In the great game of life, we all make errors

In the great game of life, we all make errors

Let’s start with a quote from a great movie filled with them.

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

This being September and you being familiar with my preference for baseball among all other sports, take a bow if you identified the film as “Bull Durham” and the character as Annie Savoy.

She’s a handful, our Annie, a fiery, flirtatious fan of the national pastime, which she refers to as “the Church of Baseball.” Every season she selects a player from the Durham Bulls to — how shall I put this without getting into trouble? — share her affections.

Annie’s life is, shall we say, a bit on the wild side, and between her affection for the navel-staring prose of Susan Sontag and the vocal stylings of Edith Piaf, it’s a magic carpet ride players ache to take.

As played by Susan Sarandon — never better, in my opinion — she is complex, vulnerable and fascinating, an estimable feminist in retro-1950s dresses who knows the games of life, love and baseball. Her journey from a Baseball Annie to a woman ready to settle down is the character arc that helps hold "Bull Durham" together.

Which brings us to the whole notion of self-awareness and its role, not only in the movie, but also in the way we live our lives.

Annie uses the word “cursed” on purpose as it presupposes a less-than-sunny forecast for those afflicted by knowing too much about themselves and the way the world works. Lacking self-awareness, she implies, is the golden ticket on the road to superficial success.

In her view one must strive for the opposing magnetic pole, the one that necessarily involves serious contemplation without being too studious, which basically describes how baseball is best played.

Allow me to cite an example from my own experience.

I began playing in 1963 when, at the age of 8, Dad suggested I try out for the local Kiwanis league, a loose amalgamation of teams drawn from suburban neighborhoods we called home. After that, I played some version of the game every summer until I left Ohio and headed for North Carolina some 37 years later.

That’s a lot of time devoted to developing a sense of self-awareness. I mean there’s an awful lot of what might look like just standing around, waiting for something to happen, when the truth is far more complicated.

The best players are always preparing themselves for the “what ifs,” running through the mental checklist they carry around from game to game and town to town like a battered satchel, scuffed with infield dirt, grass-stained from outfield dives.

As a first baseman, you think to yourself, “OK, fast runner at first, left-handed hitter at the plate, one down, last inning, we’re up a run. Can’t see a bunt, but if it happens, grab it and tag the runner. Don’t risk a throw to second. Just get an out. If he swings away and it’s hit hard to me, throw it to the shortstop covering, getting the lead runner and putting us an out away from winning. If it’s hit to another infielder, just catch any throw that comes your way.”

And that’s before a single pitch has been thrown.

You’re deep into self-awareness.

Plus, there might be hot dogs and bottles of pop after you win.

Which is always the goal. Winning makes all the difference. But guess what? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you lose.

We were playing at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning somewhere in rural Ohio, trying to play our way out of the loser’s bracket, otherwise known as a Death March. As long as you kept on winning, you got to keep on playing the game we all loved.

As it happened, however, we were playing like spit.

At the plate we were stranding runners in scoring position without working the count, lunging at off-speed pitches or swinging way late on the hard stuff.

Everyone was in a funk, and it carried over when we took the field.

Easy grounders were eluding lowered gloves, croquet-style, and cans of corn were dropping all over that no-man’s land between the infield and the outfield. Passed balls and wild pitches were common, and good plays were as rare as a cloud that sunny day.

Finally, our manager had had enough.

“Gimme time,” he barked at the umpire and marched out to join the pitcher at the center of the diamond. “Everybody get in here.”

So we four infielders and the catcher gathered for a rare meeting.

As I’ve said, we were used to winning, and this kind of display was downright embarrassing. No one needed to be told that, but sometimes, a manager feels he has to state the obvious.

“Those guys,” he said, tilting his head toward the other team’s bench, “are laughing at us, making jokes, smiling, having a great time. They think we’re just a Church League team.”

“But coach,” our shortstop said, “we are a Church League team.”

This was perhaps the epitome of self-awareness.

It loosened us up, got us to stop having bad thoughts, and I remember thinking to myself, “Hit the next ball right at me.”

Always be careful for what you wish for, my friends.

For as surely as love is often followed by loss, the batter skied the very first pitch straight up the chimney, and as I settled under it, I could already sense that when I came to bat after catching it, I’d be starting a rally with a stand-up double.

I was the first baseman with the good hands, the guy who caught everything not air-mailed over his head, the most reliable link in the infield chain … and I dropped the ball, simple as that.

I looked down in disbelief, staring at the evidence as if it were some sort of alien life form that had fallen from miles above.

The pitcher was smiling when I tossed the ball back to him.

“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. “Don’t know what happened.”

“Gotta admit I never expected to see that,” he said, laughing into his glove. “Guess this is just gonna be one of those games.”

If I’d been less self-aware, I probably wouldn’t be carrying around that memory all these years later; then again, I don’t really mind.

We all want to look good, to do well, to leave a favorable impression as we make our way through the world, knowing we have only a finite number of days to make our mark.

Sometimes, though, it’s better to just watch a good movie.

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