Monday, March 10, 2008

Back from Spring Training with an insight for Dad

Middle Son returned safely from his Spring Training trip to Arizona late Saturday night.

We didn't go with him. I wish we could have gone. However, when he was a freshman, and we did go, we brought rain to Phoenix and snow to Scottsdale. The temperature stayed in the mid-40's. I don't think we're allowed back.

Middle Son had two official appearances this trip -- I watch the box scores for his college team very carefully -- a great start (six innings of shutout baseball) and a disastrous appearance coming out of the pen on Thursday (nine pitches, two walks).

He was dejected about that when he spoke with Long Suffering Spouse earlier in the week, but when I spoke to him Sunday, I decided to risk bringing it up.

"Oh, that," he said. "Well, I didn't tell Mom this, but we had a split squad game after our regular game Saturday. That would have been my regular day to start, but we didn't have enough games. So I got called out of the pen again.

"There were runners on second and third and two out," Middle Son continued, "and I realized... I was nervous."

"You? Nervous? That's not like you," I said, and I meant it, too, because he's the kind of kid that usually doesn't let things get to him. That's important for a pitcher: You have to be able to keep your focus even when your catcher gets as badly fooled by your best curve ball as the hitter -- and the baserunner advances on the called strike as the catcher scurries to find the ball. You have to keep that focus even after the last batter takes you deep. It was Yogi Berra who explained, "Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical."

"Well, I was nervous," Middle Son explained, "because coming in out of the pen is so different. I figured out it's what happened to me Thursday, too: I was out of my routine."

"So what happened Saturday?"

"My first pitch was a called strike. And our whole bench started cheering." Middle Son paused, and I could visualize the moment: These were good natured, encouraging cheers, not jeering that he finally got one over. "What could I do?" Middle Son asked rhetorically. "I stepped off the mound and pointed to the dugout and took a little bow."

Middle Son heard later that, at this point, the head coach turned to his assistant and asked what was going on. "Let 'em go," the assistant said. Then Middle Son got back on the mound and struck the batter out.

Probably with a big, dumb, aw-shucks grin on his face, too.

Because that's how he works best. When he looks so relaxed you wonder his arms don't fall out of their sockets, he throws strikes. He gets ground balls. He fields bunts cleanly. When he starts looking grim and determined... well, it gets ugly fast.

And it's not just in baseball. When Middle Son was in grammar school he was in the school band. The band director was the sort of guy who eats, drinks and sleeps band. He was so intense he made coffee nervous. And he could not stand anyone not looking as anxious as he was.

But Middle Son would play his trombone with that big, dumb, aw-shucks grin protruding from either side of the mouthpiece and do just fine. The band director assumed, mistakenly, that if Middle Son would only adopt the same crazed approach that the band director personified, Middle Son would be a virtuoso. Middle Son drove that guy nuts.

And Middle Son has probably turned off a few baseball coaches for the same reason. If he's ever going to impress a scout, it's going to have to be one who understands that some people work best when it looks like they're working least.

I'm not that way.

Talking about this with Middle Son, I realized that I have to get angry to get things done. If I'm positively furious, I'm generally productive.

This is why I tend to work in fits and starts. It's pretty taxing walking around as angry as all that all the time. And it's too easy for a guy like me to skid off the productive path and into incoherent rage. But when I stay on the tracks I do my best work.

Middle Son finds a happy place. I tap the Dark Side.

You can't blame me if I'm a little jealous.


Anonymous said...

I won't pretend to understand a word about that strange sport, but I know what you mean about people who achieve with apparently effortless ease. Swines.

Shelby said...

laughing.. at Chris's comment.. 'swines'..

Come people have it so easy.

I am not one of those people.

But I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express one night. So, I should do something I suppose.

rdl said...

Great post!!

sari said...

No wonder the weather has been so nice for the past week! Thanks!

landgirl said...

I love hearing about the time you spend really listening to your kids and learning from them. I understand a little about that relaxing thing and doing your best. I am usually wired pretty tight, but my best performances have always been when I was relaxed. You might try it as an experiment.