Saturday, March 01, 2014

Somewhere in the 6th or 7th Inning

Today I turn 53 years old.  Assuming it ends up a regulation game, I’m somewhere in the sixth or seventh inning, the bottom half.  My time to bat. 
I’ve often thought that baseball represents life.  One aspect of the game that clearly parallels our existence is that we don’t know how long a game can last.  A regulation game is nine innings, but you can play a complete game in just six.  Or you can go extra innings, play twelve, fifteen or more.  
The longest recorded game in MLB was 26 innings, played on May 1st, 1920.  The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox played to a 1-1 tie that day.  The longest game with a winner was 25 innings played on September 11, 1974, with the St. Louis Cards beating the New York Mets, 4 to 3, in New York.  Those games would be like someone living to 106 or 110 years old.  
At 53, if my “game” were to end tomorrow, it would be a “regulation” game, though not complete.  I’m expected to go a few years more.  And I’m healthy enough now where, barring an accident, like rain calling it short, I should get to nine innings.  
Having started with this analogy, an obvious question comes to mind.  Am I winning? 
Two innings ago, I was getting roughed up pretty bad.  At work, the company I worked for was taken over by a new administration.  Things didn’t go well for me in the transition.  Without going into details, I was demoted from my position and on the verge of being ousted from the company.  I was tucked away into a corner where I couldn’t do any harm.  I didn’t do myself any favors with how I was dealing with the transition, though most of the damage was done to me rather than by me.  
In my creative life, things went sour as well.  I had worked for years trying to get my comic book scripts published.  One of my pieces won an aware for Best Horror story for the year it came out from a well-known publisher and had actually signed a contract with them to write an online comic.  But shortly there after, they split into two related companies and then both companies went bankrupt and I ended up having no work in print and no artist to work with.  
Scoring the inning, it went something like this...  My team walked the first batter.   When he tried to steal, the catcher overthrew the second baseman, letting the runner get to third.  The next batter hit a line shot, just left of center field.  The runner on third scored and the batter got to second.  The next batter hit a line drive which the shortstop knocked to the ground, but he couldn’t grab the ball in time to make a play.  Runners on first and third.  The batter after that hit a towering shot.  It arced high into the air.  The left fielder caught it on the warning track.  The runner on third tagged up and beat the throw home, with the runner on first advancing to second.  The next batter struck out, but the one after that hit a ball into the right field corner.  The man on first went from first to home and the batter made it to second.  The next batter got behind on the count, 0-1 the 0-2, but hung tough and fouled the next three pitches off in defensive swings.  The pitcher missed the corners on the next two pitches.  Then the batter turned a slider just off the hands into a Texas-leaguer that looped over second into center field.  The runner on second scored.  Finally, on the second pitch to the next hitter, a fork-ball that dove to the low and away corner turned into a ground ball struck to the shortstop ended the side.  But not before four runs were brought in.
It felt like I was going to get yanked from the game.  
But things change.  That’s one of the things I like about life and baseball.  Like the great Yogi Berra once said, “it’s not over till it’s over.”  As long as the game goes, you have a chance to win. 
At work, the new president of our division decided to create a position for me, turning my demotion into a side-step into a new job at the same level.  I was called a “Project Manager,” but basically my “project” was to fix and take care of the cruddy stuff no one else wanted to deal with.  A couple years later, this same president decided to give me the job of Production Manager, running the production department for company’s work in California.  Things have improved since then.  Quite a bit actually.  The department ended up leading the company at the end of my first year, and my second, and is leading the company now after the first two months of this year.
Creatively, I went back to writing fiction.  It felt like starting over at first.  After years of writing nothing but scripts for someone else to draw from, I was having to paint the pictures for the reader myself, for them to draw in their minds.  If a writer could have used training wheels, I could have used them then.  I could still use them sometimes, I think.  
But my stories have gotten better.  I had one really BIG sale, which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction in September, 2011.  I’ve not sold anything since then, unfortunately.  But now when I submit stories, I get personal replies from editors telling me what I think.  My last two submissions got, “This was nicely done, but...” sort of responses.  And, during this time, I finished a rough draft of a fantasy novel.  The longest continuous story I’ve ever completed, something I would have told you was beyond me when I started.  
So, back to the game...
Bottom of the inning.  My first batter gets behind in the count, but stays patient, eventually getting the count to full.  The pitcher misses the corner on his strike-out fastball and the batter walks.  The next batter bunts successfully, sacrificing himself to get the runner to second.  The batter after that hits a line drive near the first base line.  The first baseman knocks it down.  He’s able to scoop it up and make the tag, but not before the runner gets to third.  The next batter hits a dings a sputtering ball that just makes it into the out field.  He makes it to first and the runner scores.  The next batter pops out the end the side.  One run scored.  
The same pitcher from last inning stays in the game.  After being roughed up the last inning, he’s come back with purpose.  The first batter grounds out on the second pitch.  The second batter hits a foul ball that’s snagged by the third baseman.  With the third batter, their power hitter, he gets behind on the count, 3-0.  The batter fouls a pitch away, then another, then a third.  He’s a fastball hitting specialist, and the pitcher can’t seem to get the ball past his bat.  Finally, he winds up and throws.  It looks like another four-seam fastball, but it’s a change up instead.  The batter swings way ahead of the pitch.  The side is retired in order.  
Bottom of the inning, my first batter dings a single.  The pitcher throws his next three balls to the first baseman, keeping the runner in check.  When he finally throws to the batter, he hits a pop-up that goes a mile high.  One out.  The next batter takes the first two pitches, both low and away.  Suspecting that the next pitch will have to be across the plate I signal for a hit and run.  A two-seam fastball comes out.  The runner goes with the pitch.  The batter hits the ball perfectly, sending it through the empty spot where the second baseman was standing before the runner went.  The runner turns on second and charges to third.  Runners on first and third.  The next batter strikes out.  This brings up my clean-up batter.  Maybe the pitcher is feeling cocky.  Maybe he thinks he has the stuff to deal with my guy.  Maybe he has no respect for my hitters playing my short-ball game.  He throws his heat to strike my guy out.  My guy responds with a towering shot that reaches to the top row of the bleachers, right below the “Jumbotron.”  A three run shot.  
The next batter strikes out trying to repeat his teammate’s homer, but we’ve regained all the runs we’ve gave up the inning before.  
But...  Am I winning?  
I wrote up a list of the things I want to get in life.  Most of the things on this list have been there for a while.  Years and years, in fact.  It’s not that I haven’t been trying for them.  I just haven’t gotten them yet.  This makes me feel like I’m not ahead in this game.  Not yet.  
But the game’s not over.  There’s a few innings left to play.  If I’m behind, hopefully I can tie the game up.  Maybe take it into extra innings.  I just have to keep stepping up to the plate and take my swings.  
Batter up...!  


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