Zen Baseball

A non-expert exploring the intersection of baseball and mindfulness.

The very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centres of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. We are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, and to the rest of the universe atomically. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.

—Neil deGrasse Tyson

Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake. We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.

—Peter Matthiessen (via zencalendar)

in other words, Billy Hamilton.

"In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality."

- Zen scholar DT Suzuki, intro to “Zen in the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel (1953)

Collision

I didn’t realize it during my career as a catcher (up through D-III college baseball), but the collision at home plate is a play of extreme imbalance. The runner has all of the advantage: sees the whole play, concentrates on where to drive his shoulder into the catcher, controls his own momentum and aim, decides how violently he will engage. The catcher, looking for the ball while attempting to “protect” a static object, the plate, becomes nothing more than a target of a calculated offensive.

This is out of balance.

So much of baseball is concerned with a well-attuned balance. Balls weighted four to three against strikes; each team with an equal number of outs at their disposal; the high wall in Fenway’s left field to counter-balance its proximity to the plate.

In the new rule forbidding the runner to target and crush the catcher, I feel the correction of an imbalance.

Obstruction

What does it matter, the intent? Bodies entangled, intentions intertwined, desires pressing against each other from both directions. The rule, a charming attempt to arbitrate the chaos of ambition, says “out.” 

Universal self is somewhere above the rule. Universal self is aware that there are not two teams, two desires, with an official ruling between them like a wide river. Universal self sees that all is single organism, of which each player, team, logo, color, fan is a pumping organ. The outcome of the game, the ruling on the field, another organ, a lively blood vessel.

Craig Calcaterra on last night’s game:

"But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says ‘ha.’"

Should we call it, then, the universal ha?

Baseball’s only flaw is its insistence upon a winner and a loser.

Non-vowing

"We don’t say, ‘I vow to scratch when I itch.’ It just happens, to alleviate suffering." - Paul Haller

Nor do we say, “I vow to find the seams of the baseball when I take it in my hand.”

Practice and surrender

To a question about the balance between letting go of a desire to control and maintaining motivation, the Lazy Yogi responded:

"Firstly, you may put in any effort you like to achieve anything you like in life. There is nothing wrong with that. But you have no control over what fruits arise from your efforts. That is where you must let go and surrender. Try your best and work with whatever comes as a result instead of wishing it had been another way."

Most of our insight into the hidden side of baseball suggests that randomness is omnipresent. Even the greatest player cannot control randomness. Any attempt to do so will lead to disaster. Control effort, control practice, let go and surrender.

While this is speculation on my part, it seems to me that the players who held and then lost their grip on the game—Rick Ankiel’s staggering wild pitches, Steve Sax’s and Chuck Knoblauch’s errant throws to first—suggest an imbalance, when these players couldn’t reconcile the great weight of randomness

If I’m in a slump, I ask myself for advice.

—Ichiro Suzuki (via worldyouvision)