To help athletes deal with self-doubt, he teaches them to use a technique he calls "keying in, locking, loading and firing." When a negative thought occurs, he tells a player to clear his mind by focusing on something pleasant that's unrelated to baseball—"like your wife or girlfriend in a bikini." Then, he says, come up with a positive idea about how to handle the next pitch.
Perhaps McDowell is an eternal optimist. But that doesn't mean he's a pushover. A player who shows up on his doorstep just before being cut from the team, in hopes of winning a quick reprieve, is sent back to the gallows. And McDowell is not one of those Mr. Fixit types determined to find problems even if none exists. "I'm not out here to be a crutch for anybody and I'm not here to solve the world's problems," he declares.
But counseling does consume him. Sometimes a little too much, according to his wife, Carol. McDowell says he has an obsessive-compulsive nature, and is trying to control it. Every year, for instance, he acquires many more counseling course credits than are required to maintain his certification. In his spare time, Sam eschews the murder mysteries and romance novels Carol prefers in favor of medical thrillers like The 5-Pound Brain, or the self-help manual Think & Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. He reckons he has read that book 30 times and can recite passages from it. The extra reading might come in handy, though, if he follows through on plans to kick his pack-and-a-half-a-day cigarette habit, down from three packs a day.
McDowell does have other interests. When he's on the road, he occasionally relaxes by playing golf with Sonny Jackson, a minor league coach in the Atlanta Braves' organization, and other friends. At home, he dabbles in art, painting mostly forest scenes, landscapes and seascapes. And when Sam and Carol need a break from their office chores, they head to Veltres, a family-style restaurant across the street from the office.
Back at Triumphs Unlimited, a visitor notes that 1990 marks the 10th year of McDowell's sobriety. He used to track the anniversaries closely, but now, McDowell says, he has other things to concentrate on. There are all those books to read and reread, players to talk to, and that cigarette habit to lick. "I don't think about the past very much," McDowell says. "Today is all I care about."