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No bargaining in the strike zone

Perspective isn’t everything, but it may be the only thing. Certainly the only resource I have to make sense of the world I travel through. To it, I bring my experiences, my memory, my knowledge, and my history. Then I reflect and decide to act or not to act. This is what we all do. We have to do. Can’t do otherwise. We bring what we’ve got to the plate and take our swings.

Oh, there’s an objectiveness to things. Some things are gauged by measurables. How fast is the pitch? How low/high is the temperature? How loud is the crowd? But then there’s that ornery man dressed in black behind the plate who calls balls and strikes. He’s trained for this. Not meant to call me out, but simply to judge whether the pitch is in the strike zone. Because if it is, I only get three of those. If I don’t swing, that’s my problem. No arguing. I’m out.

Awaiting the pitch

Awaiting the pitch

It just seems reasonable, then, that if there is a strike zone and if there is an umpire and I only get three whacks at it, that I would give myself every advantage I could. I’d practice with bat and ball. Test myself against pitchers who throw hard or have great breaking balls or sliders or change ups. Whatever I might see in my at bat, I’d wanna see in practice. Perhaps I would even invite a batting coach to tell me if there were flaws in my swing. Am I dropping my shoulder or taking my eye off the ball or winging my back elbow? I’d want to know so I could correct these things.

The one thing I wouldn’t do is close my eyes or take my eye off the ball. I would open them wide and shine as much light on the game as I could. I’d want to see what I was up against to make the best swing at the best pitch I could.

I just wonder, with all of our practicing and preparing, are we getting any better at this game? Since we get multiple at bats (the better our team, the more at bats we get) are we hitting it more often? getting extra base hits or home runs or hitting better with runners in scoring position? What is our average? Are we improving?

It’s hard to tell. Because ‘things have changed.’ The equipment and the training are different. New and improved. So, with all the latest upgrades we should be better, right? We would do well to beware that the new is being applied by both sides, and the measure of our performance is relative to this. How well do we bat against that pitcher, under those circumstances, at that point in the season? So it’s hard to say if we’re getting better. Against the pitchers of yesteryear, who knows?

What we are told is this: to stay competitive in today’s game, we have to keep up. If we fall behind, we’re lost. Even if remaining competitive means we have to keep increasing our hours, keep scouting our opponents, keep training in case they are, keep doing the more that “is necessary” to stay on top.

And from inside the game, this is a very steep slide. In order to gain ground, we find ourselves clawing to keep from losing it. As if the playing field were being tipped ever so slowly to one side, we dig our fingers under home plate, dearly hoping that it is anchored to the ground and won’t give way under our weight.

What I fear is, we are people in a game where everything tips. Everything has become negotiable, on sale, or it might go on sale so we better be ready. We have the upgrades and the technology. Instant access and perpetual information. We have resources at our fingertips. Anything can be delivered online 24/7. Are we making any progress?

The smart hitter steps out of the batter’s box for a moment to pause and re-group. Consider the game situation, get the signs from the coach, grip and swing the bat in practice before standing in again. From a step away things may look just enough different that he can gain new perspective, or he may calm himself just enough to see the pitch a bit more clearly.

I am one step away from yesterday, thanks-giving Day. It is Black Friday. A day to rush for the bargains advertised by the marketers who want us to spend in their stores right away because once we get spending we will have trouble stopping. Or not. Check that swing? Not so easy, once we’ve built momentum. Before we know it we’ve gone around for the strike; the third base umpire says so. Are we any better hitters? Or are the stadium lights just getting so dim that we can’t see that the field is tipping?

We might do well to defend the plate, so we can fend off those pitches that come close to home. And lay off the tempting ones up around our eye balls that dare us to swing. Those Black Friday sales come to mind.

The way I see it, Christmas is still December 25th. The retailers are lobbing pitches out of the strike zone. I’m waiting on my pitch. Let ’em throw strikes.

21 straight makes a perfect game – in softball

Author’s note: On the 8th of September our church began the Complaint Free For 21 Days Challenge. Several of my posts have referenced this effort. This post is an update of my latest attempts. If you’d like to know more about taking the challenge, check us out here or go to the website to get a band or track your progress online.

How hard could it to be get 21 straight batters? I’ve already got twelve outs. Four scoreless innings. Not only scoreless, but hitless. Not only hitless, but walkless and errorless, too. Wow, I have a perfect game going through 4 innings. Bear down. Work hard. Make every pitch count.

Then, I hang that curve ball right over the middle of the plate. I knew it the second it left my hand. Not the zip. Not the rotation. Not the spot that I intended. And there goes my perfect game, sailing right over the center field fence.

I’ve never pitched in the big leagues, but that’s how I imagine it when a pitcher has a perfect game going. Nothing remarkable in the first couple innings, but when the outs are recorded and as the scoreboard signifies the 3 ups, 3 downs, the pressure must build. Don’t blow it!

That’s what this purple band felt like last weekend. I had a perfect game going. Had tallied a number of days in a row. Feeling pretty daggone proud of just how perfect the game was that I was pitching. Also, the pressure was building. Don’t blow it now.

Oh, there had been a couple of questionable calls, but the perfect game was still intact. Until the soccer game. Caught me totally off guard. I mean, for crying out loud, I have coached for years, worked with athletes. My daughters are all certified referees. But “Geez! That ball was off white!!”

And there it was. The complaint. And the band switch, made even more humiliating by the pouring rain and the elasticized sleeve of my jacket on the wrist of the hand holding the umbrella. But that’s not the worst part. Once I had blown my perfect game, the motivation to maintain my streak had vanished. Why not toss in a few more comments now that you’ve already blown it?

Oh, little purple band of mine. You are an illusive perfect game.

So yep, I’m back on the mound again. Got my defenses up, especially in the danger zones. We’ve got the scouting report on the other team. We adjust accordingly for the lefty who usually pulls it or the righty who hits to the opposite field. I’m pretty sure I won’t strike out every batter. But I’ve got a capable defense behind me. And knowing that makes me a better pitcher.

What’s 21 straight batters? Ugh. That seemed so much easier in the dugout before the game. Before the world came to bat, dedicated to defeating my best attempts. I am better than this. Better than them. Perhaps a bit of rosin and a pause before the windup. We can do this. Batter up!

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