It used to be that a significant portion of American men carried the latent psychological trauma of a specific little league baseball experience, that of being the kid on the team who struck out all the time.
I incurred that, I probably struck out 95% of my plate appearances between 8th and 10th grade. Being ‘that’ player can either make you hate the game or it can cultivate a certain obstinacy.
I didn’t play 11th or 12th grade ball in HS. I don’t know that I would have got cut trying out, but I didn’t want to be ‘that’ player, so I didn’t go out.
Still, about that time as a teenager I started taking a couple thousand swings a summer just playing street ball. I had something of a hitting game by the time I was 20. When I was a useful outfielder in amateur ball in the 1990’s, I’d have seasons where I struck out say twice in 60-70 plate appearances.
Such that I had a mastery of something…it was kind of a short, low power stroke where you don’t lift your front leg and then plant it as a part of timing… just see ball and put the bat on it. I hit lots of flares over the infield this way, that was my thing.
Fast forward…. I go into old guy ball this summer having not played in 5 years. I got all these articulated wisdoms collected in my head about the swing, cuz ESPN and internet. I think I am going to have this nice rhythmic leg lift and plant, and it’s going to work cuz timing…. Then when games come, I’m completely helpless. Went 0/16 to start with 8 strikeouts in 4 games. Two weekends ago this guy struck me out 4 times, and I had hit a home run off him in 2003. He ain’t throwing harder now… I’m missing pitches down the middle where I absolutely think I’ve got them and then they go into the catcher’s mitt.
Went to the cage during the week. Not that I was looking for the ‘old’ swing, because I hadn’t really reflected on what the old swing was. But you go in there on the ‘fast’ machine at 45 or 50 ft or whatever it is, you got to get short to the ball. I got short and went ‘Hey! That’s what that was like…’
Anyway, this game yesterday…. 1st AB, went to a 3-2 count and I hit a fastball that dribbled to third, 5-3 play, easy infield out.
2nd AB…. This guy’s game was a fastball slider combo, and he rilly rilly was in love with his slider. Pitcher’s count, it was going to be a slider. I had fouled an FB straight back and took one called, we were at 2-2. This next pitch was as I say, destined to be a little nickel slider, and I’d like to say that piece of foresight was useful to me. But thing is not trying to do that elaborate step and rotate, the door of the subconscious was open. Zoned out, had some guitar riff in my head, and just put the barrel of the bat on baseball without conscious thought even as it had a little ripple on it. Flare… soft liner into shallow center field.
Boy, that’s a trip when you zone out. I had said, I wanted to play old guy ball if all it meant was I got a vigorous throwing session once a week. I hadn’t occurred to me the door to the zone would still be open.