Toronto’s attributes begin with its status as the only non-U.S. city to host Major League Baseball. The Rogers Center, formerly the SkyDome, sits like a giant tortoise with an armadillo retracting shell near the blue sweep of Lake Ontario. Last week, when the Boston Red Sox played the Toronto Blue Jays, my family watched from 36 rows up behind the away dugout, along the first base line.
I promise not to wander onto the topic of seeing the Sox outside of Fenway, to stick to the subject at hand: The inspiration of watching people who love their jobs, doing something for which they have a passion, day after day, year after year. Lucky Sox, lucky Jays.
It's not really luck, of course. It is hard work, physically and mentally. As a backyard catcher, I know only a fraction of the demands of getting legs squatting and rising, stretching a shoulder with the overhand return, over and over. I watched Varitek, head tucked down to his shiny red catcher's gear, considering all the possibilities, all the ways the batter next to him usually hits, before dropping his hand down to call the perfect pitch for ever-stern-faced Tavarez to throw, managing the pace and intensity of the game with a pointed finger, a touch of a hand.
Or take Cora, or Drew, or yes, even our Manny. Why does a major leaguer practice, on the field or in a gym every day, in addition to playing five, six, seven days a week? How hard can it be to swing a bat, to catch a ball? Repetitive motion, my children’s coaches would tell you, a learned response that dims quickly. In batting, it’s how you point your feet, stand, shift your weight, turn your hips, carry the bat, move your shoulders, twist your wrists, bring it across and through and up, trying to hit the ball before it crosses the plate instead of when it is over the plate, to maximize how far it will go out into the field. The way you catch a ball on the fly is knowing instinctively how to anticipate the curve of the ball, the speed, the distance, how far you have to run, how far you can stretch your body in midair, how far your body will travel if you fling it across the grass.
Repetitive motion, the way you and I put together nouns and verbs in ways that carry an image, deliver a sensation that is familiar or better yet, unfamiliar to the reader. Thinking about possibilities, combinations to manage pace and intensity. The way a character is shaped, how he walks with a bounce, how she flicks at her watch when impatient, how to craft the way a reader responds when the two collide on a street corner.
The ones who get to The Show are the ones who do it over and over, focus on the minutiae, work at it because there is nothing else they'd rather do. So often people sit on the sidelines and watch and marvel. You and I, though, we are in the game, standing up not just off the bench but out of the stands. We play, day in and day out, and can take it to whatever level we wish. In turn, maybe someday, someone else, somewhere watching us will be inspired to do something for love of it, too.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007