Pandemic Diary 8: The Flat Curve

I could never hit the curve. Also, as if consistent physical incompetence was to be sole consistency that nature would bestow on me, I could not throw the curve, either.

Never athletic anyway, the absence of athletic ability from the start of my life was not a factor in any life decisions. And now, disabled as I am, almost every physical activity qualifies as athletic. (I walk a couple of miles each day because I can and ought to.) But I wanted to be a baseball player …

My body, six feet tall and cartoonishly slim, resembles no known athlete’s body, which makes sense because it performs like no known athlete’s body. Baseball became an early, total obsession for me, however: I watched games for more than the basics and learned how to keep score, and it also occupied my fantasy life for at least ten of my first eighteen years. In my fantasy life, I was a star major league pitcher. Everything I know about arithmetic probably came from my calculations of my fictional self’s earned run average.

I also wore glasses for nearsighted vision, but even that did not influence my fantasy away from sports: several successful major league baseball players wore glasses back then in the 1970s and ’80s.

A friend and I played unorganized sports in our family’s backyards, mostly baseball. Both of us were loners who had found one another, so our baseball games became “one-on-one baseball,” a pitcher and a batter and ground rules to decide whether a hit was a single, double, triple, home run, or out. These were ground rules that were as much rules about the ground: if the ball landed here, it was a single; if it landed there, a double, etc.

He and I never disagreed. (He grew up to become a radio sportscaster, and my first newspaper job was sports editor.)

I could not hit his curve, so he threw it approximately one hundred percent of the time, and won almost every game. Out of an abundance of codependent sympathy and a desire for the form of competition that includes actual competition, he would mix in some pitches with which I could connect so that I could get some hits.

And then I would take the mound. All of my pitches were off-speed because my pitching motion was a sequence of unrelated moving parts that did not look like a pitch was destined to emerge at the end. (In the movie in my mind, I was a right-handed Fernando Valenzuela.) My fastball had some natural motion to it and usually resulted in foul balls.

Fernando! with glasses, no less:

But my curveball? Oh, my curve was awful, and by awful I mean not good at all. I’d read every baseball instructional book I could find in the city library and local bookstores, so I knew each grip for different pitches. We played so often that to this day, I can hold the fingers on my right (pitching) hand apart such that people will ask if I played baseball in school.

I always say yes, because it is not untrue.

So I used the curveball grip, but all that the grip seemed to do was remove that natural motion from my basic pitch and flatten it. The more that I exaggerated it (Fernando!), the more like a ball set on a tee it must have appeared. Life is full of lessons, but life gave me that lesson every sunny summer afternoon through the 1980s.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 8 asks us to reflect on the word, “Curve.”

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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