The Sports Sitdown: Q&A with Bob Tewksbury

  • Samuel Habib, left, interviews Bob Tewksbury. Watch the whole interview at concordmonitor.com.

For the Monitor
Published: 7/11/2020 4:19:51 PM

Concord native Bob Tewksbury went from the playing fields of Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook to big league stadiums from New York to San Diego. His Major League career, which included an All-Star Game appearance, spanned from 1986 to 1998 for the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and the Minnesota Twins.

It was after his playing days, though, that Tewksbury’s career took an unexpected turn. He pursued a master’s degree in sports psychology and counseling at Boston University and transitioned to a new career as a mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox from 2004-2013. Tewksbury is currently the Mental Skills Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs. He sat down for a virtual interview on June 11.

Samuel Habib: How did you begin your career?

Bob Tewksbury: That’s a long answer to that story. I’ll try to make it short. When I stopped playing in 1998, I went back and finished my undergrad degree in physical education. Then I worked with the Red Sox as a pitching consultant for three years. What I did there was just talk to top prospects, mostly pitchers, just about my experiences in baseball. So then one day, I met a guy that was in spring training. He was doing mental skills work for the Red Sox. He told me that he was a sports psychologist, and I thought, ‘Well, if I could get a degree in sports psychology, combined with my professional playing experience, then maybe I could carve out my own little niche for mental skills.’ That’s why it took me three years, but that’s what I did. I went to Boston University and I got my degree in 2004 and started working with the Red Sox in 2004, which was a good year. You liked that year?

Samuel: How does your previous experience as a former MLB player help you in your current role as a mental skills coach?

Bob: Man, that’s a great question. Not as much as you would think. The one thing it does help with is that people understand that I played and then they know that I’ve gone through similar struggles to what they’re doing. But it doesn’t help that a lot of players are still pretty reserved to talk about mental skills even though I know what they are kind of going through.

Samuel: What was your most memorable moment as a pitcher? What about as a mental skills coach?

Bob: As a pitcher, I have two of them probably. One was winning my first major league game in 1986 for the Yankees. Do you like the Yankees? I don’t think so right?

Samuel: No.

Bob: I didn’t think so. Then the other one was a near-perfect game (in 1990). I talk about that in the book. I don’t know if you’ve listened to that part yet, but I talked about that. So those are the two that come from playing. I think from mental skills was the 2013 World Series with the Red Sox. That was a very fun group of players to work with.

Samuel: What is your favorite part of your job?

Bob: I think the favorite part of my job is working with a player that understands that mental skills are important and that they want to work toward it. I think working with people that want to get better and then seeing the result of that is very rewarding to help people perform better, knowing that you might have had a small part in helping them achieve that.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted your life?

Bob: Wow, into the heavy stuff, huh? Well, it’s impacted my life because there is no baseball. I think that there hasn’t been a whole lot to do, because the players aren’t playing. So from a work standpoint, it’s affected it a lot. From a personal standpoint, it’s been kind of nice because my daughter is home, my son is home and they’re 28 and 26. It’s nice to have them around because I know that they’re not going to be around forever. Due to that, they have been home, which has been really nice. So I think those two things come to mind. But I do think baseball is going to start up again, hopefully, except for with no fans and I think that that’ll be different but at least there will be baseball.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

Bob: Yeah, it’s prevented me from talking to the players. From, you know, even traveling to see players. I would usually spend probably 10 to 15 days a month on the road going to see players and teams, and I haven’t flown since I flew back from Arizona in March. So it’s affected it a lot. I can’t say that I haven’t missed flying because I’ve flown for 40 years around the country, but that’s how it’s affected it.

Samuel: Are you working from home now due to COVID-19? Have you been able to keep in contact with the players during the shutdown?

Bob: I am working from home, Samuel. I mean because we have technology, the texting and Zoom. We do a lot of Zoom meetings, just like this one. I’ve been able to make a couple of, I think, if you remember in the beginning of the book, I talked about making an imagery program for Jon Lester that he listened to. I’ve been able to make three of those for the Cubs players, so that they can hopefully use that as a way to kind of keep their minds sharp while they’re not playing. But it’s been frustrating, for sure.

Samuel: What did a typical work day look like for you before COVID-19? What does a typical work day look like now for you?

Bob: Yeah, well, before COVID-19 I would travel, so the workday would be with the team and it would be going to the ballpark, at one o’clock or two o’clock, being around, talking to some players, watching batting practice, and staying to watch the game and go home. So they’re kind of some long days, and that’s pretty much every day. The thing about baseball, it’s the same thing every day, so the workday kind of looks the same. Before COVID-19, when I flew home, I really didn’t talk to many players, but I watched the game on TV, so I had a little bit more free time and followed up with players as needed. But since COVID, there is no baseball to watch, no trips to go on and so there’s not a whole lot to do. So I’ve been golfing, I’ve been doing some yard work, trying to finish a book that’s been taking forever, not to write but to read. So, keeping busy.

Samuel: If you were still playing baseball, how would you mentally and physically prepare for baseball during this pandemic?

Bob: Wow, that’s a really good question, because a lot of the players are struggling with that. I think it’d be very frustrating to not do what you love to do. I think I would try to keep with my training and also try to keep throwing as much as I could to keep my arm in shape. But the thing that you miss is competition and real-life games stuff. So that’s why I think when baseball returns, there should be a three-week spring training so that players can get back into shape.

Samuel: In your book Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Gems of Baseball, you talk about players dealing with fear and failure. Players develop negative self-talk, which you call the “little man.” Could you talk about some of the techniques you use to help players and how some of those strategies could help people right now during this difficult time?

Bob: Well, I think you know who the “little man” is. We all have that little voice in our head, and I just did a session yesterday with the minor league guys – which I forgot to tell you, that we have some minor league players that we do a Zoom with once a week – and I did a thing on the “little man.” That voice talks to us all the time, and it kind of creates our perception of the world through our eyes. If we think that this is never going to end, then we can feel pretty miserable. Or if we think, “What if somebody we know gets it, and they’re not healthy?” There are all kinds of what-ifs that happen, and I think one of the things is really just trying to focus on today and what you can control and know that the medical directors and people that are in charge are doing their work based on science. As it relates to COVID, you just really have to not react emotionally but think about things rationally and really think about what you can control and when you talk to yourself about what you can control, I think it becomes a lot easier to handle personal issues.

Samuel: In your book, you talk about the mental, physical and fundamental aspects of baseball. Which aspect – mental, physical, or fundamental – do you think is the hardest for players to maintain right now due to COVID-19?

Bob: I think it’s got to be the physical because, well, I think all three actually. I think your question is a good one. I think physically because a lot of the players don’t have access to gym and training facilities, so they really aren’t doing the work that they could do. But fundamentally, you know they don’t have the facilities, access to facilities to do their fundamental work, so that they can work on, most ironically, is the mental part of it because they have more time to do it. But I’m not sure that a lot of players are spending time working on aspects mentally. So I think physically is the most difficult one.

Samuel Habib is a college student at NHTI. Samuel is an avid sports fan that currently lives in Concord.


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