If you are a fan of baseball, you have seen the sad decline of the New York Yankees this year.

If you know nothing about baseball, then know this: the Yankees are one of the most stories franchises in all of sports, they have won twenty-six championships, and every year they are built to win another.

This year was no exception. The Yankees looked good on paper. They had great hitters. They had good starting pitching. They had a revamped bullpen that looked like it would be one of the best in either league. They had name players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera.

Just over two months into the season, the New York Yankees were a wreck, with one of the worst records in baseball. They looked good one game, then terrible the next two. They couldn’t seem to catch or throw or hit, and in baseball that is very bad thing.

Even with over a hundred games left in the season, it looks like the Yankees won’t reach the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

Why? They haven’t played up to their potential.

The Yankees have all the potential in the world. Just last year they made the playoffs with basically the same team. They are capable of winning ball games in heaps, of winning two out of every three, of winning a hundred games a year. But they haven’t done that this year. Instead they were fourteen and a half games out of first.

Potential is a tricky thing. My own potential has often felt like more of a burden than anything. At work, people will come up to me and ask, “Why are you here? I would have thought you would have been doing something else, something better than this.” What is it that people see in me that they think I should be doing something better? It doesn’t help that I see it, and feel it too.

I am not much of a perfectionist. I say that, because I try to be realistic. But there are things I hope to do, and when I see them like a far off buoy in the ocean, never much closer no matter how much I paddle through my days, I can get frustrated and more than a little disappointed.

I feel like I should be working where my true talents and strengths can come into play. I feel like I should have more successes, more triumphs in my personal life and professional life. Why? Well, I am not satisfied with the things I have accomplished. I can envision better things, and in a lot of cases know the steps I need to take to get there. But a part of me is afraid, and a part of me is lazy, and a part of me is comfortable right where I am. But those parts of me never succeed in burying the part of me that longs for those far off summits and that is why I know I am not realizing my potential.

The Yankees have some of the same problems. They know their own potential. They know they can win a hundred games, but as the games started going the wrong way, as they dropped one and then another, they started pressing. They put more and more pressure on themselves. They stopped being teammates and stopped enjoying playing the game. They became individuals burdened by the expectations they and people in baseball put on them. If you walked into the clubhouse, you could feel the tension. Teammates weren’t talking to each other. The locker room was quiet. And the Yankees were losing. Baseball people began to ask where their fire was?

Fortunately, they are no longer in the cellar. They have won nine of the past eleven games. Their starting pitching has found its arm. Their hitters are loose and relaxed at the plate and they pick each other up. They have been scoring runs in bundles and they are winning. They are enjoying playing baseball again. If you walk into the clubhouse now, you can hear laughter, you see smiles, the atmosphere is loose.

Somewhere along the way, maybe after a pep talk by the coach, maybe after a friend takes you aside and encourages you or gives you advice, your perspective changes. It isn’t really about the potential (yours, mine, the Yankees’) of it at all; I think it is more about how you go about doing what it is that you are good at and take pleasure in and how much fun you have doing it. The potential part has a way of working its own way out.

That’s why I don’t worry about the Yankees the way they are playing right now. They have a hundred games left in the season, the perfect setting for a historic run to the playoffs.

© Seth Crossman