Have you ever heard the susurration air speed of two hundred wind bleeding stitches from a low nineties brush back pitch? It makes a man reconsider wielding a big aluminum stick at the plate. It is a thicketed siren. A man must drop the pretension of swagger in the split second the buzz reigns supreme, hissing, respect the violence of grace. I was forced to drop an athletic mask and my fat overcompensatory composite alloy – but mostly aluminum – DeMarini baseball bat one night as the field lights snapped off outside Kent, Washington during a playoff tournament game that had run long past midnight. It was the byproduct of one other game’s outrageous extra innings bout. I was sure the pitch would plow through the plastic and padding of my customized batter’s helmet. But the big concussion I anticipated remained personal conspiracy theory alone. The mini white asteroid never struck.
The hulk of a young man never threw the ball. I just vividly, viscerally projected a memory of the previously terrifying instant zip-line pitch and expected the incandescence of shattering pain.
Baseball dominated all of my summers, regular season, playoffs, All Stars, camps and Wiffle ball.
I always threw hard when I pitched. I was disrespectful, but I could throw strikes without thought. My father did too. His poise was legend in my imagination. He threw harder, more strikes. But his pitch meant verbal firepower so lethal he expected he’d won your conversational deference.
The teenage sons of wise, bullish men are barbarous and risk voltaic ruptures of iconoclasm without hesitation.
Once my father caught me in what I erroneously assumed was a devilishly sophisticated and cunning string of lies. He knew I was lying. I was fifteen, incessantly pissed off, hotheaded and a nascent fan of weed and booze. He sought to shred asunder my story by expertly playing all his best, most incredibly aligned deep south John Grisham lawyer cards on me in the flux of the mild cross breeze of one especially sour yet doors open spring afternoon. Our house had no air conditioning. I was hot. I was already an hour late for a baseball game. I was a burgeoning workhorse relief pitcher, think Andrew Miller in his 2016 season prime. I had a role on the diamond. I felt of a high value. My teammates actually smiled at me. I felt warm around them.
My thoughts were minimal on the diamond, under the lights, and not excruciatingly complex, like when I suffered through my father’s scathing super pressured interrogations to, in his invisibly calibrated estimation, adequately answer for my mild delinquency and chronic insubordination.
This deeply scalding early evening is one I will never forget because on this one conversational occasion in particular my father was exhibiting a rare form. It was the type of demonstrative character that restores sensible decision making. In short, he was being a good father. And I hated it because he was good at this, in speech, argument, inching the row toward a godly terrain, where a mortal teenager with a limited vocabulary wastes ammunition firing blindly. This man could see through everything.
Radiating panic vibrated like a lawn mower in my chest. I wondered if this barrage of personal no-win moments was what various sports reporters and writers called running into a buzz saw. As with each passing minute in this verbal bout I felt more compelled to confess, even though I thought I had lied so deftly until this juncture, it was impossible; how could I, strong pitcher, lier, even start to consider coming clean?
Coming clean would eliminate all chance I had of attending the baseball game, where I could grab a pearl and deal backwards K’s on the mound. I was finally hitting my growth spurts too. I’m six-four now, five foot nine then, though; I was irascible, and so I was certain I could dodge this bullish rout’s horns until, when anticipating some verbal visa began evading my anticipation of the inevitable, it seemed I kept getting caught out in my language, because my father sent me repeatedly into the labyrinthine trip wires of lines of questioning, all set up for me to drill my lies with the aziridine of truth, when I continually contradicted myself on the record, his memory, and the facts, because he’d actually telephoned a Zeek’s Pizza to obtain an eyewitness report during the contested time frame, for which I had repeatedly invented and tonight again, extolled as one of my faithful backup lies.
And so the rout raged on. This was extra innings. I was throwing hard, but I was getting shelled. On a baseball diamond it’s called getting rocked. Somehow I believed my deceitful offensive pitching skills would gain me the sun-soaked front door that remained wide open in this heat.
I settled in to swat back at my father’s enfilade once again. He started throwing off speed facts until I was second guessing everything I assumed he knew about my relative social life, the course I had selected instead of studying for spring Finals I was certain to flunk unless I dug in.
A good hitter might eventually time a breaking ball if he watches enough of the swerve over the plate. And if one studied curveball is hung high then a decent hitter can look like a slugger. I was awaiting the hanging curve when my life flashed before my eyes. The killer moment, the true naked brutality of a knockout revealed when it is far too late for the slug at the plate, the storied punch out from my father came hard and fast. The hanging curveballs were gone, forgotten.
It was stunning heat from here on out. It was my father’s lyric ferocity that changed my life forever; and in this string he abruptly terminated my baseball career forever too; it was as he deployed the fluid arsenal of a series of sentences in response to reject my last-ditch refusal of entertaining his swiftly intensifying line of personally scrutinizing questions.
Let me summarize the set-up briefly. Deep breath, after I censored the narrowly defined details regarding the contested topic of my whereabouts on a wasted afternoon in which I should have been studying – but was getting high in the highly trafficked and sparse woods beside Green Lake – when this next subsection in what I classified as private, though fictive, but was on record toutedly the darkly romanticized bruising topic of argument I would not expand upon for the last hostile forty-seven minutes plus, an ardent singular topic argument on which he clearly placed an extravagant, extremely high value on victory and truth and the law, thus necessitating the Grisham southern cross examining lawyer’s stern, strident elevated diction; my father said, “You think you can leave without answering questions? To my standards? In my house? You think you can get away with lying about this just because you suddenly adopt some narrowly defined and foggy minded ANIMADVERSION conjured by magical thinking? What is this?!”
I’ll tell you what this was; this word, animadversion; it was a brush back pitch. Sizzling. And it was like a sterling switch blade of penultimate razoring eloquence. My ego’s parachute sliced, and shredded, I wisely fell back to the earth, and I listened very carefully to his words after this plummeting.
Sunset gone, I did not attend the baseball game down the hill.
I called to apologize later that evening but I never said the word sorry because a seismic shift in my spirt had occurred. Good manners and all feasible modicums of etiquette are absolutely abandoned when one tacks through the scudding euphoria of spiritual clarity’s fresh vantage.
The next game I started thinking way too much on the mound. I never hurled white Rawlings pearls very hard again because when on this envenomed yet brilliant evening my father derisively cancelled my, up until then, unwavering, undying and devout dedication to baseball, I knew in the realm of language, and in the formulation of its herculean gusto, even in the bravado form of its refulgent improvisation that – That! – was my true passion.
This evening, I am aware I was also aware then, there I would become a writer, without actually knowing the details of my thread spinning truth; deep within prose, poetry, argument, persuasion there is more pearlescent might and striking power for me than in the sport I believed most effortlessly captivating, a game that once held onto every fiber of my electrified and so far undiagnosed – some call it the hunter’s gene – ADHD illuminated and aggressive and thrumming soul. In baseball my love fell, no more though, and never again, because writing now had it all.
Writing is the master craft of language. Writing enhances my life. It is the thing that bristles with the velocity of soul when the swaggering mask falls away and the lethal pearls of memory – words you’ve brought with you into this moment to hear how I speak to you with what I hope is eloquence and sincerity – that often all buzz so well and sharp and bright, one can’t forget a brush with death emitting melody instead of the void seen best when the lights flash snap, and even with quaking knees, the only thing left is the sweltering essence of truth in deep summer promised by the heat of an envenomed spring.