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Doug Baldwin: Pinoy heart
Doug Baldwin never has been to the Philippines, but his connection to that country is as real and sustaining as the blood that flows through his veins.
The grandmother of the Seattle Seahawks’ receiver Pica, grew up in that archipelago nation near the city of Tacloban, scene of the recent devastating Typhoon Haiyan that tore through the region killing thousands, leveling homes and trees, crushing buildings, wrecking dreams and leaving countless thousands homeless and hungry.
Although she married Baldwin’s grandfather Junius, who was stationed in the Philippines, and moved to Gulf Breeze, Florida, she kept her native country’s heritage and customs alive by teaching them to her daughter Cindy and then passing them along to her grandson Doug.
She made the Philippines important to Baldwin. Much of the foundation for his success came from his time, learning about the country from his grandmother.
“She had a hard life,” Baldwin said before leaving on a short bye-week vacation (“I might go to Hawaii. I’ve never been there.”). “She didn’t have a whole lot, growing up in the Philippines. She’s a very intelligent woman, but she wasn’t able to go to school because her family could only afford to pay for her sister to get an education.”
Watching the Seahawks play these past few seasons and spending time in their locker rooms both at their VMAC headquarters in Renton and at their home field, CenturyLink Field, it has been striking to me how like-minded these players are.
It’s as if general manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and their staff found a computer model that matched talents with personalities. Somehow they’ve found a common thread in the pieces of their roster.
The cliché among scouts is, “You can’t measure heart.” But the Seahawks seemed to have found a way.
This team is tougher than most. It is smarter than most. And all of them not only have that well-chronicled “chip” on their shoulders, they’ve also found a way to elevate themselves, to take that chip and turn it into an asset.
They don’t wallow in the negative scouting reports that may have dogged them out of college. They don’t worry about reports that they were too small or too slow. They didn’t pout about their draft position. And some, like Doug Baldwin, didn’t look at the fact they weren’t drafted as a defeat. In his three seasons in Seattle, Baldwin has played as if the goal in his career was to make every team that slighted him, pay for their mistake.
The stories on this team are diverse, but the one commonality is that these players had one or more strong family members as role models – mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters – that preached to them the value of perseverance. They were toughened by their environment, but they were given the tools to use that toughness in the right ways.
When Baldwin’s grandmother would tell Doug about her life growing up, the times she had to do without, she wasn’t self-pitying. She taught him to overcome. When football scholarship offers didn’t come in daily stacks of mail, his mother and grandmother encouraged him to make the most of the opportunities he was given, not dwell on the schools that didn’t want him.
“They told me about how their lives had been and how they got through those times,” Baldwin said. “They taught me my values growing up.”
Growing up with friends from rough neighborhoods (one of his best friends recently was released from prison), gave Baldwin perspective. Baldwin used this perspective to become an achiever. He was a member of the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. He earned a scholarship to Stanford.
Another commonality on this team is that many of the players faced forks in the road in their lives; times when they had to make difficult decisions. They came to places in their lives that would define their lives.
For Baldwin that time came before his junior year at Stanford. He calls it his “crossroads.” Football was hard. Baldwin wasn’t playing as much as he wanted. And, as a science, technology and society major, school was even harder than football.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to play football anymore,” he said. “I was struggling with football and I was struggling with school. I asked my mother if I could come home and find a way to finish my education without playing football.”
Cindy told her son she couldn’t afford to pay for his education. She encouraged Doug to go back to Stanford, to show the same kind of courage and mental toughness his grandmother had when she was growing up. He was told, “Control what you can control and leave the rest up to God.”
Back at Stanford he was turned on to a book, “Mind Gym,” written by sports psychologist Gary Mack.
“You know that quote from Yogi Berra?” Baldwin said. “‘Ninety percent of the game is 50 percent mental?’ Well the mental part of the game is so important. It’s the key.”
The mental part of the game means being better prepared than the other team. It means understanding your role. It means being ready every day. Mack calls it, “the head edge” and asks, “How much of your game is mental?” Baldwin and the Seahawks have that head edge.
Baldwin was undrafted, but the Seahawks signed him after the 2011 draft and figured they’d just acquired another pick. At 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, Baldwin is a playmaker. He has become the natural successor to Bobby Engram, the receiver who makes the big catches that turn around games.
Baldwin is second on the team with 36 pass receptions and has three touchdown catches this season.
He’s carried the lessons he’s learned from his grandmother into his career and he worried with her when news of the devastation from Typhoon Hayian was slow to reach the States.
“For a long while, my grandmother didn’t know if her family back there was safe,” Baldwin said. “It was a scary time. She finally got a phone call that told her all of her family was alive and safe. Many of their houses were destroyed, but there were no serious injuries. It was a real relief.”
To bring attention to the on-going crisis and the need for millions of dollars in relief aid for the families in Tacloban, Baldwin carried the Philippine flag onto the field before Sunday’s game.
He’s never been to the country, but the country is inside of him, as much a part of Doug Baldwin as his family name. And you can imagine his grandmother on that late Sunday afternoon, watching on television in Florida and smiling, understanding the strength in the stories about growing up in her homeland that she told to her grandson.