Tag Archives: baseball

Opening Day: The Eternal Call of “PLAY BALL!”

It gets harder and harder, as the years go by, to shore up the rituals that shore up all of us. Thanksgiving is nice, but every year, something is missing, even from the enjoyable editions of that holiday. The electronic erosion of the Christmas season speeds up year by year; add climate change and the acceleration of time as we age, and it’s clear that you can’t go back to Bedford Falls.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh. I have great seats in the There-In-Spirit section.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh. Got great seats in the There-In-Spirit section.

Still, I get giddy on the opening day of every Major League Baseball season. I simply won’t let it decay. I have dug extra French drains and caulked around all the seams of memory. No amount of The Clean, The Clear, or pants worn down over the shoes will diminish today’s opener in my mind to a level below the ones I saw as a kid, when The Great Clemente himself loped out onto the field.

I try to be quiet about it, but fact is, only attitude saves me here. It is the same annoying mindset that young, overzealous sales associates employ to turn car accidents and overflowing toilets into positives instead of the undeniable negatives they are. I am resolute in my determination to keep Opening Day sacred.

Why? Because I deserve it, that’s why. Because its moment is so brief, and in the grand scheme so inconsequential, that it hurts no one for me to sit for a few minutes on a day in April (oh…it’s March…never mind) and draw a line backwards in my mind: McCutchen to Clemente to Mazeroski to Traynor to Wagner and back and back through dead-ball antiquity to the Civil War itself and rounders in England. Because Terence Mann was right, more prescient as a fictional character than legions of real people: They will most definitely come, Ray. For it’s money they have and peace they lack.

Like the God-given aroma of a newborn baby, I cannot get enough grass-clipping-and-horsehide smell into my nose. Can’t be there this year, but I have an archive. Buck O’Neil, the great Kansas City Monarchs first baseman, said it best: You can’t kill it. Throw whatever you want at baseball, and somebody somewhere will be playing as soon as it gets warm. No need for opening new markets in Australia, no worries about salaries and Arizona stealing all the teams for spring training and A-Fraud. Just…the game.

Thank goodness for The Show.

© 2014 Adam Barr

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Baseball: You Have To Want To Get Clean

Either Major League Baseball wants to clean up the pro game once and for all, or it doesn’t.

Bulletin: it doesn’t.

Plea bargains, half measures, and suspensions don’t scare mega-millionaires. It’s a serious version of the old stand-up comic joke about those roadside signs that say, “Speeding $200 fine.” Guy says, “Yeah; I can afford that,” and down goes the pedal. Or the plunger on the hypodermic. Doesn’t matter.

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is appealing a 211-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is appealing a 211-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

The latest news in the never-ending, someone-always-doping world of Major League Baseball is the suspension of New York Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez for using performance-enhancing drugs and then obstructing the investigation into it. Armed with incontrovertible evidence, Monday the league slapped a 211-game sit-down on Rodriguez, one of MLB’s biggest stars — essentially for the rest of this season and all of 2014. But Rodriguez will appeal, and started last night’s game in Chicago. The arbitrators won’t be able to make a decision until November, so A-Rod will be able to finish this season before even thinking of having to serve any suspension. As for the rest of his career, and his $28 million annual contract, it remains to be seen when, if ever, the 38-year-old veteran will play in the big leagues. Or whether he will suffer even a little for his transgressions.

Also Monday, a dozen other players accepted 50-game suspensions for similar transgressions. Last month, Milwaukee Brewers star (and former National League Most Valuable Player) Ryan Braun was suspended for 65 games for PED use, this less than 18 months after escaping a similar ban on a technicality. Braun lost his endorsement deal with sporting goods giant Nike, but the eight-year, $105 million contract extension he signed in 2011 is presumably still in effect.

The mental gyrations over contracts, agents, lab technicians, owners, who knew what when, and all the rest of it could start a separate hot stove league. You can talk about them endlessly and arrive exactly where you started. (My favorite sneer-worthy argument is the oft-repeated, “Well, ballplayers have been cheating for generations.” Oh, yeah; I feel better now. That makes it alright. Just usher Pete Rose right into the Hall of Fame because he only got caught gambling. Errrrrryone did it….)

See, we all thought — we had a right to think — that this was all over after the 1998 and 2001 home-run-fests, the Seasons of the Big Pecs, the entire Barry Bonds-Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa fraud. Add Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens and the real-heroes gallery got pretty thin. MLB commissioner Bug Selig all but promised us up-to-date, fairly enforced doping procedures, as in other world sports. But no. Another lab name has surfaced, more achievement has been tainted, more faith in what could be a beautiful game without artificial heroics has been…wasted.

Only way this problem is ever going away is to ban guys in their prime. Make huge, thunderclap, weepy examples of them; make them face the world and admit they never had an inkling this could happen to them. And then stick to it. But the league has been unwilling to do that. Remember Manny Ramirez? Veteran of a 50-game drug-related suspension in 2009, Ramirez “retired” in 2011 rather than face the music on new charges of PED use. But at last report, Ramirez has been working his way up through the Texas Rangers farm system and planning on returning to the big leagues, maybe even this season. So all he had to do was dodge and wait? Doesn’t sound like enforcement, justice, or even serious punishment.

Oh, I know, I know: the players’ union. Collective bargaining. But is the current crop of doping baseball stars worth the recurring nausea of this fraud? Even if you’re not a lifelong baseball fan, even if the integrity of the ancient game doesn’t keep you up at night — wouldn’t honest be better?

Of course it would. So break the damned union. Or ask its honest members (there are many) to come along, to refuse to accept cheating, to police it at the clubhouse level. And if the union balks and won’t play ball — well, then they don’t have to. Dismiss them. Get scabs. Get unagented college players. You know how much young talent is coming out of the sun belt states alone these days? In a year or two, we wouldn’t even notice that Braun is gone, that A-Rod was a fraud, that home run numbers are down. Faced with the simple, stark decision of playing or not, most players will clean up and stay in the game. Their agents will make them do it.

What we’d notice, once and for all, is a fair game played by rules that are respected. The beauty of baseball would emerge again, at the highest level. Baseball wouldn’t continue careening into the pit where world bicycling has just taken up residence next to professional boxing.

Otherwise…I’m going to high school games.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

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Baseball: Spikes Hung Up For Real

I helped the man load the poles and netting into his pickup truck.

“My boys are really gonna like this,” he said, handing over the money.

“I’m glad,” I said. And I really was. I gave him a batting helmet I no longer needed. “Take this too; one of your boys can wear it.” He thanked me, got in his truck, and drove off. Transaction over.

The man didn’t feel an era ending, but I did. Batting cage sold. No baseball comeback now.

I am a trier. I try things. Between two important parts of my brain, the realistic part and the wishing part, is some canyon of a synapse I can’t help wanting to jump over again and again. Oh, I know, I always knew, I would never be a pro ballplayer, or even a good one. But dang, I wanted to try. And so I did.

Me, back in the day. And what a day it was.

Me, back in the day. And what a day it was.

It all started when my son was six or seven and going through the usual introduction to baseball through Little League. Dad is a huge fan, so naturally I encouraged Joseph to give it a try. He gave it a game try, too. But some kids take to it and some don’t. Some kids like the idea of trying to swat a ball coming at their head, some don’t. After three years, Joseph said no more please. I was fine with that; he gave it a shot.

But while he was doing it, I witnessed a lot of parents who leaned really hard on their kids to be successful baseball players. Really hard. Coaches expected fully formed ballplayers by age nine. There was one butthead who never ceased to yell from the stands, “PITCH IT, TYLER. DON’T THROW IT. PITCH IT.” Always. Every time his poor kid was on the mound, working in the heat, his dad worked on him, with never a word of encouragement. I wanted to throttle the guy.

If I was going to get any baseball glory, it wasn’t going to be on the back of my son. I decided, at age 46, to play myself while I continued to support his career. I did the research. I got a hitting coach, a friend from Golf Channel who really knows the game. I trimmed down to 197 pounds. (Some of that has come back, but not all.) I worked, learned, sprinted…yes, I did wind sprints. Bought a 10x10x40-foot batting cage and a pitching machine so I could practice in my back yard, and I practiced a lot.

I got on a team full of young guys and got the occasional at-bat. After awhile, I got the chance to manage my own expansion team in the Orlando Senior Baseball Association, a 38-and-over, real-deal, wood-bat, fast-pitch, nine-inning league.

My friends, I was…not good. No. I believe my lifetime batting average was around .182, although it may have edged north of the Mendoza Line (.200). I was not a fast runner. I had a slow bat; when I did connect, it was usually to the opposite field because I just wasn’t getting around as quickly as I should have.

And you know what? I really didn’t care. I got so much out of this try. Sure, there were failures aplenty. But also some really good plays: the RBI singles, the perfect bunts that set up the next batter to drive in runs, the towering fly balls that I was able to hunt down (you could hear everyone in the stadium holding their breath while I circled underneath). And then my favorite play: me on 1B, chasing down a high pop fly in foul territory. It came down hard, hit the heel of my glove, popped up toward my face — and I instinctively nodded. Ball stuck under chin. Umpire screamed, “BATTER’S OUT!”

I loved that play.

But much more important than all that stuff was the catalog of things I learned (or relearned) and the men I got to meet. I actually took myself out of a game once because I missed an easy pop fly, and felt everyone glaring at me (or imagined I did). Sitting next to me on the bench was my catcher, who waited an appropriate moment and then said, “You know, this game will beat you down. You just gotta stay on your feet. Next inning, get back out there. You deserve to be there.”

Another time, my manager (I had turned over the field managing duties by this time) called me in after a ball dropped between me in right field and our center fielder. I asked why. He needed people out there who would make an effort, he snapped. Problem was, my son was in the dugout. I was spectacularly embarrassed in front of my own boy. (Truth was, I was trying to avoid a collision with the center fielder.) But I bit my lip and took it. With my son watching. One day, he will have to do something similar and see that it’s not the end of the world.

If I could pick one thing I’m most proud of from my adult baseball experience, it’s that: the season-in, season-out, off-the-field observation of my son, who got to see his Dad try, fail, refuse to give up, deal with injury, come back from a knee operation (meniscus trim), be a member of a team — in other words, chase it, whatever the It turns out to be.

It felt great, playing ball. Nothing beats standing in the grass on a hot day, watching the bat, the count, the batter, waiting, hoping for the ball. I wanted that ball. At first base, I dug the digging out, the smell of dust, the rooster tail grit in my face from a short-hopped throw from the hole at shortstop, the around-the-horn satisfaction of completing a 5-3 with a deep stretch and POCK there’s that ball right where it should be in my glove, a full second before the runner’s foot hits the bag.

And as hard as hitting is, I loved being in that box. Every AB was a new chance. I did my share of walking back to the dugout, grimace on my face. But I also got to chug it down the line a few times after lifting a shot over 2B — or, one time I remember, trot down after taking a 70-mph fastball in the thigh. “Don’t rub it,” muttered one of my teammates as I passed our dugout. I shot him a look: “No FUCKING way,” I said.

As I reached my 50s, our league began to play in a beautiful stadium in Sanford, about an hour away. With drive time, game prep, and the game itself, it was a six-hour commitment, essentially a whole weekend day. I didn’t feel right about that from a family point of view. Also, I wasn’t getting any younger, but it seemed like the guys in the league were, with more and more just-old-enough pre-40s coming in. And the fact was, you can hide a slow runner, but it gets hard after awhile to hide a slow bat in the lineup. All in all, I figured it was time to go, even though I heard in my mind the echo of the old saw, “You don’t stop playing because you get old. You get old because you stop playing.”

I know I did the right thing. I was an injury waiting to happen, and you can’t play baseball the way it should be played if you’re thinking like that. Still, I always held out hope of coming back, perhaps as a late-innings role player, a fill-in OF, even a bullpen catcher — even though I knew it wasn’t likely. But as long as I had that backyard batting cage…

Until I didn’t. I always knew. And that’s fine. I’m so glad I played, that I took on the project and did it. I think I was helping more than just myself. So, the spikes are hung up for good.

Not that I’m going to stop being a trier. I rowed competitively in college, and there’s a boathouse just down the road. My wife and son have enrolled in programs, and wouldn’t you know: there’s a men’s masters division….

Comfort zones are overrated.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

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Confessions of a Serial Dabbler

Plates in the air, projects in process, hot messes on burners front and back — these seem to be the hallmarks of the creative life. The process of bringing something out of nothing involves a lot of uncertainty, so people who are good at it tend to crave chaos, steer clear of sharp corners and straight lines, and seek the liberating air of disorganization.

Then there are the single-minded and focused, who seem to arrow through life in a swath of concentrated purpose. They let nothing deter them from excellence in one activity, or perhaps a narrow scope of endeavor.

Does each secretly want to be the other? Maybe.

TV director James Burrows in his element.

National Public Radio recently aired an intriguing profile of James Burrows, the television director who revolutionized situational comedies with his work on Cheers, Taxi, Will & Grace and a great many other memorable shows. His record of directing pilots that go on to become hits – even cultural touchstones — is singular. He stuck with TV even when he could have moved easily into feature films. Burrows is the Van Gogh of his profession — a painter, not a painter-sculptor-poet. But rather than give up his ear, Burrows fine-tuned it — and his eye — success after success. His peers say that Burrows has no peers.

Listening to Burrows, who like many successful people is quiet and reserved in interviews, gives one the feeling of being at a cocktail party and mentally looking ahead on the talk-to list. He doesn’t sound like he’s going to be interesting. In fact, he sounds like your accountant on a milquetoast rant about home-office tax deduction regulations.

And yet it was hard for me to not want to be like him. For I am not.

My friends, I am a dabbler. There is no other word for it. And while it may not be completely pejorative, the word “dabbler” conjures up a deficit of seriousness that leaves an unwelcome mental aftertaste. People don’t always take you seriously when you try a lot of things, but aren’t expert in any of them.

I recognized myself immediately in the book Mastery. Author George Leonard drew a clear distinction between expertise and the staying power needed to achieve it on one hand, and the dilettantism (read: impatience) of the dabbler on the other. He even made his point graphically. While the dabbler’s interest and enthusiasm are high early, they drop off in a depressing cliff soon after starting. The master, however, accepts small gains separated by long plateaus during which it may seem he will never improve. But he plods on, working and waiting.

I work for a Japanese company whose culture demands patience and a healthy dose of self-negation. Gravitas and dedication are crucial. So you’d think the route of mastery would come come naturally to me.

And still, I can’t help myself. Well, I can, but I don’t want to. Fact is, I like to do a lot of things. Read. Write. Even draw a little. Take photographs. Cook. Sing. Play golf. Play baseball. Do yoga. Run. Kayak. Fish. Sleep. (When?)

“But that’s one the best things about you!” said a particularly supportive friend recently. “You’re brave enough to try things and not worry about falling on your face.”

He’s right. Within reasonable limits, I don’t fear embarrassment. A strange mixture of courage and fear impels me to do things that seem outlandish to some people. At age 46, I decided that it would be better for me to play baseball myself than to force Little League dreams on my son. I worked with a coach, got in shape, fought advancing age and the accursed difficulty of hitting (if you think it was tough when you were a kid, try picking it up after a 35-year layoff), and secured a spot on a team in a 38-and-over league.

Back innuh day.

And then there was the reaction of friends. “You’re NOT doin’ that,” one neighbor said. “No way.” At the time, I was setting posts for a net batting cage in my back yard. He was not helping; he refused. “You’ll blow out a knee. Or your back. C’mon.” I ignored him. (He later joined the same team.)

That was the courage part. The fear element was more like an uneasiness. I have always found the next bend in the road to be as magnetic as a beautiful woman. I must know what is around it. I fear not finding out. This quirk has served me well in accumulating memorable travel experiences; I have glanced into some very non-touristy corners of the world from Scotland to Seoul to Shikoku Island. It has also bought me some interminable flights and long walks back along routes that turned out to be dead ends.

No worries. I wouldn’t have it any other way, especially as age makes these things physically harder. So I played baseball until the prospect of injury and the drain on family time grew too great. I never became very good, although I made some good plays. Would I change anything? No. There are a few pitches I’d like to see again, sure. But otherwise, no.

I dabbled in baseball as a player, and I am the better for it. I proved to myself I could do it, at least some of it. With any luck my son saw me persevere and will use the lesson himself some day.

Some of the things I have dabbled in, I have become pretty good at. I’m a good writer. That’s one area of my life where, although constructive criticism is always welcome, my self-esteem is absolutely bulletproof. I refuse to believe anyone who says I’m not a good writer. I have tried; it’s just not a defensible conclusion.

Then there’s cooking, where I am fearless if not solidly expert. I’m not likely to stack a scallop on a sweet potato pancake on a little pool of raspberry-Key lime-basil reduction in a way that would make a New York City foodie swoon. But give me five ingredients and a kitchen and I will please you. The other night, I improvised lobster-cake appetizers with chopped scallions and cumin that had guests smiling and asking for recipes.

My unreasonable heart, which refuses to give in to my logical mind, fuels a great deal of my dabbling. I have a good singing voice, and after a colleague reminded me of this during a recent karaoke evening in Japan, I decided to cultivate the gift a bit more carefully. I started taking voice lessons again after 30-some years. Classical voice lessons. I want to sing opera. (Click here to read why.)

The impudent heart is to blame here. It looks at, say, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the incomparable Siberian baritone, and says, “He’s human. You’re human. Same vocal equipment. You can do that.” And before my logical mind can bullet-point the reasons why Hvorostovsky is infinitely more gifted, my heart is off like a shot, making plans for me to be the next great Verdi baritone at the Metropolitan Opera. My mind gives up and tags along.

And of course, my mind is right. But any effort I make to improve my voice and musicianship, even if it gets me not a kilometer closer to my idol’s prowess, is time well spent. The joy of making music, and the possibility of performing one day (even in a small-company opera chorus), make the elaborate dabble worthwhile. And 51 years of accumulated maturity make it easier. My voice teacher, accustomed to teaching precocious and emotionally ebullient teenagers, knows she can try anything on me (including frank denigrations of my efforts) and I will not dissolve into tears. I will plod on.

Ah! Did you hear that? I will plod on. Maybe there is a way to combine the gifts of the master with the enthusiasm of the dabbler. I have not given up every other hobby and whim to become the best opera singer I can be. But I have decided to stick with it as much as personal economy, my golf game, and the search for the perfect blueberry pancake will allow. Maybe a little longer, even.

So I will never be the James Burrows type of excellent. But all in all, I am happy as a dabbler. Truth is, the dabbler, the constant searcher around the next bend, gets to a vital age. It’s the age where he or she realizes that the constant need for variety, newness, challenge and exhilaration require giving up the chance at kudos for sticking with one realm of expertise. It’s about accepting oneself and making the most of it. It could be a good book, or a blog.

Hm. I might dabble in that. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2012 Adam Barr

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Mr. Eastwood, Pull Up a Bleacher

I know people who actually vowed to stay away from Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Trouble with the Curve, because of the Hollywood legend’s look-away-embarrassing performance at the Republican National Convention with the Obamaless chair. I screwed up my face at that notion. A generation of Giants fans kept coming to games to see the on-field expertise of Barry Bonds, even as they cringed at his standoffish locker room behavior and grating insistence on referring to himself in the third person, as if he were somehow royal.

So despite my political differences with Eastwood, I was happy to settle in for this picture, a pleasing film whose chief strength is that it’s a real human story masquerading as a baseball movie. All the best baseball movies  — Bang the Drum SlowlyPride of the YankeesField of Dreams — used the drama of the game to set in relief deeper stories of love, loss, redemption, and life’s habit of remolding our dreams into better ambitions. Curve, even with its occasionally patchy script, joins that all-star cinematic lineup.

Team players: Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood are a baseball family in Trouble with the Curve.

Eastwood is an aging major league scout whose eyesight, the foundation of his skills, is eroding. His daughter, played by the increasingly skilled Amy Adams, is a high-powered Atlanta lawyer who allows herself to be distracted from the case that will make her career so she can help her gruff and irritatingly independent Dad. As ego-puffed high school prospects, youth-movement front-office nerks, and hyper-competitive lawyers looking for partnerships cross the scene, Adams’ daddy issues and Eastwood’s problems with aging get exposed like a rookie swing.

And it’s here that Eastwood and Adams display the best of their craft. Adams shows nuances of face and voice that fly nonstop to the heart. She’s gotten so good at it that you forget (temporarily) that she is beautiful in an honest way, the complete antithesis of the usual Hollywood stick-figure, forever-teenager ethic. Eastwood, now 82, is simply steeped in experience, every wrinkle earned — way past the Man with No Name. Sure, the irascible part of an old man is easy to play when you’re past 80. But the important stuff — none of it gets by him. The brief scene of his solo visit to his wife’s grave is worth ten times the price of admission. And as Kenneth Turan said in his review on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, seeing Eastwood make an elderly character so real pays proper attention to a slice of humanity that Hollywood usually ignores in favor of the young, taut, and pretty.

And it’s these moments that make up for a few clunky writing bumps and a that’s-a-stretch resolution of the story, which will take a little disbelief suspension for real baseball fans. These lapses are not enough of a problem to distract from Curve‘s other pleasant surprises, to wit: Justin Timberlake doing an actual sensitive job of acting as a young scout who is attracted to Adams’ character (that alone makes him believable), and John Goodman in yet another movie he didn’t kill.

Trouble with the Curve is more a heart-twister than a heart-pounder, to be sure, and the story might even be considered predictable. But, as one of my favorite play-by-play guys used to say, a bloop is as good as a blast — or a walk is as good as a hit, or something like that. In any event, this movie reaches, and in a significant way, scores.

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I Don’t Even Know How To Be Thin

Anyone who has set, strived for, and achieved a goal probably has had this experience: You work, sweat, improve, backslide, endure disappointment, reenergize, recommit, work, sweat, improve, rinse, repeat….and one day, you prevail. And then…

Someone forgets to cue the choir of angels. The putt for 69 drops, the ball sails over the fence, the A in organic chemistry shines forth from the printout on the wall by the professor’s office…and there is a noticeable void where the fanfare was expected.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a nice moment. Smiles, a warmth around the heart, the pleasure of a happy phone call to a trusted friend who was shootin’ in the gym with you the whole time. But there is also the realization that not every achievement, no matter how big it seemed from below, presents an occasion for a wild dance of abandon on the summit. Whatever you have learned about struggle and patience along the way colors the victory, puts it in some kind of perspective that you have yet to understand.

And then there’s psychic habit. When you’ve been short of your goal for so long, you kind of get used to feeling incomplete, or even like a loser. Even the evidence of your victory can’t dissuade you from the feeling you’ve become use to — that you’re deficient in some way. After I started breaking 100 consistently, I still felt like a bad golfer, even though the statistics said I had gotten better and anecdotal reports from friends (grudgingly) attested to the improved efficiency of my swing. Being a bad golfer was all I knew. (I still know it, in a relative way. I’ve only broken 90 four times in my life.)

I have fought my weight all my post-college life. Perhaps I haven’t fought hard enough, because I love to eat. Match that personality with a barrel-shaped eastern European body, and you can understand how even in the best eras of personal fitness, I can never approach the slate-abs narrowness of the modern archetype of male beauty.

This is not me. Scales are for fish.

Check the title of this column again. It says I don’t know how to be thin. I know how to get that way. Done it a dozen times. Most recently I lost weight to secure my career in television (ha–see how well that worked out), and many people I encountered at work noticed, which was encouraging. Now that that necessity is gone, and owing to my affection for cooking and food, I have gained a lot of that weight back, although the net is still down from five years ago, when I began the campaign.

At the same time, I was playing adult baseball in a league for men age 38 and older. I desperately wanted to get below 200 pounds so I would be faster, leaner, stronger. It took awhile, but I did it, briefly. I showed up at hitting practice one day (I worked with a friend who is a good coach) and reported my weight at 201.

“Hell,” he said. “You’re just a good shit away.”

Indeed. But without artificial changes to my intestinal traffic, I was able to work my way down to 197 pounds for awhile. It took a huge organizational effort of will that had me thinking about food — what to eat, what not to eat, and when — as much as someone who obsesses about it on the unhealthy end of the eating spectrum.

Still, 197 was a huge victory. But having felt “fat” for so long, I really didn’t know how else to feel. Counting myself among the thin of the world felt jinxy, like some sort of modern hubris. I sure enjoyed some of the skinnier clothes I could wear, and my baseball and golf improved. But in the grand scheme of the world, of the soul’s duty to love people, seek God in earth’s details, and be kind to children….why should the universe care about my mountaintop? And if the universe didn’t overemphasize it, how could I?

In the end, 197 was a lifestyle I couldn’t support in any natural-feeling way. When I stopped playing baseball, I began to get rounder. Advancing age (I’m 51) made weight loss harder and certain kinds of exercise riskier. My passion for good food did not diminish.

Still, my duty to myself and those who love me made some sort of action necessary. And so I joined a walk-run program sponsored by a local running store. It’s designed to introduce people to running, or to provide formerly active folks like me a way back into the sport while reducing the chances of injury.

It’s fun. The people are nice (although some would rather be left alone to get the work done), the coach is conscientious, and the pace is both responsibly measured and challenging. Already I’m seeing strength gains, and moderate weight loss, just a few weeks in. We walk, run, walk, run some more, eventually running all the time.

But now, at this age and knowing what I know, it’s different. There is no number, no mountaintop. No waist size in sight, no one to attract but my wife of 22 years and whatever ego-puffing momentary glances I imagine may come my way from the moms at my son’s school at dropoff time. Fitness is what I want, a chance to avoid the wheelchair that my poor Dad has been condemned to because he worked so hard for us kids that he couldn’t allow himself permission to pursue anything so selfish as exercise. (Depression-era kids always put themselves last in adulthood.)

My goal now is to make it to my 90s with a sound mind in a reasonably sound body, to walk easily enough, to keep doing yoga until I need a ride to the lessons. This will take some of the grace of God, but I have to do my part. I want to live long enough to prove my theory that God created donuts to be eaten…maybe less often, but they sure aren’t there to be ignored. God is not a sadist.

So whatever goal(s) I reach, there will be no fanfare. I’ll be too busy learning how to be thin. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2012 Adam Barr

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Little Big League

[Note: This is an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript of mine (ha! how many times have you heard that before) entitled Middle Inning Crisis: An Ex-Little Leaguer Takes on Baseball Again 40 Years Later, which of course describes my adventures in adult baseball. In this portion, I revealed the kid-baseball roots of my desire to play ball long past the age when most people do. Now, I step aside for the eternal 9-year-old… A.B. (Some names have been changed to protect…well, mainly me.)]

Crazy game, baseball. Funny bounces and happenstance sometimes flip things around so that nine motor-skill disasters can wreak havoc on a world champion. Or some sad sack can stumble on a moment of brilliance. One July Saturday, I was one of those sacks.

It was late in the game, and Coach Fissinger had mis-juggled his innings. He couldn’t hide me completely if I were to play my minimum innings, so I was in line to hit third in the bottom of the last frame in a tie game. I helmeted up, grabbed my bat and started gripping the handle, twisting my palms against the tape as I watched the action through the chain-link.

Our field was in the corner formed by the big, white concrete retaining wall that held up Lincoln Elementary School and its asphalt play yard, and the larger playground where we had recess on school days. Broad cement tiers stepped down from the school and playground to our backstop, and an old oak threw dappled shade over the infield.

I don’t remember who was up first, but I know he got on and then dashed to second right away on an overthrow. Next came Roddy Norris. Roddy, a slight, gentle kid with a bowl of wispy, dishwater hair and no other distinguishing features, jockeyed with me all season for the title of Most Worthless Ballplayer. I don’t know if he was also ball-scared, or had just been forced into this by his folks and was therefore going through the motions. But he was a solid lower-part-of-the-order player, and therefore my brother.

Yea, brother; Brother Roddy got religion that day. He took a lunge at a sinking fastball and short-hopped one to second. The opposing second baseman, who by this time in the season knew Roddy’s rep, lollygagged to his right (What does that make him? A lollygagger) and punted it. Roddy was on first; the winning run was on third.

And here I was. Attaboys and go-get-’ems poured in from all sides and above as I walked to the plate, some in voices that had brought only derision before. I winced inwardly at what the promise of athletic success could do to people. All of a sudden I was hero material, even to people who wouldn’t be caught dead playing catch with me. I was beginning to understand bullshit.

But for some reason, I buried all that. Every other baseball situation I had been in had been fixable if I screwed up. This one seemed like a huge moral imperative. True, there were no outs. But the chance was too good. I knew. I had to get on base.

I stood in, and the sounds around me became louder (weren’t they supposed to recede? Wasn’t I supposed to be alone with my destiny, like other heroes? “Never heard the fans, Bob; I was just focused on my job.”) In the cacophony, strike one went by like a shot. Must swing the bat. So next pitch, I did, underneath a serving of high cheese.

Aw, crap. I felt nauseous. I was on my heels. And…here came a change-up. I didn’t think; I just dropped and squared, setting up for a bunt with the handle down, just as I had seen my Pirates heroes do. The ball hit my bat, and the next thing I knew, I was leaping over it as I chugged up the first base line.

I expected at any minute to get the seams in the back of my neck, or at least to hear Mr. Diebold scream “FOUL!” Never happened. I hit first, ran through, turned around…and the run had scored. Roddy, the other kids, Coach Fissinger, Mr. Davisson, all jumping around home. Game over. My first RBI.

Once the screams and claps on the back stopped, the team gathered as usual on the steps by the door to the school gym. Instead of looking down and picking at the laces of my glove, as usual, I waited in quiet expectancy. Coach Fissinger delivered.

“The real heroes of this game,” he said, inserting a pause to acknowledge the general amazement, “were Roddy…and Adam.” There was a lot of “holy shit” in his tone. But I let it go. I smiled as a murmur of recognition rose from the team, even from my detractors.

We had only two more games that season, and I settled back into my typical ways. But that Saturday, I floated home. Maybe I had a toehold in this game after all. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2008 Adam Barr

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