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April 6, 2015

Play Ball!

darondickens-300I love baseball. I love the tradition. I love the history. I love the crack of the bat, the sound of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt, the buzz of the crowd. I even love the pace of the game, lending itself to conversation drifting along on the breeze.

Baseball is the perfect combination of competition, hustle, and…luck. Yes, luck. There are lucky bounces, lucky catches, lucky hits, lucky pitches, and lucky calls.

This leads to one of the great eccentricities of baseball. Because luck plays such a big part of the game, players can get pretty superstitious. They’ll refuse to wash their socks day after day because they haven’t lost a game since they first put them on. There are grown men going through OCD-like rituals — pointing, kissing, and patting everything every time they come to the plate — all in hopes of increasing their chances of getting a hit. They’ll even eat the same meal before each game because it was the meal they had in little league at age 12 just before they won the city title. Once they stumble upon a desirable outcome, they don’t want to do anything to mess it up. Don’t blink. Don’t breathe. Don’t change anything. Keep things the same in hopes that the same results will follow every time.

The problem is, of course, any sane, rational person knows that one has very little (if anything) to do with the other. McDonald’s chicken nuggets and french fries, despite what I’m sure they would love for you to believe, do not increase your ability to hit a curveball. Dirty socks do not help you catch. In fact, they may make your eyes water so much you’ll miss what’s right in front of you. An amputated and mummified animal limb (AKA, a rabbit’s foot) does not improve your walk-to-strikeout ratio.

However, in a sport with so many variables, it’s easy to lose sight of why good things happen. We can easily focus on luck, superstition, and trying to maintain a routine rather than practicing healthy habits, becoming more aware of our actions on (and off) the field, and staying in shape. It may even be more fun to rely on superstition than on substance.

Baseball is one thing. It’s a long season, and every team will eventually win some and lose some. Everyone strikes out, and everyone gets a hit. It happens. And, no matter how much I love baseball, the truth is…it’s just a pastime. It is our national pastime, but it is a pastime, nonetheless. Relationships, especially marriages, are a little more important. And more complicated.

Two separate people with two separate brains, influenced by two separate upbringings trying to live a fast-paced life together. It’s so easy to just let things play out, to just focus on the thing immediately in front of us. Then, when good things happen, we are afraid to breathe, fearing things may take a turn for the worst.

Maybe he refuses to bring up a certain topic because three years ago they had their biggest fight ever about that. Or maybe they had a night of particularly passionate lovemaking because he touched her in a certain spot. Now, every time he’s in the mood, he goes straight to that same spot — only it wasn’t that spot that turned her on at all that night. It was just a coincidence. Now she dreads the feeling of his hand on that part of her body. She told a joke that got a laugh at a dinner party when they were first married, and now she repeats that joke every single time they’re out with friends — hoping to get the same response. He’s afraid to tell her he no longer thinks it’s funny, because there was that time when he told her he didn’t like that outfit she wore, and that didn’t end well.

They’re both maintaining a superstitious, ritualistic dance — hoping against hope to avoid striking out or worse: diving into a slump. Of course, any sane, rational person knows that one has very little (if anything) to do with the other — just like the happy meal.

What if, by repeating the same joke or the same touch or avoiding the same topic, we actually create the slump we’re hoping to avoid?

Authenticity is the only way to grow closer. Open communication is the only way to know what really turns my spouse on or makes them laugh.

Yes, it can be scary to change those dirty socks when you’ve got a 10-game winning streak. It can be scary to touch someone without knowing if this is the kind of touch that brings them pleasure or not. It’s the only way, however, to feel the energy of being fully present and alive in the moment.

In order to experience life with a living, breathing, individual, you must be open to the thrill of discovery — which carries also the possible disappointment of a misstep. You have to focus on the things that will make a difference — things like being aware of your part of the pattern, developing a healthy routine, or being upfront about your desires.

You have to drop the superstitious rituals in order to play ball.

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