Alright, I know I’ve been wearing you out with the baseball wisdom of author David Duncan from his book The Brothers K. But I’m just so impressed with the fact that he wasn’t a ballplayer (at least I don’t think he was), yet his insights are that of a career baseball man. They’re so right on the mark.
Ok, this is the last one I’ll throw at you…I promise. But keep reading, this one’s juicy.
To set this passage up, the author is talking about his father and career minor league pitcher, Papa Toe. I’d just like to add that I never thought about professional baseball in this light – until I read this. But I sure as heck felt it and lived it.
Watching Papa Toe pitch through the years — the body language, the easy grace, the pure focus, time after time — any fan who didn’t know him would have sworn that there was nothing more important to this man than the game he was playing. Of course, his family knew better. Most ballplayers’ family members know better. But the good players are all like Papa: their faces tell you nothing. And professional baseball is beautiful to watch largely because of this.
A pro contract is a kind of vow: a man agrees, in signing it, that he will perform as though his personal life, his family, his non-baseball hopes and needs do not exist. He is paid to aspire to purity. For the duration of every game he has not only to behave but really feel that the ballpark is the entire world: his body is his instrument, so any lack of this feeling will soon be reflected in his play. The purity of commitment really isn’t much different than that of the Hinayana monks, they with their one robe, one bowl, one icon; ballplayers with their uniforms, their bats, their gloves.
But purity has a brutal side. Sometimes a strikeout means that the slugger’s girlfriend just ran off with the UPS driver. Sometimes a muffed ground ball means that the shortstop’s baby daughter has a pain in her head that won’t go away. And handicapping is for amateur golfers, not ballplayers. Pitchers don’t ease off on the cleanup hitter because of the lumps just discovered in his wife’s breast. Baseball is not life. It is a fiction, a metaphor. And a ballplayer is a man who agrees to uphold that metaphor as though lives were at stake.
How frickin’ good is that? Man o man. I sure wish I would have read that as a player. That type of perspective may have helped me hold up my end of the bargain a little bit better. Play my part a bit better. This also reminds me of one of my favorite baseball quotes of all time…
“Sometimes a hitter gets a hit, sometimes I strike them out, but in neither case does anyone die.” ~ Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez
I never really thought of it this way, but Orlando was a pretty brave character to make a statement like that, especially if he did it as a Yankee.
By the way, a big congrats to Andre “the Hawk” Dawson, Doug Harvey, and Whitey Herzog. The 2010 Hall of Fame class.