The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95mph
Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine – Simon & Schuster, 2011 – 208pp. – $27.99
I could have said it was Derek Jeters’ backhand flip to Pasada to tag out Giambi in the bottom of the seventh in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series or I could also have said it was Monday September 18th 2006 when the Los Angeles Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and then went on to secure first place in the National League West after Nomar Garciaparra’s two-run home run in the 10th. A moment with Albert Pujols, the same year as the Dodgers comeback, would also have been close to escaping my lips as my final answer to my brother after Albert struggled through an ugly 0-for-4 game but with one swing of the bat on his fifth at bat of the game turned around not only the game but the National League Championship Series and the Cardinals’ season. Pujols sent a previously impenetrable Brad Lidge pitch over the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park to give his Cardinals a 5-4 win over the Astros in a National League Championship Series elimination game on October 17th.
All these answers would have satisfied my brother Marc last week when he asked me what my favorite baseball memory was and while those are good memories to have my favorite baseball memory comes from the summer of 1998. For financial reason my family downsized in home space and we moved from a four bath six room home in the nice part of town to a one bath three room condominium in the not so nice part of town. With the loss of space and rooms Marc and I were required to share a room together for the first time in our ten year relationship. I don’t remember it as the happiest time in my family history but one of the perks of downsizing was that there were no longer enough rooms to place all the televisions we had acquired over the years so Marc and I got one in our room. Cable was out of the question but this was the time when CBC still broadcasted Toronto Blue Jay games and so with Marc on the bottom bunk and me on the top we would spend almost all of our Saturdays watching a rather exciting Blue Jay Team which featured Carlos Delgado, Alex Gonzalez, Jose Cruz Jr. and Shannon Stewart.
I don’t know if we ever made it past the second or third inning before falling asleep but those 2-3 innings every Saturday afternoon during the 1998 season are easily my favorite baseball memories.
A player we also liked to watch was a young Shawn Green who at 190 pounds defied what it meant to be a power hitter.
How did he do it? How did someone with his frame hit 328 home runs, drive in 1,071 RBIs and bat over 280?
According to his book The Way of Baseball, Zen.
Much like Greens perennial slow starts the book comes out sluggish, childish and boring. The first chapter details his struggle with the 1997 Toronto Blue Jay coaching staff namely two time World Series winning manager Cito Gaston and 1998 Atlantic League manager of the year hitting and coach Wille Upshaw. The problem with Cito Gaston, according to Green was that he was “overbearing”, “viewed many younger players with suspicion” and benched players without a premeditated rational. Wille on the other hand was “a good guy” but who “generally marched in lockstep with the boss, Cito” and who “threw erratic batting practice.” In 1997 after being benched by Cito and forbidden to take unsupervised batting practice by Willie, Shawn found refuge, his swing, his future and maybe even redemption in a developing a spiritual practices around a batting tee. Green recounts that he would spend at least thirty minutes every day alone in a hallways taking swings on batting tee. Like most little league tee ball stands the one Shawn used during his exile from the batting cage and away from the overbearing gaze of his managers could be raised and lowered to work on extreme high and low pitches. Green notes that it was during this thirty minutes alone while hitting off the tee that he found the stillness, peace and perspective which proved to be life altering discoveries. During his tee work he was able to practice awareness, presence, space and separation, all of which were to become the seed bed which would ultimately blossom into The Zone (His historic game against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002) During his thirty minutes of tee work Green was able to forget about Cito and the managers and if the reader is able to forget the seemingly petty digs at former managers (“The ’97 season ended on a high note…Cito and the faction of coaches that had been less than supportive…were all let go) and seemingly cavalier statements about being able to know what pitches pitchers like Randy Johnson, Brad Radke, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were about to throw, the remainder of the book is as life giving as I think the authors had intended the whole to be. What you get in the remainder of the book is a baseball players incarnation or reinterpretation of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Zen in the Art of Archery and Siddartha. (Incarnation or reinterpretation that as a baseball fan and practicing Yogi I appreciated.)
In regards to meditation Green gives needed reminders ; “It’s the most common thing in the world to forfeit a fulfilling routine when one’s schedule becomes more demanding. Pouring myself into spring training, I was unaware that mediation could fit unobtrusively into my daily routine, even at the office.” In the same chapter Shawn finds his swing writing about stillness “Finding stillness enabled me to understand the pitfalls of allowing the ever-changing external world to dictate my inner world. If one stranger’s opinion could actually change my stress level, anger level, and overall well-being, then who was actually at the controls of my life?”
The book is accessible to anyone, fan or not, but there are parts that are plain boring no matter where you are on the sports spectrum. Listen as Green explains for two pages his swing; “In my square stance, my right foot, right hip, and right shoulder were all perfectly aligned aiming at the pitcher. However, as I took my stride I’d wind up aiming more toward the shortstop. Thus, my up-the-middle approach was defeated when I actually took my swing. How to correct the problem? Instead of fighting where my body wanted to go I went with it. Keeping my entire body locked into its natural position, I danced my feet around clockwise so that, when I swung, my right shoulder would be aimed directly at the pitcher…” I digress and I wish Green had as well as this description carries on for another page and a half. Luckily for the reader moments like this are rare.
In the summer of 1998 one player who didn’t really capture my imagination or that of my brother was Tony Fernandez. Tony, however, gets much attention and praise in The Way of Baseball. I left the reading of this book hoping that Tony too will write a book someday.
It was into my shared bedroom with my brother that I feel in love with the game of baseball. Within those afternoons the darkness in the house seemed to lift and I was able to carry that peace (as best as a fourteen year old could) through the reminder of the week. Fourteen years after the fact I now wonder if maybe in a small way the peace that was given to me those afternoons was a product of the mediation and philosophy of a slim 6’4 power hitter. I may never be able to return to that room but I can return to my highlighted copy of Greens The Way of Baseball a spiritual tune up or a good nap.