The following event is a true story.
It was the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the tying run on first – a typical nail-biter scenario for baseball other than the fact that I was the one next up to bat. The significance of my being at bat was tri-fold: 1) I hadn’t had a base hit all season; 2) therefore my teammates had no confidence in me and; 3) subsequently I had no confidence in myself.
At the plate I faced a kid rumored to have a weak arm. With a little luck maybe I could get a hit, see what happened after that. This was a straw to grasp for. Maybe I would get lucky.
The first pitch zinged over the plate and the umpire shouted out a definitive, “strike!” Familiar, and anyway what did I expect? I hadn’t even swung the bat.
The next pitch flew at me and kind of hovered. This time I did swing, and the metallic echo of the aluminum as it contacted the hard white ball manifested in a shiver down the handle of the bat. The ball careened overhead and out of play. Foul ball, strike two. Things were going as expected.
The third pitch whipped through the air and dove outside the plate as the umpire shouted, “ball!” and the runner at first bolted for second. The ensuing bounce and bobble at home assured a stolen base. Suddenly things grew tense. Everything hung in the balance. Chance was floating above the field, apparently drawn by the cruel irony of my situation. We were halfway home, and halfway finished, and it all depended on how I swung my bat.
From the dugout someone shouted, “You can hit off this guy!”
The bulky plastic batter’s helmet was hot and heavy on my head. My scalp itched and there was sweat running down my face. The sun felt like a spotlight. The crowd was silent but for a few children squealing across the lawn behind the bleachers. The inevitable was about to happen.
The fourth pitch whizzed through the air. To my eyes it was growing bigger, spinning, the white orb of it filling my vision like an asteroid on a collision course with the planet of my head. A sensation appeared and then grew inside my chest. It spread with electric resonance into my shoulders and through my skinny little arms. Reaching, I swung the bat in an awkward arc and knocked the ball straight down the third base line.
The runner at second skittered halfway to third as the baseman scrambled to find the ball. Coaches were shouting and waving. The road to first stretched out before me like purgatory. When had the distance become so great? I quietly contemplated. Who in the world had decided that such a distance was reasonable in the face of these urgent circumstances?
I jammed my foot into the soft dirt and almost stumbled. My legs had become incredibly soft, boneless, barely sustaining the weight of my body, the enormous batting helmet tugging backward on the dome of my head. My feet were spinning but I was going nowhere fast.
After an impossible delay I made my way toward first base. The third baseman had found the ball and sent it across the diamond like a speeding bullet of destiny. Long before I arrived the ball sailed past my vision, off the glove of the first baseman, and out of the field of play. The runner at second was rounding third and I was on my way to second. As the tying run crossed home plate an errant toss to second from first sent the ball to midfield. The coach at third waived me on, and exasperated, because really I wanted to be done for a moment, I bolted for third, glad at least that some feeling had returned to my legs. And upon reaching third I was sent toward home, the impossibility of pulling off this tiniest miracle looming before me like a great cosmic joke. I had nowhere else to go, however, and so I rambled on. The ball, that most egregious device of pain and frustration in my childhood, pursued me like a hornet as I hurtled home.
I don’t recall whether I slid, dove, and ran through upright, but the fact is, if I didn’t beat the ball I tied with it – and the tie goes to the runner.
The elation was surreal. All manner of bouncing, waving, jumping teammates converged on the plate. I was half lifted into the air and carried away. I don’t remember the sounds of the crowd, no flash of bulbs, and no pre-teen girls swooning over my accomplishment. I don’t think I looked back to where I had just been. For all I remember that was the last baseball game I ever had to endure the agony of playing. Probably not, but it was the most memorable.
The creative life is full of strikeouts. No matter how much practice one puts in there are going to be a lot of whiffs. While none of us set out to swing and miss, we also know we can’t hit many homers – even if only in-field homers – without taking swings. Let this be a shout from the dugout for your creative life. “You can hit off this guy!” Once you get that in your head you’ll be fine. Swing away.
Tell me more: is there a childhood experience that influenced your call to creative living?