that sinking feeling

Errors in baseball have to be the worst.

I’m sure fumbling in football sucks. An own goal in soccer is humiliating and, considering the rarity of soccer goals, pretty horrible. Basketball is somewhat safeguarded against embarrassing moments except for air balls, which really aren’t that bad. You shoot enough times, you’re going to have some air balls. Okay, air balling a free throw is pretty awful.

I can testify that golf’s worst moment is the chili dip. This is when a golfer, trying to hit a delicate chip shot, hits the ground behind the ball and advances the golf ball only a few feet or, even worse, only a few inches. Because a chili dip usually results from a lack of concentration and commitment to a shot, it’s the perfect combination of mental and physical breakdown.

But baseball is the worst because there’s always at least 20 people watching, if not thousands, if not millions. And there’s nowhere to hide after the error. In fact, the mere presence of the error almost always means that the inning is extended and the player who committed the error must nakedly stand in front of so many judging eyes. If the game is on television, the camera focuses on the perpetrator of the error, showing his moment of great shame as he attempts to stare forward as if nothing has happened, or he ducks his head and shakes it to show everyone that he knows he messed up.

And then the game’s official scorer flashes E-9 (or whatever position he plays) on the scoreboard to make sure everyone knows who was responsible for not recording the out as it should have been recorded.

In this moment, we can feel with our intellect and our emotions exactly what the player feels. It’s that awful tingling that only happens when our reality and our ability to control it diverges. Personally, in these moments I feel like all of the blood in my head gathers at the back of my skulls. My eyes and throat tighten, not like I’m going to cry but rather like my ability to swallow or cry is being restricted. My thoughts seem to stop, as if all the negative information in my brain is causing my mental wheels to spin in place. I call it reeling and I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often.

This afternoon, I read a quote that specifically addresses the reeling moments. It came from Muhammad Ali in the coffee table book “The Meaning of Life,” which is a collection Esquire published, grouping a series in its magazine called “Things I’ve Learned” into book format.

“Brooding over blunders is the biggest blunder,” Ali said.

Absolutely. Because errors will happen. As stated earlier in this essay, you shoot enough shots, you’re going to shoot some air balls. But it’s the second error, when caused by lack of concentration resulting from the first error, that really hurts. And then the third error that results from the first two errors, that’s a downward spiral. That’s how planes and trains crash.

I realize letting go of a mistake is the hardest thing to do. It takes time when we don’t have time. Anyone who plays golf long enough to care about how well he or she plays will learn the lesson that you have to put a bad hole behind you. But I don’t know how many golfers ever really master that concept.

I wish I had a nice tidy way to tie up this essay and give us all a way to fix this problem. I don’t. In sports and in those critical moments of life, attempting to immediately forget about a blunder is like cutting yourself and then screaming at the wound to heal instantly.

How about this? Perhaps knowing that brooding over blunders is the biggest blunder will help.

Photo via AP via Salon.

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