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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baseball Nightmares

From Jon Miller’s “ Confessions of a Baseball Purist”

“… Don Aase…told me of a dream he’d had several times. It had a baseball context, but unlike mine, there was nothing cryptic about it. In Don’s dream, he was on the mound when a scorching line drive was hit right at his head. Just then, he would invariably sit bolt upright in bed, throw his arms in front of his face, and let out a bloodcurdling shriek.”

Picture yourself at the plate, bat in hands, waiting for the pitcher. He winds up and throws the ball. Picture a 90+ mph fastball coming right at your head.
Picture it…

Scary, huh?

I used to compete in water ski jumping for distance. The boat runs parallel to the center line of the jump ramp 30 to 45 feet away from that centerline. The jumper pulls out far to one side of the boat and then cuts across the boat wakes as late as possible trying to generate as much speed as possible, speeds as high as 65 mph. A jump ramp is about 22’ long by about 8’ wide and is 5’ to 5 & ½’ high at the top. The sides have thick plywood aprons to keep a jumper from going under the surface of a ramp if he were to be cutting too late.

This is the way it's supposed to be done.

I’ve had nightmares of hitting the side of the ramp after I cut too late. I have gone over the surface of the ramp making very small mistakes, flying ass end over bandbox and crashing on my back or sides several times. I have seen a fellow competitor flying through the air, arms and legs akimbo, after making the tiniest of errors. I watched him eat his ski as it hit his mouth the instant he was crashing against the water.

Typical jump crash

I read that passage from Miller’s book last night. As soon as I had finished it, I had to put the book down as I immediately came down with a severe case of heebie-jeebies thinking about that fastball, and then all those jump crashes. It takes a very long time to learn an athletic skill such as hitting a baseball or jumping for distance to the point where you just do it without thinking. There is no time to ‘think’, only do. There are less than a couple of seconds from the time one starts his cut to the jump to the time one actually makes contact with the ramp. Every bone and muscle in your body needs to know what to do without thinking about it. Hitting a baseball takes the same discipline. A batter has a fraction of a second to decide whether to swing, stay, or duck once the pitcher releases the ball.

I crashed so hard one time that I ended up spending two weeks in the hospital with a pair of collapsed lungs, but as soon as I was able, I went right back to jumping the next year. Fear was not known to me back then. Respect, yes, but not fear. Unfortunately for my friend and fellow competitor, fear did become of him, as he no longer jumped after his crash.

Tallahassee, FL 1979

Fenway West 03.04.10

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