I love baseball. I love the pace of the game, the strategy of the pitching and fielding, and I love the character and camaraderie of the players. And even though the Phillies have provided me with more than enough vicarious glory since I started watching them when I was 6, I really miss playing the game.
I was reminded of this last week as I had the privilege of being invited to the Wednesday night baseball game in West Philly. The guys who play are from all walks of city life. Some are artists, some are musicians, some are professionals, and some are laborers. But in all of that diversity there are always good players and good competition.
So it was natural to be a little intimidated, especially since I had only played in two of these games before, the last one being two summers ago. This is why I wasn’t surprised that my first at bat resulted in a pretty quick strike out. But I accepted this. Part of the game is accepting when you fail, shaking it off and stepping up there again. Baseball is as much psychological as it is physical. And again, in my second at bat, I went down on a quick three strikes.
This at bat was hard to shake off. One strikeout gets you angry, but a second straight gets in your head, and I could feel it on my confidence. After I dropped my bat, grabbed my glove and started to head out to the field, I saw that one of my teammates was standing behind the backstop watching my at bat. So in a quick spark of guarded humility, I asked him if I was swinging over the pitch. He told me I was and that it looked like I was putting to much weight on my front foot and getting on top of the ball. He told me to shift my weight to my back foot.
The next at bat I got into the batters box and followed his advice. That last strike out was still gnawing at me, but I was the lead off man, so I just repeated to myself that all I needed to do was get the bat on the ball, nothing heroic, no homeruns. The first pitch came in, I leaned back, took a swing and cracked a double into the left center gap. Although there are a lot of good feelings in life, there are few things that feel as good as when a bat connects with a baseball and your grip is so tight that there isn’t even a hint of vibration through the bat as all of the kinetic energy is absorbed into the ball that you see land a few hundred feet away out of the corner of your eye as you round the bases.
So why have I taken almost 500 words of a writing blog to talk about baseball? Well, as cheesy as it sounds, there was a writing lesson from this experience. This past weekend I had to sit down and commit myself to writing my piece for the forthcoming Philly Works book on their newest show Quality of Life. I had been asked by the Philly Works folks for some time to do this, but was procrastinating. I’m not usually a procrastinator, but for some reason, I could not find a coherent theme in my piece. I was asked to write about how The Head & The Hand addresses quality of life in work and the arts. And as it goes, I could have taken it from a hundred different directions. But each one I was choosing was not working out.
But after my experience on Wednesday night baseball, I followed the same thinking. The first thing I did was make a few adjustments as to how I was approaching the piece, shifting my emphasis from the many micro reasons for why I started the press, to focusing on one coherent story line. Then, to take the pressure off of leaving myself only one night to do it, I told myself the same thing as when I walked into the batter’s box –don’t take a power swing, no heroics, just make contact and get on base- So I just sat down and wrote. I can’t say yet if it was a homerun, a double, or just a ground ball. Writing a good piece is not as instantly gratifying as crushing a baseball. But then again, at least you’re not sore for a week after writing an essay.