For the Love of the Game

By Tom Kersten (adapted from a blog article July 7, 2016)

There are many things my wife does not understand… the appeal of Jim Carrey, for instance… possessing an intense hatred of the actor/comedian usually reserved only for third-world dictators, telemarketers and Jehovah’s witnesses… why our youngest daughter choses to stuff her candy wrappers into the cushions of the couch instead of throwing them in the trash can… “seriously little girl… are you THAT lazy?”… (HINT: the answer is yes)… and my wife will never… and I mean NEVER… understand the affection I have for the 1980 Sci-Fi classic film Flash Gordon… this movie’s “special effects” are so campy, its dialog so chopped and it’s acting so over-the-top, self-consciously pretentious… it borders on pathologically awesome. Take the opportunity… force yourself to bravely sit through the entire thing some time… it will change your perspective on the word… torturous.

Bravery, of course, comes in many forms. The very act of me writing the opening sentence of this article, in and of itself, is a monumental statement of personal courage on my part… death, an ever-present possibility, as that pillow quietly descends over my snoring pie-hole at 3:17am on some random Wednesday. After all, it’s an inevitable response in a household with four women… as no man is smart enough, handsome enough or funny enough to be worth enduring the nightly cacophony currently taking place in our slice of domestic tranquility… (note to self: get that sleep study scheduled… their patience, like the clock, is ticking). But of all these things, the one my wife least understands is why I would, at nearly 45 years old, be playing baseball against guys half my age… I know… seriously, where do these guys get off being 20 & 21 years old?… WTF??… [deep cleansing breath]… Ohmmmmm… Youth is wasted on the young… Ohmmmmmm… Youth is wasted on the young… [deep cleansing breath]. Why, she repeatedly asks, would I risk the likelihood of twisted knees, rolled ankles, swollen joints… why would I endure the arthritis in my spine, the tendonitis in my elbow and the tears in my rotator cuff for the… are you kidding me?… opportunity to take sharply hit ground balls off my chest and duck fastballs aimed at my head? Did I receive too many blows to the skull as a child? … And we all know the answer to that one is… Yes.

And we all know that men wear their injuries as badges of distinction… Like only slightly less-crazy versions of Edward Norton in Fight Club… Never talk about fight club!!!… giving a curt nod to the waiter serving him, who the night before had been pounding one another to a pulp… their cuts, bruises and scrapes a visual sign of newly found backbone and the fact that they refuse to go quietly into that goodnight… or perhaps more accurately and gingerly, like Nick Nolte waking up in the opening scene of North Dallas Forty, wincing in pain remembering each hit taken the night before… the pads, braces and pain-killers not nearly enough to mask it all… and slowly… quietly… itching to go back for more, to see if he can measure up to the challenge.

SIDENOTE: This video is the opening sequence of Burt Reynolds’ Hooper, as an aging stuntman tallies his scars while dressing for his next brush with immortality… a personal “guilty pleasure” of mine, this scene can only be described as vintage 1978 “pad-porn”.

An illustration of the massive divide in thinking between the female brain and the male brain, when it comes to this line of reasoning regarding sports, is to dissect one of the many typical conversations had by the average baseball player in this league and the spouse that loves him. As he finishes his Hooper-esque dressing and heads out the door to the game, it goes something like this:

Wife: “Have fun .” (Translation: Don’t hurt yourself!)
Husband: “Thanks.” (Translation: I’m not a moron!)
Wife: “Be careful.” (Translation: No… you’re an idiot!)
Husband: “I will.” (Translation: Dammit woman, don’t tell me what to do!)
Wife: “Love ya.” (Translation: I will tell you what to do, shit-for-brains!)
Husband: “Love ya too.” (Translation: Somebody get me a @%^$& beer!)

No??… Am I the only one?… That combined look of disapproval and condescension sweeping across her face as I head through the kitchen… My personal little ground zero in the estrogen-soaked hyper-pandemic sweeping the planet… Or am I just being paranoid? Is it paranoia if they really are out to get you? The real question is NOT if I’m being paranoid, the question is, am I being paranoid enough? Was that an Ambien she slipped me among all that Advil & Osteo-Bi-flex?… I accept this last one as a real possibility.

This video is an instant classic for all the frustrated, goal-oriented, problem-solving gentlemen of the world and the feelings-exploring, emotionally driven ladies who love them… it will not go without saying, “she nailed it!!!”

Now, before you send in your hate mail… remember, it all goes to: Brian Williams, 30 Rockefeller Plaza… kidding…kidding… JON STEWART FOR PRESIDENT!!!… I’m all for good communication, as much as the next guy… no, actually probably more than the next guy… in fact, good communication is one of the things I love about this game and one of the many needed elements for baseball success. This is a lesson our team learned early on several years back… mostly because we didn’t have much communication or success occurring at the time. My recollection of the characters and events goes something like this…

With a runner on first, and protecting a one run lead… for some still unexplained reason, Tony chose to pitch from the windup. No one missed it… as a former college basketball power-forward, now turned pitcher who could double as a tight-end on any football team… His delivery is somewhat of a force of nature. To say Tony has an intimidating presence on the mound, is an understatement so extremely monumental as to border on the absurd. From my position at third base, I simply thought, “well… that’s interesting.” I glanced over at Chad holding the runner on at first base… He shrugged, as if to say, “I have long ago given up on the idea of ever predicting what this team will do next.” Like I said… good communication.

The pitch rocketed in and was called a BALL by the umpire… a courageous act in its own right, based on the dirty look he got from the mound. The two umpires could not have failed to notice what was happening either… the base runner at first never moved an inch. The ball came back from Ean, the catcher and again Tony stood in on the rubber, ready to deliver the second pitch from the windup. The runner at first stood transfixed… with an expression on his face that read… I want to run… I know I’m supposed to run… But if I do, will he drill me with the ball or just tackle me between first and second, like some pharmaceutically enraged pitching version of Lawrence Taylor moments before snapping Joe Theisman’s leg live on Monday Night Football. Tony threw this next pitch even harder, apparently trying to force the ball through Ean’s glove, chest protector and body… and into the umpire, as punishment for the first pitch call. Again, BALL and again Ean stood, threw the ball back and crouched down to drop the next signal, like nothing was out of the ordinary.

Okay, I thought, they must be working on something… Am I witnessing two Jedi Masters at play… toying with the fragile emotions of runners and hitters alike? Are they baiting the runner to steal so they can pitch out and gun him down at second? Was there some kind of defensive signal on in this situation?… Do we have defensive signals? As manager, I should probably know that, shouldn’t I? See… quality communication all the way around.

Maybe Tony doesn’t want to pitch from the stretch or maybe his back is hurting a bit or that knee might be tweaked again… Who should come in if we need to take him off the mound?… How many innings does Dre have this week on his arm?… he pitched on Friday but only 2 innings… Or was it 3? I started doing something akin to baseball algebra… today is Sunday at 1pm and he threw on Friday late, like 10pm? Cuz the game started at…blah, blah, blah… So, if a train leaves Buffalo traveling 90 mph and another train leaves… My thoughts raced as I tried to analysis the proper move needed, not just for finishing this game but for the remaining games throughout the week. The variables and options flashing like a strobe light giving me a near-seizure and resulting in a big old brain cramp.

Just then Tony, a frown forming upon catching the ball being returned from Ean, froze on the mound. He stared at his catcher and almost yelling, almost scolding, said… “why are you letting me pitch from the windup? There’s a runner on first,” pointing over to the hapless base runner, who by now was so confused, he was looking for a hole he could climb into. Finding none, he made himself smaller by hiding behind Chad’s right leg at first base and suddenly became extremely interested in the dirt at his feet… Is this native Wisconsin dirt or did they truck this in for us? Fascinating… Ean slowly stood and took one step forward onto home plate. Without removing his catcher’s mask, perhaps due to fatigue, perhaps half expecting the ball to arrive at his head at any moment, yelled back… “I don’t tell you what to do, cuz I don’t want to be punched in the face.” For a long moment there was silence. I guess the Jedi Masters thing was a bit premature after all… Then laughter from everyone… Tony, Ean and the rest of our players… the opposing players and umpires, even the fans were now in on the joke… the guy on first still didn’t know what to do, but this was an early bit of our “awesome” coming into its own. We could take ourselves seriously, but we should never take ourselves too seriously. Communication lesson learned… let’s try talking to one another… what a novel concept.
I don’t remember the outcome of that particular game, but the season ended in our first Championship and all the subsequent success has been built from this basic concept: these are guys who love playing this game… the thrill of it and the pain of it… and we enjoy being out there together… finding the laughs, giving the shit and winning the games. All the titles, team-building and tacos that have followed is just gravy on the top… and no, my wife does not understand the appeal of any of it… much like my love of this clip.

SIDENOTE: This video is Jon Stewart & Ricky Gervais from Valentine’s Day 2011… truly two Jedi Masters at play… may we never stop asking, “Why do raccoons have black eyes?”