Feeling a Little Lost? Follow that Burning Desire
As the World Series plays itself out, I thought I'd share a tale relatable to the sport of baseball and tangentially bearing on our wonderful, whacky world of printing.
I am coaching my son's "fall ball" baseball team, which is also drawing to a close in the next week or so. My boy, Sean, is not a particularly skilled player, but can occasionally smoke the ball deep into the outfield. Got a quick bat for a slow fella, but can't lay off the high heat. Defensively...ehhh. Sean plays because his dad coaches. He seems happy with that lot in his 12-year-old life. The smart phone, xbox, Wii system, video games in general...this is where his passion lies. He cried the day Steve Jobs died. I'm not kidding. He longs for a tech future. And, that's just the way it is, no matter how much I plea to the heavens for him to take more of an interest in sports.
Then there's Colton. His father works in sales for a commercial print shop in South Jersey. A late addition to our team, the Baseball Gods blessed me and punished Colton with his assignment to Team Four, baseball's version of the Island of Misfit Toys. OK, that sounds mean; they're all lovable, well-adjusted, nice kids. But most of our players were at the minor league level this past spring, while the other fall ball teams have a healthy mixture of kids with majors and minors experience, so there's a maturity and talent disparity. Team Four is developing, just not quick enough.
Which brings us to Colton, who despite being all of 10 years of age, is an old soul. More accurately, he has a baseball soul. You can see this soul through a person's eyes: The stoic gaze, sometimes a borderline sneer—like Brutus probably wore when he found the spot to plunge his knife into Caesar—the calm veneer masking the white powdery trail that leads to a keg of dynamite. Certain foods taste better when it's either hot or cold. The perfect temperature for enjoying baseball is intensity. And every game is a buffet for Colton.
It's cruel to have such an albatross thrust upon a young boy. No one is born with a baseball soul; it comes with the realization of the true joy the game brings. The promise of joy, really, which is an outright lie unless you're a New York Yankees fan. Baseball is destined to break your heart, Bart Giamatti once wrote, and might I add it's not afraid to string you along before doing so, either. It's a promise of glory, and like most lottery tickets, it represents hope for many, even though payola, ultimately, goes to just one. But baseball souls are hooked, like junkies, for a baseball high that is tenfold more addictive than the most lethal of uncontrolled substances.
Colton has the baseball gene. You either do or you don't.
He is probably my second-best hurler. Colton delivers a naturally rising fastball that prompts weak grounders and easy fly balls. And when that happens, cue "1812 Overture"—a-la a certain film about an underperforming Little League team—and balls pass between legs, over and under gloves, and pinball around the diamond in ways that might seem amusing were these occurrences not so frequent. But I've never seen Colton rip into a teammate. That's baseball etiquette, because everyone strikes out and makes errors at some point.
His hitting skills need practice, but he's shown flashes of brilliance from the left side of the plate. But there have been strikeouts as well, and on more than one occasion, the batting helmet went flying toward the bat rack following a whiff. He was pissed off at himself, or maybe didn't like the called third strike. He didn't say a word to the ump, though. Baseball etiquette No. 2: Don't blame a failed at-bat on blue.
Colton should wear a "Caution, flammable contents" warning sticker.
He is painfully out of place on Team Four. There are 10 other players on this ballclub for whom baseball is a pleasant aside, a social activity to pass away the time; good exercise before cold weather sets in. Baseball is plan B when the traveling soccer club is at its limit, player-wise. Half the team doesn't know who won after the final out. The other half is eyeing the cookies and cheese puffs one parent kindly left on the bench. Winning isn't important, after all. We're all here just to have fun.
I don't need a scorebook, myself. I can see the results in Colton's blood-red eyes. We're 0-8 on the season. And it's killing the little guy.
Think art doesn't imitate life when it comes to this sport? Look at the MLB standings. A precious few are living the high life. Two teams, maybe three, boast 100 victories. They're the elite, the top 10 percent. The unfortunate are in the cellar, lugging 100 setbacks, organizing Occupy Last Place rallies, trying to survive in a system that dooms them to fail. And then there's the rest of us, winning on some days, losing on others, trying to do a little better than breaking even, but really unable to do so.
Most of us spend our days walking around, not dwelling on these realities. Unfortunately for Colton, he knows the score. He also knows that unless you feel the burn, you're not playing this game correctly.
This is the part of a blog where I'd beat you over the head with some obvious analogy about passion and printing, that you should get the heck out of the industry if it's not in your heart, because a half-assed effort won't work anymore. I spoke to my son's language arts class last year about writing, but the focus was more about knowing one's passion, finding it and following through. And that is why I won't try to drag my son Sean away from his electronic gadgets, nor would I suggest to Colton that he not take the game so seriously.
The takeaway is obvious...if printing is not your passion, then what are you doing here?
Postscript: Team Four, behind two solid innings on the hill from Colton and Sean's two-run triple, posted its first victory on Wednesday, a 16-4 triumph. There were many smiles.