The Path of Thorns

baseball

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

by on Nov.23, 2009, under baseball, human emotions

It’s been hard for me to find my words on here.  I’ve spread the word – I fear I’ve lost what little steam I had on here.  It’s so funny how you can have as many interests as I do, and as many opinions as I do, but when given a blank page to write on in recent times, neither come to form.

I’ve done writing exercises.  I’ve spoken to writers I believe in and admire, and I do what they say; just write.  Write, write, and write some more.  Who cares, just write.  It’s fun, but also aggravating, because no matter how much I try not to worry about the substance and stick to just the idea of writing, I want to make the words perfect.   And nothing is perfect.  Everything has its limits.

I’ve been using baseball on here to serve as a segway to a lot of emotions, feelings and psyches.  Honestly, my love of the game is the only sensible reason I have for doing so.  Baseball is a simple game played for simple reasons.  I almost get uncomfortable when a baseball player or coach is grilled on some sort of “mindset” when going up to the plate, or catching a ball, or throwing a pitch.  It’s simple; hit the damn ball, catch the damn ball, throw whatever pitch you know the batter won’t like.  It’s all about whether you can simply achieve that simple success or not.

Maybe that’s why I used baseball, come to think of it; nothing is more complex than human emotion; nothing to me is more simple than a baseball game.  Using something simple to relate something complex makes the task quite easy.

But I’m defining more, and I’m toning up this site more.  It’s not going to be just baseball.  Life can be defined through lots of methods, and I will be using this site to open every door I’d like to.

Stay tuned.

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The No-Trade Claws

by on Aug.27, 2009, under baseball

I am all about employee rights and privileges, especially as a former employee who didn’t even get treated as well as I deserved.  But there’s one thing I never understood about many of today’s baseball contracts – the no-trade clause.

This clause basically states that the player cannot be traded unless he approves a possible trade, or he can limit the teams he’s traded to, which usually includes the worst teams in the league.  It’s all about winning championships, of course.

I can see how a player wants to be set, and wants to not have to change their life around – a topic I touched heavily on during my ‘trade deadline’ post back on July 31.  I totally get that.  But at the same time, why do you want to stay there when the team’s being held back financially a few years into your contract, for instance?  Wouldn’t you want to be dealt if you’re not wanted so they can have more payroll flexibility?  It’s all about winning championships much of the time, especially if you’re a highly-paid superstar, so why not be moved elsewhere where you can win?  That would not only be a win, it would be a win-win.  I could barely face myself if I knew I was hindering my own team.

Or, as another example put more vaguely, why be somewhere where you’re not wanted?  If a team wants to trade you, wouldn’t you want to leave out of principle?  No one in the world hates being where they’re not wanted more than me, so I find this fascinating.  Sure, you may love the city you play in, and you may love your teammates and the fans, but it would be too awkward and tense to show up to work everyday knowing the powers above don’t want to see you there anymore.

It’s a nice, and very very rare opportunity to have such control over your own fate.  But is it worth the possible media hype, and the awkwardness from the same people that signed you in the first place?

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The Closer

by on Aug.18, 2009, under baseball

Last night, a Cubs pitcher lost his job.  He wasn’t traded, or released, or even benched.  But he lost his role – a role proudly held by relievers for decades, since its invention by Jerome Holtzman.  He, be it temporarily or permanently, lost his job as the closer.  Many Cub fans want to wring his neck and yet out all their hard feelings on him, and I was one of the many who was incredibly frustrated.  Seeing him give up three runs to a last place team defined a lot of the anguish Cub fans have been going through since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.

But then I remembered – it isn’t like he wanted to do that.  He didn’t want to let his team down and be humiliated.  The cliche players use is that they have to just shrug it off and go out and try again the next day, a new day.  And that would be great if the human mind and heart could be so on and off like that.  Athletes are modern day warriors, out to seek and conquer, and perfect themselves.  I bet that pitcher barely slept last night.  I bet he analyzed what he did, what he threw and how he threw it.  After all, if a warrior went for a kill and his weapon didn’t do the trick, wouldn’t he question it?  He’d be shamed.

Of course, his teammates have to back him up and support him.  You win together, you lose together.  Even if some part of you wants to let every word of annoyance and frustration out at him.  It simply wouldn’t do any good.  It wouldn’t make his ball snap as well as your words would.

The best closers have that one devastating pitch that confuses and baffles hitters.  Sure, every pitcher could use that, but closers need to bring the idea to the batters’ head in the ninth that the game’s already lost.  Closers should drive fear, should have that quirkiness in them that intimidates a batter and leaves them already thinking about the next game.  Where you know you’re cooked before you’re even thrown in the pan.

The Cubs closer that lost his job may get it back; or he may not.  If he finds that pitch that blows the other team away, he’ll get it back.  If he takes the mound like a warrior and looks like he’s in for the kill, he may be able to have intimidation on his side.  He’s had success before, and he will again – he has no choice.  Until then, he’ll have to shake it off and try again, like they always say.

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Baseball does not build character. It reveals it.

by on Aug.13, 2009, under baseball, goodbyes, human emotions, love

For twenty-three seasons, X has been a major league baseball player.  A star for many seasons, always reliable, always professional.  Always came to batting practice early, always doing the extra infield drills, always talking to each coach thoroughly, with the eagerness of a rookie, year after passing year.

That’s what made X such a wonderful player, and such a perfect role model.  It doesn’t take a baseball fan to understand the love he had for his craft, for his brethren, for those that loved him as much as he loved them back.  It’s may be talent that allowed him to work his magic with his glove and his bat, but it took character to turn that into the respect and devotion he’s put into his entire carer.

X was finishing up work on his glove one Spring morning, in the clubhouse.  He always used the same mitt; that same old trusty mitt, that’s caught over 10,000 balls in its lifeline.  X was beckoned into the manager’s office, where the door was shut gently behind him.  X stood up and smiled, and put the mitt inside of his duffle bag.  He knew.

“What’s going on, Mr. Coach?” X asked, knowing the conversation that was about to begin.  Yet still respectful, as always.

“X, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m going to try anyway.  The staff and I just put together the 25-man roster, and I just spoke to (General Manager).  This is killing me…but you didn’t have a good Spring, X.  We both know that.  you hit under .100 and could barely chase any fly balls.  If we kept you on this year, everyone would see it would hurt the team, and neither of us want that.  I know you’ve been on this team since half our lineup was born…you know what I’m saying, X.”

X blinked a few times, and looked down, noddling slowly.  “I know, Mr. Coach.  I lost count of how many hours I ice my shoulders and knees these days.  The desire’s still there, so is the passion…but my body isn’t.  You don’t need to say anything else.  I’ll clean out my locker for the kid and fly back to Chicago.  Thanks for letting me play the Spring out, Mr. Coach.”

The coach smiled, with faint tears forming on the sides of both eyes.  He stood up and shook X’s hand gratefully.  “We could have put you on the 40-man roster and sent you down to the minors, but you looked like you were saying goodbye every day already.  You and I go back a lot of years, X, no one will miss you more than I do.  Thank you…thank you.”  The coach took his hat off, holding it in front of his stomach, and let the tears flow.

X was speechless.  He nodded and smiled, and went to open the office door.  As he did, he looked back one more time.  “It’s been a great run, Mr. Coach.  I’m going to go on the field one more time, if it’s alright, and I’ll be on my way.  Give the new kid my regards.”  The coach humbly nodded and smiled back, and X shut the door.

Getting back to his locker, he went through each memory he had as he packed up.  The first cap he got when he signed his first contract two and a half decades ago, pictures of him friends long since retired or deceased, and a sticker he got on the first day of spring training twenty-three years ago that said “Baseball is your music; sing your finest tune.”  A token from one of the best players of his lifetime.

X’s eyes watered to match his lightly quivering cheeks as he carefully peeled the sticker off the locker and put it outside of the locker door.  “Best of luck, kid” X said as he gathered his things.  He took one last look at the old and small clubhouse, still as can be.  All of the other players went on that old familiar plane right back to the major league city, preparing for the 162 game season ahead.

X walked slowly out of the clubhouse, down the long and low hallway leading to the field.  He walked up to the plate and took out his bat.  Seeing the groundskeeper, also a dear friend, he called out to him “Hey Z, can you do me a favor?”

Z didn’t need to ask what he was doing there, but wasn’t sure what the request was.  An old high school friend of X’s, he felt the goodbyes of the Spring with everyone else.  He shook his head and laughed, and walked over from where he was in the visitors bullpen, where he was fertilizing the grass.

“Yeah X, you old lug, what do you want?”

“Do me a favor and walk over in front of the mound and pitch one like you used to.  Just one.”

“I’m not even going to ask.  Whatever floats your boat, X.”

Z walked up in front of the mound, about fifty feet from home plate.  He picked up a nearby ball and got his grip.  Smiling through his focus, he threw one straight and true in front of X.

X pushed his right foot back, flexed his arms, quickly raised them and swung through his aching bones and muscles.  He flinched in pain as he connected with the ball, and swung through before dropping the bat immediately.  The ball sailed, almost looking as if it was enjoying its moment in the air, before finding its home past the center field fence in the accompanying lawn.

X stood there, with the numb pain lingering throughout his upper body, with his throbbing fingers.  He looked at where the ball landed for what felt like eternity, and looked back at Z, who looked back at him quixotically.

“No worries, Z, just had to do that one more time.  I’ll see you around.”

Without another word, X walked through the field, taking it all in after his self-produced last hurrah, and let himself out through the right field gate.  He didn’t look back that time; he let the hit speak for itself, as he always had before.

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Life is like a baseball game. When you think a fastball is coming, You gotta be ready to hit the curve.

by on Jul.30, 2009, under baseball, family, friends, human emotions, trade deadline

I write this post in the wee hours of the morning on July 31st, 2009.  For most of us, it’s just another day.  Offices are doing end-of-the-month reporting, people are tearing another page off their calendars, specials are changing at your local restaurant, and Summer’s first half is long gone as the year’s 58.3% gone as well.

For Major League Baseball players, emotions are at some of their highest, as this is one of the most emotional-driven days of their season.  Like Spring Training and the playoffs, this is a pivotal point for many lives and many paths.  Between now and 4:00pm on the east coast, hello’s and goodbye’s will ring more than at any other point in the heart-wrenching, body-killing 162 game season.  Owners, presidents, general managers, scouting directors, agents, and most importantly, the players, will hear the clocks tick, the phones ring, and the stats thrown left and right on a player as if he’s a mere sheet of paper in a hungry pennant race.

A few chosen hotels are standing by, waiting for a call from a team telling them to book a suite for their next piece of their hopeful championship puzzle.  Or for the next select piece in their farm system, where those running up the hill, and over the hill, play for a dream.  Some players know they’ll be gone, some players get a rude awakening, for better or worse for them.  Wives and girlfriends (or boyfriends) are waiting to hear the fate of their husbands and lovers by the hour, by the minute, as Father Time’s finite period for this deadline draws nearer and nearer.  July 31, the non-waiver trading deadline for Major League Baseball.

Agents speak for them, general managers speak of them as pawns in their chess game, because this day is all about what the team needs.  Their needs and moves are life-changing, as the media and the fans chew on the fat of each news story, each twit, each tidbit of new information on a trade.  Whether a player wants to leave, or whether he dreads the notion and daily reminders from the public, dozens of uniformed soldiers report to new personnel in a mass quantity all week, and for 14 more hours.  The nervousness, the anticipation, the excitement, the frustration, all show each true color as they do their best to go about their daily lives.  Or try to, anyway.

To the vast majority of the fans, players are simply components that affect the representation and winning capabilities of their hometown teams.  If they under-produce, most don’t care if they’re dumped just like that.  If they’re expendable, who cares if they’re gone, so long as they fill in a hole in the roster?  Few of us stop to think what that means to the player.  How it determines the rest of his season, his career, and the life of his family is rarely fathomed.

I got a chance to talk about this topic with a former Major League Baseball player.  I did not get a chance to ask his permission to use his name, but I will say he was once a member I valued on my beloved Cubs, and someone who has gone through this very thing.

He mentioned a few things I did not think of – the idea that if you’re performing well and get dealt, you feel secure because there’s a better chance you’ll stay with that team, and find yourself a new home and a new exciting fan-base.  But if you get traded for under-producing, as I mentioned above, you stress more because of the new equation you’re brought into; that is to say, your new role with the team.  You may have been a beloved member of team A, but to team B, you sit on their bench and watch a team you may hardly know play without needing you as much.  I can’t imagine the loneliness, or the uneasiness.  Yes, ballplayers are millionaires these days, who will be financially stable anywhere once they hit this level, but they’re also human beings who may find job relocation following a business lunch or a thirty-second phone conversation.  And all a player can do is wait.

The player I interviewed made another mention – how their children have to say goodbye to their friends, how their wives are left behind to figure out their mandatory new living situation.  Some players who are traded still have several years left under their current contract, and may not see many warm days at their current home again.  New schools, new estate, new ways of life – including a new dreary apartment or shared house to those players still unproven.  Many wives have to say goodbye to the house they made their own with the player they wedded, to the friends they’ve grown attached to, to the happy life they had where they were.  As much as a player is a mere soldier in a battalion, trudging through a million-mile season, they have to be nomadic and well-prepared if they’re to make it through a long and hard career.

For every game that has to be won, a birthday is missed.  For every RBI scored, and anniversary is missed.  For every loss taken, a player’s lover says goodnight to an empty pillow.  These players, these soldiers, these pawns, have a job to do, a talent to use, a unilateral skill to answer to, and each of the thirty teams has a vast game of chess to play without getting a checkmate.  For each piece lost, one step forward needs to be taken.  Each piece on the board needs to be in a certain place in order to win.  Only the chess you and I play have tangible and unfeeling pieces…to thirty front offices right now, they change lifelines.  And business in this old game never feels colder, or more surreal, in the heated Summer than it does today.

New friends are made, old friends hug or shake hands, promises to keep in touch are made briefly, and a bus, or plane, awaits their fate.  The fate of the player, their wives and lovers, their children, their family, their friends.  Bags are hurriedly packed, goodbye kisses are known to be salty with the tears breaking between lips, retrospect is administered, and a fresh new start shows itself as a sharp right turn.  Whether a player is meant to stay with the team for three months or three years, depending on their contract, a new significant chapter must begin.  Even if they wanted to go, they leave a whole life behind them – and maybe a teammate, wife or lover that just doesn’t want to see them go.

While a team trades for a player, they really set the course of lives before them, and all of those they love.  And in a day where baseball is making more than it ever did, with more players than they’ve ever had, with a larger media than ever before, more and more of these lives are changed as more uniforms are created.  As I sit here writing this, I can guarantee a score of our hometown heroes, our team’s lifeblood, is watching the clock right now, wondering what their future holds.  And if they have the same anxiety disorder I do, I couldn’t try to put into words what they’re going through at this moment.

Players can still be dealt after today, but not in a condensed situation like this.  Not like any other point on the battlefield they encounter 162 times in six months.

So to every player right now on the wire, whether they know they’re on it or not, and to very wife and lover of these men, as well as their children, friends and family – there’s at least one fan out there who appreciates what you must be feeling right now, joyful or melancholy as it may be, and I thank you for going through it.  This is the last night of this deadline, so breathe, get up at the same time for practice, and either await Father Time’s pendulum, or completely ignore him.

13 hours left as of the end of this entry.  You can make it.  And whether we fans are watching you go, or watching you enter, we await your fate alongside you, with or without similar feelings.

And if you find yourself in a new city at the end of today, you’ll continue to do your best to make your own fate, and the July 31st trade deadline will be 365 days away once again.

Breathe.


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