I don’t recall ever thinking much when I played the game as a young child. I just played and I played well. As I continued to play well through those young years I am sure the ego or my ‘false self’ as John of the Cross described it (St. Paul called it the ‘Old Man’), began to grow in attachment to results, prestige, being in the newspaper for throwing a no-hitter, etc.
(Mr. Cather’s son, Mike Cather, whom I played against above and through all of grade school is the pride of Folsom having made it to the major leagues pitching for the Atlanta Braves)
I am sure I began to think about what others thought of me, how I was respected and regarded. I began to think about my future in the game, would I make the high school team. I remember a big shift in the 8th grade where I started thinking too much, I became nervous, I started to play poorly, throwing strikes in important games started to elude me. After the 8th grade, growing up in the small and lovely town of Folsom, California we moved to Southern California. I went from an 8th grade class of 12 students to a freshman class alone of some 700 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. So overwhelmed and lacking any confidence I didn’t even try out for high school baseball until my sophomore year. I tried out and made the team as a pitcher. Without a live game setting I seemed to impress enough. I was grateful for Mr. Cather who taught me the slider in grade school. I would guess that having that extra pitch got me on the team. The first day of practice the varsity pitching coach approached me and stated, “I got you on the team so don’t screw up” and “the way you are throwing the ball is all wrong”. I don’t recall him ever speaking to me again. In truth I froze from there on and never pitched a live game the entire year as I couldn’t turn my brain off and just pitch, just be in the flow of the game and have fun. I believe I suffered from ‘Steve Sax Syndrome’.
(From Wikipedia: Though never regarded as one of the top fielding second basemen in the league, Steve Sax inexplicably became incapable of making routine throws to first base in 1983, committing 30 errors that season. This is referred to in baseball terminology as “Steve Sax Syndrome”, the fielder’s variant of “Steve Blass disease”, named after the Pirates pitcher who suffered a similar breakdown of basic mechanics. As his accuracy suffered, fans sitting behind the first base dugout began wearing batting helmets as mock protection. (Teammate Pedro Guerrero, an outfielder pressed into service at third base in 1983, once reportedly stated that his first thought whenever he was in the field was “I hope they don’t hit it to me”, while his second thought was “I hope they don’t hit it to Sax.”) by 1989, however, Sax seemed to be completely “cured”, leading the American League in both fielding percentage and double plays)
No longer pitching, I played 3rd base, the ‘hot corner’ where if a play involved a quick reaction i.e. a fast line drive for me to dive for I could routinely make those plays. However, what was dreaded was the routine grounders, slower to arrive to me, that is where all hell broke loose. Time would freeze, I would see 3 balls approaching rather than one, if I managed to actually field it properly I would aim rather than throw to the first baseman (my poor best friend, Greg) and often the ball would go most places other than directly to his glove. It was such an awful, crushing feeling. I dreaded playing home games for fear that the varsity coach, Mr. Ickes, my freshman year algebra teacher with a stern military name calling approach would be watching. I had so much respect for him as I could see his commitment to and knowledge of the game, his attention to detail, yet I could not please him and I feared him more than most. I melted under the pressure. In fact, I am now 44 years old and until recently still had dreams of him, of making errors in front of him on the field. Luckily much less frequent these days do dreams of such failures come. Much less frequent due to finally letting go and accepting failure and moving on. Dying to the false self and rising in transformation closer to my True Self.
To clarify, the ego stage is necessary for development. Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward:
The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?” How can I support myself?” and “Who will go with me?” The task of the second half of life, is quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver. As Mary Oliver puts it, ” What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” In other words, the container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life, which you largely do not know about yourself! Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets deep” (John 21:6) to bring in the huge catch that awaits them.
So I thank God I failed, it helped make me who I am. It made me more sensitive and empathic to others who are as imperfect as I am, who may not be loved, embraced and seen as their true loving being rather judged by their outward performance and persona (mask). I will always love the game and although I do not play anymore I take that lesson, that dying to the false self a little and apply it to my daily life. To stay present and let go of the past and worries of the future. To let go of concerns about what others may think of me, let go of obsessions of perfectionism in my work now as a physician. To just be, just breathe and smile and thank God for His gifts to me, for His Son, our most true example of dying to the false self and living a life of love and service. Now in my 40’s, I relish the challenge of letting go, to be present and enjoy the simple moments in life, to continue to die to the false self/ego and turn closer to God. To be guided by love and not by materialism or moralism. To forgive and let go of the past failures. To embrace compassion and non-violence toward all sentient beings. To celebrate failure for having been a necessary step in my own personal transformation to knowing my True Self, who has always and will always be in union with universal consciousness (The Trinity: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Creator, humanity, all sentient beings and this beautiful planet & universe)
What a gift we all have. Let’s celebrate the gift that was given to us, continue to turn inward in daily contemplative meditation or centering prayer and be love and joy. So thank you Mr. Cather and my parents for the means and opportunity to play. Thank you varsity pitching coach, I can not remember your name for at least getting me on the team. (As you may have guessed I didn’t make varsity) Thank you Coach Ickes. Thank you Tom Linnert, my sophomore pitching coach for spending time with me and showing love in your coaching and more importantly helping me on my spiritual path. Thank you to all my mentors and teachers. Thank you to my most recent spiritual teacher, Fr. Richard Rohr. And thank you Steve Sax, Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda and all the Dodgers, present and past! Go Blue!
Below is my father at Pius X High School in Downey, CA. A 4 year varsity letterman, played for the Detroit Tigers farm system, turned down a scholarship to play for USC in favor of a 4 year full scholarship to the then top engineering school in the country in Michigan. Love you Pops!
Inspiration for this post & further spiritual support on my journey:
- Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
- Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life & Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle