Out in Front and Over the Top

 

In a coaching career spanning forty years, I admit to yelling this a time or two.  For whatever reason, the batter is looking for a fastball and gets something else entirely.  Old “Uncle Charlie” or a changeup comes in looking like a beach ball and then breaks down while shrinking to the size of an aspirin tablet.  “A swinnnnng, and a miss!” Bob Uecker shouts into the microphone.

The pitcher fools the batter causing him to commit early, “out in front”, and swing “over the top” of the off-speed pitch as it dives down and out of the strike zone.  If the batter makes contact, it is a weak fourteen hopper to the shortstop.  If no contact is made, the batter just looks foolish.

In real life, we shake our heads, “Life threw me curveball.”  Something that was unexpected, usually with ill-intent, some might call it karma.  If it is unexpected and good, we usually describe it as a “windfall.”  Curveballs usually don’t bode well for the batter or in real life, but sometimes….

I’m a planner.  I like everything 1, 2, 3….  My bride is not.  She is life’s counter puncher and tends to find joy in upsetting my perfectly aligned apple cart.  After bringing her a cup of coffee she asks, “What did you have planned for today?” She has just telegraphed her pitch, her intent to throw me a curve.

I remember Ron Polk, famed Mississippi State baseball coach, answering the question, “What is the best way to handle a curveball?”  Coach Polk pushed his cap back on his head and pursed his lips before answering, “There ain’t no best way.  Don’t swing at it unless you have to.”  Sage advice.

I knew exactly what I had planned for the day, a quick fitness walk, weeding the garden if it was dry enough, a long, slow wife walk, a bit of grass cutting and weed eating…in that order and that was just the morning.  When she asked her question Coach Polk’s advice popped into my head.  I didn’t swing and answered, “Nothing honey, why?”

Sometimes the pitcher will throw a curveball that doesn’t break or a changeup that’s become a batting practice fastball.  A pitch that doesn’t move enough or is not quite slow enough to miss the bat.  A belt-high or above curveball carrying a big ole sign that says, “Hit me, hit me, hit me!”  A curveball that doesn’t break or if it does, it breaks right onto the sweet spot of your bat.  Suddenly you are Mickey Mantle hammering a hung curve into the outfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

She answered my question, “Let’s go for a ride like we used to.”  I don’t know if she said “like we used to” but I thought it.  When we were younger and squeezing pennies until they screamed, “taking a ride” was a recreational outlet.  Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge there are rabbit tracts and pig trails galore to explore.  We had bought our Jeep to do just that and hadn’t utilized it in the manner in which it had been purchased.

In our younger and more foolish days, we would load up the old Toyota Landcruiser with snacks and beer looking for ways to get ourselves in trouble.  Usually, we were successful.  From ripping a sidewall out and finding the jack missing forcing a five-mile hike off a mountainside, to getting too close to a ditch and finding ourselves on our side when the ditch crumbled.  We got lost more than once which was A-Okay. We were young, foolish, and in love.  It didn’t matter if we swung badly at a curveball…mostly we did it on purpose.  You can’t get lost if you don’t know where you going.  I think we have become too comfortable.

Our “ride” was a curveball we hit out of the park.  Late spring is a wonderful time in our little bit of heaven.  Mountain scenery, twisting roads alongside rocky and roaring mountain creeks, blooming rhododendron, a wild turkey seemingly wanting to race alongside us.  Yes, the best way to handle a curve is to hit it out of the park.

With Corvid-19 we’ve chosen to quarantine as much as possible.  We hope not seeing the grandbabies now will translate into seeing much more of them later, but we’ve probably used it as an excuse to be hermits.  Yesterday’s curveball may have changed that.

I still have some weeding to do and a good portion of the front yard to cut.  Today I will be cutting inside of the fence and letting my mind wander to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  A beat-up Landcruiser, an AM radio blaring the “Oldies but Goodies”, a cooler, and my bride exchanged for a four-door Jeep, Sirrus Radio, but the same beautiful bride and cooler.  Later, who knows, maybe I’ll get to swing at another curveball, “out in front and over the top.”

Don Miller’s authors page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR376tJHvxdTy4kxSV33etrGJi4wesRRjYWppO6j5ejOqgzTuFYnOelGw4w

The image was found at https://www.vbriefly.com/2014/09/23/swing-and-a-miss-part-1-silly-things-debaters-believe-about-theory-for-no-reason-by-leah-shapiro-and-christian-tarsney/

If History Repeats…Another Spring Day in January

If history repeats itself, we are in for our coldest days of winter yet…of course, this global climate change “thingy” might have erased any previous history.  Still, I have faith.  I predict our coldest days will occur on or around February the Third.

Why am I so sure?  Since the early Seventies, I have kept a close watch on the weather of late winter.  Spring sport’s practice, a misnomer in this part of the world, begins in the late winter.  For thirty-eight of the forty-five years that I coached, I coached baseball.  Usually, the coldest days of winter occurs around the start of baseball practice in South Carolina.  This year’s start date, February 3.  Sleet, freezing rain, snow, and winds are sure to follow.

Truth be known, the cold start of baseball practice is what finally convinced me to retire.

If history repeats itself, Mother Nature will be bi-polar in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and in the Piedmont of South Carolina until April…or maybe early May.  We will have days of teeth chattering bitter cold with howling winds.  We will have frigid rains bordering and sometimes crossing over to the freezing variety.  We will have sleet driven by icy winds or huge, wet snowflakes that are here today and gone tomorrow.

If history repeats itself there will be spring days as well.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde weather with lows in the twenties and highs in the fifties or sixties.  Days that defy the calendar of January, February, March, and early April.  Days when crocus, buttercups and Scotch Broom are confused and punch out of the winter ground and bloom.  Days when my Red Bud begins to show pink only to be nipped in the bud by Jack Frost and Old Man Winter a day or two later.

Yesterday was the day that proves the rule.  With daylight hours lengthening enough to recognize, I was greeted with deep blue, cloudless skies.  Redtail hawks caught the thermals in the brightest of sunshine, whistling to each other…sharing their joy with me.  A purple finch stopped by my feeder showing the spring color that gave him his name.  A day so bright I felt the pull to search seed catalogs and almanacs to see when I should plant.

Don’t get me wrong, the feeling passed.  Yesterday was a deceptive day.  All spring looking but… There was still a nip in the wind making the low fifties seem like low forties and with no nighttime cloud cover, the lows have dipped into the high twenties before thinking of rebounding into the mid-fifties.  It looks like spring even if it doesn’t quite feel like spring.

This crazy season in the foothills of the Blue Ridge seems a lot like life.  It’s the good times that make life livable and the bad times less so bad.  Days like yesterday and today make the winter more survivable until the rains come tomorrow.  According to Longfellow and The Ink Spots, “Into each life, a little rain must fall”…but the sunshine makes it survivable if not likable.

Here is a toast for more spring days in January…and February….

The 1944 song by the Ink Spots took its title from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day.   If you listened you might think you hear Ella Fitzgerald.  You did.  She had a voice like a springtime too.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Because I Can

 

I always hated to run.  Some of you will remember…timed forties, perfect plays, home to first, home to second, etc., fitness tests in PE….  All my running was athletically related and involved sprinting.  I was never very fast…never very athletic.  Snail like but I never left a yucky trail.  Football, baseball…I didn’t do basketball.  Couldn’t get that huge ball in that tiny ring and there is a bunch of running in basketball…minute drills?  No way.

Hundred-yard sprints to end the practice are not fun.  They were never intended to be fun.  Show me someone who enjoys hundred-yard sprints and I’ll show you a masochist…or someone who pulls wings off flies and plots murder.

I found myself coaching in addition to teaching in the early Seventies and learned that, deep down in my soul, I was a sadist.  Marquis de Sade with a whistle and a clipboard.  “Men, we’re going to do all the forty-yard sprints in the world…plus one.”  “You’re going to run forever…too long? Subtract a minute.”  I didn’t do it in a sadistic way per se, sadism was not the goal.  I tried to apply reason, never running for the sake of running and interjecting humor into my expectations. Still, deep down…there was sadistic joy seeing my charges puke at my feet. “Look! Eggs!  Anyone hungry?”

In the late Sixties, the jogging craze hit.  By the mid-Seventies, I had joined it.  Not that I was particularly interested in the health effects of jogging…I was in my mid-twenties and indestructible.  I was more likely to get my exercise skipping “the light fandango” with a beer in my hand.

I jogged not to get into shape, I was more interested in the good looking, long-legged brunette, teaching peer who wore those minuscule Seventies running shorts over her tight and athletic…you get the idea.  I tried to run just hard enough to keep her backside clearly in view.  I chased her but I never caught her.

Despite her external motivation, I had no self-motivation and was sporadic with exercise until a heart attack dropped me in my tracks on my fifty-sixth birthday.  Great birthday present.  A blockage and a stent to correct it and save my life, three more stents a month later, six weeks of rehab and instructions on what to eat…cardboard slathered in cow poop.  Nothing from the Southern-fried food groups.  I learned to eliminate salt on everything except eggs and grits.  I even learned to tolerate oatmeal…with enough fruit and yogurt covering it.

On my days off from rehab I walked.  While I enjoyed walking, the effort just didn’t seem to be enough.  I was from the “No Pain, No Gain” era.  Exercise should have an element of pain involved.  Walking was too easy, and I began to run, albeit slowly.  Underused lungs and quads screaming, maybe I was a masochist.  I don’t pull wings off flies and the only murders I plot are in the books I write.

Five months after my heart attack I ran my first 5K.  After six months I had dropped sixty-plus pounds.  I was my cardiologist’s dream patient.

Only Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles would ever look at me and say, “He looks like a runner.”  Stockily built for comfort not speed, it is best to line me up with a stationary object to make sure I am moving.  But I was a runner!  I ran races to prove I was and to provide motivation.  I needed goals other than beer and pizza after the race and fit women in athletic wear to run behind during it.

I still hated running but it became a mind over matter endeavor.  I found it cleared my head and correctly put together the jigsaw puzzle that was my mind. I did it because I could.  I did it because I was still alive.

5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons…I put a marathon on my bucket list and signed up for one in three months’ time.  I didn’t win any races, but I always finished in the top half of my age group.  I was proud.  I was running against myself and the grim reaper in my rearview mirror.

Four years ago there was a misstep and the pain that came with it…physical and mental pain.  For two years I ran, I limped, I quit running to walk…then started the process over only to be hobbled again.  I finally went to the doctor.  A torn meniscus and early-onset osteoarthritis.  Bone rubs on bone in both knees and the orthopedic surgeon shook his head, “Not soon but if you live long enough there will be a knee replacement in your future.”  I walked and I walked but I couldn’t jog.  For two years I’ve walked or ridden my bike.  I wouldn’t do the marathon.

As much as I hated running, I missed running…still miss it…but I don’t miss it as much as I did Monday.  Why? Because on Tuesday…I ran.  I blame it on the song “Domino” by Van Morrison.  When I heard it over my earbuds, I wanted to dance but my dancing is worse than my running and I was on a public road.  Rather than having people think I was having a Joe Cocker ‘fit’, I took off jogging. Slowly, smartly and with no pain on the following day.  The day after, I ran again.  Alternating jogging and walking from mailbox to mailbox or driveway to driveway my lungs screamed but my knees didn’t.

Probably a mile’s worth of jogging split up over three and a half miles.  It is a start…it is running.

Both days, I argued with myself the whole time.  I was careful but apprehensive, waiting for a familiar twinge of pain.  Waiting for the throbbing ache when I finished.  Promising myself that if I felt an odd twinge or the throb I would quit and chase the foolish thoughts from my head.

Why am I taking the chance?  My “firetrucking” knees hurt when I don’t run.  They hurt when I sit around for too long…but they didn’t hurt any worse than they did after a four-mile fitness walk.  Still, why I wondered?

“Because I can,” I told myself.  Because I want to.  Because it allows an old man to dream a bit…to remember.    There will be no marathon…maybe, not even a 5K.  I may have to be satisfied with a mile jog, but it doesn’t matter.  I run because I can.  I run because it makes me happy.

Addendum

I awoke this morning with a twinge…of sciatica.  My knees are fine. ‘Iffin’ it ain’t one thing it is a thousand others.  I’ll test myself with a short walk and stretch.  If all feels good I run/walk a bit on a nice soft athletic field.  I’ll be smart…maybe.

The line ‘skipping the light fandango’ comes from the Poco Harum song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The complete lyric was, “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.”

…And since I’m on music and running kicks, get up, dance and enjoy the day.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer and can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from Canva