It’s looking like a limb torn off

I believe in being five
my father teaching me to throw
in the backyard/ our house on Crescent Avenue:
almost no arc on the ball
watched it tail

as a ten inch comet
to my father’s open mitt.

From FOR TIM (suggesting I name ten things I truly believe, which is really fucking impossible)

I love my dad. My dad taught me to play baseball. I love my dad, and baseball, so much that I have nearly completed a book of poems about baseball. And my dad.

And my dad must love me a lot, too, in that way I see my husband loving our daughter—stuck somewhere between desperately attempting to keep said daughter in line, correcting her missteps, perfecting her; all without breaking her, or making her feel worthless, or, hell, even just pissing her off until she stomps her little foot and you are now oscillating somewhere between anger (she must get that attitude from her mother!) and even more love (maybe I should just give her a hug).

I’ve always thrown sidearm—because my dad taught me that way. The rarity of it has made me resistant to change: there are a handful of sidearm pitchers—all relievers, I believe—but no sidearm-throwing fielders. And certainly, I’ve never in my life witnessed another girl cranking her body side-to-side to leverage the torque to uncoil and get a runner at third.

It made me feel like a gunslinger. And my dad, the John Wayne fan, must have known better than to try to fix it.

But there are obviously problems with it. First, there’s an incredible amount of tailing action on the ball. So while I may, say, be reasonably accurate on infield throws, coming up gunning from the outfield means my infielder needs to be ready to adjust.

Mechanically, it’s a nightmare—it’s just about the opposite of the exact right way to throw a ball. A good throw would be something like the Yankee’s Brett Gardner: coming over the top of the ball, snapping the elbow, a bit of snap to finish in the wrist, pulling the chest forward and toward the lead knee.

What was I doing? I was creating lateral rotation—think, the strange spinning handheld drum contraption from Karate Kid Part 2—to power my throw.

You can see this in the photo of me throwing from my high school days. There’s almost no work, in the physics sense, being done by my elbow. My wrist served as a rudder at best. And my chest never moved forward, into the proper finishing position, because I needed to prematurely abort my rotation—of the wrong axis—or risk throwing behind me; I needed to stay back, when proper form (and my current coach) dictate the opposite.

The rub is this: with such a mechanically unsound throw, I managed to grow into a decent outfielder (if not at times showing flashes of my idol, Bobby Higginson, by punishing runners who dared to tag up on me) but the ones that got away—those were the problems.

Mr. Plants, who coached me for two years in high school, tried in vain to correct my throw. The middling result came about from his knowing only about half the proper mechanics of a fundamentally sound throw—”thumb the ball past your thigh” “point to the target with your elbow”—and caused some unnamed injury that found me in right field, unable to lift my arm above my elbow, so severe was the pain in the joint of my shoulder, a handful of glass-covered pickaxes grinding.

So now, a few sessions in, one of the targeted improvements of my game (one of many, I assure you) is fixing, once and for all, this throw of mine.

But it’s not without a bit of sadness, a bit of nostalgia tingeing the memory of each coach I ever played for furrowing his brow and turning his head a bit, the memory of my father explaining to them that was just how I did it, that was how he taught me, all of it dimmed a bit in a wash of sepia.

It’s a bit like the memory of the last cigarette I smoked, knowing it was just that, paying more attention than ever to the smoke hanging just in front of my cheeks, for once not waving my hand through it, for once, not wanting it to disappear.

2 Responses to “It’s looking like a limb torn off”
  1. Jeanette Giroux says:

    Another great column. I really liked that throw, you always looked so bad-ass doing it – I was so proud. But alas – out with the old, in with the correct way.

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