Trying to be at least moderately sensible, I headed for the medium-speed cage, before my seven-year-old slugger intervened to ask why I wasn’t up for the high-speed challenge. Sensing that he was questioning not only my decision but also my manhood, I immediately turned to the cage that was bringing the heat.
At first, it felt like a big mistake. The first pitch blew by me in the dim flourescent light, the yellow, dimpled ball streaking across the outer half of the plate, at the knees, my arms lunging after it high and late. Rattled, I amped up. I started pumping the balls of my feet, waving the barrel of the bat up and down behind my head. The next swing wasn’t much better, a wild one that caught the top of the ball and drilled it straight down for a weak infield chopper.
Then, a voice of distilled wisdom called to me: steady the eyes, simplify the stride. All of a sudden, I was locked in. In baseball’s special realm of paradox, I was now relaxed enough to attack the ball with authority, to track it, meet it square, and send it back through the box.
After not missing a pitch for the rest of the session–about 60 pitches in all–I had to laugh at myself. This felt like just the sort of epiphany that could have helped me go to the next level in my days as a varsity and men’s amateur baseball player, but at this age, the insight is all but wasted on me.
But then a thought of even deeper wisdom intruded: what better mantra for the beginning of middle age than “steady the eyes, simplify the stride”? After years of hustling to establish and prove myself professionally, it’s becoming more and more apparent that I’m entering into a new stage of life, one in which I need to pace and take care of myself for the long haul–a stage of simplifying my stride and steadying my eyes on my relationships with family and friends, my students, and my writing. Not a bad “takeaway” for a day at the batting cages.