I’d love to be a major league baseball player. Even at fifty-eight years old, I still have dreams where I hear the announcers talking about this miracle of sports, this unbelievable specimen who strikes out hitters with a 116 mph fastball and a 54 mph knuckleball. “At the age where most of his peers are thinking about the proverbial rocking chair on the front porch,” says the Vin Scully of my dreams, “This man defies the ages. He’s as smooth and spicy as the mustard you’re slathering on your ballpark hot dog.”
I think I’d cheat to make that dream happen if I could.
But I can’t. The thing I love most about sports and the arts is that you can’t cheat to get better. In sports, even if you take some sort of performance enhancing drug (the most popular version of “cheating”), it only allows you to work harder. The truth is this: there’s no shortcut.
Both sports and music let you know the very first day that if you really want to get good, you’re in for the long haul. You could have the best coaches and instructors in the world, but if you don’t put in the time, you won’t understand what they tell you.
The long and lonely hours are what gets you there. The musician, artist, or athlete spends thousands of hours, many of them in solitude, acquiring the knowledge and skills that allow them to think over the top of the mechanical requirements of a particular instrument, discipline, or sport.
There’s no shortcut, no magic pill that will let one circumvent the reality of getting good.
We’re making a mistake in our country, cutting back on the arts and sports in our schools. We’re robbing our kids of a host of skills. We’re taking away from them the ability to deal with making mistakes, losing, of knowing that things won’t always work out the way we want, of saying, “That didn’t go well and it’s my fault.”
We’ll pay for that. We’re already paying for that in the astonishing lack of coping skills we’re seeing in some of our young people.
But back to my dream. On my last official day as a teacher, the Cincinnati Reds surprised me and invited me to throw out the first pitch. Todd Frazier, the Reds All-Star 3rd baseman was my catcher. I threw it high and tight, because that’s how I’d start out in the majors.
As I walked through the dugout, I told the manager, “Hey, if you like what you see-I have a jersey. All I need is a pair of pants and an opportunity.”
He laughed, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking about it.