Blue Jays Changeup: Shawn Green found stillness atop a tee

The Toronto Blue Jays batting cage and tee sit empty in Dunedin, Florida (Mandatory Credit: Keegan Matheson)
The Toronto Blue Jays batting cage and tee sit empty in Dunedin, Florida (Mandatory Credit: Keegan Matheson) /

*Editor’s Note: Blue Jays Changeup will be a new series here at Jays Journal focusing on the organization past and present, but with one eye looking away from baseball. Besides, we spend enough time with both eyes on the diamond. Have a request for The Changeup? Reach out on Twitter @JaysJournal

TORONTO, Ont., – Shawn Green’s life came into focus the moment he made the baseball stand still.

The Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder from 1993 to 1999 was forced to alter his training habits after a rift with team management earlier in his career, but that one seemingly small change led him towards spiritual enlightenment.

Green was a first round pick of the Blue Jays in 1991 and made his full-time debut as a 22-year-old in 1995 with the organization still riding the wave of their World Series championships. Despite his talents, however, manager Cito Gaston was difficult for Green to win over.

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“Cito viewed many younger players with suspicion,” Green wrote in his book The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH. And to Blue Jays fans familiar with Gaston’s 13 seasons at the helm of the Blue Jays, his preference for veteran’s shouldn’t come as a surprise.

His personal and professional life took a turn when hitting coach Willie Upshaw, who Green was also feuding with, forbid him from taking batting practice with anyone other than him.

This left Green only one option: finding a vacant batting cage tucked away in the corner of the SkyDome and hitting balls off a tee. Alone.

Soon enough Green, who studied Eastern philosophies and different forms of meditation as a younger man, was finding these two once-unrelated worlds overlapping.

“My tee work had started out as a form of punishment,” Green wrote, “yet suddenly it felt like something else, something more than just a hitting exercise. Was it becoming a meditation?”

Given his level of expertise in baseball, Green believes that the second nature of the game allowed room for meditation to enter in. It also calmed Green’s thoughts in a game that is notoriously hyper-focused on small moments.

“Contrary to general misconceptions,” Green wrote, “meditation is not about training oneself to live without thought; rather, it’s about training oneself to move beyond one’s own thoughts.

“Meditation, practiced in any effective format, trains us to exist and function apart from the mind and ego, allowing us to experience the present moment.”

From 1996, when Green’s realization began to flourish, to 1999, he increased his home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and walks each season. In 1998 and 1999, he posted WAR’s of 3.4 and 6.0, Green’s second-highest career mark behind his 49-home-run campaign with the Dodgers two years later

In that final year with the Blue Jays, Green was named to his first All Star game and awarded with a Gold Glove recognizing his defence, a skill that Gaston had highlighted as his greatest weakness just three years prior.

Green turned that season into a rich deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and would also play for the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets before retiring in 2007.

The lessons that Green learned from a hitting tee deep in the tunnels of Toronto’s SkyDome, however, are something that spread beyond baseball and into his daily life.

“As stillness entered my life, my relationship with the ever-changing external world also began to change,” Green wrote. “Just as I had changed my relationship with the baseball by stopping it and placing it on a tee, meditation enabled me to change my relationship with my thoughts.”

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In the solitary task of moving the baseball from 95 miles-per-hour (as the title of his book nods at) to zero, Green found a level of concentration that had escaped him earlier in life.

“Instead of washing dishes or mowing the lawn in a distracted state, why not do it with full attention?” Green asks.

He saw himself earlier in life as being a more reactive person, something that allowed external influence such as the media and fan expectations to impact him too greatly. Giving his full attention to even the smallest tasks in his daily agenda, especially when paired with the meditation he was discovering in baseball, stretched the spiritual stillness through all corners of his life.

“You will discover that being fully attentive is being fully alive.”