RtO: The Giddy First Days

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Giddy First Days”

The Nats have played and won two ballgames at this point. Much has gone well against a Miami team that is not unlike the Cubs of last September, let’s say, lacking in seasoned MLB players. But it’s not time to gloat yet.

Gio Gonzalez will not be leading the team in home runs or rbi. Bryce Harper will not be hitting 340 home runs. There will be a grinding normalcy that sets in after a few weeks of play. Those .500 batting percentages will drop. The 0.00 ERA will not hold much longer either. The averages of the game will take hold.

You know the numbers. The Nats will be fortunate to win 60% of their games. Last year, playoffs included, their winning percentage was 59.88%. This is a mind-boggling number firstly because it was the best baseball season I’ve ever experienced. They were in almost every lost game until the last out. Somebody always came through. They kept winning series after series, even on the road. And secondly, it’s mind-boggling in real life, because what if you told your boss, ‘I’m going to succeed for you 60% of the time’? Or what if you told the love of your life, ‘I’ve got 60% for you’? What good could come of that?

But this is exactly one of the reasons I enjoy baseball. I’ve learned, from guidance and experience, and observation and reflection, that life is hard. Life stinks, in fact. For every good thing, there is a bad thing. For every progress, there is a regress. For every reward there is much failure. There is no getting around it. It is one of the central concerns of all religions – how do we deal with the unrelenting inevitability of pain, of failure to achieve the ideal? Life is at best a 50-50 proposition. We have to count ourselves fortunate if we win and progress at any rate above 50%.

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Rafael Soriano warms up before an opening day baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Washington, on Monday, April 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Rafael Soriano warms up before an opening day baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Washington, on Monday, April 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Baseball is like life in that it goes on day after day, with rituals and routines that we can come to attend to in a rote way. So, when the possibility of complacency appears, I like to turn things inside out and say that every day is a test and a test is just practice. In our daily rituals and routines, things that we can easily take for granted, if we treat each of those things with a clearer intent, with a disciplined awareness of the details of the performance, then, over time, and through space, we can attain maybe 54 or 55%.

So there’s no question that this Nats team is talented and seasoned enough to get to the next level. But, as with we fans roaming the outfield, the key to actuating that 60% level is the assertion of will. Because it is a grind, because on any given day you can be up or down, people, players, have to assert their will in paying attention to the small details, and intending to improve the physical and mental flow of the game.

So Ian Desmond made a throwing error in the second game. It’s not my purpose to eradicate errors from any given player’s (or person’s) life. But to learn from them and then let them go is an act of positive will. We saw that assertion of will by each of the players on the team for the remainder of that inning. The error turned out to mean nothing, the Miami players could not take advantage of a free out.

Surely the Nats will play against teams (I for one am most concerned about the Reds) who’ll make them pay for errors. So having asserted their will against Miami, they will have to be prepared to attend to the details of the game, and assert their positive will against more difficult challengers.

Bryce Harper homerun

Bryce Harper proved why baseball still captures fans’ hearts. (Getty)

I take great pleasure in watching baseball. Even when the Nats were bad, I was roaming the outfield. But to see a team develop that clearly has the will to attend to the small details that add up to that extra, last 2 or 3%, who push themselves to claim victory 60% of the time, is a wonder and something that I feel grateful to witness and be a part of.
Of course, I loved seeing Jayson Werth hit that walk off homer last October, but the kicker for me was that it was a 13-pitch at bat. That was paying attention to the details! And this 2013 team exudes that will which is so important in baseball and in life, to work to make things better than 50%, and to never need to do better than 60% to be a success, to treat every day like the test it is, and then when the test comes, to treat it like practice.

Y.S. Fing is an author and poet working out of Washington, DC. He roots for the Nationals when he isn’t composing beauty.