CHARLOTTE, NC: Even without ALS, at this stage of my life, I would have still been a former baseball player. One of my favorite baseball movies was the 1988 Kevin Costner film Bull Durham which presented minor league baseball about as accurately as any picture ever has. Costner plays the role of “Crash” Davis, a lifelong minor leaguer with so much experience that he is able to teach young prospects the nuances of the game the from a player’s perspective.
Guys like Crash often go on to become managers in the minors, then coaches in the “Show” (as they called it in the film), becoming big league managers as well. More often than not, they actually become the best skippers because they must be students of the game in order to survive rather than relying on pure talent.
Lessons Learned: Don’t think
As a mentor to rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, Crash, a catcher by trade, calls the pitches for Nuke. In one scene, LaLoosh shakes off a sign, opting to throw another pitch instead and yields a majestic home run.
Crash then slowly walks to the mound and advises his student,
“You just got lesson No. 1: Don’t think, it can only hurt the ball club.”
The beauty of baseball is that, much like life, it is a game of anticipation. Baseball is a game where failure is expected. resulting in a success ratio where 30% is regarded as excellent.
Baseball is a game of situations, most of which arise over and over throughout the course of a season. Consequently, players constantly practice anticipating the most common plays until they become instinctively automatic. Of course, the fun happens when plays do not develop as they usually do and the ball player has to adjust on the spot to resolve his dilemma.
Baseball and ALS: Different but not so different
ALS is much the same. It’s a constant adjustment. Perhaps the biggest difference between the approach to baseball and ALS however, is that the disease really does, indeed, require continuously thinking outside the box.
Many experts believe that one reason Stephen Hawking, the world-famous physicist, was able to survive ALS for so long was due to his ability to use his mind all the time. Hawking suffered from his condition for so long that, most likely, he did not dwell on his affliction for extended periods, choosing instead to exercise his brain on other subjects.
Therefore, to paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
“To think or not to think, that is the question.”
If most ALS patients are like me, and I suspect they are, mobility, or the loss of it, does not register well in our thoughts. Each of us, in our own way, must determine the best method to personally retain an ambulatory lifestyle.
In my own case, I am gradually becoming adept at toggle navigation on my motorized wheelchair.
As one ALS patient wrote, the one thing he has learned about his affliction is that “ALS sucks!” Then he reminds everyone that he already knew that, which in no way diminished his opinion, but it did make him feel better.
The writer went on to say that though new problems continuously arise, he, like most of us, has never believed that “a solution is beyond his grasp” despite the reality that some situations are just plain “unwhippable.”
To move or not to move
Since my own diagnosis, I have suddenly realized that my name now appears in our church bulletin each Sunday among those in need of prayer. Several others on that list have passed on before me to the extent I am now beginning to wonder if I am approaching a Cal Ripken-style record for most consecutive Sundays in the bulletin.
People with ALS ultimately have two choices; stationary or ambulatory. Stationary is certainly the safest, but it wears on a person much like “cabin fever” during a blizzard. For someone like myself, wanderlust has always been a critical part of my personality.
Sitting is safe, but not preferred.
As time progresses, however, movement requires increasing amounts of energy in the sense of transfers and the hassles of staying upright without falling.
Without the use of my arms, I am keenly aware now of how much your upper body affects balance. It’s something most people never think about. I know I didn’t.
Another side effect of ALS is increased saliva which often leads to coughing spasms. If such an incident occurs while I am in the process of walking from one room to the next, I could easily find myself face down on the floor without trying.
Baseball and ALS – anticipation and preparation
It all boils down to a little planning and anticipation. Crash Davis was almost right. Sometimes it IS best NOT to think and just do what comes naturally.
Unfortunately, with ALS what “comes naturally” abates over time, leaving the best combination for handling ALS somewhere between Crash Davis and Stephen Hawking.
Maybe the best solution came from artist Auguste Rodin who sculpted The Thinker; just sit naked on a rock with my fist in my chin and think about not thinking.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up
Image: Screen Shot Bull Durham - "You just got lesson No. 1: Don't think, it can only hurt the ball club."