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dollar-sign on the muscle, out for the season, broken knuckles

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I think I’ve rebroken the knuckle of the middle finger of my right hand. I did it Saturday – the first time it broke (I think it broke, or chipped – this is more than a bruise) was three months ago. The first time it happened I was locked out of my house, late at night, and I punched the front door. This time, I punched a brick wall. Full on. Was (obviously) a jab, not somesort of roundhouse ridiculousness, and so my full weight wasn’t behind it, but enough F = M x A to do some serious redamage.

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My parents are visiting. They leave Tuesday morning, 7 AM.

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There is an old baseball gnomism, circulated in movies that put the baseball gnomisms on heavy rotation, like say Bull Durham, that pitchers should never punch anything, neither people nor things, with their pitching hand. It spells nothing short of career ending injury. Once a season, in the major leagues, somebody will go out on the mound and get rocked, get yanked from the game, and then come in to the dugout and punch the brickwall at the back. That is usually the end of them – they will never pitch again, or at least they will never pitch well, without pain, effectively.
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Recent therapeutic epiphany. When you’ve been in treatment as long as I have, the flow of epiphanies slows to a trickle, but it never completely stops. And the most common shape of the therapeutic epiphany is, of course, something that you’ve long known in a somewhat casual way that suddenly seems deeply revelatory, even definitive. That is to say, therapy is often enough not about learning new things, nor is it about learning the meaning of things per se, but about getting a sense of the intensity of the meaning of things, plumbing the depths, seeing the this in things.

Ugh. Still makes me queasy, that, and it’s the second time I’ve posted it. Is the icewater version of tumor, the bluelight cast of things like compound fractures and deep abcesses.

Anyway, what was the epiphany? That I use, still use, both in my private language and sometimes the publically-aired stuff, the discourse of baseball in order to speak or think about intellectual performance. Just a quick example. If someone permitted clearance to ask were to ask me what it is that I think I do best as an intellectual, what floats my boat and gets my checks signed, it would be that (bear with the private language – see!) I get good break on things. That I turn it over. This is pitching language, the vocabulary of the mysticism of pitching. Often it remains unclear, even to the pitcher himself, just how it is that he makes curveballs curve, sliders slide, and cutters cut. It’s a muscle-memory thing – you can’t rationally take yourself through a set of steps and make it come out right.

During my junior year of high school, I was a three pitch pitcher. Fastball, slider, and then a nice slow curve, 12 to 6, that worked both as a changeup and as a tremendous breaking pitch. I had to be careful who I threw it too, but in general it served as a lovely strikeout pitch – would draw swings in many cases that would be about half-a-second too early and eight inches too high. I loved it, loved to throw it, loved to strike people out with it. But because I did my baseball playing in a northern clime, there was a long layoff over the the winter when I barely touched a baseball at all. By the time I returned for my final season of baseball (self-determined final season – was supposed to pitch for my university but did not….) I simply could not throw the slow curve anymore. It didn’t break, or broke too slowly, and I quickly abandoned it. It was something I once could do, but then could do no more. There was no reason why – this failure simply happened.

What do I mean by this break stuff, in academico-layman’s terms, when I use it now? It means that I am a good dialectical thinker or, if you’re not into dialectics, that I come up with good arguments. I don’t say what I am supposed to say, what you’d expect me to say – I say something like the opposite and make it true. I won’t go on – this isn’t something that I should share. But there are other terms as well, lots of them, that patter through my mind in situations of stress and success, arrogance and insecurity. For instance, when I am on the market, the phrase dollar-sign on the muscle comes through a lot, a phrase that comes from this.

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The last time I punched another human being was in 1993. It was the day I first laid eyes on my future wife, the afternoon before the evening when I met her. We were gambling at school – we gambled all the time, couldn’t find enough things to bet and cheat in betting on – and someone ditched out on paying me my due. The guy took off down the stairs, I ran after him, I grabbed the baseball cap off of his head, he turned and pushed me, and I punched him right in the solar plexus, right there in the stairwell, knocking the wind out of him. He crumpled, and as he did, he gasped what the fuck, ads? He gave me the money, and then that night I picked up my later-wife at Newark Airport.

Since then, I’ve punched lots of things, but never humans. Most notably, upon receiving an email that informed me (in terribly ambiguous but still unmissable terms) that I was not to get a job at a very prestigious institution, a job that I was sure I had locked up, I stepped back from my desk, turned, and punched the oak panelling on a corner spot of our wall. It was solid oak, I cracked it through the middle. That time I did not break my knuckles, though it’s unclear to me why that is the case.

Later, we had a painter / carpenter in and my wife asked him to repair the damage. Embarrassing. But he said to her something like ah shit. your husband, he’s just like me huh? Her husband is indeed just like something.

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It was about this time, the time of baseball, that I started drinking. My best friend and I emptied my parents cabinet (they are teetotalers, my parents, but had some extremely high quality entertaining booze – a large stock of it, actually.) My best friend was a runner, potentially one of the best long distance runners in the state. But on nights before key meets I would talk him into drinking or smoking large amounts of pot, and then he would finish in the middle of the pack rather than up front. Everyone knows you can drink and still pitch, but you can’t drink and run cross country. This goes without saying. I am extremely good at talking people into drinking in a way that affects their performance negatively, and always have been.

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Now that I’ve broken my knuckle, serially, and without obtaining medical care for the injuries, I absolutely cannot throw anything with my right hand without bringing upon myself very serious pain, the sort of pain that makes you, if only for a few seconds, feel like you’re going to vomit. It is a bit hard to type. I don’t think I could write with a pen. Someone handed me an empty dinner-plate tonight and it brought tears to my eyes.

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There are many reasons why I didn’t play baseball at college. Through a quirk in the American admissions system and my own idiosyncrasies, I was admitted to but did not attend places like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. But the place I attended I was admitted to because of baseball, because I was put on some sort of list that indicated that I would be one of the starting pitchers for the team from 1996-1999. I know it’s odd that I got into the places above and had to get into the place I ended up attending via sports, but that’s the way it was. One of the reasons I didn’t play is because I received a note in my mailbox inviting me to some sort of hazing festitivity, and I don’t really do hazing. I don’t do hazing because I hate men, and can only get along with women. Long story that. But more broadly, I didn’t play baseball because the though of my father showing up each and every weekend to watch me pitch was too much for me to contemplate, and so I quit. Calls were left on my voicemail from the coach, a lot of calls, but I never answered them.

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Drinking is compatable, to an extent, with the study of literature and the playing of baseball. But playing baseball is not compatible with studying literature.

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If we ever meet up, you and I, feel free to ask to look at my broken knuckle. It’s a sight to see, and probably will make you feel slightly ill when you look at it.

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July 19, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Posted in baseball