(In next month’s blog, I’ll discuss ‘Becoming a Receiver’ from a theoretical perspective. Theory is not abstraction. Theory is based on practical experiences. As such, the practical experience of a half inning baseball game presented below will guide Part Two.)
It’s the bottom of the fourth inning (of a nine inning game). Our team, Wittenberg University, is up 2-0 against Dayton University. As I shuffle to my position behind home plate, the game is tossing around in my head. I’m preparing for the inning and considering the long game. The shuffle turns into a clickety stride as I tune into my body, knowing physical presence is as important as the mental presence. I warm up our pitcher and settle into my catcher’s stance, going over various aspects of the upcoming half inning.
I’m confident in our pitcher. He’s a senior and one of our two best pitchers. He has seven strong innings inside him today. I can tell. Since Dayton has been through the line-up already, I can sense his capacity to keep them scoreless for seven innings. His change-up is crisp and he’s locating his fastball well. The curve ball will be used as a junk or set-up pitch. He’s confident and focused. He needs me to be call pitches; he doesn’t need a motivational speech.
Let’s consider our opponent. From a big-picture perspective, they’re not happy we’re winning. We’re a Division 3 baseball team. Dayton University is Division 1, meaning their players receive scholarship money for their baseball talents. As such, Dayton’s coaches and players are turning up their focus energy, and there’s a renewed bounce in their step. I enjoy this moment. It’s healthy competition. If we focus on the process of competing, we won’t lose.
Specifically related to this half inning, Dayton’s number three hitter will bat first. Typically, the third batter is the team’s most talented and consistent hitter. With my own eyes during his first at-bat, I can see he’s a really solid player. He had a single up the middle in the first inning on a 2-2 count. It was effortless, and he didn’t chase the pitches we wanted him to chase.
The fourth and fifth hitters in the line-up are dangerous, as with most teams, but I have a plan based on what I sensed during their first at-bats. My concern is the number six hitter in the line-up. He’s talented and one year away from being the best hitter and player on the team. In this inning, he’s a threat; he’ll be the fourth hitter. If he bats in this inning, it means there will be one or more of his teammates on base. Yup, he’s a threat.
“What else is going on?”, I ask Self. The weather is beautiful, and the grass smells like paradise. The umpire is giving each team an inch off the plate and an inch below the bottom of the knee; as such, it’s a pitcher’s game. My hamstrings are feeling flexible, so I can go as low as I need to for our pitcher. My arm feels strong and ready to make a play. Our team appears confident and excited to compete. Game on!
After going through those aspects while warming up our pitcher, the most important thought hits me. This is the most important inning of the game, which may sound strange given the fact we have five innings left after this inning. Our hitters, including me, are seeing the ball well and making solid contact. We’ll score enough runs if our starting pitcher can get through seven innings without Dayton scoring a run. My sense is we’ll find a way to get six outs in the last two innings with enough of a lead. We may not win the game, but we won’t lose if we compete in this way.
I yell, “Comin’ down!” and throw the ball to second base. Quickly, I turn my attention to the hitter striding to the plate. The ump yells, “Play Ball!” The hitter has a pep in his step. He wants to start his team’s rally and feels confident in his ability to do so. I place three fingers between my legs and tap my right groin, signaling a change-up on the outside corner. The pitcher nods and throws the change-up low and two inches outside. The hitter isn’t fooled but jumps at the pitch, hitting the top of the ball, and dribbling it into the foul ball area. Ok. Count’s 0-1. No advantage gained but none lost.
For the next pitch, I place one finger and tap my left groin, signaling an inside fastball. This is risky given the hitter’s talent. But, it’s a set-up pitch. We want it high and inside to change the hitter’s depth perception. We want it to be a ball. Our pitcher winds up and executes the pitch well. The hitter wasn’t fazed and didn’t react to the pitch being three inches from his chin. 1-1 count.
Conventional wisdom would suggest a low, outside fastball or change-up on the next pitch. My gut tells me he knows this. So I mix it up and call for an inside fastball again. This time, though, we want it to be low and closer to the strike zone. Our pitcher hits the spot. The hitter turns on the pitch and slashes it hard and foul down the third base line. In fact, he almost drilled his third base coach. Ok. We got away with one there. Lucky. Too risky for this hitter. Lesson learned.
The count is in our favor at 1-2 (one ball and two strokes). It’s time for some junk pitches. I call for a low curveball, desiring it in the dirt. We just can’t hang the curveball over the middle of the plate. Our pitcher throws a low curveball. The hitter reacted a little but didn’t bite. Count is 2-2 now. In all honesty, it’s a hitter’s count. The batter knows this.
Our pitcher’s best pitch is his change-up. It moves from left to right, so we’ll try to locate the pitch a couple inches off the plate, on the outside corner. This will minimize damage, especially if he keeps the pitch low. We do this. The pitch starts off five inches off the plate as it starts turning toward the outside corner. The pitch is going to be close enough to be called a strike, forcing the hitter to hit defensively. This was the right pitch at the right time. The hitter placed the bat on the ball, hitting a line drive right at our right fielder. Out 1.
The pitcher gave me a nod, walked around the mound, collected the ball from the third baseman, and turned his eyes toward the plate as we moved on for our next challenge. The number four hitter in the line-up has a loop in his swing. In my experiences, I’ve learned loopy swings struggle with high, inside fastballs and love off-speed pitches. The high, inside fastball is the strike-out pitch. Yet, the beauty of baseball allows the hitter three strikes. We need to get two strikes on him before messing with the inside pitch.
I call for an outside fastball. I set up two to three inches off the plate. Our pitcher hits the mit, right where I line-up. I held my breath awaiting the decision from the umpire, which was a big decision at this time, for this at-bat. I hear a dramatic “Strite!” sound behind me, which means the umpire liked our pitch. It was two inches off the plate. The hitter was frustrated; their fans yelled obscenities; and their coach uttered something indetectable as he glared at the umpire. The count is 0-1. With angry emotions running high in our opponent, it’s time to improvise. We don’t need a strike-out here. Let’s get him out right now.
He’ll jump at the next pitch. It’s time for a change-up. I set up outside again. The change-up is on the outside corner (in a good enough way, meaning not perfect). The hitter jumps at it. It hits off the end of his bat and knuckles its way down the third base line in front of home plate. I hop out of my catcher’s stance, corral the ball, get my body around the ball, alligator scoop the ball, and fire a strike to the first basemen. The throw beat the runner by four steps. In the world of baseball, it wasn’t a close play. Out 2. After this play, I nod to the pitcher. The infielders point their gloves toward me before holding up two fingers, informing each other there are two outs in the inning. We’re starting to believe. It’s infectious.
With excitement running high, it’s time to refocus. I turn my attention to the number five hitter strolling to the plate. As I observe his approach to the plate, I acknowledge my uncertainty; I tilt my head and say (to Self), “he’s a bit of an enigma.” He’s talented and didn’t seem to have any major flaws in his swing. My intuition seems to believe we can lull him into a mistake by being boring. On the first pitch, I set up approximately four inches off the outside corner. I call for a fastball. Our pitcher delivers to the mitt. Ball one. On the second pitch, I do the exact same thing and call the same pitch. Same result. Ball two. Boring baseball.
Paradoxically, my intuition thought we could get him out if he was ahead in the count. Now, it’s time for a junk pitch. Let’s hang a curveball and see if he takes the bait. I place two fingers for our pitcher. He shakes his head no. I place two fingers again. He nods. The pitchers and I have a process we follow. If the pitcher shakes off a pitch, it means he is confused. If I call a different pitch, they know I’m confused. If I call the same pitch, he believes I’m onto something.
(For Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo made an executive decision to enter the Matrix on his own to save Morpheus. In a dramatic scene, Trinity tells Neo he will not go alone and she will join him. In an ambiguous situation, they made the final decision together.)
In my mind, we want him to swing at the curveball even though he doesn’t need to swing. We put him to sleep with the two outside fastballs, trying to make his brain forget where he is and what he’s doing. The thought is that he’ll swing unconsciously, swinging without urgency. Our pitcher offers the curve ball for a strike. The hitter swings, making contact as he sends a lazy fly ball to our left fielder. Out three. Inning over. Our team strides to our dugout with energy and zest.
The inner circles of baseball distinguish between being a catcher and being a receiver. In that half inning, I knew I was on the path toward becoming a receiver. More significantly, the journey toward becoming a Humanistic Psychologist entered my consciousness even though it would take six years for the unconscious Realm to convince my conscious Being.
Speaking of practical, my beautiful Mallory Rose is 15 today. She carries earth energy, and she inspires my wind energy. Happy birthday, Mal Mal!