Mickey Mantle said: Somebody once asked me if I went up to the plate trying to hit a home run. I said, ‘Sure, every time.’
Everyone wants to hit home runs. You could be a demi-god like Mickey Mantle, my personal hero growing up in the Bronx. Or someone like me. I don’t think I ever hit a home run. Not in a choose-up game, not Little League, not hitting fungo, stickball, making one of my sisters pitch to me. Had the entire opposing team clutched their stomachs and fallen to the ground from poisoned Mallomars, I still wouldn’t have been able to rocket the ball over even a make-believe fence. Never once have I had that moment of utter orgasmic joy (as I imagine) of the fat part of the bat hitting the ball and this white smokeless missile attacking someone in the left field bleachers.
Enough of the pity party. Thirty-five years ago this month (when I was very very young), I tried out for my beloved New York Yankees at an open tryout in Yankee Stadium to promote my second novel The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. In the book, the protagonist, a former athlete whose life is falling apart, pursues his unlikely dream of playing for the Bronx Bombers and is signed as a publicity gimmick. Like character, like author.
The night before the tryout, I asked God -- this being my pre-agnostic period -- if he’d lend me the Mick’s talents for the afternoon. C’mon, he’s not using it. I swear I’ll give it back. Eventually. I waited for my glove to turn into a burning bush, angels to descend wielding Louisville Sluggers, the Mick himself handing over his awesome talents in the form a baseball card.
Guess who didn’t wake up with swelling forearms, a broad chest and a sheepish grin, much to the disappointment of my first wife. Still, try out I did. I’ve attached the YouTube link for your entertainment.
That’s me with black hair swinging and missing. Running and not moving. Yes, I stunk. Yes, people made fun of me. But I swung the bat at home plate in Yankee Stadium. Me, the kid who always played right field. In my world, that constituted a home run.
There, I finally got to the point. We all go up to the plate every day wanting to hit a home run. Baseball success is measured by only hitting three out of ten times -- .300 gets your ticket to Cooperstown punched. But there are a lot of strikeouts and dribblers back to the mound along the way. All of us get so caught up in swinging for the fences every time that we forget we’re not Mickey Mantle. Even the Mick failed seven out of ten times.
Sometimes we have to re-calibrate our definition of what constitutes a homer. Sometimes it’s all about getting up to bat in the first place by having the guts to see something through – whether it’s a success or not. Because who defines success and what is it exactly? Pretty much everyone who gets out of bed and shows a kindness and tries is a success. Is making money a success? How so if there’ll always be someone wealthier? Or someone with a better car or a bigger house or more awards? Like, always.
At the end of the day, it’s about meeting the ball with the fat part of the bat in a game you created in your head with your beliefs, not according to rules concocted by the folks next door. It’s about what you want, not them. However you define that.
See, we all need to hear that wonderful sound of bat against ball. It’s called contentment. Satisfaction. If you define it for yourself, ain’t no one gonna be able to take it away.
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