Saturday, September 11, 2010

Things that Matter

I went to the Tigers game last night with my friends, Garth Pleasant and Randy Harris. The game itself was of little consequence. Two out-of-the-running teams playing out the string. But it was live baseball in a beautiful park with good friends. I was happy to go.

At one point in the game, Johnny Damon had his bat shattered by a pitch, shards of wood flying across the infield. The bat boy sprinted from the Tigers' dugout after the play ended collecting the various pieces of wood. And of all the things I noticed that night, the picture of him sprinting effortlessly around the diamond struck me. It struck me, because I know he takes for granted the ability to run effortlessly. This is not a luxury I enjoy anymore.

My left knee simply doesn't work the way it once did. And since knee surgery a few years ago, my leg strength has simply not returned to what it once was. When I run, I pray for pain free, not effortless. I walk a lot these days, most days around four miles. And my hips are sore and stiff as a result. When I sit for awhile, the first few steps make me wonder if I'll ever walk normal again.

I'm doing all the right things. I'm taking the glucosamine-condroitin tablets (though I fear I'll choke to death on them) and I stretch, wear good shoes, etc. The truth is, whatever I do I simply will not be able to run effortlessly across the infield collecting Johnny Damon's bat fragments.

Now, this is not a feel sorry for Mark blog. That's the thing. I'm different, not just in my physical limitations. Different things matter to me these days, and this overall is an improvement.

I think of how sports-obsessed I was for most of my life. I lived and died with the morning sports page. I learned to read a box score about the time I learned to tie my shoes. And some of the most romantic aspects of my boyhood are related to sports. Seeing Lew Alcindor play. Stomping my feet on the Heyward Field bleachers in cadence to Steve Prefontaine's footfalls. Sitting in the end zone of Autzen stadium to see Dan Fouts, Bobby Moore, and Russ Francis lose to O. J. Simpson or Gary Beban or Jim Plunkett. Watching Jim Ryun beat Marty Liquori, or Kenny Moore outduel Gerry Lindgren. I lived and died with the Cardinals and Red Sox, the Celtics and Trailblazers, the Cowboys and Ducks.

I'm still a fan, but I know the names of the '68 Tigers or '77 Sixers more than I do their current lineups. And the best part of the game last night was being there with Garth and Randy. Telling stories and laughing and eating overpriced food. I know that this shift might also be accompanied by wearing shorts and black socks. This might just be a part of getting older, my life adjusting to the fact that I'm closer to the end than the beginning. I recognize it in others, so it has to be true for me as well. But I like the fact that now I want to read the editorials before I read the sports page. That when others are caught up in the worship and vilification of this team or that, or this player or that, I just don't care--at least not like I used to.

Some days I think about just giving in. Let the waistline go. Buy some adjustable pants and Hawaiian shirts. Get some velcro walking shoes. I'm not there yet (and hopefully never will be). I still try to run through the pain and lift weights and stay in my skinny jeans. But I'm ok with the fact that I'll never again run 10k in 40 minutes or even 50. I'll let someone else chase the bat splinters and hate Kobe or Rex Ryan (I still despise Buddy Ryan) or USC. I'll let my passion burn for other things. And that's the thing. It's not that I care less about life. It's that I care differently, and in some ways more deeply. Some things still make my heart pump faster. And all-in-all, I'm good with that.

1 comment:

Doug said...

This spoke to me... of course, I'm not as old as the author!
PS - Looking forward to your time with us in October.