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“One of the supreme paradoxes of baseball, and all sports, is that the harder you try to throw a pitch or hit a ball or accomplish something, the smaller your chances are for success. You get the best results not when you apply superhuman effort but when you let the game flow organically and allow yourself to be fully present. You'll often hear scouts say of a great prospect, "The game comes slow to him." It mean the prospect is skilled and poised enough to let the game unfold in its own time, paying no attention to the angst or urgency or doubt, funnelling all awareness to the athletic task at hand.”
“Knuckleballers don't keep secrets. It's as if we have a greater mission beyond our own fortunes. And that mission is to pass it on, to keep the pitch alive. Maybe that's because we are so different, and the pitch is do different, but I think it has more to do with the fact that this is a pitch that almost all of us turn to in desperation. It is what enables us to keep pitching stay in the big leagues, when everything else has failed. So we feel gratitude toward the pitch. It becomes way more than just a means to get and out.
It becomes a way of life.”
“The best pitchers have a short-term memory and a bulletproof confidence”
“MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2011 Port St. Lucie, Florida First impressions are important, and in his first full meeting with”
“MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2011 Port St. Lucie, Florida First impressions are important, and in his first full meeting with us as the Mets manager, Terry Collins makes a really good one. We are in a conference room in Digital Domain Park. Everybody is there—Sandy Alderson, the new general manager, his assistants, the players, the coaches, the trainers, the clubhouse manager, and even our two cooks. We go around the room and introduce ourselves. Sandy speaks first. “The expectations for this club outside of this room are very low,” he says. “I know you guys expect more of yourself, and I expect more of you too.”Sandy is not a rah-rah guy, and his approach is low-key but very compelling. “The goal of any professional sports franchise is to win, and that’s why we’re here.” When he’s done, he turns the floor over to Terry, who says, “Sandy stole my speech.” Everybody laughs. Terry has no notes. He speaks from the heart. I’ve heard a lot of these first-day speeches, and believe me, it’s more common than not for them to seem formulaic, straight off boilerplate. This is not like that at all. Terry is intense, fiery, and enthusiastic. I never get the feeling he is saying things for effect. It seems so authentic, the way he makes contact with everybody in the room and jacks up the decibel level. Even when he dabbles in clichés—“We’re going to do things the right way”—you can’t help but feel his passion and energy. Terry is a small man and doesn’t have an imposing presence when you first see him, but he is powerful nonetheless. The essence of his talk is simple: “Everybody says we’re going to stink. I hear it over and over. I think they’ve got it all wrong. You want to come along as we prove them all wrong?” Terry talks for twenty minutes or so, and by the time he is done, all I can think of is: This is a guy I’m really going to enjoy playing for. CHAPTER THREE FAITH ON WALNUT Some kids are fighters. Other kids are scrappers. I am a scrapper. I spend two extremely scrappy years—fifth and sixth grades—at St. Edward School, and the trend continues into the seventh grade at Wright Middle School, where the kids are bigger and stronger than me, but not too many have less regard for their bodies. I don’t worry about pain or getting hit or getting knocked down. I just get back up and come back at you like a boomerang. My goal when I fight is simple: I want to give more than I receive. This doesn’t make me proud. It’s just what it takes to survive, and in seventh grade survival is what I’m all about. Fights aren’t an everyday occurrence in my neighborhood, but I seem to have more than my share of them. I fight to defend myself, to right a wrong, or to settle a dispute. I’m not picky. I figure out early that in a school where smoke billows out of the bathroom and pregnant girls walk the hallways, you don’t want people thinking you are wimpy. So I learn to act tough when I need to, and sometimes when I don’t need to—which gets me into trouble. In the lunchroom one day, I get up from my seat. You have assigned seats at Wright at lunchtime, and strict rules about leaving them, the school’s effort to prevent the cafeteria from turning into WrestleMania. But I need to get a homework assignment from a classmate, so I get up and walk across the lunchroom. A monitor corrals me and says, Get back to your seat. He’s kind of nasty about it. I don’t appreciate his tone. I cuss under my breath. Not loud, not a bad cussword, but an audible obscenity, no doubt. Now he doesn’t appreciate my tone. Come with me, young man. You are going to regret your garbage mouth. He’s right—I am going to regret it—because this is Tennessee in the mid-1980s and corporal punishment still rules the day. The monitor escorts me down to see Mr. Tinnon, the assistant principal in charge of paddling. He conveniently keeps the paddle by his desk.”
“Boys will be boys, and ballplayers will always be arrested adolescents at heart. The proof comes in the mid-afternoon of an early spring training day, when 40 percent of the New York Mets’ starting rotation—Mike Pelfrey and I—hop a chain-link fence to get onto a football field not far from Digital Domain. We have just returned from Dick’s Sporting Goods, where we purchased a football and a tee. We are here to kick field goals. Long field goals. A day before, we were all lying on the grass stretching and guys started talking about football and field-goal kickers, and David Wright mentioned something about the remarkable range of kickers these days. I can kick a fifty-yard field goal, Pelfrey says. You can not, Wright says. You don’t think so? You want to bet? You give me five tries and I’ll put three of them through. One hundred bucks says you can’t, David says. This is going to be the easiest money I ever make. I am Pelf’s self-appointed big brother, always looking out for him, and I don’t want him to go into this wager cold. So I suggest we get a ball and tee and do some practicing. We get back from Dick’s but find the nearby field padlocked, so of course we climb over the fence. At six feet two inches and 220 pounds, I get over without incident, but seeing Pelf hoist his big self over—all six feet seven inches and 250 pounds of him—is much more impressive. Pelf’s job is to kick and my job is to chase. He sets up at the twenty-yard line, tees up the ball, and knocks it through—kicking toe-style, like a latter-day Lou Groza. He backs up to the twenty-five and then the thirty, and boots several more from each distance. Adding the ten yards for the end zone, he’s now hit from forty yards and is finding his range. Pretty darn good. He insists he’s got another ten yards in his leg. He hits from forty-five, and by now he’s probably taken fifteen or seventeen hard kicks and reports that his right shin is getting sore. We don’t consider stopping. Pelf places the ball on the tee at the forty-yard line: a fifty-yard field goal. He takes a half dozen steps back, straight behind the tee, sprints up, and powers his toe into the ball … high … and far … and just barely over the crossbar. That’s all that is required. I thrust both my arms overhead like an NFL referee. He takes three more and converts on a second fifty-yarder. You are the man, Pelf, I say. Adam Vinatieri should worry for his job. That’s it, Pelf says. I can’t even lift my foot anymore. My shin is killing me. We hop back over the fence, Pelf trying to land as lightly as a man his size can land. His shin hurts so much he can barely put pressure on the gas pedal. He’s proven he can hit a fifty-yard field goal, but I go into big-brother mode and tell him I don’t want him kicking any more field goals or stressing his right leg any further. I convince him to drop the bet with David. The last thing you need is to start the season on the DL because you were kicking field goals, I say. Can you imagine if the papers got ahold of that one? The wager just fades away. David doesn’t mind; he gets a laugh at the story of Pelf hopping the fence and practicing, and drilling long ones.”
“I accept the offer, sign the contract, and withdraw from Tennessee, then hold a press conference at Montgomery Bell Academy so I can go through the whole mess and not have to answer questions for weeks on end. I roll out every platitude I can think of about adversity and about how champions are people who rise above it. I say that I am not sad and not discouraged about my big offer being pulled, both naked lies.”
“From the time I met Anne ten years earlier, I knew in my heart I wanted to be with her. Now that I’m out of college and pitching pro ball, there’s no reason to wait. I start by visiting an independent diamond dealer in Arkansas. My agent knows him and tells me I can trust him. I don’t trust easily, but as a man who would have a hard time telling the difference between the Hope diamond and dime-store zirconium, what choice do I have? I pick out a rock and the setting, and pray that it’s not a fake. When it’s all finished, the dealer mails it to me in Tennessee.”
“Or maybe I’m just a reckless fool, the way I was when I once jumped eighty feet off Foster Falls, near Sequatchie, Tennessee, or went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean during a hurricane. You could say—and some have—that I have a death wish. Not sure. I believe it’s more accurate to say I have a risk wish, somehow clinging to the notion that achieving these audacious feats will somehow make me worthy, make me special, as if I’d taken some magical, esteem-enhancing drug.”
“I drive north out of Atlanta on Interstate 75, feeling as if I’ve got an IV drip of adrenaline. I want to stop at every rest area and throw knuckleballs to Jeff. I want to stop at the Tennessee state line and throw more knuckleballs. I feel as if I’ve just been given the last big piece of a complicated puzzle, and now it all fits. Thanks to Charlie, I have the proper grip and the awareness of coming straight through the doorframe. Thanks to Tim Wakefield, I have the right arm path, releasing the ball and bringing my arm through toward my cup. Thanks to Phil, I’m firing my hips and exploding toward the plate, an action that is giving my ball a devastating finish before it gets to the plate.”
“Finally I say a prayer of thanks to God for taking a broken man and making him whole, for being my Redeemer, graciously giving me a second chance as a pitcher, as a husband and father, and as a Christian man. I know my journey is nowhere near complete. The point isn’t to arrive. The point is to seek, to walk humbly with God, to keep walking and keep believing even though you know there will be times when you make mistakes and feel lost. You keep seeking the path, and He will show you the way.”
“The things that happen to me just make me more me.”
“Looking back, I realized that we were being raised to be schizophrenic; an appearance of perfection was more important than genuine feelings”
“Each day in this country, twenty-three hundred children are reported missing.”
“How did you find me anyway."
"For all that I must keep reminding you that I am not a bloodhound, it's true that on occasion, having a sensitive nose is a useful thing. I followed the smell of you." Tybalt sighed, looking exaggeratedly put-upon. "If you must be ferried back to your people, I suppose I can oblige. But only because you asked me so very nicely, and promised me a kiss.”
“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
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