How a legendary UCLA coach's books are helping Blue Jays' Tellez

Rowdy Tellez kicks off spring training for the Toronto Blue Jays, driving in a pair of runners with a ground rule double against the New York Yankees.

“It’s not always slamming the weights and swinging the bat that’s going to make you better. Sometimes you gotta test the mind and see what you really can tap into.”
— Rowdy Tellez

Rowdy Tellez knows how to prepare his body for the rigors of spring training and a professional baseball season, but as part of his preparation for the 2021 campaign the Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter/first baseman also wanted to strengthen on his mind.

Tellez explained during an interview with Arash Madani and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 he added reading to his off-season repertoire.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old said since he had free time with COVID going on he wanted to stay productive so he decided to start reading a book from legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, who prior to his death in 2010 wrote many books on leadership, motivation, life lessons and other related topics.

“A lot of that stems from anxiety, some depression from what I went through with my mom and really not tapping into that untapped potential of what the mind can do and what you can understand,” explained Tellez, whose mother died in 2018 shortly before the Sacramento native made his major-league debut.

“(The book) helped me really understand what it’s like to be a leader and to be a figure in a community – not just Toronto but worldwide,” Tellez continued. “A lot of people would do anything to be in my shoes. That’s where I kinda took that and I was like, ‘I’m not just a leader within my community; I’m not just a leader on the field; I’m not one of 26 men on the roster; I’m one of billions of people but I have a platform and I have an understanding to lead by how I act.’

“That’s why (Wooden’s) teams were so good with UCLA. He didn’t get the best basketball players. He got the best men. He got the guys that were mentally ready and he turned them into the best basketball players. That’s where I was like, 'I’m a good baseball player, but I can be a better man and in return being a better man is going to make me a better teammate which in turn is going to make me a better player on the field and then it’s gonna push my teammates to be even better and it’s gonna push myself to be better.'”

Tellez is entering his fourth season with the Blue Jays and is coming off a shortened 2020 season that saw him post a career-best on-base percentage (.346) and finish with the team’s second-best slugging percentage (.540).

So what’s different today compared to his first spring training appearance several years ago? Tellez said on the outside he’s pretty much the same person who’s smiling and jibing back and forth with teammates on the regular.

“Inside it’s much calmer,” Tellez said. “A little bit more – I wouldn’t even say adult – more mature, just a little bit more understood. Like, I even understand myself better. Like, I don’t do something then question myself right away. Now I can think things through prior. … I don’t second-guess myself much. I’m just happy with where I’m at. I’m just happy with where I’m at mentally. I’ve always been confident in who I am as a person, who I am as a player and body and all that but I’m finally happy with the mentality that I bring to the yard every day.”

Tellez, who had two hits in two plate appearances as starting DH in Toronto’s spring opener Sunday, said the “vibes are great” in the clubhouse at the team’s impressive new development complex in Dunedin, Fla.

The Blue Jays continue their spring training schedule this week with games against the Yankees, Tigers, Orioles and Phillies.

Tellez concluded with some cerebral life advice: “It’s a long road, you know, so if you can just take it day by day and enjoy every day and be grateful to see the next that’s really all you can be. Peace of mind. Freedom.”

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