Life Will Knuck You Up
I was a towering 5’2” as I strolled to the batter’s box. To say I was “underdeveloped” entering high school is an understatement. I was short and slim. But I could play baseball. Now, I wasn’t great. But I knew the rules and made the roster of my freshmen team. Well, to be honest, so did almost everyone else who showed up to the first practice.
I played baseball for years in leagues for little kids cleverly named “little leagues.” But I wasn’t prepared for this. Before I took my at-bat, the opposing team’s coach came to the pitcher’s mound and brought in a small kid (hi Kettle, I’m Pot). He started warming up and that’s when I realized I was getting a rare surprise in the game of baseball.
There’s an old saying about how “life throws you a curve” which for all intents and purposes makes sense. A curve is not the normal pitch. The phrase has captured how a curveball in a game can actually throw you off. It can get you off balance in the box and leave you looking a little foolish. At least a good curveball can. A bad one gets crushed. Yet, there is a pitch more sinister we need to reckon with. The Knuckleball.
On that fateful day, I stepped up to the plate teetering between fear and overconfidence. Standing in the batter’s box, the mental game ensued and I tried to focus. The heat evoked the minty bark-like smell of the pine tar on my bat. Salty drops of sweat began to nestle on my brows and trickle down my back. The pitcher vaulted into motion and hurled fate in my direction. I did all I could and slapped a sloppy single over second base.
Through it all, I learned a valuable lesson. Curveballs are nothing. Knuckleballs are the real bitch of baseball, and as a result, that old saying needs tossing out.
Why? Because life is too hard to categorize its moments as curveballs. Curveballs are easy. But what about the moments that are anything but easy? How do you get through those? A few tips from my perfect record against the knuckleball (1 for 1) will offer some simple guidance.
So why are curveballs a bad metaphor for the hardships of life?
- Curveballs are recognizable. A good hitter knows how to spot a curveball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. The seams on the ball begin to form a small dot on the center of the ball. When you see the dot, you know then that the pitch will break and you can adjust your swing, or let it go and wait for what’s next. Life’s hard patches are not recognizable from a distance. And you definitely cannot let them pass and remain unscathed, waiting for the next pitch.
- Curveballs are predictable. Great hitters know what types of scenarios tend to warrant the curveball. Certain pitch counts, pitcher styles, and circumstances in the game all give clues about when a curve ball may come. Also, almost all pitchers can throw a curve, so you can predict that you will see a few each game. Again, life’s hard times are not predictable in this manner. They hide around the corner and halt you in your tracks.
- Curveballs can be prepared for and are even preferred by some hitters. You can get loads of practice with curveballs. During batting practice, you devote time to preparing for curveballs. In fact, some people prefer it to the fastball. They look for it, wait for it, and smash it when they see it coming. But, the toughest moments of life hit us unawares. You don’t prefer them and wouldn’t wish them on your worst enemy.
So how do you make contact on the ball when life knucks you up? Here’s what I have done the couple times I have faced a knuckleball pitcher:
- Remember the basics. Return to and hold fast to the primary principles and practices that made you a good hitter in the first place. This means the work you put in when you’re not facing knuckleballs is important. You have no chance of getting through the hardest parts of life if your life before it is a mess. This means if life is not currently knucking you up, how you’re living matters.
- Simplify your swing. Shorten your swing. Doing so will allow your swing to be quicker and more agile. When you simplify and shorten, you take away more opportunities for mechanical error. It’s kind of like shooting a granny-style free throw. (If you’re not sure what this is, listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History on Wilt Chamberlin and Rick Barry). In life, when the proverbial feces comes in contact with the proverbial fan, what areas can you cut back in? Are there ways you can simplify your life? Take away any responsibilities or commitments? Put some things on pause that tend to over complicate your life and find that less is more.
- Remember the goal: get on base. When facing a knuckleball, the mindset is about making contact on getting on base, not hitting a home run. The knuckleball is too tricky to get the type of contact you need to drive it 400+ feet. But you can make contact. You can slap a sloppy single. Sometimes in life, all you need is a single. You will have other at-bats. Lower your standards for a season and as one of my favorite songwriters says, “Be kind to yourself.”
- In the end, if you can, try to remember that a knuckleball pitcher is short-lived. They only last an inning or two. To be sure, they may be crucial innings when getting a hit matters. But know that not every pitcher throws knuckleballs. Not ever life season comes with hardships. The sorrows may last for a season, some longer than others. Healing takes time and moves at its own pace. Be patient, and oftentimes the key to being patient is knowing that what you’re facing won’t last forever.
I understand not all hardships come through a loss or poor circumstances. Not all are external. I have experienced short seasons of anxiety and depression and have close friends who live with worse. Sometimes the battle is within. Sometimes you can’t grit your teeth and try harder. Sometimes, you can’t even imagine what could be.
Those battles need help and far greater wisdom than this article has to offer. I would suggest Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon, anything by Brené Brown, and The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson. They have been sure and steady voices when all is swirling in and around me. If you’re there, tell someone and find some professional help. That’s what I have done and it has helped pull me from the mire of my mental muck.
So when life throws you a knuckleball, step up to the plate. Keep it simple, focus on small wins, and know easier and happier times may be around the corner.
In the words of the wonderful Anne of Green Gables,
“I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.”