FROM THIRD TO FIRST
One hundred and thirty feet may as well be a mile.
In the summer, I’d throw a baseball against a brick wall for hours, fielding the grounders that bounced back. When my friends came over, we’d carry bats, balls and glove to an open lot and play until dark. The bases were dirt spots. A homerun was over the alley. We’d sneak into yards to get our baseballs back. That was half the fun.
I wasn’t the best ballplayer. Wasn’t the worst. I’d check the paper every day, read the Little League box scores. When I went 4 for 4, I swelled with pride. Hitless and my face sunk to the floor, convinced everyone in our small town was laughing. What the papers didn’t show was the thrill of a solid put-out, when a ground ball is hit over third base and I pick it with a clean backhand, plant and fire across the field in time to get the runner by a half step. No, the papers don’t show that. They can’t capture the flow a surfer feels when they connect with a wave or a skateboarder nailing a flawless trick. And they can’t capture the beauty of a graceful put-out.
But in high school, I discovered the power of the mind.
I was still playing third base. We were warming up. I was throwing thirty feet, putting the ball chest-high every time like I’d done a thousand times. It was effortless. I marveled how perfect each throw was. How I tossed the ball without thought. How it went right where I wanted it to go. Every time. Thirty feet, that’s a long way. I was suddenly conscious of my fingers on the seams. The leather texture. How my elbow bent and how far I took my arm back.
The next throw sailed twenty feet in the air.
I tried to forget it. But my mind had seized on it. My fingers became talons. My hand a claw. Forget third base, I couldn’t throw the ball ten feet! My teammates thought I was goofing. I didn’t know how to explain it. When I was at home, I went back to the brick wall, but the more I practiced, the harder I tried, the worse it got. Panic strangled me.
At some point, I threw sidearm. The ball came out perfect. I changed my motion, the follow-through, it broke the grip my mind had on my body. Now I just needed to keep my mind away from it. Mercifully, the coach moved me to second base where I ended my baseball career by the age of eighteen. And, unfortunately, happy to do so.
But that moment started a new chapter of self-consciousness. I was afraid of my mind. And eventually became a prisoner of that fear. The only way out was to embark on a journey of understanding. After twenty-some years of meditation and practice, some of that self-consciousness has transformed into self-awareness. I’ve learned the difference between thoughts and presence.
Still, when I see a third baseman field the last out of the World Series, plant his foot and throw 130' to first base, I’m amazed at the grace with which he does it.
Thank you for stopping in this month, Tony. I've enjoyed your posts & your As to my Qs! Come and visit us again soon.
To keep up with Tony, check in on his blog: In the Self-Centered Dream.