3/18/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Setting the bar: Players set to take aim at aspirations
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- It's mid-March -- that glorious part of the baseball calendar where every goal seems attainable, every player has All-Star potential and every team is a World Series contender.
For all 30 clubs, the goals are the same: make the playoffs, win a title.
But for the 750 players on Opening Day rosters across Major League Baseball, the individual goals differ in a big way.
Whether they're precise -- a certain batting average or ERA -- or generic -- cutting down on throwing errors or working deeper into counts -- every player has them.
Some write them down, some discuss them with their managers, others keep to themselves and fight hard during the season to beat the numbers in their heads.
Mike Trout's goal in 2013 is simple: Be the best. He says with that as his objective, he's covered all his bases.
"I just try to be the best player in the league every year, and I'll go from there," said Trout, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award last season as an outfielder for the Angels. "That pretty much covers the goals. That's been my mojo since I was in Little League."
Each player has a source of his goals, too. For Trout, it was his parents who told him to keep his goals as lofty as possible when he was in Little League.
For Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who led the National League in RBIs last year, it was a conversation he had with Padres senior advisor and executive vice president Dave Winfield before the 2012 season. Headley had never used specific numbers for motivation until he got the advice to do so from the Hall of Famer.
He's convinced those number-specific goals -- even though he never divulged them to anyone -- helped him post a career year in 2012.
"To make it to this level, you have a certain level of competitiveness," Headley said. "You want to be the best you can be. You want to beat the next guy. So when you set goals, you want to reach them. I don't know whether it makes you work any harder for something, but it just gives you something you see in the distance to strive for."
Headley doesn't write his personal goals down. He keeps them to a minimum and makes sure those few objectives are constantly in his mind all season.
He also avoids setting goals that lean toward negativity. Cutting down on strikeouts is not a goal of Headley's, even though it's something he'd love to do. In that respect, Headley says his goal would be something more like "have better at-bats."
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp certainly kept his goals positive in 2012, and he set them high, too. Kemp famously yearned for the first 50-homer/50-steal season in Major League Baseball history.
"If I get close to that," he said last spring, "it's still a heck of a season. I believe in myself. It's not being cocky. That's not me. But you've got to believe in yourself. If you don't, who will?"
Of course, injuries derailed that goal, along with his other goal of playing every inning of every game. This spring, Kemp has opted to keep his personal goals close to the chest. The only one he was willing to concede is his hope to remain healthy all season.
For many players, that kind of non-performance based goal is often the best motivator. Instead of searching for numbers, which can be influenced by factors outside of one's control, they keep the goals to a bare minimum.
Giants ace Matt Cain is doing just that this season. He isn't trying to equal his 2012 campaign. That would be a lot to ask for from a guy who won the World Series, pitched a perfect game, started and won the All-Star Game and set career bests with a 2.79 ERA, 193 strikeouts and a 1.04 WHIP.
"A lot of things went really well," Cain said. "To repeat that -- it's asking a lot. You can't be mad if you come up short."
Instead, Cain is keeping his goals simple: Make all his starts, and pitch deep enough in them to reach the 220 or so innings he's been good for over the past half decade.
Of course, every player's goal is ultimately the same as his team's goal: winning. But baseball is a sport unique to the American sports landscape in that there isn't much sacrificing of personal numbers for the wins column. There isn't really a version of a basketball player opting for fewer shot attempts or a football receiver occupying extra defenders so other players can catch more passes.
In baseball, you come to the plate once every nine hitters or you pitch once every five days. And when you partake in that pitcher/batter matchup, it's yours to own.
That's where the personal goals come from, and they begin to evolve the longer a player has been in the big leagues.
"When you first come up, obviously the goal is to make the Major Leagues," Headley said. "Once you make it there, you want to establish yourself as a guy that's going to stay in the big leagues. Now the goals are to be a major run producer and be one of the best guys in the league at doing it.
"As your career progresses, and you figure out what kind of player you are and what areas you want to improve, that's the natural progression."