Out in Front and Over the Top


In a coaching career spanning forty years, I admit to yelling this a time or two.  For whatever reason, the batter is looking for a fastball and gets something else entirely.  Old “Uncle Charlie” or a changeup comes in looking like a beach ball and then breaks down while shrinking to the size of an aspirin tablet.  “A swinnnnng, and a miss!” Bob Uecker shouts into the microphone.

The pitcher fools the batter causing him to commit early, “out in front”, and swing “over the top” of the off-speed pitch as it dives down and out of the strike zone.  If the batter makes contact, it is a weak fourteen hopper to the shortstop.  If no contact is made, the batter just looks foolish.

In real life, we shake our heads, “Life threw me curveball.”  Something that was unexpected, usually with ill-intent, some might call it karma.  If it is unexpected and good, we usually describe it as a “windfall.”  Curveballs usually don’t bode well for the batter or in real life, but sometimes….

I’m a planner.  I like everything 1, 2, 3….  My bride is not.  She is life’s counter puncher and tends to find joy in upsetting my perfectly aligned apple cart.  After bringing her a cup of coffee she asks, “What did you have planned for today?” She has just telegraphed her pitch, her intent to throw me a curve.

I remember Ron Polk, famed Mississippi State baseball coach, answering the question, “What is the best way to handle a curveball?”  Coach Polk pushed his cap back on his head and pursed his lips before answering, “There ain’t no best way.  Don’t swing at it unless you have to.”  Sage advice.

I knew exactly what I had planned for the day, a quick fitness walk, weeding the garden if it was dry enough, a long, slow wife walk, a bit of grass cutting and weed eating…in that order and that was just the morning.  When she asked her question Coach Polk’s advice popped into my head.  I didn’t swing and answered, “Nothing honey, why?”

Sometimes the pitcher will throw a curveball that doesn’t break or a changeup that’s become a batting practice fastball.  A pitch that doesn’t move enough or is not quite slow enough to miss the bat.  A belt-high or above curveball carrying a big ole sign that says, “Hit me, hit me, hit me!”  A curveball that doesn’t break or if it does, it breaks right onto the sweet spot of your bat.  Suddenly you are Mickey Mantle hammering a hung curve into the outfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

She answered my question, “Let’s go for a ride like we used to.”  I don’t know if she said “like we used to” but I thought it.  When we were younger and squeezing pennies until they screamed, “taking a ride” was a recreational outlet.  Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge there are rabbit tracts and pig trails galore to explore.  We had bought our Jeep to do just that and hadn’t utilized it in the manner in which it had been purchased.

In our younger and more foolish days, we would load up the old Toyota Landcruiser with snacks and beer looking for ways to get ourselves in trouble.  Usually, we were successful.  From ripping a sidewall out and finding the jack missing forcing a five-mile hike off a mountainside, to getting too close to a ditch and finding ourselves on our side when the ditch crumbled.  We got lost more than once which was A-Okay. We were young, foolish, and in love.  It didn’t matter if we swung badly at a curveball…mostly we did it on purpose.  You can’t get lost if you don’t know where you going.  I think we have become too comfortable.

Our “ride” was a curveball we hit out of the park.  Late spring is a wonderful time in our little bit of heaven.  Mountain scenery, twisting roads alongside rocky and roaring mountain creeks, blooming rhododendron, a wild turkey seemingly wanting to race alongside us.  Yes, the best way to handle a curve is to hit it out of the park.

With Corvid-19 we’ve chosen to quarantine as much as possible.  We hope not seeing the grandbabies now will translate into seeing much more of them later, but we’ve probably used it as an excuse to be hermits.  Yesterday’s curveball may have changed that.

I still have some weeding to do and a good portion of the front yard to cut.  Today I will be cutting inside of the fence and letting my mind wander to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  A beat-up Landcruiser, an AM radio blaring the “Oldies but Goodies”, a cooler, and my bride exchanged for a four-door Jeep, Sirrus Radio, but the same beautiful bride and cooler.  Later, who knows, maybe I’ll get to swing at another curveball, “out in front and over the top.”

Don Miller’s authors page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR376tJHvxdTy4kxSV33etrGJi4wesRRjYWppO6j5ejOqgzTuFYnOelGw4w

The image was found at https://www.vbriefly.com/2014/09/23/swing-and-a-miss-part-1-silly-things-debaters-believe-about-theory-for-no-reason-by-leah-shapiro-and-christian-tarsney/