THE MAGIC OF BASEBALL
by Barry Robbins
Excerpt from “Sports, Energy, and Consciousness: Awakening Human Potential through Sport”
After playing baseball at the University of Michigan, I moved to the San Franciso Bay area and fell in love with fast-pitch softball, a sport that was pitcher-dominant and offered additional challenges beyond my hardball experience. To my surprise, the movement of the pitched ball was actually greater than a hardball, and it moved more quickly. With a shorter distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate of almost 15 feet, there was less reaction time possible. In hardball, a batter could recover from anticipating a certain type of pitch and being fooled, and still make good contact. On the contrary, in fast pitch, there was much more of a guessing game that occurred between the pitcher and the batter, as there was much less reaction time and the batter could not recover from missing a pitch. It was a classic chess match that called for more than physical skills.
I played this sport for over three decades, before being introduced to Esalen Institute’s Integral Transformative Practices, whose multidimensional philosophy addresses our subtle senses, those below-the-surface qualities which are beyond the known senses. They appear in everyday life but are less spoken, such as intuition (gut feeling), ESP (sixth sense), telepathy (our ability to “read” someone energetically), and a host of other non-local intelligences. The ability to translate these qualities into my sport is what this story is all about.
The culmination of a typical fast-pitch season is at the National Championships, which this time was being held in Sacramento, California. The Championships are a two-game elimination tournament in which the best teams from all over the United States continue playing until they have either lost two games and are out of the event, or win the National Championship. Some 80 teams were participating, and our team made it to the finals. In the final game, my coach told me that I was not going to be the starting pitcher, but that he was planning on bringing me in for relief in the later innings. He instructed me to warm up on the sidelines in order to be ready.
As I walked over to the warm-up area, I couldn’t help but contemplate the last two years of my participation in fast-pitch softball. They were also the first two years that I had joined ITP, during which my game had been elevated to new levels. I had received Most Valuable Player awards in numerous tournaments, and the movement and speed of my pitches had taken a quantum leap. There was a certain felt-sense of wisdom I experienced when each batter came up to the plate, as my body told me what this batter was looking for. I was able to read the batter’s body language and understand him. I could also pinpoint my pitches with a high degree of accuracy, and the speed and break of the pitches had increased markedly.
Many times athletes notice changes in their fellow teammates; however, there was a certain prevailing code of ethics in fast-pitch softball in which you keep your observations to yourself. Perhaps at very rare moments, in a bar or restaurant after the game, players could reveal themselves to each other, and make comments about the other’s game. This ritualistic bonding was part of the baseball world.
As I was warming up on the sidelines, my catcher Dustin called time out and said he wanted to talk. Dustin was young, about 22, and lived a very different life than I had. He was from the more conservative Central Valley of California, rode a Harley, and chewed tobacco. He had been catching me all year, as we seemed to click together. We had never really talked about our connection, as I was an older, more experienced player with a “rep”, and he normally deferred to my taking the initiative in conversation.
Dustin walked up to me, pulled off his catcher’s mask, spit out some tobacco chew, and began: “You know, I’ve been catching you all year long, and all year long, you’ve been talking to me about energy, lines of energy, subtle energy and fields of energy. Well, quite frankly, I still have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, but keep on doing it, cause it’s working really well!!”
I stood back for a moment, took it all in, and acknowledged his comments by saying that we trusted each other on some deeper, more effective level.
This was one of the best types of compliments, coming from someone who was outwardly different from me in lifestyle and worldview, yet in our play together, we experienced a unity and wisdom that passed between us. Dustin and I were one, we could read each other. He knew exactly what pitch I wanted to throw, and where, the location either inside or outside, high or low. He knew that correct speed to call for, the timing, whether we needed a strikeout, a fly ball or a grounder. All of this was going on non-verbally with 7 other teammates on the field, who knew they could position themselves according to where Dustin was calling the pitch, and for the most part, rely on the pitch location.
Dustin didn’t have the vocabulary to describe in detail the exquisite fusion of the two of us into one entity, nor the resulting knowing that it wasn’t really about the batter, rather what was occurring on an interior level between us. This is one of the experiences that players live for, something that typically never leaves the locker room, the unspoken bond that occurs through the sporting life. Dustin and I never forgot that memorable season and the magic that wove us together on the diamond.