Shawn Green starred in the major leagues from 1995 through 2007, playing for the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Mets, before retiring to spend more time with his family. Green is one of 15 players with four home runs in one game, and holds the all-time record with seven homers in three consecutive games.
This year, Scribner published Green's book, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH. The interview below was conducted via telephone last week ...
Rob Neyer: So how did the book (which I enjoyed) come together?
Shawn Green: As a player, I kept a little journal here and there, on my laptop. I always planned on writing a book about the Eastern approach to the game that I was adopting. I started working on it a year or so after I retired, when I was able to look back and kind of see what I felt was the best approach, which was to go along with my journey, and the ups and downs of my career and the lessons I pulled out of that. I felt like that would be the most interesting approach for readers, and would give me a chance to talk about the intricacies of the game, the things I wanted to talk about in addition to the Eastern approach.
Neyer: You write in the book that you had read Siddhartha many times. I got the impression that you read it before you became a professional baseball player, certainly before you were in the major leagues. But it seemed to me that the message didn't really sink in until you'd been in the majors for at least two or three years. I'm wondering if you had to experience some failure, some adversity before you were receptive to it ...
Green: One of the big things in Siddhartha is you have to experience things for yourself. He has a chance, with his friend Govinda, to be a follower but he chose to go off on his own. Looking back, I feel like I read the book and I knew it intellectually, but you have to experience those things and, I guess, know it. And it was my failures and successes in baseball that gave me that true understanding of the lessons that I read about.
Neyer: I think what I found most fascinating in your book -- aside from the obvious, which is that you were doing something to prepare, and to live your life, that obviously most players, most people, don't do -- was the struggle to reach that particular level of one-ness ... There's not a moment in 1998 or 2001 where you say, "Oh, I found it. This is it." There's always a struggle, and you really ran into that when you joined the Dodgers and suddenly began trying to be something you thought you were supposed to be. I'm just fascinated by the sort of ongoing struggles.
Green: Yeah, it's a non-stop work in progress. It's not like, having written this book, all of a sudden I'm this enlightened person. The way I verbalize it to people is that instead of forgetting 99 percent of the time, maybe I remember 10 percent of the time to just get in the moment. There's still a lot to grow, a lot to learn. I get caught up in the same traps that everyone does. I just feel like, what I hope people get out of this book, is that there are tools. For me, a lot of it was at the batting tee, to create the mundane chores of life, to really embrace those and make it more of a spiritual practice. You know, use whatever people have in their lives to get into the moment.
That's one of the tools. The other tool, something I talk about in the book, is where I hit my cleats real hard, to feel my body and get out of my head.
I hope those are the things that people can get out of it, and apply to their own lives.
Neyer: Which leads to my next question. Obviously, you needed to work incredibly hard to reach a level of mindfulness that allowed you to reach the level of success, on the field, that you did. There's a little bit in the book about your teammates, especially Carlos Delgado and Tony Fernandez. Did you ever discuss Zen, specifically, with those guys? And do you think baseball players, generally, would benefit from familiarity with, say, the works of Thich Nhat Hanh? Or do they achieve mindfulness, at least in a baseball sense, in other ways?
Green: I did talk with Carlos quite a bit. He's a bright guy. We actually exchanged different books. He introduced me to an author, Robin Sharma, a Canadian guy who wrote The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and another book, The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO. I exposed Carlos to Siddhartha and numerous other books. So we talked quite a bit about it. But I think a lot of other players naturally have ways, they wouldn't discuss it in the same way that I do, but they have ways of achieving that kind of mindful state as a player. I think maybe a lot of guys don't necessarily apply it to the rest of their lives, and don't see the connection there.
In one of Eckhart Tolle's lectures, he talks about how Michael Jackson transforms on stage, but in the rest of his life he was obviously kind of a strange guy. But when he was on the stage, he found that connection. And I think there are a lot of players like that. There's no way guys like Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, A-Rod, there's no way they could reach the levels they do without finding their own methods in the batter's box.
And that's why I talk in the book about Tony Fernandez. We never spoke about this stuff, at all. But his approach was very similar to what I was searching for, at that time. You know, he is a devout Christian, and I think he might even be a minister now. He would never talk about his approach as having an Eastern tint to it, but it was very similar to my approach and my approach was very Eastern. So you know, I think semantics can get in the way, but it's really about the work, and how you go about doing your routines. It doesn't matter what someone's religious or philosophical approach is. A lot of times you go about the same thing in a different manner.
Many thanks to Shawn Green for taking the time with us. His book is available in bookstores now, and can of course be ordered from Amazon.