What does it take to play baseball? If you’re a kid in the street, it takes a friend, stick and ball, and a few chalk marks on the road. If you’re a billionaire, a city stadium is bare minimum, a corporation, the best players you can get, along with a base of dedicated fans. If you’re somewhere in-between being a kid and a billionaire, bats, balls, and gloves are readily available.

If you are seriously organized, you’ll need an infield diamond and outfield laid out to Doubleday’s specifications, bleachers, care of the grounds; uniforms; protective pads, masks, helmets; and a pool of eligible players to draw from, which may include roughly half the citizenry in Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, and the U.S. Too, you’ll need leagues big enough to maintain a full schedule of 154 games, along with playoffs between league pennant-winners held at the end of the season (early spring into fall).

But what it really takes to play baseball is acceptance of the rules, and umpires who can enforce those rules in specific situations, assuring fair play between opposing teams. Mascots, trophies, and blaring horns are optional.

Where does the drive to win come from, that we feel the urge to play competitive games in the first place? I would say part of it arises from healthy metabolisms that convert glucose to available energy in our body’s every cell, of which there are trillions. I call that drive to be active the life force. If we’re ill or poorly nourished, we don’t have enough of a margin to exert ourselves in playing or attending games.

But if we’re young, active, well nourished, and eager to prove ourselves, the life force can be extremely compelling in initiating a host of engagements, including organized sports.

Beyond that, if we feel we have a special gift for playing baseball stemming from our initial contact with the game, then our sense of personal identity may be strong enough to call forth the extra effort it takes to get really good at mastering the required skills, or at least playing as well as we can.

It helps to have models, mentors, or heroes to pattern ourselves on. And a strong sense of fun, enjoyment, and fulfillment in developing our abilities.

The urge to play ball, that is, comes from inside us in discovering who we are and what we want to do with our lives. Baseball as played-out in the field flows from the confines of our black boxes into the cultural and communal worlds in which we personally live. Without doubt, playing baseball is a way of living an admirable life, like being a policeman, nurse, teacher, or astronaut—a person to look up to as a child, and grow into as an adult. We don’t play to win so much as play to engage others at our finest moments.

Playing baseball is a way to be human in a particularly personal way. The crux of being human in just that way lies at the inner core of each player, where what you do is what you most want to do in realizing yourself to the max. In being the person you know you can be without harming others.

In watching such people play ball, I feel I am personally witnessing their situated intelligence in full public view as they respond to the urgings of their memories, feelings, emotions, values, understandings, drives, thoughts, dreams, and understanding of what life is all about.

No aspect of mind is more powerful than the urge to participate in a palpable, real-life situation with others who are equally skilled in doing the same from a different point of view. Every era offers its wayfaring members a selection of routes to self-realization. Hunter, gatherer, tool maker, farmer, warrior, craftsperson, dancer, poet, athlete—which is to be your way?

Today, whether you are batter, pitcher, catcher, baseman, fielder, umpire, manager, batboy, or spectator, the plate umpire’s “Play ball!” is a call to live exactly as you choose to live. You are present in that moment, ready to give your all as fully yourself.

 

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389. Fish or Cut Bait

December 26, 2014

The life we are born into is only a beginning where the major decisions are made by grownups and the culture they live in. We as children go along because we don’t have a choice. We are too inexperienced to know any better.

But we are fast learners. As we gradually come into our own through hard-won experience, we learn to grapple with situations as we come to them, striving for freedom and independence in living as we choose to live for ourselves, not as somebody’s child.

As a matter of course, being ourselves in our earliest days gradually comes to us while we are somebody’s child, so we become who we are through a long series of trials, errors, corrections, retrials, and eventually morph into young selves whose judgments we can live by and with.

Examples of the exercise of judgment include parental decision-making as expressed in such terms as “Good girl,” or “Naughty boy, “Try harder,” “You can do it.” The world we are born to includes courts of law where judges, tribunals, and juries weigh the evidence pointing one way or the others towards either guilt or innocence; playing fields where umpires call strikes or balls, safe or out; and debaters randomly assigned a thesis to defend or disprove, pro or con.

Judgment comes down to an either-or decision: yes or no, go or no-go, true or false, wise or foolish, freedom or captivity, change it or lump it, fish or cut bait. Which means the situation at issue has to be structured as a duality to simplify the job of making a polarized decision.

This structure is not arbitrary. It flows from the workings of a human mind that frames situations in black or white. Nerve cells either fire or they don’t. They resolve the various activating and inhibiting signals they receive. If the activation threshold is reached, the nerve cell fires; if it fails to reach that level, it does nothing. End of signal in that branch of the network.

True, if the threshold is crossed, then variations in signal strength are reflected in the frequency of firing. But if the threshold is not reached, that signal is dead in that neuron.

Which is why so many of the concepts with which we compose our thoughts come in pairs of opposites: pro or con, assertion or negation, promotion or opposition, with or without, fight or flight, and on and on.

The essence of consciousness is found in sharpening perception, increasing contrast, heightening discernment, making thoughts and judgments that much clearer and unambiguous.

We are wayfarers made to be judicious in choosing our pathways through a succession of either-or decisions. Our choices have serious consequences: win or lose, succeed or fail, live or die. The wisdom of our heritage, genome, intelligence, and judgment all comes down to the quintessential difference between positive or negative outcomes. We make it or we fall short.  Eat or go hungry. Survive or perish.

From our earliest days, life is a matter of learning to make the right choices in one situation after another. Success means we win the right to make future decisions. Failure means we have gone as far as we can go and have come to the end of the line.

 

370. Do We Make it or Not?

November 29, 2014

Setting goals is how we guide ourselves in getting ahead, how we navigate this life of ours day-by-day. But gauging how close we come to attaining those goals is another matter entirely. To head off in a particular direction makes for a good start; but to arrive where we want to go is not a sure thing.

Do we make it or not? Do we even come close? That is the question. Either we do or we don’t. If we aren’t there yet, do we still have a chance? Do we have enough time, money, energy, and stamina to keep going? If not, what then? Set a lesser goal? Retreat? Call for help? Give up?

As it turns out, setting goals is only a hypothetical beginning. The real show is what happens in pursuit of that goal. It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions, something else again to stick to them. Of the thousand entrants in a marathon, only one will be first across the finish line. Politicians are hesitant to enter races they may not win after all, risking the raising and spending of millions of dollars for the privilege of defeat.

In seeking goals, follow-through is crucial. Sticking with the challenge, even as it intensifies and we grow weary unto exhaustion. And then adapting to situations we didn’t anticipate. Life is spent modifying and renewing our commitments, hoping we get a second and third wind, pushing on as best we can.

Proximity to our respective goals can make a big difference by renewing our dedication to the task we have set for ourselves. Do we have what it takes to go all the way when the going gets tougher and tougher? We’ve trained to be at our best at the start of the race, but what about near the end when we discover how young and powerful the competition is, and how painful every stride that we take?

 

People, apes, one-celled animals, we Earthlings are go-getters and getters-away-from. Wayfaring is our primary passion and profession. We head toward what we want, away from what we don’t. Our minds are the navigators that plot our next steps, leaps, or slithers. Baseball is one challenging way people choose to show themselves at their best. Particularly the last game of the World Series. In this case, game 7 of this year’s match-up between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants as it played out in Kansas City on October 29.

My interest in this game is in how the players reveal the qualities of mind that make them (and us) human. That is, how they perceive, judge, act, and engage in striving to do their best. Only one team could win the Series. The staging was in the superb mental and bodily efforts demonstrated by rivals worthy of each other in that ultimate game of the 2014 season.

Think of the situations that evolve in each player’s mind from the starting pitch that opens the first inning to the final out in the bottom of the ninth. Those situations don’t play out on the field so much as in each player’s mind from his personal point of view. It is very much the playing-out of that inner flow of situations that makes baseball the great game it is.

Behind two games to three, two out in the bottom of the ninth, runner on third, two strikes. Both game and series ride on the next pitch. Think of the hopes, fears, values, memories, associations, priorities, outlooks, intuitions, and dreams as arrayed in each player’s mind in preparation for what happens next. Not only in each player’s mind, but in the mind of every fan in the stadium and watcher on TV. If not do or die, it is win, tie, or lose that hangs in the balance. The pitcher (who happens to be the Giant’s Madison Bumgarner) winds up and throws. . . . Pablo Sandoval catches the high foul and falls to the dirt spread-eagle as if making an angel in the snow, the ball in his glove. The Giants win the game three runs to two. And Series four games to three.

Three hours back, when the outcome was latent, each player had his own hopes. Nine innings later, those hopes are decided by the sequence of events across 54 outs, each a host of situations in its own right. Baseball is each player and fan’s journey from hope to, if not destiny, certainty.

Which is the same as the journey every wayfarer makes in life and stage of life. The Force is either with or against us. The Life Force that drives us to go beyond ourselves every day of our lives. A game of baseball models our own primal strivings to do the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed. After that, the stadium lights go out.

(Continued next post.)