Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Curve Ball Shy

I was 15 year old and playing sandlot ball. My next door neighbor came home early. He was a steel worker, walking the sky high beams of the growing Sears Tower in Chicago's loop. He watched for a few minutes and then offered to pitch for both teams. Jack was a big guy in his mid-thirties. I'm sure he went gentle on us concerning speed. I'm sure he made certain not to hit any of us. But when I came up to bat I fouled off a couple of pitches. He never threw anything but strikes. The next pitch was moving a little and I was able (for probably the first and last time in my life) to time my swing just right, sending the ball soaring to dead center field. I watched my own fly ball as it left the ball park, crossed the street and landed ... on the fly ... in the back yard of some guys house. I remember floating around the bases knowing that this one swing would lift me into the baseball hall of fame in our little neighborhood of guys. I also knew that my days playing here had probably ended. I was getting too old, too big, to keep playing in our neighborhood ballpark.

The next time up Jack struck me out on three pitches.

But the reward of the day came later that evening when I saw my neighbor sitting on his front doorstep. I walked over and sat down next to him, silently hoping he wasn't going to kill me. Instead he said the nicest thing anybody ever said about any athletic ability I ever had (which was not much.) He looked straight at me and said, "You killed the most wicked curveball I ever threw."

Honestly, I had no idea. I never really noticed a wicked curve. I just saw a ball coming and I did my best to put my bat where I thought the ball would go. In reality I probably put the bat where I never meant to put it and just got very lucky. Dead serious about that.

I've faced a thousand curve balls since that day. None of them came in the form of a baseball. They have all come in the form of the incidents of life that I never expected. A suicide. An accident. An argument. A moral failure on the part of a person I trust. A murder. A job change. A confession. A run away. An offer. A rejection. A death. Ad nauseam.

I've been thinking about curve balls this week. You know what makes them so wicked? The fast balls that precede them. If you always expect a curve you will be ready for it when it comes. But when you see fast ball after fast ball after fast ball, well, a curve ball catches you off balance and you swing like a drunk with a thousand pound bat. Fast balls are nice. They are predictable. You know where they come from and where they are going. You know what to do with them.

Then comes the curve. You swing so hard that you look positively cartoonish as you corkscrew yourself into the ground. You end up laying in the dust, wondering where the ball went. Then the catcher pulls it out of his mitt, laughs at you, spits in the dirt, and throws it back to the pitcher. And it's time to get ready for the next pitch. There is always another pitch. And you must always be ready.

We are still trying to brush the dust off this week. It's been a long 2009 when it comes to curve balls. There have been plenty of fast balls too. And we've turned on them pretty well, planting a few across the street behind the houses. But we've yet to truly connect on a curve ball. Honestly, the thought of another one leaves me queazy. I'm a little "curve ball shy." Wondering when it's going to come and from where it will originate.

I am not use to playing in the dust. I can't say as how I like it. I know the final score of the game even though we are still playing. I think I need a pinch hitter.

Jesus. You're up.


Anonymous said...

I am no one.

I have known you for nearly thirty years. I probably have thrown you some curve balls but I never meant to. I think you do very well.

I don't think Christ needs to bat for you. You must and I must acknowledge the coaches (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) knowledge of the game. And listen to how he tells us to time our swings. Even in our misses we need to learn something to handle the next pitch.

The children of Israel were involved in all battles to take over Israel. And you will be involved in all the battles of your being. Sometimes they did very little and were successful and sometimes you will do very little and be successful.

You have a wonderful wife and incredible children. Most of your life has been peaceful in comparison to the rest of humanity. Work the next pitch. You can do it. You are God’s creation. You are wonderful and God has made you full of wonder. You are one of God’s Mighty Men of Valor.

You may not want to accept this. I say, ‘Swing away!’

I am no one.