We played ball out back on a makeshift miniature diamond I mowed into the high, early summer St. Augustine grass. The 8-year-old stepped to the foam-rubber home plate, batting lefty, knees bent just so, arms high but relaxed, head cocked toward the pitcher — me.
I wound up and tossed the ball softly in his direction.
It occurs to me that I was 17 when I became a sportswriter. Nine years older than this boy at the plate. I stepped into that life before my life had really begun, and had no real reason to regret it for two decades. But at the end, when it was over, it could only be classified as a failure.
The boy swung and missed. The swing was handsy, too much upper body, but there was purpose to it and his head and eyes were where they were supposed to be. That’s more than half the battle when you’re learning to hit a baseball. Watch the ball hit the bat. See it, hit it. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back.
How could a career as rewarding as mine be considered a failure? Because it didn’t end on my terms. Where did the fault lie? With me alone? With a newspaper industry in its dying throes? A combination? No matter. When I began that career, I intended for it to end many years from now, many games later, when I was too old to carry my computer bag into the press box. Didn’t happen that way. I failed.
I reminded him to focus on the ball, to keep his arms relaxed, to step toward me, pivot and turn his hips, throw his hands at the ball and explode into the swing. I pitched, he swung — and missed again.
Failure of that sort — mammoth, life-altering, frightening — can derail a man. You think you’re moving along toward a certain destination, surely, confidently. And then … it stops. Even if you sensed it coming, knew failure was inevitable, it stung. Worse, for the first time in your life, you didn’t know what came next.
The ball sailed over the shrub and the external AC unit as he swung and missed a second time. It was a bad pitch, a ball in any league, but at age 8 he still swings at anything and everything. He has not yet developed a discerning eye, a well-defined hitting zone. Every pitch is a promise. Every swing and miss is that promise broken. He dropped the bat and hustled after the ball again.
You didn’t know what came next, but you understood for the first time in your life that nothing was promised. Really understood that fact, not merely the theory. That there were dead ends.
He found the ball in the high grass and tossed it back. Insects disturbed by the lawn mower began to crowd around us. He swatted at a bug in front of his face and stepped in for one last pitch from dad.
There are dead ends. Failure is inevitable. How you respond to that inevitability determines whether dead ends crack and split and branch off in promising new directions or stay dead ends. You choose your response. You choose to move forward. You choose. That’s what failure does for you, if you let it. If you let it.
This one came in under-handed, an acquiescence to physics and undeveloped, 8-year-old muscles. His eyes grew large as it arced toward the plate.
He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.
10 thoughts on “Swing, Fail, Swing Again”
Keep swinging, little one.
Since you met your wife during that career, and your two boys spun off from that, I’d say your newspaper career was anything but a failure. I’ve made bad choices, as we all have, and trying to overcome those feelings of letdown once they really sink in is just about the hardest thing in the world. But we have to keep moving forward. Ready for that next pitch.
One definition of failure is goals unmet. In that sense, because I didn’t achieve my career goals (yet), it was a form of failure. I think in order to move on, it’s important to acknowledge that failure. It provides closure and room for new goals. Failure is inevitable, so we had better learn to handle it and start again. It was a cool job, and a lot of good came of it. That is true, too!
Failure can be a tricky thing to quantify, especially with a career. Was it you? Outside forces? In my 20s I tried to be a musician. That failed. Then again, the success ratio of that industry is so ridiculous, can I even bother complaining, classify it as an actual failure? I never did try another career or really put myself “out there” for a while when I started my own website business thing. That was an unqualified failure. In the ashes of that, however, I have my blog which focuses on what I truly think is my success, being a dad.
Yeah, good stuff, Daniel. And congrats again on the successful new family addition!
Beautifully written. But just because life doesn’t end up how we planned, how we imagined it should be, I don’t consider it a failure. You didn’t fail when that career ended. You entered that career, you experienced that career. You learned, you grew. Then life now had other plans for you. It had to shift you from one thing to another, without maybe your understanding or acceptance, but everything that came after that helped you to continue living, learning, experiencing. And the greatest moment of any sports writer, actively in that career or not, is seeing his own son eventually hit that ball.
I see what you’re saying. The thing for me is I had very specific career goals that never came about because of the layoffs at my old newspaper. Perhaps it’s semantics, but in order for me to reconcile the loss of something I never had, I gave myself permission to accept that failure, learn from it and build on it. In fact, for me, it was necessary. Otherwise, I would continue to grieve for the loss of a future I had envisioned and worked toward, which would not have been constructive. It’s similar in baseball, wherein even the best hitters at the highest level fail seven out of 10 times at the plate. Knowing how to understand the nature of failure, and the doors it opens, is key. Tough, but for me, necessary. Thank you again for the kind words!
I hear you, and I guess that’s key. Allowing ourselves whatever it is that we need to get through situations. Hey, my sister talks to me all the time about needing closure. I can respect that fully.
Wow this is a great piece. The back and forth is well done and really drives the point home. No failure in this at all.
Brian, that means a lot. Thank you.
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