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‘The most interesting man on the Cape’: Meet Mental Performance Coordinator Jay Banfield

By Brendan Nordstrom

In approximately three hours and 45 minutes, the Orleans Firebirds would set for first pitch at Eldredge Park for their contest against the Cotuit Kettleers.

However, the Firebirds weren’t warming up — at least not in the traditional sense. The team stood in a circle by the picnic tables past the right field fence, taking part in a mental performance program called “Mind Up.”

Firebirds Mental Performance Coordinator Jay Banfield led the charge as he has for the last four years when he was brought onto manager Kelly Nicholson’s squad. “Mind Up” entails 15-minute sessions before home games where Banfield covers a different skill the players can use in the mental marathon that is the sport of baseball.

On this particular Friday, Banfield highlighted the idea of self-awareness in recognizing stress levels, whether it be too much or not enough. He also introduced the concept of box breathing — an exercise used by Navy SEALs to help destress and concentrate.

“They are their best coach,” Banfield said, calmly and confidently leaning against a coat rack in the Firebirds’ clubhouse. “My job is to give them an array of tools that they can pick and choose from and to use.”

The “Mind Up” sessions not only give players an arsenal of ways to improve their mental capabilities, but it also provides a feeling of continuity and culture in a league where there is a flux of players coming and leaving.

“I think it brought everyone a little closer together right off the bat,” right-handed pitcher Sean Matson, a junior at Harvard, said. “New guys, everyone comes from different parts of the country, different schools, it brought us closer.”

Banfield has experience as a sales analyst, semi-professional baseball player, nonprofit founding executive director, World Series of Poker participant — the list goes on, and it’s no wonder Nicholson calls him “a Swiss Army Knife.”

He strictly follows his life philosophy that was at the foundation of nearly every answer he gave: Creating opportunities for other people to realize their full potential.

It’s been rooted in Banfield ever since he was young. He grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts, just 90 miles from Eldredge Park, in “difficult circumstances.” Banfield lived with his mother and grandmother in a two-story house that his great aunt and uncle owned.

“There were people with potential in our family, in our neighborhood and were shut out of it systematically,” Banfield said. “It put a chip on my shoulder. I want the playing field to be a little bit more equal.”

That house was also where Banfield grew a love for baseball. Every night, his uncle would turn on the black transistor radio for the Red Sox game. Banfield waited patiently for Sunday’s Boston Globe to be delivered where he would read Peter Gammons’ baseball notes which were “like the Bible” to him.

Banfield grew up a first baseman and had dreams of pursuing it as a career. Unable to walk onto the Stanford baseball team, fresh off of back-to-back World Series Championships in 1987-88, he kept the dream alive for a year at Foothill College and then in Europe semi-professionally.

Banfield, who earned a degree in psychology at Stanford, also met his wife in NorCal. The two settled and raised their three kids in San Francisco, a city that mirrors his ideals.

“It’s open to a different, wide array of people and ideas. There’s a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Banfield said. “There’s a sense of possibility.”

While in San Francisco, Banfield sought change in both a private and public manner. He worked for All Home, an organization that addresses homelessness, and for the City and County of San Francisco as a legislative aide and treasurer.

Another source of pride for Banfield is his 12 years with Year Up, a nonprofit based in Boston that he helped bring to the west coast. Year Up trains and places low-income adults aged 18-24 into meaningful careers as a way to bridge the “opportunity divide,” according to its website.

“It was frustrating to me intellectually to see that the country continues to have millions of jobs that are open, and we’ve got millions of people who are hungry for that opportunity,” Banfield said. “I lived on the other side of that divide, so it resonated with me personally.”

Banfield only made it out to Cape Cod once with his aunt growing up, but otherwise it “wasn’t in the cards financially.” However, he grew up hearing stories about players and dreamt about one day being one. While that wasn’t in the cards either, he became involved in the CCBL in 2019 after meeting Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson for lunch at USC.

Banfield, or “Jay Money” as Nicholson calls him, has been the Mental Performance Coordinator with the Firebirds for the last four years, adding on the title of bench coach this season. Those may be his titles, but his role on the team extends much further. From his first summer in Orleans, he asked Nicholson: “How do I add value today?” And does so in any way he can.

Nicholson lit up when asked about Banfield’s character, naming positive attribute after positive attribute with an ongoing list of adjectives.

“Jay Money’s doing something different every day,” Nicholson said. “Probably the better question is: What doesn’t Jay Banfield do?”

The mental aspect of baseball, and sports at large, is acknowledged by every person interviewed, admitting up to 90% of the game lives in one’s head. It’s acknowledged, but it isn’t practiced nearly enough. Nicholson predicted most players only focus on mental training 50% of the time and that “something doesn’t jive there.”

“You look at a swing, you look at someone’s pitching mechanics, it’s pretty tangible,” Banfield said. “With mental performance … it’s less visible and harder to unpack.”

While overlooked in the past, mental performance has gained a lot of attention recently, with MLB teams adding specialists to their staff. Banfield and the Firebirds wanted to bring that same attention to the Cape.

“The majority of the game is mental,” Matson said. “The way you carry yourself, how you handle stresses and anxiety, I think that’s more important than the pressures that the game puts on you.”

Banfield also brings a level-headed attitude to the Firebirds' dugout. It’s evident in every game and every conversation. Despite the drizzling rain that would eventually cancel Orleans’ game against Brewster on the day Banfield was interviewed, he stood unconcerned, remaining hopeful the summer sun would break through on the Cape paradise soon.

Outside of the Firebirds, Banfield is looking for experiences, because that’s what “life is all about.” One of those experiences was the World Series of Poker — an event he participated in for fun and to feed his competitive spirit.

At the end of the day, Banfield hopes he makes a difference. Look at the common denominator of his work: giving people a chance to prove themselves because “that’s all any of us wants.” Banfield is nothing short of an opportunity broker.

“My hope is that through my actions, I’ve had a positive impact on some people,” Banfield said. “I want the world to be better than I found it.”

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