Shag Flies While You Can

Each of us will some day be wheeled off the field looking down mournfully at a broken part of our body.

Yesterday, Mariano Rivera provided one of the most haunting visuals I’ve ever seen. The great relief pitcher for the New York Yankees tore his knee ligaments yesterday in Kansas City going after a fly ball in the outfield during batting practice. He was doing what he loves to do, being an athlete at the peak of his game, goofing around during practice, stretching his body to meet the long lofting flight of a little white ball in a sun-dappled field.play.jsp?content_id=21128441&topic_id=8878548

The video and photos show him grimacing in pain, holding his knee. Then he’s put on a lawn tractor and driven off the field. The last image shows him, facing backwards, leaning over, looking at his knee. The tractor takes him into the darkness of the stadium, the picture fades in the shade of the building opening, and Rivera fades away.

This isn’t a sports blog. But sports often show humanness at its best and worst — often at its most poignant. Jered Weaver, just this week no-hitting the Minnesota Twins, provided a gorgeous image hugging his wife, mother and father on the field after the game. In the arms of his father, who’d been his coach since Little League, he wept. The best part of the game.

I hate the Yankees, as is good and right to do. But Rivera — always such a classy, calm, patrician executioner of batters — if he’d pitched for any other team we could have liked him. But if he’d pitched for any other team the DamnYankees would have bought him.

A sportswriter today said Rivera had been dealt a cruel hand. Nonsense. The guy is wealthy beyond belief, has earned more than enough to take care of his family here and in Panama. His achievements rank him at the top of his profession, and, with 18 seasons playing major-league ball, he had a career few dare even dream about. Asked if he wondered why this had happened to him, he smiled sadly and said “I don’t question the Lord.” Rivera is handling this injury with grace, as he handles his whole life, it seems.

At some point, pieces of our bodies fall apart. Rivera’s 42. He’ll have more systems start failing in the decades ahead. We all will.

In Florida, where I live, I see a lot of people with halting mobility. Parts of me are reaching their expiration date.

Rivera’s injury tells us to do what we love while we can. His job was to come into the game in the ninth inning and kill the other guys’ dreams for the day. But what he loved doing was shagging fly balls free and loose in the outfield during practice.

Let’s take every opportunity we can to shag fly balls, to find the parts of our life and our work that are just about being alive and engaged, stretching up and reaching for the ball.

– Bruce Benidt

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10 Responses

  1. Bruce: Lovely piece about Rivera and you almost made me feel good about the Twins being no-hit. Just one exception: “Sun-dappled fields”? What would your journalism profs have to say about that?

    Best, mcgrath

    • Cliche alert!!!!!!

      I know, I know.

      How you be, my friend???

      Just one exception: “Sun-dappled fields”? What would your

      journalism profs have to say about that?

      Best, mcgrath

      ___________________ Bruce Benidt 8451 Damen Lane Port Richey, FL 34668 Cell 612-850-1377

  2. Amen Bruce Shagadelic.

  3. I defend Benidt’s dapple. Always have.

    Although it might be said that a more accurate use of the term might be “shadow-dappled,” if one were to be consistent with the spirit of the word’s usage dating to the 15th century and if one presumes, as I do, that the natural state of the field is full illumination by unobstructed sunlight and that the dappling agent, in this case, would be transient interference by cumulus clouds (the obvious cloud of choice in this instance given conventional and culturally accepted notions about what are generally considered conditions consistent with “a nice day for baseball”). One could envisage, I imagine, a crude form of “sun-dappling” presuming semi-broken stratus cloud formations permitting only diffused sunlight save for discrete, ephemeral areas of direct light (representing no more than 20 percent of the field’s surface area at any given moment), however the evocation of Mariano Rivera pursuing lofted balls beneath such a leaden, overcast atmosperic canopy would certainly weaken Benidt’s narrative superstructure and would not, in my estimation, represent a sufficient return on the use.

    Just sayin.’

    • Well wow, Hornseth. We need to hear you more often! C’mon back?

  4. We miss you on the blog, Hornseth.You remember hearing the first usage of dapple back in 1439 when a horse buyer in Leeds bought a white horse that had been severely spattered with mud.

    Accuracy detectives could quibble with any dappling in my piece, given it was 7 p.m. when the leap and tear happened. I’ve been in Kaufman Stadium in KC, and I’d have to say dappling may have been a stretch. Two days on the DL.

  5. All dappling aside, that really is a pity about Rivera. He says he will come back, but I have serious doubts. I’m not worried about how he will manage to make do. I’m pretty sure he’ll find a way.

  6. If you love baseball, if you’ve ever chased a dream and missed it, if you’ve ever chased a dream and caught it, if you’ve ever caught a high fly ball or eaten a chili dog, you must read THE ART OF FIELDING. It was perhaps the best novel I’ve read all year.

    • Do a post on it, Ellen dear.
      It’s certainly gotten a lot of buzz.
      Just like Souder’s book will.

      • I’ll think about it, boss. But me writing about it could deprive you all of the pleasure of reading it yourselves.

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