One of the best baseball games I attended was several years ago when I was in my early twenties. My team, the Atlanta Braves, was playing the New York Mets at Turner Field. I had great seats ten rows behind the Mets’ dugout, easily within heckling distance of the hated rivals. The Braves somehow won the game in the final inning. And that’s all I really remember because I spent the whole game dizzying myself on a concession stand loop for beer. I had a great time. I think the game was pretty good too.
Instead of taking the game in and relishing its finer qualities, I was much more concerned with acting out. The beer flowed freely because that’s what I’m supposed to do at a baseball game—drink away the slow moments and holler at the few exciting ones. It took me years to realize the slow moments are the ones where thinking is done and progress is made.
Thinking isn’t reading or listening or talking. Thinking is taking one thing and adding another thing to it. The additions continue until a complete thought has been constructed. The only way to do this is to delve deep within my mind without distraction. My own utter failings as a baseball player—no, baseball participant—are proof that I didn’t have the concentration necessary to be successful. I loved the game, but not the mental stamina that goes with it. I didn’t want to think about my stance or balancing my weight or where my back elbow was or how much of a stride to take or the spin of the ball or the timing of my swing or flexing my wrists or keeping my eyes open. I just wanted to hit. I rarely did. And when I did, it was blind luck that brought ball and flailing bat together.
For many years I watched the game the same way. The only change was my increased use of alcohol to make the game more exciting, to drink away the tough thoughts. I had no direction. No thought. No idea. Eventually, in 2003, I got wise, sobered up, and realized that thinking had to precede action. Yes, natural ability is a large part of success. But to form that ability into success, much time must be devoted to studying and concentrating and thinking. It is hard work, but necessary work. I love baseball even more as a result of my sobriety. On the surface it is laid back, but in reality those quiet moments are when everything happens.
This is why I believe in baseball—the game that is played not in the action, but in the pauses. Every pitch, every swing, every catch is based on reflex and rote. The only way to make sure the quick reactions are successful is to think beforehand. It takes deep concentration to make wise choices. How else to explain how a round ball can be hit with a round bat squarely?
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