TigsTown: With all the media and fan hoopla surround performance enhancing drugs, we have to get this question out of the way, since your title – Performance Enhancement Instructor – may raise eyebrows with the casual fan. Can you describe what it is you do for the Tigers?
Brian Peterson: Sure. I guess the easiest way to describe it is that my job it try and help all players in our system be free of mind while they are going about their business. In other words, hopefully I can instill in the player or maintain in the player, mental toughness or mental discipline; when the definition of mental toughness is the ability to focus on the task at hand without any internal or external pressures. Really, that's what my job is, to help them with internal and/or external pressures. The external pressures are mainly things they don't have any control over; the weather, the media, the playing conditions, other guys trying to take your job, umpires, its just all the things that you really can't do much about. Those things can impact some people and the way they go about their business. The internal pressures being those things that are mostly personal, like family issues, relationship issues, and so on. That's really what I do, try to help them with those types of things when they come into play, and how to cope with them.
TT: When we have talked before, you mentioned that something you deal with relatively often is that for many of the Latin American players, this is their first time away from home, first time in the United States, and there is a big adjustment there.
BP: Oh, sure, but we also have other people that help in that regard, as far as the cultural aspects go. We have a woman in our system, Sharon Lockwood, she teaches English to them and helps them assimilate to our culture a little bit. As far as what I'm doing with them, yeah, just as you said, it is the first time some of them have been away from home. It's not unlike a freshman going away to college somewhere. For these guys it is particularly tough because they are in a completely different country and culture.
TT: A situation like we have right now with Ronnie Bourquin, what would your role be in a situation like that? Would you be working with him at all to try and move past it, or deal with the situation?
BP: I think the easiest way to answer that is that if it is specifically an alcohol or drug related issue that really isn't my area of expertise. If I was already working with someone, I would probably recommend to them that they meet with someone who has that area of expertise. I'm not at liberty to say whether I'm doing something with him or not, but if I were, we would probably try to figure out how we are going to work through this, and try to help him cope with the situation.
TT: Where did your passion for working on the psychological side of the game come from?
BP: That's a good question. I had a couple of people several years ago when I was in high school say to me that they thought I was a natural counselor because I listened well and got along with people real well. I really never paid much attention to them saying that to me until I got older, maybe in my early 30's, and I knew I was done playing then, and I thought I really did like that kind of work. I was working for the Kansas City Royals at the time and I was not married, and in between seasons I went to graduate school and got a master's degree in counseling psychology. I really enjoyed the counseling work, and I also still enjoyed the baseball business. At that point, I had no idea that I could combine the two, but it is kind of fortuitous how it worked out, in that I get to do both now.
TT: You came to the Tigers after a lengthy run with the Marlins from 1993 to 2001, where you served as a pitching coach for several years, then transitioned into a role similar to that which you fill with the Tigers. Was your arrival in Detroit a direct result of Dave Dombrowski taking over with the Tigers?
BP: Well, he did call me and ask me if I would be interested in doing this type of work with the Tigers, so it was a direct result. At the time, I had been with the Florida Marlins for ten years, and when they sold, they let all the player development people go, so while a lot of already had a contract, we didn't work because they let us go. That fall, Dave had taken over as general manager of the Tigers, and he called and asked me if I was interested in doing what I'd been doing in Florida, in Detroit.
TT: With your experience as a coach, instructor, and even as a player in the minor leagues over the last 28 years you have spent in professional baseball, what advancements have you seen in an organization's willingness to better study, track, and understand the mental side of the game?
BP: That's another great question. I guess the proof would be that it is getting better in the sense that at one time I was the only person that was a full time paid employee who provided this type of service, that was in uniform and among the players all the time. Now, there are more than just me. I think there are five now, but I don't know their credentials as having played or coached, but they are trained academically to help people with difficulties. I think to answer your question simply, yeah, the people running the organizations are realizing that they have a lot of money invested in these athletes and they want to do everything they can to help them be everything they can be.
TT: How big of a step do you think it was this season when you saw players like Dontrelle Willis, Joey Votto, and I believe Tyler Greene out in St. Louis, all placed on the disabled list with anxiety issues or something of that nature, was that a big barrier to break down at the Major League level?
BP: Well, yeah I think so. I think the issues have always been there. I just think that it hasn't been made public, or it was never diagnosed publicly what was going on with some athletes. I think it just so happens with the names you mentioned, it was maybe diagnosed properly and made a little more public. I don't think it is anything new, I just think it hasn't come to light before.
TT: Would you consider the Tigers on the leading edge of these advancements, or has it been more of an industry-wide, simultaneous advancement?
BP: I think Dave has been very progressive. The original guy that started doing this type of work was Harvey Dorfman who the A's used in the early 80's. Dave Dombrowski hired Harvey with the Marlins in 1992 when we first started the Marlins organization. Dave has been really progressive in this area. He really believes in it and he knows that it helps players. I think he is one of the guys at the forefront in seeing that this type of position can really help the players.
TT: If you had to guess, in what areas of psychology in baseball, could we expect to see additional advancements over the next five years or so?
BP: Wow! That is a really great question! Wow! I think what you might start seeing is that there will be more people doing what I'm doing. I'm not talking just in baseball, but to see more people available to the athletes in this fashion, on call all the time. I would think that with the amount of investment that owners have in all the sports, that we would help these guys out as much as possible. I would hope that maybe there would be more people like me around.
TT: Do you have any personal goals or planned directions that you want to take the Tigers performance enhancement program?
BP: My number one goal is to try and reach as many people as possible. That's always my goal. I always want to be available for as many players as possible. I always want to let them know that if they need assistance with something, that I am always available.
TT: When we talked earlier this fall in Lakeland, you mentioned that you had the best office in the business – the baseball field. I would have to agree whole heartedly! How does being able to do your type of work on the field and in the club house enhance the level of information you gather and the level of trust your garner with the players, versus bring them in for a session on the proverbial couch?
BP: It's just a lot more convenient for them. When we talked before, I mentioned to you about anthropologists who would live with let's say a tribe in Africa for two years, and those people are called participant observers. They are part of the culture, but at the same time they are observing behavior, and that's sort of what I am. I am a participating observer. I'm observing behavior and they all know that I'm there to help them and that it is confidential, but at the same time, I'm there for them. I'm living within their culture and I am one of them. That just makes it a lot easier for them to discuss things rather than having to make an appointment and go to an office.
TT: You spend a lot of the year on the road, working with both the Tigers' Major League and minor league players. Which group of players is more rewarding for you?
BP: No, actually, I don't want to make it sound like its this simple, but its all the same to me. I realize that in our business, the number one aim is to be World Series champions, and I know that the most immediate importance is the big league team, and it will always be like that. If they win and do well, then it benefits the entire group. With that being said, I try to treat everyone exactly the same. I see them as a human being who needs assistance with life. Whether they are a rookie player, or a multi-million dollar player, they are still a person, and a human being that needs my help. That's really how I look at all of them.
TT: We've touched on this a little bit, but can you give me a generic example of the difference between what you might deal with in the case of a Major League versus a minor league player?
BP: A lot of the issues are exactly the same stuff. The difference is of course the big league guys are probably a little bit older, although some of them aren't. The difference would be, the coping mechanism of the big league guys is probably more intact, or better, than some of the younger players. That's simply because they are older and have already experienced some things that the younger guys haven't yet. As far as the issues themselves, a lot of them are the same type of issues.
TT: With someone like Rick Porcello, who is clearly very mature for his age, are you given instructions by the organization to pay particular attention to someone like Porcello when you are around him, after he got to the big leagues so quickly in comparison to many of his peers?
BP: I'm not specifically asked to do something like that. The benefit of me being in uniform and among the players all the time is that my relationships with these players starts the minute they show up. I get to establish a rapport, not necessarily with every single guy, but I do meet every single guy face-to-face, and let them know what I do, and how I do it. So, my relationships with the players start very, very early in their careers. They know exactly what I'm there for, and exactly how it is done.
TT: There always seems to be a lot of noise made among fans and writers about pushing young players too fast, bringing them up too early, or ruining their confidence. When the Tigers, or any organization you have been a part of, are considering taking a player like Porcello, or back in 2003 with Jeremy Bonderman, from a lower level of the minor leagues to the big leagues; how much an influence do you have on the decision, and are you given a voice in the process?
BP: Sometimes I am asked, and I'll enter my opinion. It's not real easy to say yes or no that this player is ready, but you utilize a lot of their behavior and what they show you, and a lot of times it is pretty easy to tell. Sometimes we can be fooled though. They might not be as ready as we think they are, and you never know for sure because there is no atmosphere like playing in a Major League game. It is completely different than any other place you play. As a result, you never really know for sure if someone is ready or can handle the jump. We can guess, and we can be fairly calculated, but you never know for sure until they get out there and see it.
TT: A lot of time when you have a player that you just drafted out of high school or college, these guys have been the cream of the crop at every level they have played, and they may not have had a lot of exposure to failure. Is that something you deal with on a regular basis?
BP: Absolutely. There's no question about that. The first time anyone faces failure, that's the real mark that is going to let you know if someone is going to be surviving in a tough business. It's real easy to be behaving well when things are going good for you. Your behavior when things are going bad is going to be the real predictor about whether you are going to make it. It's hard for some people. If the first time you start failing at something, you are on national television or in the newspapers every day, that might be difficult for some people to handle.
TT: Knowing there are details you likely cannot share, can you identify the most difficult situation you've faced in your current role?
BP: There was a tough one a while back where we had a particular player that had a number of issues at the same time, and it was quite a challenge to work through all of them at once. I don't think I can really be any more specific than that, but he had several issues all at the same time and he was on the cusp of being on the big league team, and that was quite a challenge. That went on for a number of weeks. It progressed and went really well, but that was really a challenge.
TT: Getting away from the job for a second, with the Fall Instructional League in the rearview mirror, you're finally home for the off-season. Any big plans between now and Spring Training back in Lakeland?
BP: I'm just going to enjoy my home up in the mountains in Idaho. I'm going to spend some time with my family and friends, enjoy myself, and recharge my batteries.
TigsTown would like to thank Brian for taking time away from his well-deserved off-season and down time, to speak with us about his role with the Tigers. We would like to wish him a restful and enjoyable off-season, and we look forward to seeing him back out there in February helping our Tigers improve every day!