The Utility Player, Chapter 1

The up hit the ball in both at-bats in his second practice game. This showed real improvement over his two strike-outs in the first practice game, even though both ground balls were outs. What impresses the up much more than grounding out twice is how nice his teammates were about it.

“That’s what I call good two-strike swinging,” said the manager.

“Thank you,” said the up, who is trying superhard never to say anything bad about his own performance or anyone else’s. He wonders, nevertheless, what it is that kept him from swinging at those two fat pitches right over the plate for strikes one and two. Basically everything in the up’s personality and soul and body is a giant arrow pointing to SWING BATTER BATTER and yet he took those two fat pitches for strikes. This is because in the mini-moment after the pitcher releases the ball, the roughly 20 percent of the up’s overall being that acts directly contrary to his own best interest casts a spell on him, making him a statue.

Uggg, no-no-no, not the statue again — thinks the up to himself. His evil twin self thinks right back at him, first with a self-confident chuckle, and then this: “Yah, the statue, and guess what, I’m gonna do it again!”

“No way!” the up tries to argue but sure enough, here comes another meatball and even though the up deploys his leg kick as the pitcher releases the ball and is utterly poised for a mighty clout… nope, the bat stays back even though all those giant arrows are pointing right at the ball and yelling swing, swing, swing.

“Har har,” confidently chuckles his evil twin self, or etw — so as not to be confused with ET, the extra-terrestrial. The etw is intra-terrestrial, right inside the utility player, unless as is sometimes the case, sitting on his shoulder, whispering bad advice. There is no malice in the etw’s chuckle, no malice nor vengeance nor anger, or at most just a tiny little bit of each. The etw wins all the self-confidence contests because it has only one job to do and is good at it, and that job is to fork the up up.

Meanwhile, the up has lots of jobs to do: hit the ball, run, not hurt himself, analyze every single thought that flickers through his consciousness… It’s a lot! And still the manager said the nice thing about two-strike swinging and then, after his second ground-out, the catcher on his team with not that many teeth said, “You just missed it.” And even though the up knew he had hit the ball on the throat of the bat, still, his heart Grinched in the good way of getting bigger to hear this second nice thing being said to him by a teammate.

It made him feel quiet wonder at the power of saying nice things to people. He thought he would try this, for example, with his students. He considered himself, during the times when he was not playing baseball or thinking about playing baseball, to be a teacher who did say nice things to his students, so what he was really thinking was to say even more nice things, sincerely, and not too much because the whole nice-thing can quickly turn awkward if you do it too much. But the right amount.

Anyway, he thought about it. And now I can tell using my own innate sense of propriety that the time has come to let you, dear reader, go back to your own life and times — and yet, I just have to tell you this one other thing, about another improvement. Yes! We have to note improvements as much as possible or else we can fall into the completely understandable habit of assuming that everything is going to shirt.

Speaking of which, the up’s wife said he looked nice in his uniform, so that’s a big win, possibly the biggest win, but she also said that last time so this is more of a winning streak than an improvement. The improvement is that the up could throw the ball without feeling his right shoulder was the Berlin Wall circa 1989, which is to say for you non-history buffs, all the special baseball-player workouts the up was doing in his garage were actually working.

Putting effort in and seeing the results. This astonished the up, who tried to look stoic about the joy he felt in being able to throw the ball painlessly from third base to first on just one hop. This happened in the actual game, when the up fielded a ball and threw it on one hop to the six foot five first baseman, who scooped it up nicely for the out. His evil twin self must have been satisfied with forking him up at the plate because the up fielded to the fullest extent of his ability. After that, the manager said another nice thing to the up: “That’s what I call knowing your limitations and playing within them.”

What? Huh? Limitations? What are they? Still, the up could tell it was a nice thing to say, and his heart felt even bigger.

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