The Perfect Game
Last night I pitched a perfect game.
My team finished the season with a league-best 100 wins. First, I won the Cy Young with a 19-win season. Then, in round one of the National League playoffs, I pitched the perfect game. Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down.
Well, actually, I didn’t do it. I mean, I did, but I used major-leaguer, Shane Bieber, on MLB The Show to accomplish the feat.
Yes, I am aware of my age and station in life and I don’t care. I like sports and sports games and if they had had the Artificial Intelligence they have now when I was a kid, I might be like these little basement farts and never have seen the sun. Hence, I am thankful to have grown up in the perfect era, when boys were boys and baseball was played on gravel lots and grassy fields and entire afternoons could be spent playing Flies and Skinner.
Back to my feat. I used an above-average fastball, a great knuckle curve, a whiplash-causing change-up, and a devastating slider to mow down my opponents. I threw some real zingers and then went to bed content. I subsequently woke up with writing on my mind.
Let me connect the dots.
The Perfect Comeback
Earlier in the day, before my MLB heroics, I was in the truck running a few errands and listening to Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons on Audible™. Frazier wrote best-selling novel Cold Mountain in 1997 and won the National Book Award. That novel was adapted for film and became a blockbuster there, too. I loved Cold Mountain. After undergoing back surgery in 1999, my wife bought me the book to read while I was off my feet. I read it night and day until I was done. It was impactful and influential on me as a writer. (Or, so-called, even if I am the only one calling me that.) This is the first time I have read Frazier since. It’s another good read.
Written as a memoir by the protagonist, Frazier put the following words in his character’s inkwell…
This walloped me upside the head. I took it personally.
Did I ever tell you I graduated valedictorian of my senior class? Never mind it was a class of something like 15 or maybe 20. Still, I was top of the class and my grades were such that I would have been top of most classes, regardless of size.
My entire life, I have been an uncomfortable mix of class clown and class president. I was always getting high marks for my schoolwork and raised eyebrows for my smart mouth. When it comes to comebacks, I have a hair-trigger. Someone insults me or makes me the butt of their joke, I fire back and usually with blinding speed and devastating accuracy. This I am not proud of.
Worse still, I do not always wait to fire a comeback. If there is an opening, I am just as likely to fire the opening salvo. Somebody (especially if they are friend, but sometimes if they are foe, or even barely acquaintance) lobs a verbal softball and my eyes light up. I swing for the fences.
Never mind what it feels like to be the butt of the joke, huh? When you are the one getting the laughs, that’s good stuff.
A Perfect Shame
There’s an elementary school memory that sticks with me like East Texas mud to work boots. By fifth grade, I already had the class clown thing down. I could get ‘em rolling with a well-timed zinger. The easiest mark in the tiny fifth-grade class in Strawn, Texas, an itty-bitty burg of 700 souls, was a kid named Roland. Roland was a weird one – and poor to boot. His clothing looked like the stuff Salvation Army had no use for. The bottoms of his sneakers would come unglued and flop when he walked. His pants would not need to be rolled up to wade through a shin-deep creek. His shirts were always too big and often the buttons didn’t align. His hair was always a mess of rooster tail and cowlick. And, worse, he had allergies. Sometimes there would be dried snot caked under his nose.
I felt sorry for Roland…until that one day when a softball was lobbed my way. I do not recall the set-up or the joke itself, but I do recall the roar of laughter and the look on Roland’s face. I recall his recoil as if he had just been stung by a bee. I also recall walking home after school and seeing him under a Pecan tree, knees pulled to his chest rocking forth and back. I think he was crying but I was too ashamed to go see.
I have been involved in similar incidents in adulthood. Sometimes, I have been the one firing off the funny joke at someone else’s expense. One day I did this with a fellow who was an easy mark and it brought Roland back to mind. I promised myself and God I would never fire a shot like that at an easy mark again. I hope not to break that promise. If I do, I will confess and try again.
Let me finish connecting the dots…
The Perfect Pitch
When you play MLB The Show and your player is up to bat, the hardest thing to do is to remain disciplined at the plate, especially where sliders are concerned. It looks for all the world like a big, fat, juicy strike is coming your way and you are going to blast that sucker to kingdom come. Then, at the last second, it bends out of the zone and you nearly jerk your player’s arms off swinging at it.
You look foolish and play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian says something like, “I’m not sure, but I think he might have been blindfolded for that pitch.”
(There are smartasses everywhere, even in the machines.)
Just letting a pitch go by and not swinging, especially when one is lobbed at you rather than hurled and it looks like a softball coming your way, can be a difficult discipline. But it is worth it if you want to get to first base…or even better, blast a home run.
To all of you smartasses and class clowns out there, you who possess the gifts of humor and wit, you who have mastered the comeback, it is ok to let one go by every now and then. So what if you miss a chance at a few laughs? You might gain an opportunity at friendship. You might win someone’s confidence. You might become some vulnerable person’s harbor.
I was barely out of high school, a preacher boy with invitations to speak at various services from youth rallies to church revivals when I met a pastor in Kennedale, Texas, whose name I do not recall. I was speaking at a rally at his church on a Friday night but spent a couple of days there leading up to the service. I managed to get a few good zingers in along the way.
Then, I preached. The response to the sermon was tremendous. Nearly the entire congregation flooded the twin altars at the front of the sanctuary. When there was no room on either side of either altar, sinners kneeled along the stage and the front pews. Some gave their lives to Christ and others rededicated themselves to their roles as Christians in the community. It was one of the most powerful services I was ever a part of – and I was still a kid preacher.
Afterward, the preacher pulled me into his office. He was in there with two other pastors and a couple of deacons. They wanted to lay hands on me and pray. I had never had a hand laid on me, except in a fight or after I smarted off around my Dad. I was a little overwhelmed by that room full of men and intense emotions.
I still remember what that short, round-bellied, bald-headed, but oh-so-passionate pastor said to me that night.
“Son, you have a gift from God. But you have to decide if you want to be the clown getting all the laughs or the man God uses to win hearts. You have to decide.”
Then, he prayed. It was like he was wrestling with all the forces of Heaven and Hell. That little room was filled with a spiritual intensity I have seldom experienced since. Looking back, I can imagine invisible forces lining up like mighty ethereal armies of angels and imps, preparing to do battle over my mind and my very soul.
So, I have decided to try to let a few opportunities go by. I have decided not to swing at every softball lobbed my way. Do I like to get a good laugh? Yes! I do. Do I enjoy banter? As much as ever. But I would rather win a friend than score belly laughs or claim victory in a bout of barbs.
I will always remember Roland. I still wish I could go sit by him under that tree to say I am sorry, to ask his forgiveness, to be his friend.
I have not pitched a perfect game and some who read this may have been the butt of one of my jokes. If I hurt your feelings or embarrassed you, please forgive me. I will try to do better.
Come to think of it, maybe some of you could join me.