MELTDOWN ON THE DIAMOND
One of my more embarrassing moments on this planet happened last summer. It occurred when I struck out swinging in slow pitch softball.
Goaded by an annoying first baseman on the other team, who insisted on screaming “Great pitch!” every time I prepared to swing, I took two called strikes from the umpire, whose strike zone had all the clarity and definition of a black hole.
It didn’t help matters that I am a professional at putting pressure on myself. Just ask my doubles partners from high school tennis matches. Nobody could blow an easy volley or shank an easy return like Nervous Nemo.
So as that third pitch floated high through the air, my head was doing its usual circus act. I was thinking about our season, the most frustrating one I’d ever experienced. We were in a co-ed softball league on Friday nights. It was Class “C,” which meant it was supposed to be for fun, but our team got pounded every week. The other teams had guys taller than oak trees who wore batting gloves, baseball pants and had played college baseball.
They took their bats out of special carrying bags and pounded softballs at our overmatched fielders. They told the women on their team to intentionally take walks, allowing the men to drive in all the runs. Some women didn’t listen. They wore cleats and baseball pants of their own, and could hit the ball farther than anyone on our team.
We tried to have fun, but losing 21-2 every week had gotten old. The umpire, whose daughter-in-law was on the league’s top team, took extra delight in snickering at our squad whenever we played. So when that third pitch came my way, I knew I had to swing.
As I brought the bat around with all my might, the first baseman screamed “Great pitch!” at just the right moment, and I whiffed. In case you didn’t know, beaten dogs have more dignity than a man who has struck out swinging in slow pitch softball. At least when you’re called out on strikes, you can claim the umpire is an idiot. Not when you’re swinging, however. As Steve, an older and wiser teammate would say to me later that evening, “Well, you’re the dummy who swung at the ball, aren’t you?” when I tried to blame my strikeout on the bellowing buffoon at first base.
As I walked back to the bench, our usually enthusiastic bunch said nothing. I was a dead man walking. Or, more accurately, a dead man seething.
The next inning, I took my position in the outfield and did what any rational, reasonable person in my situation would – acted like a ranting lunatic. I started screaming “Great pitch!” at the top of my lungs, drawing embarrassed stares from my teammates. I did it for every opposing batter, and extra loud when the other team’s first baseman came up.
In the cruelest twist of all, he responded to my feeble taunts by rocketing a line drive over my head, ending up with a triple as his team cheered.
We lost that game, our final one of the season, by a narrow margin. I was called out at second base on a close play to end things. It was a fitting finish to a frustrating summer.
My father used to have a simple saying about sports.
“Don’t let ‘em get your goat,” he’d say whenever an opponent was trying to get under my skin.
For many years, I never really understood what that phrase meant. I’d never owned any goats, and I couldn’t understand why anybody in the suburbs would want to steal one.
But standing there on that softball field, my face red and my teammates looking away, I realized my goat had been taken. And there wasn’t a more embarrassing feeling in the world.
As a new softball season starts this spring, I have but one solemn vow: To keep my goats to myself.
The Twins just lost 18-1 and have given up 27 runs in the past two games to the Detroit Freakin’ Tigers. I need a laugh on this dreary, rainy day here in Minnesota. In honor of whatever quotes the Twins player try to come up with after another debacle, here’s an excerpt from my book Full Contact Trivial Pursuit, Plinko & Dogs: 47 Essays on the Laughter of Life.
Clichés permeate our life like the air we breathe. They are everywhere – in our thoughts, our words and our actions. Clichés are life: The rest is just details.
Unwillingly, people just do it. It’s really par for the course to use them in one’s everyday routine. For many, using clichés kills two birds with one stone – their thoughts on a situation can be summed up in one eloquently overstated phrase, and most everyone will understand what they’re trying to say.
It’s really the same old song and dance. Clichés are like a broken record, spinning tired sounds over and over again until they drive us batty. Teachers get madder than a nest of angry hornets when students use them in papers and essays, and many is the professor who would like to knock the block off students who are repeat cliché offenders.
The types of clichés used to describe the same event even vary from state to state. For example, a sampling of expressions used by some University of St. Thomas students to describe downing a few cold barely pops:
“Dude, we’re just gonna get torn tonight!” (California)
“Hey guy, let’s rip it up!” (North Dakota)
“Let’s tie one on!” (Minnesota)
“Hey, the Packers game is about to start!” (Wisconsin)
While many different clichés can be used to describe the same topic, the difference between some of these tired tenets can be like night and day.
For instance, patience is a virtue, yet the early bird gets the worm. Life is short, but we’re supposed to live long and prosper. And although we’re supposed to control our own destiny, life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.
Then again, clichés aren’t all water under the bridge. After all, think of the potential currency problems that would have plagued our country had people not heeded the warning against accepting wooden nickels. However, dentists everywhere are cursing the rotten scoundrel who reminded people to eat an apple a day.
Some might think that all these truisms and platitudes are a sinking ship, or maybe a ship without a course, or even that clichés are not always ship-shape expressions. But they have found a home in our lives, and new clichés are created every day.
Take my college roommate Adam, an original fellow who has taken it upon himself to devise his own language of clichés:
“Hey Adam, do you want to go to the party tonight?”
“Sometimes!” (Translation: “Of course I do, you fool!”)
“Geez Adam, I really have a lot of homework tonight!”
“Homework – I did that once!” (Translation: “Boy, that’s too bad!”)
“Adam, I’m sick of all those stupid phrases you use when you talk to us!”
“Hey, don’t MAKE me come over there!” (Translation: “Man, I’m insulted that you don’t enjoy my unique method of verbal communication.”)
Granted, not everyone is as “creative” as Adam when it comes to discovering new ways to say the same old things. In fact, many of us bite the bullet in crucial situations, reverting to the tried and true expression that we know will work.
But just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean we also have to jump off life’s proverbial bridge. We can be our own individuals and look for greener pastures. We can move forward in search of new horizons, and, if things don’t work out, tomorrow is always another day.
By working together – remember, there’s no “I” in team – we can make it happen. United we stand, divided we fall. Two (or three or four or 50 million) heads are better than one. Heck, we can even look to the heavens for some divine inspiration. After all, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
So go forth and purge yourself of these wretched phrases, these carbon-copied, cut-and-dried excuses for expression of the English language. It may be beating a dead horse, but people are too intelligent to continue using clichés. We’ve got to take the bull by the horns and reinvent the wheel – and never, ever, look back.