How To Make Your Wish Come True For Real
I'll never forget where I was and what I saw the night of April 8, 1974. I was living in Atlanta, working as the general manager of the Hawks. It was the night of the Atlanta Braves' home opener against the Dodgers, and the legendary Henry "Hank" Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth's career home-run record, which had stood unchallenged for nearly four decades.
The Braves had begun the season with a three-game road trip. Aaron had played in two of those games, tying Ruth's 714-homer record. So that night I was in the stands at the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, along with 53,774 other cheering fans. It was humid and overcast when the game began, but nobody gave a thought to the weather. We were all thinking about being witnesses to history.
Dodgers pitcher Al Downing walked Aaron on his first at bat. Aaron's next chance came in the fourth inning. Downing threw his first pitch too low, into the dirt. His second delivery was right down the middle of the plate – right in Aaron's sweet spot. Aaron took his first swing of the evening – and in my memory, I can still hear the sound of the bat and ball connecting.
The ball went sailing, and Aaron took off running. The ball made a high arc, cleared the glove of Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner – then cleared the left center field fence. The crowd roared and fireworks exploded. A couple of overeager fans clambered over the wall and onto the field, cheering Aaron on his way around the bases. As he came toward home, his teammates poured out of the dugout and surrounded him, whooping and hollering. Even Aaron's own mother ran onto the field and hugged him.
Few people realize the enormous obstacles and distractions Henry Aaron faced on his way to breaking Babe Ruth's home-run record. In those racially turbulent times, there were some white sports fans who resented the attempt by an African American to break Babe Ruth's record, so he received hate mail and death threats. At the same time, Aaron was also troubled by a painful sciatic nerve condition. But he remained focused on his dream, and he refused to let pain or the hatred of small-minded people stand in his way.
His teammate Dusty Baker (now the manager of the Cincinnati Reds) was watching from the on-deck circle when home-run number 715 exploded off of Aaron's bat. Baker recalled that Aaron had an almost superhuman ability to focus on his goals and block out distractions. Baker added that Aaron could "think away the pain" and "condition himself like no other baseball player of his time."
Aaron's focus on excellence involved a grueling, year-round workout regimen. "Ralph Garr and I went to work out with Hank during the off-season," Dusty Baker told the New York Times, "and we thought that meant playing a little basketball. We saw him run, run, run with that medicine ball, play racquetball and tennis, eat his meals at the same time every day."
We tend to use the word "focus" in a metaphoric sense, meaning a mental concentration on a task or a goal. But Aaron's focus on being the best in the game of baseball involved a literal ability to visually focus on his opponents. When you were in school, you may have experimented with a "pinhole lens." By looking through a tiny hole, you can actually focus an image with the clarity of a polished glass lens – and that's what Aaron used to do. "Nobody had concentration like he did," Baker recalls, adding that Aaron would sit in the dugout, "looking at the pitcher through the little hole in his cap to focus on the release point. Never saw anyone do that before Hank."
Why was Henry Aaron the greatest home-run hitter of the presteroids era? In a word: focus.
In the late 1990s, I flew into O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. A limo driver picked me up and drove me to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, for a speaking engagement. The driver, Joe Curtis, was a Chicagoan in his seventies, a big man with a white flattop haircut. I often ask my limo drivers about their favorite passengers.
Joe told me, "One of my favorite passengers was Don Keough, the former CEO of Coca-Cola. I got to chauffeur him a number of times, and we talked about a lot of things. Mr. Keough told me about the two great passions in his life – Coca-Cola and Notre Dame. He told me that one time he went to a party and was introduced to the actress Kim Basinger. Mr. Keough didn't know her, even though she had been a major star for years. He thought she was just another Hollywood starlet. He said, 'Nice to meet you, Miss Basinger. I wish you well in your career.' Later, he found out who Kim Basinger was, and he got all embarrassed. He went back to her, apologized for not recognizing her, and explained, 'I'm so focused on Coca-Cola and Notre Dame that I don't really have time to concentrate on the rest of the world."
Don Keough was one of the most successful executives in the world – yet to him, the Oscar-winning star of LA. Confidential : was just another pretty face. Did his ability to focus so singlemindedly on his two great passions in life contribute to his success? What do you think?
Some years back, I was talking to Charlie Morgan, an old friend of mine who is also the attorney of former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula. Charlie told me that after Shula retired, he sat in the stands to watch his first Dolphins game as a mere spectator.
Between the third and fourth quarters, the team-owner's wife honored some inner-city kids in front of the Dolphins bench. Shula was impressed. "What a great idea! How long has that been going on?" "Don," said Charlie, "it's been going on at every game throughout your entire coaching career."
Shula's jaw dropped. "I didn't know that!" Charlie laughed. "Of course you didn't. You were totally focused on the game."
To those who are truly focused, the rest of the world disappears. Time ceases to exist. There are no distractions. All they can see is the goal. That is why they succed.
Janet Guthrie is a retired professional race car driver and the first woman to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. She is also a flight instructor and aerospace engineer. Her helmet and racing suit are on display at the Smithsonian Institution. I once interviewed Janet on my Orlando sports talk radio show and asked her if she could give me the secret of her success in one word.
"Focus," she replied. "When I was racing, I was so intensely focused that if all four hundred thousand fans had stood up and left in the middle of the race, I never would have known. I was totally focused on the track and on winning."
Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti once put it this way: "On the day I'm performing, I don't hear anything anyone says to me.'' Have you ever been that focused? Have you ever concentrated on a challenge or a performance with such intensity that you were unaware of your surroundings, unconscious of the people and events around you? When you experience that level of mental, emotional, and spiritual focus, you can harness the life-changing power to achieve your dreams. To learn more, you can check out How To Make Your Wish Come True For Real.
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