Breaking The Code

It’s often said that baseball is a metaphor for life. Each spring, as the major league season gets set to begin, I like to read one baseball-related book to set the mood for the next 162 games. And, inevitably, I end up learning a little bit more about baseball – and a whole lot more about life.

This year on the bookshelf, it was the third effort by Dirk Hayhurst, a journeyman pitcher who had a couple of cups of coffee with three major league teams a few years back, but is probably better known for his intelligent, witty writing and his television appearances on Rogers Sportsnet and TBS during last year’s playoffs.

Hayhurst’s books are filled with small moments of triumph surrounded by plenty of self-doubt, deprecation and failure. His first book, The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran, talked about his long career in the minor leagues, trying and hoping for a break that would take him from a life of riding buses and pinching pennies to the big-paying career of a major leaguer. This was a side of baseball rarely written about, which made it refreshing. It also made Hayhurst somewhat of a pariah for breaking an unwritten baseball code: what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room.

In his second effort, Out Of My League: A Rookie’s Survival in the Bigs, Hayhurst finally achieves his dream of playing regularly in the major leagues. Along the way, he meets and marries the woman of his dreams and buys his first house. Still, Hayhurst is hounded by the demons of his own horribly dysfunctional family and finds many bumps in the road.

Which brings us to Bigger Than the Game: Restitching a Major League Life, Hayhurst’s latest effort. The “code” plays a bigger part in this chapter of Hayhurst’s life. The book picks up after his successful season with the Jays when he injures himself in the off-season and spends the better part of the year undergoing surgery, rehabbing and dealing with severe depression.

Hayhurst ends up talking with a sports psychologist via phone for a good portion of this period, trying to sort out why he can’t be happy, even when good things happen to him. He talks often about the nature of the code and how he’s alienated his teammates by breaking one of baseball’s unwritten laws. He worries constantly about how he is perceived by others and struggles with trying to hold himself back and act the way he’s expected to around veteran players, coaches, trainers and his wife.

The psychologist listens patiently for several sessions of Hayhurst’s moaning and whining, leading the player along and pretending to be on his side. Finally, he broadsides Dirk, telling him how incredibly selfish and self-centred he is. Hayhurst is so shocked, he actually makes the doctor repeat himself and asks, “Is this a joke?”

To answer the question, the psychologist explains: “You keep using this language, ‘everyone.’ ‘Everyone hates me. Everyone likes me. They all think I’m nuts.’ It’s a pretty selfish way to think, wouldn’t you say? Believing that at any given time every person you come into contact with hates or likes you, or even cares about you at all?”

Hayhurst tries to reason with the psychologist, talking about how a few of the players have openly criticized him for breaking the code. “I know all about expectations and codes and unwritten rules,” says the doctor. “Most players spend their entire careers subscribing to one form of them or another. Most people, for that matter. You think baseball players are unique in code making?”

Hayhurst says he does. “Please,” the psychologist says. “You’re not as special as you think. People everywhere worry about how the group will see them if they break those codes. Codes they never even had a hand in making but take on as all-encompassing. We all do. And we all project those assumed consequences of breaking those codes onto ourselves or others, to the point that we act on them irrationally.”

It’s at this moment that the door to Hayhurst’s real problems is finally opened wide. The issue is not about others, it’s about Hayhurst himself. Like all of us, to some degree, he’s concerned about what others think about him, rather than trying to live his own life and be true to himself. He can be what he wants to be, but he also has to deal with the consequences when he does so. If he feels there’s a reason for breaking the code and doing what he believes in, he needs to fight for that right.

During this time, Hayhurst also befriends a brilliant physical therapist who helps him battle through his pitching injuries and insecurities while the psychologist continues to work on his mental challenges. With their help and, as the book’s subtitle notes, he’s able to restitch his life. As his psychologist says, “I’m not going to fix you, Dirk, because you’re not broken. I’m just going to help you learn about who you are, underneath the seams.”

There you have it. A metaphor for life masquerading as a book about baseball. It proves that you never know where you’re going to find wisdom or learn more about your own place on this planet. In this case, Hayhurst has provided both. And hit a home run while doing it. How many pitchers can say that?

 

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All About Autumn

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” – William Cullen Bryant

It’s the season so nice, they named it twice. Some call it fall. Some call it autumn. I call it awesome. What a glorious time of year it is. Nature’s harvest in its full majesty. Gorgeous sunsets. Crisp, cool mornings. A rainbow of fall colours. Thanksgiving. Halloween. Bundled up school kids. Hearty meals prepared with the season’s bounty. Falling leaves. More falling leaves. Taking off the crops. Cozying up under a blanket. Craft sales. Hot apple cider spiced just right. Leisurely fall walks. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds, oh my. The World Series (aka The Fall Classic).

It’s an autumn extravaganza of dazzling pleasures, just waiting to be enjoyed. As George Eliot once said, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

Ms. Eliot had that right. Unlike other seasons, where you’re anxious for the next one to arrive, most of us would be perfectly happy if fall stayed around a little while longer. Even in the bleakest days of November, you’re still hoping for one more of those lingering autumn afternoons where you put on a fall jacket, take a hearty deep breath, stroll through a forest of changing colours, and reminisce about the year that’s slowly fading into the horizon.

Everyone has the season they enjoy most, one that often reflects your personality. For me, it’s always been autumn. Writer Lauren DeStefano feels the same way: “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” Author and journalist Jim Bishop agrees: “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

To me, the other three seasons seem so showy, so full of themselves. Autumn is a time of peace, of contemplation, of reflection, of giving thanks. Yoko Ono said, “Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Reverence. That’s a good word for it. “A feeling or attitude of deep respect, tinged with awe.” What a perfect description of this wonderful season. It’s a time when the farmers’ labour is repaid with the bountiful harvest. When we settle back into a warm, welcome routine following the vagaries of summer. When we give thanks for the warm memories that have come and gone throughout the year. And when we prepare for the long winter ahead and enjoy those remaining moments of sunshine and warmth.

It’s sad and happy and toasty and frigid and melancholy and joyous and light and dark and new and old and romantic and heartbreaking and so much more – all rolled into one magnificent, meandering collection of moments. It’s autumn. Enjoy every second of its transcendent beauty before it’s gone.

 

 

MLB Opening Day: Greatest Day of the Year or Totally Greatest Day of the Year?

by Eric Nixon

As a baseball fan, there is truly no more anticipated day each spring than Opening Day. Even after what has been one of the mildest winters on record, the start of the Major League Baseball season officially puts to rest unpleasant memories of snow-covered driveways, slush-filled boots, and whiteout driving conditions for another year. It signals an end to short days, long nights, and perpetually overcast skies. And it offers a preview of sunbaked afternoons in a crowded stadium enjoying the greatest pastime ever created.

Beyond the obvious, Opening Day mirrors life’s greatest opportunities and most optimistic moments. As the day approaches, you can feel a huge emotional lift as you imagine the endless possibilities that a new season brings. Even when you temper that optimism with the most brutally realistic prediction of your team’s chances at success, you cannot help but feel your heart beat faster as the time of the game’s first pitch nears. Will this truly be the year your home team beats all the prognosticator’s negativism, defies all reasonable odds, and goes the distance to win it all in the Fall Classic?

Sure, why not? Absolutely anything is possible in baseball. It is the most joyous, most cruel, most wonderful, most diabolical, most uplifting, and most depressing sport that mankind has yet devised. It taunts and teases and tempts and traumatizes. It builds players and fans up in one short moment – then rips their hearts out in the next. It turns goats into heroes overnight – and then returns them to goatoriety 24 hours later. And it does it for six straight months in the most grueling sports marathon imaginable.

For non-baseball fans, the lure of baseball remains a mystery. They say its time has passed. That the world has moved on and that baseball is a remnant of bygone days. That playing a sport virtually every day for 162 straight games is a public relations disaster in today’s fast-paced, sound bite world. That having a handful of clubs make the playoffs – when virtually every other sport rewards almost half their teams with post-season berths – makes no economic sense. That the game is too slow. Too statistical. Too complicated. Too arcane.

And they’re absolutely right on all counts. And they’ll never understand why all of the above means absolutely nothing to a true baseball fan. It is a sport that you will never fully understand or appreciate. It is a kids’ game played by overpaid, grown men who have never totally forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. It is an endurance test that embraces the best qualities we all strive to emulate: determination, humility, hard work, and non-stop learning.

Forget the billion dollar ownerships and the high salaries and the overpaid announcers and the overinflated egos. Strip away the shiny façade and, beneath it all, you’ll discover that the real, honest-to-goodness, sandlot-inspired game still exists. And it’s just waiting to suck you into its addictive vortex for another six long months. Why resist the urge? Let yourself be swept away and savour every great moment.

It all starts now – on Opening Day, truly the most wonderful day of the year. Play ball!