On Life and Curveballs

Thanks Brennan for the inspiration.

Last week a friend on Facebook wrote “life sure throws you a lot of curve balls.”

I had an amusing and slightly insightful little comment to add to his post that I was going to share here, but I realized that some of my readers live in baseball-less cultures and may need a quick explanation.  (is “being thrown a curveball” uniquely American, or are there similar expressions in places like Japan, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico?)

Lace up your spikes (baseball shoes), pick up a piece of lumber (baseball bat), and step into the batter’s box, we’re gonna talk pitching and hitting for a moment.

The classic curve ball is a thing of beauty.  A curve is a slow pitch.  The average fastball in the Major Leagues is 89 to 90 miles an hour; curve balls travel in the 70’s, sometimes just the upper 60’s.  It’s described as a twelve to six curve, because its spin causes it to “break”, to dive, from a twelve o’clock position to six o’clock.  To the batter it looks like it will be above the strike zone, only to dive right into the middle at the last moment.  Or, it looks like it will be right in the middle only to dive down as it gets to the plate.  Either way, the batter looks foolish; it either looks like it won’t be a strike, and the batter doesn’t swing, and gets a strike, or swings because it looks like it is right in the middle and there’s nothing there.

(click here if you’d like to see a curve ball really make a major league hitter look silly.  This is about as nasty as they come)

A good working curve ball is almost impossible to hit hard, even when a good hitter is expecting one.  They end up as weak ground balls, lazy fly balls, or silly looking swings and misses.  And when the hitter is expecting a fastball and gets a curve ball instead, it’s good night, good to see ya, have a nice stroll back to the bench.

What keeps the mighty curve from being thrown every pitch by every pitcher is a virtually built-in flaw.  With every curve ball a pitcher throws comes the risk of throwing a bad one.  The risk grows with every one thrown.  One bad curve ball can erase a lot of good ones.  A bad curveball simple doesn’t curve very hard.  Being a naturally slow pitch anyway, a bad curveball is referred to sometimes as a “cement mixer” because they seem to spin and go nowhere.  Also referred to as a “hanger”, one will light up a hitter’s eyes with feral ferocity, because a hanging curve ball seems to “hang” in the middle and is easy to hit a long, long way.

So when my friend posted “life sure throws you a lot of curve balls”, he was saying that life tends to send you circumstances that are impossible to turn into success, or that life sends you unpleasant surprises just when you thought you knew what was going on.

So if life is throwing you a lot of curve balls, rejoice.  Some of those curves will be hangers, and the secret is to hammer the hangers out of the park.  Remember, one home run can be more important than two or three strike outs!



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