoken of. Every team has the will to win.
But few teams have the will to prepare. That’s what separates good teams from great ones.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series because they have the will to prepare.
Starting in spring training when Cardinal manager Mike Matheny literally had to lock the doors to keep the Cardinals away on off days when he felt they needed rest, not practice, the Cardinals have been relentless in their desire to improve.
They take hours of batting practice and individual instruction. They arrive at the stadium four hours before home games for extra infield, video sessions and to go over line-ups, spray charts and advance scouting reports.
Matheny and his coaches spend at least 2-3 hours off the field for every hour the team is on it. They look at statistics, tendencies, pitch charts and discuss strategies for every upcoming opponent.
Don’t say they are on a mission, as though it were extraordinary. This is just the way they go about the business of winning.
And don’t believe the stories you will hear and read that the Cardinals had a goal of erasing last year’s bitter disappointment. Athletes should not have goals.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, goals can be an athlete’s worst enemy.
Goals require long-term thinking and planning for an objective that by definition lies somewhere over the horizon, just out of reach.
But athletes, and particularly baseball players, cannot afford to take that view. Baseball requires moment to moment concentration because the situation changes with every pitch. Former Yankee and one time Cardinal Tino Martinez said he forced himself to concentrate by telling himself that the very next pitch would result in a ground ball hit right at him.
Additionally, and perhaps most dangerously, is a sense of satisfaction, a sort of relief that an accomplishment has indeed been realized. For the Cardinals as a team, avoiding failure after grinding to within one win of the World Series last year could provide that sense of relief. For individual players like Carlos Beltran who spent 16 years waiting for this moment, the end of the frustration can induce a serene, almost Buddhist approach; a victory lap at the end of a long career.
Players don’t perform well when they are satisfied. The defense against that is the ability to summon that same sort of controlled fury and refusal to submit that the Redbirds as a team and each individual player displayed when they could have been down for the count so many times this year.
And to prepare like they always do.