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Posts tagged "sports"
Good pitching is almost always a business of shattering expectations -following fast pitches with slow, inside with outside. Only the knuckleball, however, sets up expectations, confounds them, renews them and betrays them in the course of a single pitch. (via)
KNUCKLEBALL! is the story of a few good men, a handful of pitchers in the entire history of baseball forced to resort to the lowest rung on the credibility ladder in their sport: throwing a ball so slow and unpredictable that no one wants anything to do with it. The film follows the Major League’s only knuckleballers in 2011, Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, as they pursue a mercurial art form in a world that values speed, accuracy, and numerical accountability.
What makes the stories of these men so interesting is that they were both stuck with shitty baseball careers before they turned to the knuckleball as a last chance shot at salvation, and they wound up on top of their games. To be a good knuckleballer, “You need the fingertips of a safe cracker and the mind of a Zen buddhist.” (As the film’s tagline says, “To gain power you must first give up control.”)
Essentially, what you do when you throw a knuckleball, is you try to make your pitch the exact same every time, because you’re trying to release the ball with as little spin as possible — when that happens, the air current moves against the baseball’s seams and makes the baseball move really strangely. It takes an enormous amount of discipline and technique to throw the pitch, but once the pitch is thrown, it’s equally unpredictable to the batter, the catcher, and the pitcher who threw it. (R.A. Dickey: “I’m just pitching knuckleball by knuckleball and surrendering to the results.”)
(Of course, I’m thinking about how perfect of a metaphor this is for the practice of art: you sit down everyday with the same routine, but you have to trust that once you let go, the process will take you somewhere unexpected.)
The other thing that’s interesting about the knuckleball is that there are so few pitchers who throw it. Instead of being competitive with each other, they actually form a kind of brotherhood — a pack of outcast weirdos, sharing tips about their obsession. R.A. Dickey writes about how rare this is in his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball: “There’s no chance that an opposing pitcher, no matter how nice a guy, is going to invite me to watch how he grips and throws his split-fingered fastball or his slider. Those are state secrets.”
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 so 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 an out. It becomes a way of life.
Later, Dickey quotes the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:
By letting go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.
Lots of folks have talked about creative theft in art and writing, but not so much in the realm of sports. Luckily, I have Twitter buddies who are geeks *and* interested in sports. (Thanks, @TWalk @Mattthomas & @tcarmody!)
Kobe Bryant on his influences:
There isn’t a move that’s a new move. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. I seriously have stolen all of these moves from all these great players…
Mike Miller, quoted in an NYTimes article about USA players importing “The Euro Step” move:
That’s the beauty of basketball….If you’re a basketball player and you want to get better, you’re going to take things from everybody. They take stuff from what we do. We take stuff from what they do.
Allen Iverson in this terrific video on the evolution of the crossover move:
I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be some guy who come along that’s gonna learn it and get it better than I got it and his is gonna be better than mine. Hopefully it’s my son.
And Kobe, again:
I just try to do them proud, they guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.
Okay, back to work.